On behalf of the SACP we appreciate the opportunity to participate in this gathering and briefly share some of our perspectives on current developments domestically in South Africa, the African continent and globally.
1. Contemporary developments and challenges in South Africa
The SACP is of the view that the point of departure from which one needs to understand contemporary realities in South Africa is that of characterising the current conjuncture as a reflection of the fundamental contradiction in South Africa today. It is that whilst the liberation movement, of which our Party is a component, has ascended to power, through the 1994 democratic breakthrough, economic power still remains in the hands of the same old capitalist class as under apartheid, albeit it with a tiny section of new black entrants.
This reality is in itself a reflection of the nature and character of our transition to democracy and balance of class forces domestically and globally. Our mode of transition to democracy was a negotiated one, thus sharing many of the features of such transitions, especially in the 1980’s. Some of the key features of such negotiated transitions, in most of the developing world, was political power to the majority of the people, whilst economic power continued to reside in the hands of either the domestic or imperial bourgeoisie, or some combination of both.
Since 1994, there have been many positive developments in South Africa that have benefited the workers and the poor. Our democracy is stabilising, including massive government resource transfers to the poor (eg. Electrification, housing, provision of clean drinking water, deracialisation and expansion of social grants, primary health care centres, etc). Of fundamental importance as well has been labour market reforms that have seen the protection of basic rights of workers, including the right to form and join a trade union of one’s choice and a right to strike constitutionally entrenched.
However, South Africa remains a capitalist country, with a powerful domestic and predominantly white bourgeoisie. The structures of the emergent state, whilst contested, largely reflect this capitalist reality, and many of them continue to foster the capitalist character of South African society.
Government has introduced a programme of empowering black people economically; the thrust of this programme has been co-opted by the white capitalist class – which has a long history and experience in shaping (and co-opting) government policies in its favour – which it uses to foster a small black strata of the capitalist and middle classes. Thus the small, but increasingly influential black strata of the capitalist class is thoroughly compradorial and parasitic. It is compradorial in that it is entirely dependent on the white domestic bourgeoisie, especially through its financial institutions, for it togrow. It is parasitic because its growth is largely dependent on government policies that are aimed at fostering the growth of the black section of the bourgeoisie.
The post-apartheid state is a contested entity. On the one hand there is an emerging alliance between some of the cadres within the state AND emergent black sections of the bourgeoisie, backed by powerful white domestic, and sections of global, capital, wanting to secure South Africa as a haven of a supposedly ‘non-racial’ capitalist accumulation. On the other hand there is a relatively powerful, predominantly black working class, seeking to create a national democratic and developmental state for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of our people, as a foundation for a transition to socialism. The ANC, as the ruling party and a multi-class movement, is an organisation whose commitment is to, and is actually voted by, the workers and the poor. However these class contestations are increasingly playing themselves inside the ANC itself.
The emerging alliance between a section of a state cadre and capitalist interests has had some dominance, albeit not hegemonic, position both within the state and the ANC itself, with its key platform being the current macro-economic policy framework. It is around this economic policy that there has been conflicts within the Alliance, and continues to be tensions.
The SACP has, in the light of the above, and many other factors that time does not permit to cover adequately, remains firmly of the view that deepening and consolidating the national democratric revolution in South Africa still remains the best possible route to socialism. However, as outlined above, such a democratic revolution is contested by forces both inside and outside the broad liberation movement in South Africa.
The SACP has therefore set itself the task of leading a process of building working class power in all key sites of influence in South African society. Building such working class power will ensure that the NDR takes the form of a socialist oriented democratic revolution. For the democratic revolution to take such a direction it has to be led by the working class. In order to achieve these tasks, the SACP has adopted a medium term vision whose fundamental aim is to build working class influence in key five areas: the state, the community, the workplace, the economy and in the ideological sphere.
It is within the above context that the SACP, in the wake of 12 years experience in a democratic South Africa, and after thorough reflection has identified the question of the SACP’s relation to state power in a phase of struggle to deepen the national democratic revolution as a priority question. This also relates to the question of the need to restructure the Tripartite Alliance such that it is in line with post-1994 realities, rather than uncritically reflecting a situation prior to the ascendancy of the liberation movement into power.
In addition the SACP is placing renewed emphasis on forging left networks in the continent as part of its overall strategy domestically and in the African continent.
2. The challenges in the African continent
It would indeed not be proper to understand the South African realities outside of the challenges facing the African continent, especially Sub-Suharan Africa. The SACP has always insisted that the South African revolution cannot be seen outside of the African revolution as a whole.
The African continent reflects a combination of a simultaneous hold of imperialism and a virtual abandonment by the international community. The latter is now possible especially after the end of the Cold War where the US led imperialism can afford to allow countries to deteriorate to almost economic destruction without fear of support to those by an alternative power.
It is for these reasons that the SACP has largely argued the situation on the African continent as that of simultaneous integration and marginalisation of African countries into the current imperialist regime. The more African countries are integrated the more they are marginalised. For instance the post 1973 structural adjustment programmes imposed on many African governments, led to the rolling back of whatever gains had been made by the liberation movements after independence. In other words, the very process of integration has simultaneously been a process of thorough marginalisation for most of the continent.
South Africa has indeed played an important role in attempting to place the question of African development at the centre of global priorities. These initiatives have had very mixed results. Whilst there has been some significant advances in terms of bringing about peace in many parts of the continent, both imperialist and especially South African capital’s role in the continent remains extremely predatory, thus posing the danger of objectively positioning South Africa as a sub-imperialist power. Increasingly South Africa led initiatives on peace and development are being seen on the continent as prerequisites not for African development as such, but as creating conditions of South African (predominantly white) capital to plunder the continent.
Africa still remains a prime target of multinationals in terms of plundering its natural resources. A combination of powerful multinational interests and extremely weak states provides a haven for capital accumulation in the continent. That is why Africa has the highest rate of return for any capitalist investment in the whole world today, yet it receive the lowest foreign direct investment – reflection of the simultaneous integration and marginalisation.
The fundamental challenge in the continent, from the standpoint of the SACP, is that of building progressive leftist organisations and movements capable of taking over political power over the next 10 to 20 years. This will require enormous amount of work and co-ordination, of the same order as the building of the national liberation and independence movements of the 1950s and 60s. It is only truly grassroots and popular movements that will tilt the balance of forces in the continent in favour of the workers, the landless rural masses and the poor.
At the heart of the political problematic in the African continent is the need to complete the national liberation tasks of building developmental states capable of addressing some of the basic needs of the overwhelming majority of its peoples. Imperialism has, and continues to, disrupt the completion of the process of national liberation and social emancipation. It is a question of dispensation with some form of political power, but without economic power, thus in many instances undermining the sovereignty of the current African state.
Winning these bigger battles start with wining smaller, but significant skirmishes. It is for this reason that the SACP would like this international meeting to adopt resolutions and earnestly take up the questions of democracy and self-determination of the people’s of Swaziland and Western Sahara. These are long drawn out battles, whioch we believe that if progressive forces in the world take them up, they can contribution to the liberation of those peoples and an important step towards strengthening leftist progressive forces on the continent.
The reality therefore we must seek to reverse is that o the decline o left, socialist forces especially post-independence, and the deepening poverty in our continent and region, and the growing aggression of US-led imperialist offensive.
3. US-led imperialist era
As an important part of understanding contemporary global realities, it is important to refer to the recently released “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” (hereafter referred to as ‘NSS’) in 2004. In his Foreword to this document, George W Bush says
“America is at war. This is a wartime national security strategy required by the grave challenge we face – the rise of terrorism fuelled by an aggressive ideology of hatred and murder, fully revealed to the American people on September 11, 2001”
“We choose leadership over isolationism and the pursuit of free and fair trade and open markets over protectionism… We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely shaped by it… We must maintain a military without peer… History has shown that only when we do our part will others do theirs. America must continue to lead”
The National Security Strategy document continues to elaborate on some of these themes, including the following:
“The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is the best way to provide enduring security for the American people”
“Ignite a new era of global economic growth through free markets and free trade”
“The United States has long championed freedom because doing so reflects our values and advances our interests. It reflects our values because we believe the desire for freedom lives in every human heart and the imperative of human dignity transcends all nations and cultures… Championing freedom advances our interests because the survival of liberty at home increasingly depends on the success of liberty abroad”
Of particular interest and concern is the ‘developmental strategy’ underpinning this and attitude towards developing countries:
“Yet political progress can be jeopardized if economic progress does not keep pace. We will harness the tools of economic assistance, development aid, trade and good governance to help ensure that new democracies are not burdened with economic stagnation or endemic corruption”
To underline this approach to developing countries, is the place of poverty (eradication) in this strategy:
“An end to tyranny will not mark an end to all global ills. Disputes, disease, disorder, poverty, and injustice will outlast tyranny, confronting democracies long after the last tyrant has fallen
A number of observations can be made from this Strategy:
* Terrorism is indeed becoming one of the big threats globally today, but, according to the US NSS, the causes of this are all reduced to an ‘ideology of hatred’ unconnected to the actions of the US in supporting repressive regimes, the question of growing global inequalities, both within and between countries, and unresolved political conflicts in the world. For the US NSS the primary answer to this is increased militarism
* What is striking in the US NSS is that it is a brazen unilateral strategy, with hardly any role for multi-lateral institutions, especially the United Nations. The UN is largely referred to in so far as it can be used to back some of the elements of this strategy.
* Whilst imperialism has always used a combination of both political and military means with which to create conditions for capital accumulation, what is distinct about the NSS is the brazen integration of imperialist economic goals into a security strategy. The implication of this is that it is possible for the US to take military action in instances where free trade and markets are threatened as this constitutes a threat to American security interests. In essence the NSS imposes decrees the US as the custodian of human civilisation from now onwards
* The NSS is also particularly instructive in terms of the US attitudes towards the developing countries. It defines the immediate allies of the US as the major centres of global power (the other imperialist countries). In so far as developing countries are concerned they are not centres of global power, not even centres for development, but must only be assisted through the same old methods that have not worked (aid, trade, etc). This derives from the absence of an effective poverty eradication strategy, and that poverty eradication is not a key dimension of democratisation as conceived in the NSS.
All the above pose serious challenges for left-forces worldwide, especially for the developing world. It is against this background that we should also locate current developments in Latin America, and lessons that can be drawn for left forces in our region.
The current developments in Latin America can be regarded at one level as the single sharpest expression of the crisis of neo-liberalism, since the triumphalist claim by imperialism about the ‘end of history’. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, it has taken left forces globally and individually in many parts of the world a long time reflecting on the meaning of this collapse and attempts at serious regrouping.
Brief reflection on current Latin American left advances: The challenge of a sustainable left offensive
There is definitely an important and very welcome and continuing shift of Latin American politics towards the left. As we have argued before, this leftward shift also marks a powerful popular rejection of and challenge to capitalist neo-liberal policies. It is for this reason that the progressive developments in Latin America are not only significant for the Latin American people, but for the peoples of the developing world, whose rights and economic opportunities have been rolled back by neo-liberalism. These developments are therefore also of immense significance to Southern Africa, especially to all the progressive forces in our region.
While the political parties, movements and programmes of these different leaders, and other left-leaning governments as in Uruguay, each have their own national specifics (and some are more left-leaning than others) – all have been swept into power by powerful popular waves of anti-neoliberal mobilisation. Clearly the tide is turning in this part of the world, in favour of the workers and the poor.
In the course of the 1980s and early 1990s, there was an important (if partial) shift in imperialist policy towards authoritarian regimes in such diverse places as South Africa, other parts of Southern Africa, the Philippines, and key Latin American countries like Chile, Argentina and Brazil. These regimes were increasingly seen as a liability, and negotiated elite-pact transitions to “democracy” were now encouraged by influential think-tanks in Washington. This shift was partly a pre-emptive response to popular challenges to authoritarian regimes. It was also partly because the diminished power and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union rendered unpopular, pro-imperialist regional gendarmes in Southern Africa or in Latin America less useful to imperialist purposes than previously.
As a result of a combination of factors military rule ended and there were elite pact transitions to multi-party “democracy” in a number of key countries. However, where the guerrilla struggle proved to be victorious (Nicaragua) Washington’s policies continued to focus on active economic and military destabilisation – the people were to be given “democracy”, but if they voted “wrongly”, they had to be given lessons.
In Washington in the 1980s and 1990s the “democratic transitions” in Latin America, Eastern Europe and South Africa were heralded as the “third wave of democracy”, the fruits of a new post-Cold War globalisation. What we are now witnessing, at least in many parts of Latin America, is the popular rejection of this “third wave”. Just as in South Africa, so throughout South America people are asserting that democracy is not just periodic elections and formal constitutional rights (as important as they are), democracy must also involve social and economic justice if it is to have any real meaning for the majority.
Perhaps what marks the possibilities of a new era in Latin America is that the workers and the poor, principally through mass movements, have made it possible to more directly take charge of democratic revolutions without class mediation from the petty bourgeoisie, or the “patriotic” bourgeoisie. Also, more than in the previous two decades, popular revolutionary formations are beginning to master the electoral terrain as an important platform, in the current conjuncture, to advance revolutionary goals.
Another important lesson from the Latin American left advances, not least in Venezuela, is that of the necessity of ongoing popular participation and mass mobilisation, not only during election campaigns, but as a permanent feature of consolidating progressive revolutions. It must be mass mobilisation based on popular participation in the daily struggles around issues facing ordinary people.
In much of the recent advances it is also noticeable that mass movements (referred to as ‘social movements’ in Latin America) have played a crucial, and sometimes even determining, role in some of the recent electoral advances and victories. This is against the backdrop of very weak communist parties (and the same applies to much of Africa)
The current left electoral advances in Latin America are primarily driven by progressive mass movements. This raises a very fundamental question for the left. How sustainable are such electoral victories, based as they are on the support of a mass movement without any cohesive revolutionary political party? This question is important, given the often fractious nature of mass movements. Oppositional struggles can often unite diverse social movements, but sustained electoral politics and especially the effective exercising of state power pose additional challenges. Chavez in Venezuela seems to have acknowledged the challenge and is engaging in a project to build a cohesive political movement of the workers and the poor.
To argue the need for left and especially communist parties in revolutionary struggles is not to be blind to the inherent danger of bureaucratisation of left political parties and liberation movements once in power. This was particularly the case in the Soviet socialist bloc in Eastern Europe and in the case of many of the former liberation movements in the African continent, where, once in power, the party or movement distances itself, and even develop a hostile attitude towards independent mass and trade union movements.
A perennial question for revolutionary movements is that of the place of elections and representative democracy in advancing the revolutionary objectives of the workers and the poor. Electoral sites of struggle are very important in the contemporary period, but they are always subject to the unequal power relations in society. Electoral victories of the mass of the people are always susceptible to reversal by those who control wealth and the major ideological institutions in society.
During the negotiations period in South Africa this question occupied a lot of internal debates within our Alliance. From our experiences we came to the conclusion that revolutionary movements cannot win at the negotiating table what has not been won on the ground, thus emphasising the importance of progressive mass mobilisation as an essential component of the constitution-making process itself. Similarly, particularly when progressive forces are in government, it is possible to lose on the table what has been won on the ground, underlining the dangers of divorcing governance (or more specifically government) from ongoing mass mobilisation. A progressive constitution on paper without active popular participation in all aspects of life is a dead document. The first step towards decadent revolutions is the periodic mobilisation of the masses solely for elections, whilst effectively neglecting them between election periods.
In class societies there is also always the reality that the propertied classes have the capacity to subvert electoral gains, even in many instances through the co-option of the new elite. It is for this reason that electoral and representative democracy must always be buttressed by ongoing mass mobilisation. This is going to be an important test for the advances currently being made by the left in Latin America, and indeed in our own situation.
In conclusion: Some lessons
There are very pertinent questions raised by the Latin American and African developments.
What are the tasks of former liberation movements now in power, and what is and what should be their relationship to their national liberation allies, especially the trade union movement and mass organizations? One of the key problems in Zimbabwe for instance is that ZANU-PF has lost much of the support and certainly its hegemony over most of the main motive forces of any national liberation struggle, especially the workers and progressive intellectuals and middle strata. It has also lost whatever rural base it had in Matabeleland.
There seems to be a general pattern that there is a rapid decline of progressive and vibrant mass movements (where these existed) after independence. Such movements sometimes re-emerge in response to repression post-independence and decline again once there is a change of government, after electoral defeat of unpopular post-liberation governments (eg Zambia, or Kenya). Perhaps the lesson out of this is the tendency to channel all the mass energies of such movements narrowly into an electoral effort, with a singular focus on an electoral victory or, for that matter, an ‘electoral regime change’, at the expense of sustained mass activism on the ground even after such elections.
Perhaps the only significant mass organisations post-independence are trade unions. It is for this reason that any independent mass activity or resistance to unpopular governments tends to arise from, or be led by, the trade union movement. This has sometimes led to the argument, found in sections of a number of former liberation movements in our region, that the trade union movement is being used by imperialism to roll back the gains of liberation.
The tensions between post-independence governments and trade unions also have its roots in economic policy decisions. During the 1980s and the 1990s, virtually all Southern African governments were pursuing some form or another of economic structural adjustment programme (ESAPs). These ESAPs were characterised by large scale privatisation of state assets, economic liberalisation and the rolling back of social programmes aimed at the poor. This led to large-scale destruction of jobs and sustainable livelihoods. These programmes were a wholesale failure, and it was the workers and the poor that suffered the most, thus leading to resistance from, amongst others, trade unions.
A related problem has been that the domestic elites have zealously driven and benefited enormously from the ESAPs at the direct expense of the workers and the poor. This has seen the consolidation of a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, controlling the levers of state and the meagre economic resources in these countries.
Whilst not underestimating the extent to which imperialism can (and actually does) engineer or exploit the fallout between former liberation movements and the main motive forces of the revolution, the challenge is for former liberation movements to frankly examine themselves as well. It is wrong to simply blame trade unions as useful tools in the hands of imperialism, without thoroughly examining the mistakes of the former liberation movements now in government.
Another important lesson out of this is that state power not buttressed by mass power is vulnerable. Perhaps this is the most important lesson we can learn from the current left electoral advances in Latin America.
Perhaps a critical question in our context is the need to take forward the mission and vision of the national liberation movement, especially that there can be no meaningful political liberation without economic emancipation of our peoples. The question is how do left forces take all this forward. Such a task will require forging of alliances with a whole range of forces, and a platform for steady advance towards a socialist future.
An important challenge, especially also arising out of current Latin American experiences is the viability and sustainability of many of the current leftist advances, without communist or other leftist political parties at the helm. Mass movement, important as they are, are in themselves incapable of driving a sustained progressive political programme, and are also subject to fractionation over single issues, co-optation and indecisiveness at crucial political junctures.
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It is in the context and on the terrain of the above challenges that the struggle for socialism has to be waged in most of the developing world.
It is on the basis of all the above that a dialogue amongst communist and workers’ parties remains critical. I would also like to submit a proposal that given the challenges facing our continent, it would be of immense strategic and ideological significance if this meeting, during the 90th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, is held in South Africa.
By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary, South African Communist Party