The National Congress of the South African Communist Party has done nothing to persuade the South African Federation of Trade Unions that the party has changed for the better and can offer the working class any way out of the crisis it is facing.
It remains a ‘Communist’ Party in name alone, uttering vaguely radical-sounding policies, but in practice trying to defend the ANC government which is responsible for the national capitalist crisis of unemployment, inequality and corruption – talking left but acting right.
You have to look no further than the party’s widely reported decision to fight elections independently from the ANC on a pro-worker platform. This should have been good news and it is encouraging to discover that many rank-and-file party delegates wanted the SACP to break away from the corruption-riddled ANC and stand as communists in elections.
However they will be disappointed, as the very wording of the resolution shows why this resolution will never be implemented, just like the very similar resolution they passed at their 2007 Congress.
It reads: “After considerable debate at congress, we have resolved that, while the SACP will certainly contest elections, the exact modality in which we do so needs to be determined by way of a concrete analysis of the concrete reality and through the process of active engagement with worker and progressive formations.”
The 2007 also spoke about the “modalities involved” in standing independently, and the party leadership have already made it clear that there is no more intention to implement this resolution now that there was then.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande was quick to clarify what the “modalities” meant – that the party would “consult the ANC and discuss the outcome of their congress resolution before any decision was made… We may or may not contest elections separately. We will be guided by the ANC. Our road map will determine our future decision after our meetings with the ANC.”
Thus the party congress takes a decision to stand independently in elections, yet its leader insists that whether or not that decision will be implemented will be guided by the very organization they would be contesting in those elections!
The issue is further complicated by the SACP Congresses’ enthusiastic support for Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for the ANC leadership. If he wins it is inconceivable that the party would stand against an ANC leader who they have so uncritically endorsed.
They will repeat the role they played in the 2007 ANC Conference when they were the most committed supporters of Jacob Zuma, and were rewarded by many important and well-paid ministerial positions and more!.
Now they hope that an ANC government led by the Ramaphosa faction, which represents the interests of the same capitalist class that the SACP pretends to be opposed to, will reward the party with more ministerial appointments.
What remains totally missing from the the SACP is any strategy to defend the interests of the working class and the poor. The congress’s policy decisions are in line with a long line of SACP decisions which reflect the strategy of trying to sound left-wing and radical yet supporting a government which is a defender of the status quo, an economy long-ago captured by colonial, apartheid and white monopoly capitalists who still dominate the economy and have grown fabulously rich.
One of the worst examples was the party’s initial support the 1996 “Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) Strategy”, the mis-named centerpiece of the ANC move to consolidate the power and wealth of the capitalist elite.
“The South African Communist Party”, it said, “welcomes the government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy. We fully back the objectives of this macro-economic strategy and note, in particular, the following key features: Contrary to certain attempts to use the macro-economic debate to shift government away from its electoral mandate, the strategy announced today firmly and explicitly situates itself as a framework for the RDP.”
They were forced to retreat after COSATU denounced this strategy, and ended up opposing GEAR but continued to send leaders as ministers into ANC governments which were implementing it.
They refused to join the criticisms from left-wing critics of successive government budgets and of the National Development Plan which was just a better disguised version of GEAR, just as firmly rooted in a defence of the free-market, capitalist economy and the neo-liberal policies the ANC government and its SACP ministers.
When 34 mineworkers were massacred by the police at Marikana the SACP denounced them as ‘vigilantes’. They supported the commodification of transport though the imposition of e-tolls on Gauteng highways. They supported the purge which emasculated the ANC Youth league. They have become less and less involved in the growing number of community protests, and student demands for free education, obviously because their general secretary is their main target!
They then became the driving force in the campaign within COSATU to expel those who opposed this government, accusing them of being part of a “populist, anti-majoritarian, liberal offensive”. This ended with the expulsion of 340 000 workers in the federation’s biggest affiliate NUMSA, the dismissal of the COSATU General Secretary and, indirectly, the expulsion of hundreds of members of other unions who were in conflict with their own corrupt union leaders. It divided and weakened the trade union movement, at just the time of the greatest need for unity and strength.
Today the SACP have suddenly demanded action on the crisis of corruption and ‘state capture’, and have made a belated (and xenophobic) demand for the ANC to force President Jacob Zuma to dump the “immigrant Indian family”.
The SACP will insist that they have always opposed corruption, and indeed in words that is true, but when specific allegations against the president were made they kept silent. After the former Public Protector published her damning 2014 report on Nkandla overspending they even denounced her as part of a “band of anti-majoritarian liberals”.
It was surely not a coincidence that this was in part due to the fact that at time of this overspending the deputy chairperson of the SACP, Thulas Nxesi, happened to be the Minister of Public Works and that the deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin was his Deputy.
Only now does Cronin shamefully concede that Nxesi “mis-stepped” in some of his utterances on Nkandla and that he, Cronin, did his best “as deputy minister to express a slightly different perspective”. On corruption and Zuma in general, he has confessed that “Looking back, perhaps I should have been firmer in my views. I expressed them in the party but perhaps not as forcefully as I should’ve done”
What this feeble ‘apology’ omits is any admission that the SACP as a whole was culpable for the scourge of corruption under the government in which their leaders were complicit, while the party avoided any calls for action against those responsible.
On 8th August SACP MPs and minsters will be presented with an opportunity to put their words on corruption into deeds, by voting for the motion of no-confidence. But predictably they rush to hide behind the argument that because they were elected as ANC candidates they have to accept ANC discipline and vote as they are instructed by the whips.
Even in normal times the argument about having to abide by ANC mandates has been problematical, but at a time of extreme national crisis it will be treacherous to use it as an excuse to vote to keep Zuma and his corrupt cronies in power.
All this confirms SAFTU’s view that the SACP is in a terminal crisis and will never to able to live up to its claim to be “the vanguard party of the working class”. A party which acts as a left apologist for a corrupt, pro-capitalist ANC government
cannot provide a solution to the crisis of white, monopoly capitalism; it is a part of the problem.
The tragedy is that so many workers have for years looked to “the party” to lead the struggle for socialism, and they cannot understand how abjectly it have failed to live up to its claim to be a ‘vanguard’. This question was answered in an historic open letter to the SACP written by the then general secretary of COSATU, and now GS of SAFTU, Zwelinzima Vavi, on 17 December 2014:
“Many workers will be astonished, and also perplexed, at how a party calling itself Communist and with a long history of revolutionary struggle, could have ended up supporting right-wing, pro-capitalist economic policies and becoming the main defenders of a democratic yet basically capitalist government, while waging a campaign to emasculate, weaken and ultimately destroy the independent mass workers’ union movement, COSATU.
“The best answer to this question is to be found in a famous pamphlet by one of the Party’s own icons, Comrade Joe Slovo: “Has socialism failed?” written in 1989. It looked at problems facing the SACP at that time, put them in their historical context and warned then, 25 years ago, of potential dangers which could destroy the Party.
“He was writing just after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent decline of all those Communist Parties which had uncritically support the Soviet party, in which, he said: ‘The commandist and bureaucratic approaches which took root during Stalin’s time affected communist parties throughout the world, including our own. We cannot disclaim our share of the responsibility for the spread of the personality cult and a mechanical embrace of Soviet domestic and foreign policies, some of which discredited the cause of socialism…
“‘In the course of time the party leadership was transformed into a command post with an overbearing centralism and very little democracy, even in relation to its own membership… As time went on the gap between socialism and democracy widened; the nature and role of the social institutions (such as the soviets, the party and mass organisations) which had previously given substance to popular power and socialist democracy, were steadily eroded’.”
SAFTU and the South African working class now face an immense, but totally unavoidable, challenge is to build a truly independent, democratic and socialist oriented workers’ movement which will revive the revolutionary traditions of 1917 when workers build such a movement which was able to overthrow feudalism, the monarchy and capitalism and take power, even in a country far less economically developed that South Africa today.
It is a challenge that SAFTU is ready to take on, and that is why we plan to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in November to mobilise the workers and all South Africans on a program for socialist change.