3 February 2010

Umsebenzi Online, Volume 9, No. 3, 3 February 2010

Umsebenzi Online, Volume 9, No. 3, 3 February 2010

In this Issue: 
  • Let's debate, but let's debate in a way that unifies our movement and strengthens practical programmes of action
Red Alert

Let's debate, but let's debate in a way that unifies our movement and strengthens practical programmes of action

The SACP Political Bureau held its first meeting for 2010 last Friday. The meeting took place at Liliesleaf in Rivonia, the historic site from which the secret High Command of Umkhonto We Sizwe operated until its arrest at this venue in 1963. It was this location that gave the name "Rivonia" to the famous trial that ensued. The property is now being turned into a museum and conference centre with the support of, amongst others, UNESCO.

Liliesleaf has a particular symbolic significance for the SACP - not only was it the site at which legendary names in our Party's history operated, but it was the clandestine SACP that purchased the former small-holding in the early 1960s. Unfortunately for the SACP, not only are we now too late to put in a restitution claim, but it seems that the clandestine SACP-run trust that originally bought the property sold it in the 1960s to a private buyer!

Assessing the SACP's December 2009 Special National Congress

At last Friday's PB, we used the occasion to evaluate, amongst others things, the Party's Special National Congress in Polokwane in December last year. We noted that the Congress was characterised by a very high degree of inner-Party unity. The divisions within the Party, which some of the media had been predicting and, in some cases, promoting, completely failed to materialise.

However, as we all know, this didn't prevent much of the media from still ignoring the substance of what happened at our Congress. Instead there was an inordinate focus on one minor event in which two individuals, who had been involved in persistent and derogatory, personalised attacks on SACP leadership, were briefly booed by some of our delegates. It was an unfortunate but unplanned episode that would have passed almost un-remarked but for the deliberate melodrama that soon followed. A few individuals stormed onto the stage, and in the full glare of rolling TV cameras, SACP chairperson, cde Gwede Mantashe, was accosted and subjected to loud abuse - much to the delight of head-line seeking journalists.

This melodrama was one thing, more unfortunate were some of the leaks and analyses that followed. For a few days afterwards, there was even an implausible attempt to suggest that this episode marked a widening rift in the relationship between the SACP on the one hand, and the entire ANC on the other!

All of this was the symptom of something else. One of the key achievements of our Congress was precisely to single out in debates and resolutions the central threat to the unity and programme of our Alliance. In particular, our Congress singled out what we called "Kebble-ism" - namely, a dangerous axis between unscrupulous business people (black and white) on the one hand, and a bullying, chauvinistic populist tendency in parts of our movement on the other. Behind the headline stories of high-life parties and the flaunting of ill-gained wealth, lies the sordid reality of manipulative sponsorships, wheeling and dealing, organisational factionalism, arm-twisting and the general subversion of our democratic order.

At the PB meeting, comrades all noted very widespread endorsement from outside of our ranks for our raising of these concerns. What has especially been appreciated has been the SACP's evident readiness to stand up against this dangerous tendency. We have received many messages and other indications of support for our stand. These have come from within the ANC, from the workers' movement, from the youth sector and, indeed, from many others who do not share our ideological views, but who are appalled by corruption, bullying and chauvinism.

The PB resolved that the SACP would continue to work to strengthen our alliance on the basis of our shared programme of action and priorities. We are heartened by the recent ANC NEC lekgotla's strong endorsement of exactly the same position.

The nationalisation debate - how to conduct it…and how NOT to conduct it

Programmatically, the SACP is committed to struggling for a socialist South Africa. It's our "core business", if you like. It's the reason for our existence. The socialist future we aspire to is certainly an ideal, however we are not interested in consuming endless hours in speculatively fashioning an elaborate blue-print for some distant future. This is the kind of futile exercise Marx and Engels always dismissed as merely "utopian". Our socialism is fundamentally about waging a struggle, here and now, with and in defence of the workers and poor.

But how do we wage that struggle? First of all, it isn't and cannot be some secret plot. We are openly socialist, and (at least since February 2, 1990) we have been legally socialist as well. Our socialist struggle is not a conspiracy (you can't possibly build socialism out of a conspiracy). It is certainly NOT about "capturing" the ANC by infiltrating communists onto ANC electoral lists! If communists enjoy popular support and endorsement from within ANC structures that's great. But they serve in ANC positions as ANC members. We want to have capable, honest and hard-working ANC cadres as ANC leaders - some will be communists, many will not be. Rather a capable non-communist ANC comrade in a leadership position, we say, than a less capable ANC member who happens to be a communist.

At the heart of the socialism to which we are committed lies the struggle to build capacity for and momentum towards increasing democratic social control over the key resources of our society. In this regard, we are certainly not opposed, in principle, to state ownership ("nationalisation") as one possible means towards advancing social control over key resources. But there are several important qualifications that are required.

In the first place, state ownership of key sectors of the economy is, in itself, not necessarily a progressive still less anti-capitalist move - the apartheid regime and various fascist states had extensive state ownership. Key financial institutions in the UK and US currently are also now effectively "nationalised".  In all of these cases, state ownership has not been about rolling back the logic of private profits for a few in the interests of meeting the social needs of the majority - but rather bureaucratic interventions to rescue capitalism in crisis. The recent bank buy-outs in some advanced capitalist countries have been correctly described by mainstream economists as "socialism for capitalists", while the majority are burdened with a huge national debt to pay for the bail-outs.

In the second place, as the many recent scandals in our own parastatals have underlined, public sector ownership, on its own, is no guarantee that this public property will not be plundered by senior management for their own private accumulation purposes. Primitive accumulation rent-seeking is one of the major plagues currently afflicting our democracy and it lies at the root of many sectarian battles and disputes within our broader movement. It is absolutely essential that we wage an intensified battle against it. It would be the height of hypocrisy, by the way, to be calling for "nationalisation" on the one hand, while being intimately involved in the private plundering of public resources on the other.

In advancing our perspective on socialisation, including progressive nationalisation, the SACP fully intends to locate this advocacy, and any other discussion on nationalisation/socialisation, within the context of our shared alliance strategic priorities - jobs and sustainable livelihoods; health-care; education; rural development; and fighting crime and corruption. We must all guard against the opportunistic appropriation of "nationalisation", treating it as a stand-alone issue and using it as a rhetorical badge of "radicalism". Any progressive call for nationalisation needs be a coherent and do-able part of an overall democratic programme.

As the SACP, a party of socialism within an ANC-led alliance, we seek to encourage a growing appreciation, from among the broad mass of our people, including the broad ranks of the ANC, of the impossibility of achieving fundamental progress on our shared priorities without rolling back the dominance of capital. As far as the SACP is concerned, we want to make this a non-sectarian and practical discussion, rather than simply an "ideological" assertion. Grand-standing doesn't help. Threatening comrades that you won't vote for them in future elective conference unless they support your position is infantile and unhelpful.

For instance, the discussion around the transformation of the mining sector needs to be located within the broader challenge of putting our country onto a new job-creating growth path. It needs to be about the role of a transforming mining sector (and indeed a wider minerals-energy-finance complex) within government's emerging Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP). How we transform the mining sector should be located within such a broader discussion and not be based on one-third of a de-contextualised clause in the Freedom Charter.

But the question of socialisation extends far beyond just a narrowly-defined economic domain. It relates to all of the other key strategic priorities of our ANC-led alliance. The transformation of health-care, for instance, requires (as the ANC is coming, in effect, to increasingly recognize and affirm) precisely the enhancement of socialisation in the sector (strengthening the public health sector; rolling back the power of the pharmaceutical industry; the roll-out of a national health insurance, etc.). The ANC and government might not use the word "socialisation" (and that doesn't matter) - but this is exactly the kind of converging appreciation for which we, as the SACP, are struggling.

The same can be said for the turn-around in education - with the important growing realisation that transformation (or in our terminology "socialisation") of the sector doesn't just mean an improving "state-controlled" sector (that's critical), but also, in this case, the effective mobilisation of key social forces (teachers, parents, learners, communities) around a unifying transformational agenda.

Likewise, fighting corruption, another shared strategic priority, critically relates to bringing the state and especially the SOEs under a social/developmental mandate - as opposed to using them as sources for primitive accumulation. The current crisis around governance, golden hand-shakes, exorbitant tariffs, and failures to actually effectively deliver in many SOEs provides us with an opportunity to advance (not the cause of privatisation, as the DA will do) but rather their effective and increasing socialisation - i.e. subordination to the logic of meeting social needs not private profits.

As we have said in the recent past, the SACP welcomes the ANCYL's attempt to raise questions around the transformation of the mining sector, including possible nationalisation. We are the last ones to be scandalised or disapproving of such a discussion. We are concerned, however, that unless this important debate is raised in a constructive way, and for principled reasons, it runs the risk of dividing the ANC and our broader movement, and of discrediting the very real need for major structural transformation in our society.



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