23 February 2015


Basics, Part 7


We proceed from an understanding of the vanguard-to-mass relationship between the communists and the working class, where the latter are organised in trade unions primarily for self-defence, (and not like the vanguard communist party, which is primarily organised for revolutionary purposes).

We included the Rules of Debate that are applied within those and other mass organisations.

We now come to the practical means by which trade unions do their business: Negotiation.

Negotiation is what two parties must always do in order to arrive at an agreement to exchange one thing for another, or in other words, to arrive at a common contract. In the case of trade union negotiations with employers, the two sides are trying to arrive at a bargain for the exchange of Labour-Power for money (wages).

Inflation (a rise in the money prices of all commodities) makes it inevitable that the price of Labour-Power must also be re-negotiated at frequent, often annual, intervals. Contrary to what is often written about negotiations, there is no presumption of dispute about this process. On the contrary, the invariable aim on all sides is to arrive at a bargain. (If, as it appeared to be the case in the AMCU “strike” in the three biggest platinum mines in February, 2014, at least one if not both of the parties are not interested in having a bargain, then what is going on is NOT a negotiation, but something else.)

On the way to the bargain, there may be “failure to agree”, and sometimes there may be a “withdrawal of labour”, but there is no attempt to upset the relationship of boss and worker. The boss/worker relationship is confirmed, and not threatened, by the process of negotiation.

So long as there is “failure to agree”, people will talk of a “wage dispute”, and sometimes they will use military language to describe what happens. Yet even in military terms, as Clausewitz wrote in his book “On War”, “The Result in War is Never Absolute”. In other words the combatants will inevitably have to live together in peace again, after the war.

Negotiation is a skill that can be learned. The attached document is a very good short introduction to wage negotiation. It comes from the MIA Encyclopedia of Marxism.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Negotiations, MIA.

17 February 2015


Basics, Part 6a


These Generic Courses are designed for self-organised Freirean study circles, meeting on a regular weekly basis with no outside lecturer. So there is a main text for each week. This week, our main text has been “Worker Solidarity and Unions” from MIA, combined with Procedure of Meetings, based on Wal Hannington’s “Mr Chairman”. An introduction to these texts was sent out under the heading “Vanguard”.

As well as a main text each week, there is usually one, or more than one, supporting text, which may be regarded as supplementary, alternative, or additional reading. This week the supporting text to this discussion of the workers’ mass organisations and their necessary counterpart, the revolutionary Party, is made up of extracts from Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” (attached; download linked below)

“Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class”, wrote Lenin, in this book.


In “What is to be Done?”, Lenin was concerned to oppose what he called “economism”, which is also called “syndicalism” and in South Africa in the past and still up to now, “workerism”.

Lenin was concerned to show (following the publication of Eduard Bernstein’s gradualist “Evolutionary Socialism” and Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution?”) that a revolutionary transformation of society was not possible without a professional, revolutionary, political party of the working class. Trade union organisation of the working class was never going to be sufficient.

In the process Lenin was moved to denounce demagogy in the severest terms (see the quote above, which is taken from the text that we are using today). One reason that Lenin denounced demagogues so emphatically is because they misrepresent themselves as being “left” or revolutionary, when in fact they are “right”, and in particular gradualist, reformist and class-collaborationist.

Worker’s Control?

Sometimes syndicalism arrives at a point where it proposes, demagogically, “worker’s control” under capitalism. Marx and Lenin both denounced such tomfoolery – see, for example, Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Programme

Lenin showed that the worker’s political party, the communist party, remains a “must-have”. To achieve its goals the working class must combine in a vast association of the whole nation; whereas the syndicalism of individual factories or isolated mines is nothing more than a reversion to petty-bourgeois consciousness, in conditions where such petty-bourgeois behaviour is hopelessly subordinated to a bourgeois market that it cannot possibly control.

How will they sell their products, unless on the terms of the Imperialists? This is why we say that demagogy is nothing but the class enemy’s message, dressed up and re-sold in fake-revolutionary clothes. Demagogues will even be found denouncing the real revolutionaries as fakes.

When in doubt about such things, it helps to study; and Lenin is a good person to study, because he was good at telling the difference between genuine things, and fakes. Especially, Lenin opposed syndicalism, workerism, gradualism, reformism and economism, all of which still exist today.

“What is to be Done?” is the book where Lenin most clearly differentiated the reformist mass organisations from the vanguard political party of the working class, which is the communist party. The downloadable file contains the most directly relevant passages.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: What is to be Done, Workers and Revolutionaries, Lenin.

16 February 2015


Basics, Part 6

Wal Hannington, 1896-1966


In politics, the word “vanguard” means the professional force, human framework or “cadre” which can lead the mass movement of the people on a revolutionary path.

The relationship of the revolutionary vanguard to the mass organisations of the people is in some respects similar to the relationship of a doctor to the people, or of accountants and lawyers to businesses, or of an architect or an engineer to builders and their clients.

The vanguard is made up of professional revolutionaries.

The revolutionary vanguard is a servant, and not a master. The vanguard party of the working class serves the working class. It does not boss the working class. Nor does it substitute itself for the working class.

The working-class vanguard party, which is the communist party, is not separate from the mass movement. It is intimately involved with the mass movement at all times and at all levels. The vanguard party educates, organises and mobilises. As a vanguard, it must have expert knowledge about how mass movements in general, and especially about how the primary mass organisations of the working class which are the trade unions, work.

To deal with this crucial matter (i.e how trade unions work) here, in the attached document (and download linked below), is a text from the Marxists Internet Archive’s Encyclopaedia of Marxism, written by Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden, two comrades who clearly have vast experience of what they are writing about.

This text is empirical and experiential and there is nothing wrong with that, because experiential is exactly what trade unions and other mass organisations are. Trade unions arise out of the existing consciousness of workers as it is found under capitalism. In many ways, workers emulate capitalist forms of organisation. Their initial purpose is to get a better money deal in exchange for their labour-power in the capitalist labour-market.

Trade unions are therefore in the first place reformist, and not revolutionary. Nor can trade unions become revolutionary without the assistance of professional revolutionaries, organised separately as a communist party. Lenin dealt with this relationship in “What is to be Done?”, which we will look at tomorrow.

Trade unionists who think that they can dispense with the assistance of a communist party – the ones known as “economists”, “workerists” or “syndicalists” – are on a road to ruin.

Rules of Debate

Crucial to the democracy of mass organisations are the Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings. These are a bit like language, or political education, or the Internet, in the sense of being communistic, and not given as authority. They are not imposed by a “state”. There is no institutional enforcer of these rules. They exist in society, but without a “state” to enforce them.

For example, the South African Communist Party has no given Rules of Debate or Standing Orders. Unfortunately, this does not prevent people from claiming “Points of Order”!

The nature of the notional “rules” is such that they are only effective to the extent that they are understood in common by the members of any particular gathering, and enforced by these members.

Wal Hannington [1896-1966, pictured] was well known as a communist leader of the unemployed workers’ movement in Britain in the 1930s. Our summary of his 1950 booklet “Mr Chairman” is included with this item on Trade Unions because communists involved in trade unions need this knowledge of rules of debate and procedure of meetings, as well.

Hannington wrote: "The Chairman is there to guide the meeting, not to boss it." This is the most valuable message in his book. The Rules of Debate and the Procedures of Meetings are only justified to the extent that they liberate the people present. They become useless when they are felt as a burden or as an obstruction.

The point is not for the Chairperson to “keep order”, or for individuals to be bullied down with “points of order”. The Chairperson serves the meeting, and the meeting needs to know how to guide the Chairperson. Everything works best when everybody is familiar with the generic Rules of Debate.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Worker Solidarity and Unions, MIA, Meetings, Hannington.

11 February 2015

Strategy and Tactics

Basics, Part 5b

O R Tambo

Strategy and Tactics

“The art of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements…”

The above line from the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics of 1969 (attached) can be taken as the idea of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) in a nutshell. Politics is in the subjective realm – it is about the ultimate subjectivity, freedom – but politics can only have an existence within the limits of objective realities.

Joe Slovo

The NDR has a steadily-built organisational history of personalities, of events and of documents, working within, while at the same time changing by its action, the balance of class forces in South Africa.

Next to the Freedom Charter, the ANC Strategy and Tactics document of 1969 is the most prominent of all the NDR documents. In discussing the military activities of Umkhonto we Siswe (MK), it outlines alliance politics in terms that are sometimes crystal-clear, and sometimes not so clear. For an example of the latter, the enemy is not well described. Still, the Morogoro S an T is the best one to use as the basis for a discussion of the subjective political action of this period, and for some remarks on the underlying class realities, as well.

Dr Yusuf Dadoo

The Treason Trial had come to an end in 1959 with acquittal of all the defendants. New campaigns were then launched, but came to an abrupt end following the Sharpeville massacre and the banning of the ANC and the PAC. Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched in 1961. Technically it was neither a “wing” of the ANC, nor of the Party, and a new structure had to be put into place to make MK accountable to the political leadership. Dr Yusuf Dadoo played a leading role in that structure.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Strategy and Tactics, Morogoro, 1969, ANC.

10 February 2015

Call to the CoP; Freedom Charter

Basics, Part 5a

Call to the CoP; Freedom Charter

In our “Basics” course, the attached document is given as an alternative or supplementary discussion document to the main one on the SACP constitution, so that we could, if we wanted, have a discussion around mass and vanguard organisation, alliances between classes, and the role of the Party.

The SACP’s Rule 6.5 makes a good basis for alliances. The attitude and principle that Rule 6.5 represents has been successful over the decades. Alliance of mass democratic organisations was exemplified the 1955 Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter that was adopted there.

The Freedom Charter was much more than a list of demands. It was an integral part of a conscious nation-building project which had real revolutionary content and which demonstrated real democracy in action, following the banning of the communist party (CPSA) in 1950.

The campaign of which the Freedom Charter was a part, and which generated the Charter, began long before the Kliptown event. It was also intended to go on for a long time afterwards. It got under way with the collection, by countrywide volunteers, of suggestions and inputs to the document, so that the people could “write their own demands into the Charter of Freedom”, as the “Call” document said.

In practice, the campaign was disturbed, following the Kliptown event, by the arrest of many of the Congress and allied leadership, in 1956, and the subsequent Treason Trial. But this did not stop the Freedom Charter from attaining the classic status that it still carries today.

Those old comrades laid down a well-designed pattern. It appealed to the heart as well as to the eye and to the mind, and it still surrounds us today, manifested in the continuing Congress Alliance of which the SACP, legal again, is now an open part.

As it was when Lenin spoke in the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, so it was again in 1955. Two things were required. The first was a genuine class alliance and unity-in-action against the main oppressor class, the colonialist monopoly capitalists. The other was the deliberate extension of democracy for the creation of a democratic nation.

The CoP campaign was exactly in this mould.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Call to the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter.

9 February 2015

SACP Constitution

Basics, Part 5

 SACP Constitution

The jewel of the SACP Constitution is Rule 6.5, which says:

“Members active in fraternal organisations or in any sector of the mass movement have a duty to set an example of loyalty, hard work and zeal in the performance of their duties and shall be bound by the discipline and decisions of such organisations and movement.

“They shall not create or participate in SACP caucuses within such organisations and movements designed to influence either elections or policies.

“The advocacy of SACP policy on any question relating to the internal affairs of any such organisations or movements shall be by open public statements or at joint meetings between representatives of the SACP and such organisations or movements.”

This means that SACP members active in any part of the mass movement, including trade unions, and including the ANC, do so in the utmost good faith.

SACP members serve the mass organisations on the terms of those organisations.

This clause is the backbone of the Alliance of the SACP with the ANC and COSATU, including COSATU’s affiliates.

It is because the mass organisations understand this rule that the alliance has been so solid for so long.

It means that SACP members can be trusted, and are in fact trusted.

The SACP Constitution, as a whole, is a model of how a constitution needs to be written. It is as brief as it can be, as direct as it can be, and where necessary it is sufficiently detailed. It is a very fine document, of which SACP Party members can be justly proud.

Mastering the SACP Constitution

Taking the CU booklet version, which is 20 pages long, and reading backwards, the last three pages are on disciplinary procedure.

Pages from 7 to page 17, (clauses 8 to 23), roughly eleven in total, and therefore more than half of the entire constitution, are taken up with the structures of the Party from the National Congress down to Branches and Units. All of these are straightforward and easy to understand.

Clauses 1 and 2 have to do with the name, symbol and flag. Clause 7 establishes the Young Communist League, in very few words.

The remainder of the clauses, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are where you will find the distinguishing features of the Party, mainly on pages 1 to six of the CU version.

These are the ones you should read first.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: SACP Constitution, 2012.

3 February 2015

Socialism, Utopian and Scientific

Basics, Part 4a

Socialism, Utopian and Scientific

The attached text (also downloadable via link below) is “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific”, by Frederick Engels.

By Utopian, Engels meant imaginary, or ideal, and typical of the early socialists such as Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon, and François Fourier (who was the historical inventor of the word “feminism”, among other things). Marx and Engels respected these pioneers but also distinguished themselves critically from them. The third part of the third section of the Communist Manifesto of 1848 is devoted to them.

In the previous post we had Lenin’s “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”. “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” has a similar three-part structure, and there is another work of Lenin’s (written as an entry for an encyclopedia) called “Karl Marx, A Brief Biographical Sketch with an Exposition of Marxism”, of a length that is intermediate between the two we have given, with a similar structure. That one might be the more “basic” text, but Engels’ work is the real classic.

Frederick Engels begins “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” (see the link below), with the Great French Revolution that started in 1789. From this point on we can meet, in their developed form, the class protagonists who allied and clashed from that time onwards until now, in all possible permutations: alliances holy and unholy, strategic and tactical, marriages of convenience and marriages made in heaven.

These classes were the feudal aristocrats; the peasants; the bourgeoisie; and the proletariat.

Engels’ work has the additional benefit of introducing the rudiments of political philosophy, and leading our thoughts towards the “democratic bourgeois republic”, which is at one and the same time the highest form of political life before socialism, the prerequisite of concerted proletarian action, and a form of the State that has to be achieved, transcended and then left behind.

Those in need of an occasional quick, brief revision of the theory of socialism and communism might like to save these three texts, and read them again from time to time. Naturally, the same applies to all of the work used in this “basics” course.

There is no great need to search for modern summaries of the classics, when the masters have provided very good summaries of their work, themselves.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels, 1880, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

2 February 2015

Sources and Component Parts of Marxism

Basics, Part 4

Sources and Component Parts of Marxism

We have said, while discussing Machiavelli, that communism does not discard the past, but grows out of it. This week the main item is Lenin’s “Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” (download linked below). This piece of writing, though extremely short, manages to embrace the whole of philosophy, politics and economics. For these reasons it is highly popular with teachers and students.

Lenin’s purpose is to show how comprehensive Marxism is, and that Marxism is on the “highroad of development of world civilisation”.

He puts the matter like this:

“…there is nothing resembling "sectarianism" in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the highroad of development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in the fact that he furnished answers to questions which had already engrossed the foremost minds of humanity. His teachings arose as a direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.”

One may appreciate Lenin’s point, without necessarily accepting every simplicity in this highly compressed account. It is a scheme of understanding, almost like a diagram. It raises many questions, for example:

·        Is there any such thing as “Marxism”, in the sense described here by Lenin as “complete and harmonious” and “an integral world conception”? Karl Marx did not think so. From his own point of view, Marx had only completed a small part of what lay before him; and he refused the label “Marxist”.
·        In what sense was Marx’s philosophy materialist? Did Marx see human beings first and foremost as arrangements of molecules – i.e. as an “extension” of material? Or is the actual point of Marx’s philosophy and politics to give the free human subject priority over the material, objective world in which it must toil for its development? Scholars still debate these questions.
·        In what sense did Marx have an economic doctrine, or an economic theory? It is true that the question of surplus value is at the core of Marx’s Capital, Volume 1. But is that work therefore an economic text-book? Or is it really what Marx called it: A Critique of Political Economy? In other words, is it not anti-economics, rather than economics?

When it comes to politics, there is no doubt about “the struggle of classes as the basis and the motive force of the whole development”, as Lenin puts it. So there is a lot that is good in the “Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”. But it is only a start and it does not absolve anyone from the necessity of further study.

It is pleasing that in this short, packed piece Lenin still has time to mention South Africa (in his last paragraph), and that news of proletarian organisation in our country had already reached Lenin over a century ago, in 1913.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: 3 Sources and 3 Component parts of Marxism, Lenin, 1913.