Recently we received a request from a South African Communist Party activist for our comments on the exchange of letters between Peter Mokaba and Jeremy Cronin that were published in the African Communist (issue 158). These letters were written in the aftermath of the national strike called by COSATU in August 2001. The strike led to a crisis and an exchange of accusations within the Tripartite Alliance, composed of the ruling ANC, the trade union federation COSATU and the Communist Party (SACP)
Peter Mokaba is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and Environmental Affairs and former Tourism Deputy Minister. Jeremy Cronin is deputy general secretary of the SACP, Member of Parliament for the ANC and also member of the NEC of the ANC. In this exchange of letters Peter Mokaba attacks the SACP because of its criticisms of government policies, but in his reply Jeremy Cronin ends up…apologising for their criticisms!
Reply by Jordi Martorell
I had actually not seen the exchange between P. Mokaba and J. Cronin in the African Communist. I printed it out and I went through it during the weekend and here are my comments.
First of all it is clear that Mokaba's letter is a provocation, particularly when he uses quotes from Marx and Engels, and even Lenin to attack the SACP. But the problem is that he is actually right on some of the issues, and his letter underlines the faults of the position of the SACP leadership. Cronin's reply, while making some valid points, is on the whole apologetic and extremely muddled from a theoretical point of view.
Let's go through the different points raised. We can first take the five points identified by Cronin and then some others that he doesn't address.
Obviously Mokaba is right when he quotes from Marx on the role of national debt. This, Marx describes as a way of expropriating wealth from the masses, which was used particularly during the process of primitive accumulation of capital. This is obviously true, but does not in any way justify a policy of reduction of the budget deficit.
The truth is that the recent growth in budget deficits and the national debt in advanced capitalist countries was the result of the application of Keynesian policies; that is the intervention of the state in the economy in order to boost consumption, through programmes of public works and social welfare. To a certain extent this had the effect of pushing the economy forward, but this policy has its limits. The state, in order to be able to pump money into the economy, is forced to borrow from the private sector - money which it then has to return at an interest. This spending of money that the state does not have inevitably produces inflation in the long run.
This is the situation which most European countries found themselves in at the end of the 1970s, with high levels of inflation. The current drive to cut budget deficits and national debt comes from that experience.
What methods are capitalist governments applying in order to cut budget deficits? Basically cutting spending on welfare provision (education, health, unemployment benefits, etc) and also through a policy of wholesale privatisation of state-owned companies (this is, by the way, a short term one-off "solution" since once the company is sold it will never again produce any revenue for the state).
What this means is that the state is cutting its social spending (which benefits the working class) in order to pay back its debts to the banks. This is why this is a completely reactionary anti-working class policy and therefore should be opposed by communists.
Instead of explaining this, Cronin goes on to say that a process of accumulation not only takes place under capitalism, but also in the first stage of a socialist society and in the development of Europe after 1945 and the development of the Asian Tigers in the 1970s. He is right in that, and he is also correct in pointing out that the development of the Asian Tigers, which meant high levels of national debt, could only take place in the context of the Cold War, when US imperialism was interested in developing these countries' economies as a barrier against the spread of Communism in Asia.
Then Cronin asks, "what should be our own post-apartheid development strategy?" And his answer is extremely interesting. First he discards "the wholesale expropriation of the exploiting classes" as "an unrealistic strategy, given the current global and national balance of forces"!! Basically Cronin is saying that since socialism is not a realistic perspective, then we have to find the best way to work within the limits of capitalism. He does not explain why the expropriation of the exploiters is an "unrealistic strategy" nor why the balance of forces is unfavourable, and if that is the case, what can we do to change it.
It is true that South Africa is not in a revolutionary situation right now, not even in a pre-revolutionary situation. The reason for this is that revolutionary opportunities were lost in the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time there was a highly organised, militant working class, clearly fighting for socialism, which had the support of the masses of youth and poor. The whole process instead of leading to a successful socialist revolution, ended up in a negotiated settlement - a capitalist democracy - in which the white ruling class was prepared to give democratic rights to the majority as long as the fundamental economic levers of society remained untouched.
A deal was reached only when the white bourgeoisie was convinced that the ANC leaders would respect private property, and that they would be able to control their own supporters. Apartheid had been a very useful mode of class rule for a long time, one which had allowed South African capitalism to extract a large amount of surplus value from the working class. But faced with revolution, the ruling class was prepared to make concessions - very important concessions, as long as they remained the owners of the banks, factories and mines.
An important reason for the negotiated settlement was the fall of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The ANC leaders, most of them from the black middle class, had, on occasion, talked about socialism, and no doubt many of them saw the USSR as a model to follow. Once that model was gone, their priorities changed, and even those who had once declared that the struggle was for socialism, abandoned that goal. Their main aim now was a de-racialised capitalist system, in which some of them could join the ranks of the capitalist class.
In this process an important role was played by the SACP. The SACP had an enormous influence in the ANC and particularly in COSATU and amongst the ranks of the militant youth. Despite all its Stalinist faults and the insistence on the two-stage theory, thousands of the most committed activists in the liberation struggle identified the party with the struggle for socialism, for communism. When the decisive moment came of deciding between reform and revolution, the SACP leaders went all the way with reform. The old two-stage approach - first fight for democracy and national liberation, later on we can fight for socialism - though rejected in words, played once again a treacherous role.
Once that revolutionary opportunity was lost, then obviously the balance of forces changed in favour of Capital. The problem is that Cronin simply accepts the fact. He does not make a critical assessment of how we got to this situation or what we can do to change it. He simply accepts the limits of the capitalist system and tries to find the best policies within these limits.
The problem is that South African capitalism is in crisis and is also subjected to the pressures of the world market. In these conditions, the room for manoeuvre is very limited.
What would a socialist government do in these conditions? First of all it would try to resist the pressures of local and international capital. The needs of the masses of mainly black South Africans who voted for the ANC are many and are very urgent. In order to address them, a lot of money is needed. How do we find that money? First of all the government should refuse to pay the national debt. This was a debt which accumulated during the apartheid era and which was used to maintain that odious regime. Why should an ANC government pay for that?
The government should start a massive plan of public works, including the building of houses, schools, hospitals, the provision of water and electricity to all households, etc. Such a plan would immediately create tens of thousands of jobs for building workers, architects, nurses, doctors, teachers, it would stimulate the production of steel, cement, etc.
A socialist government would also refuse to comply with the requirements of international financial institutions (the irony is that the ANC government is applying all these requirements even faster than what the IMF is asking!). Finally in order to have the money to finance the needs of the people, the government should nationalise the banks and the insurance companies and use their enormous resources.
I can already hear Cronin saying that this is "unrealistic given the present balance of forces". In fact that is what he says in his reply. When he asks "what are the possibilities for a more redistributionist tax regime and other redistribution measures?", that is, what are the possibilities for a social-democratic programme? He answers "the SACP is willing to admit that there may be constraints in this path again given the class balance of forces"!
Once you accept the limits of capitalism you are forced to make one concession after another. So if socialism is not an option and there are many constraints for a social-democratic redistributive policy, what are we left with? Basically the ANC government's GEAR policies. Cronin himself says that "in assessing these [ANC government's] policies…some of us in the SACP (and I include myself) have sometimes been rather too shrill. We should tone down some of our public rhetoric" (!!).
But, let's go back to what would happen to an ANC government applying genuine socialist policies "given the current balance of forces". To be sure, there would be a campaign on the part of the ruling class, national and global, against such a government. National capitalists would go on an investment strike, would try to sabotage the government's plans, would try to take their capital out of the country, and would try to destabilise the government by all means at their disposal (and these are certainly many). International capital would declare an embargo on South Africa.
What does this remind you of? Venezuela. In the last three years since the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans elected Chavez as a president, an unprecedented campaign has been organised against his government by the national capitalists and US imperialism. The campaign heightened when Chavez went ahead in December with a number of laws that introduced certain elements of land reform and increased the state revenue from oil extraction operations.
Finally, the campaign culminated in a coup just about ten days ago, with the participation of all the media, the capitalists, the trade union bureaucracy, the support of the middle class, the US embassy, sections of the Army, the hierarchy of the Church, etc. What was the result? The result was that one and a half million people, from the poorest sections of society came out on the streets, defeated the coup and put Chavez back in power.
Chavez is not a socialist, he has never claimed to be one. His whole programme is one of defending national production and introducing land reform as a way of improving the lot of the country's poor. But even such a limited programme is seen as a threat by the capitalists and they organised the coup. But the important lesson to draw from the events in Venezuela is that the masses, without a leadership, went out on the streets and defeated the counter-revolution, even when all seemed already lost.
Just imagine an ANC government implementing genuine socialist policies and appealing to the masses to defeat any counter-revolutionary attempts. The problem is precisely that the pro-capitalist policies of the ANC government are betraying its own social basis and making the "balance of forces" even more unfavourable. Socialist policies on the part of the government would definitely provoke mass enthusiasm and support, and mass mobilisation of the people to defend them.
Instead of this, Cronin chooses to accept the present situation as it is, which is a very undialectical way of approaching things. And as a result, he discards socialist measures, he admits that a social-democratic programme would face many constraints and finally ends demanding a little change in the budget deficit target and a "coherent industrial policy", whatever that means.
P. Mokaba has the cheek to quote from Lenin in order to try to justify the privatisation policies of the ANC government. But he does not even have the intellectual honesty to quote in full. Instead he deliberately cuts out bits out of the quote in order to make Lenin say the opposite of what he said.
This is the quote in P. Mokaba's letter:
"Among the absurdities which the bourgeoisie are fond of spreading about socialism is the allegation that socialists deny the importance of competition. In fact, it is only in socialism which...for the first time opens the way for competition on a really mass scale…" (Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 2, "The immediate tasks of the Soviet Government", p. 602)
And this is the complete quote:
"Among the absurdities which the bourgeoisie are fond of spreading about socialism is the allegation that socialists deny the importance of competition. In fact, it is only in socialism which, by abolishing classes, and, consequently, by abolishing the enslavement of the people, for the first time opens the way for competition on a really mass scale…" (ibid.)
What Lenin is saying is that in reality, under capitalism, there is no real competition, no real use of every individual's initiative and abilities, and that these can only be truly developed under socialism. In another text called How to organise competition Lenin explains this in detail:
"Bourgeois authors have been using up reams of paper praising competition, private enterprise, and all the other magnificent virtues and blessings of the capitalists and the capitalist system. Socialists have been accused of refusing to understand the importance of these virtues, and of ignoring "human nature". As a matter of fact, however, capitalism long ago replaced small, independent commodity production, under which competition could develop enterprise, energy and bold initiative to any considerable extent, by large- and very large-scale factory production, joint-stock companies, syndicates and other monopolies. Under such capitalism, competition means the incredibly brutal suppression of the enterprise, energy and bold initiative of the mass of the population, of its overwhelming majority, of ninety-nine out of every hundred toilers; it also means that the competition is replaced by financial fraud, nepotism, servility on the upper rungs of the social ladder.
"Far from extinguishing competition, socialism, on the contrary, for the first time creates the opportunity for employing it on a really wide and on a really mass scale, for actually drawing the majority of working people into a field of labour in which they can display their abilities, develop their capacities, and reveal those talents, so abundant among the people whom capitalism crushed, suppressed and strangled in thousands and millions." (Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 2, "How to Organise Competition?", p. 467)
There is not much to say about this. The Bolsheviks upon coming to power implemented a policy of nationalisation, they abolished the classes, and they expropriated the exploiters. They did not privatise state assets. The current drive towards privatisation worldwide is one which leads in the long term to higher prices, lower standards of service and mass redundancies. Nothing progressive in that, and nothing that Lenin would be in favour of!
But in his reply Cronin confuses the issue even more by talking of the "socialist market", which according to him "would involve competition…between a dominant public sector and the private sector".
There is no doubt that even under socialism there might be some room for the private sector. But the main sections of the economy would be nationalised, under workers' control and democratic planning. In the case of South Africa this would involve the mines, the main industries (steel, auto, transport, building, etc), the banks and insurance companies. In fact the South African economy is highly monopolised and it would take only the nationalisation of a few monopoly groups for democratic planning to be effective.
This is not what Cronin is advocating. He does not even clearly oppose the privatisation of Eskom, he just raises some questions about it. So what is the point of talking about the "socialist market" in this context?
Here Mokaba quotes from Marx to demonstrate that globalisation is a process inherent in capitalism. He is quite right in this respect. Cronin, recognises this and also explains some of the reasons for the current phase of globalisation. He then goes on to explain how there have been different types of answers to the development of capitalism. One, he says, is the anarchist one which tries to go back to the past, or to opt out from capitalist society. Another is the reformist type that sees only the progressive aspects of capitalism and therefore refuses to challenge the system.
What Cronin fails to mention is the position of revolutionary Marxism which has always been to recognise on the one hand that capitalism was a progressive system, which enormously revolutionised the means of production and which spread all over the world. On the other, that the very nature of capitalist development has for a long period of time reached its limits and from that point of view plays no progressive role anymore.
The development of the world market and the monopolisation of production clash with the basic units of capitalism, the nation state and the private property of the means of production. Therefore capitalism has created the basis for the democratic planning of production which will have to take place at an international level. All this was already explained by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.
But Cronin seems to disregard this possibility (the struggle for world socialism) and therefore he comes up with a middle of the way solution saying that "a progressive strategy has to combine an engagement with, and at the same time, a partial de-linking from the logic of "globalisation". A revolutionary socialist alternative of fighting for world socialism does not seem to be on Cronin's agenda.
Furthermore, Cronin says, in an apologetic tone, that "again, we believe that much of our international, trade and economic policy-making is informed by this kind of dialectical appreciation of contemporary realities." So, again, there are no real differences between the ANC government's policies and Cronin's proposals. It seems to be just a question of emphasis.
"When the SACP critiques the influence of neo-liberalism, who is being indicted?"
Peter Mokaba is very clear in his letter when he says: "The SACP then goes on to claim that the ANC pursues a neo-liberal agenda which will not only further impoverish the masses, but will also further entrench the domination of a slightly de-racialised bourgeoisie, contrary to the tenets of the NDR [National Democratic Revolution]. In this context, the conclusion becomes inescapable that the SACP is therefore alleging that the ANC is nothing more than a running dog of the dominant and neo-liberal ruling class. If the positions advanced by the SACP are correct, then the Alliance is in grave trouble and cannot be saved without a fundamental change of direction, especially on the part of the ANC."
In my opinion this analysis is quite correct. The ANC government is applying openly capitalist policies which are already further impoverishing the masses and strengthening the rule of the bourgeoisie (a slightly de-racialised one), and as a consequence a fundamental change of direction is needed on the part of the ANC government and leaders.
But Jeremy Cronin is quick to reassure Mokaba that this is not the SACP analysis. "I do not think that we have ever said this. If we have, we would be wrong." He is not even prepared to give a clear answer to the question of "who is the ruling class in South Africa?" To this he answers: "South Africa is, manifestly, a capitalist society, and, therefore, strictly from a classical Marxist, mode of production analysis, we would have to say that the capitalist class is the ruling class in our society." In my opinion this should be clear to anyone, Marxist or not Marxist. The ruling class in South Africa is the capitalist class.
But things are not so clear according to Cronin: "However, political power is hegemonised by a radical democratic liberation movement, with a working class and poor mass base, with an overwhelming electoral mandate, and with a wide range of progressive policies that are being actively implemented as we write. This creates a complex situation…" He then goes on to quote from an ANC document in which it is stated that in South Africa there is a "democratic state" that "represents neither the dictatorship of the proletariat, nor the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie".
Cronin adds that "if these ANC discussion document characterisations are fundamentally correct (and I think they are) then, clearly, some of the more reductionist analyses of the state to be found in the classic Marxist texts (e.g. 'the state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie') need to be revisited." And concludes that "This kind of logic may well apply to a view that sees the state as no more than the 'conveyor belt' of the economic infrastructure, or which believes that the state can only be either 'the dictatorship of the proletariat', or 'the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie'. For better or worse, this is manifestly not the case in our situation".
It seems that Cronin thinks that the classical Marxist analysis of the state is no longer valid, or at least it does not apply to the current situation in South Africa. This is quite an important departure from Marxist thought, but one which is not clearly explained anywhere in Cronin's letter. We assume that Cronin stands by the ANC document he quotes in describing the South African state as a "democratic state" which is neither a capitalist state nor a workers' state.
Let's try to analyse this new kind of state which is neither fish nor fowl. South Africa has a capitalist economy. I think we can all agree on that. The mode of production is capitalist, that is, is based on the private exploitation of labour by the owners of the means of production. Does the state defend these production relations or is it against them? It is quite clear to everyone that the state in South Africa is not set on a course to nationalise the means of production, to take them away from their private owners and transfer them to collective property. The South African state is quite clearly not moving in the direction of abolishing capitalism. On the contrary, it is defending capitalist property relations. This is the case for instance when people in their thousands get disconnected from their water or electricity supply for not being able to pay their bills, or when they get evicted from their council flats because they cannot pay the rent. When the banks deny credit or even accounts to millions of South Africans and the government calls a NEDLAC Financial Sector Summit, the banks reply that "we are world class, first world banks and you do not want to tamper with us", as Cronin explains in his letter. Does the government then move to nationalise the banks so that they act in the interests of the majority? It is enough to pose the question in order to get an answer?
From these few examples (but there are many more), we can conclude that the state is clearly not a workers' state. So what does "a democratic state" mean? If what the comrades are arguing is that this state is not the same as the old apartheid state, we can accept that they have a point. Under apartheid the majority of society were denied political rights, now they have won them. But does this imply a fundamental change in the nature of the state in South Africa?
This is what Engels has to say about the question of different forms of state: "And people think that they have taken quite an extraordinarily bold step forward when they have got rid themselves of belief in hereditary monarchy and swear by the democratic republic. In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy." (1891 preface to Marx's The Civil War in France)
The forms that capitalist domination can take are many (dictatorship, democracy, republic, monarchy, federal state, etc), but Communists must be able to recognise that bourgeois rule remains though the forms might change. In fact, Marx and Engels both polemicised against the German social democrats in the 1870s for their use of the demand for a "free people's state", something very similar to Cronin's "democratic state". This is what Lenin commented on this: "It was an opportunist catchword, for it amounted to something more than prettifying bourgeois democracy, and was also a failure to understand the socialist criticism of the state in general. We are in favour of a democratic republic as the best form of state for the proletariat under capitalism. But we have no right to forget that wage slavery is the lot of the people even in the most democratic bourgeois republic. Furthermore, every state is a "special force" for the suppression of the oppressed class. Consequently every state is not "free" and not a "people's state". Marx and Engels explained this repeatedly to their party comrades in the seventies." (State and Revolution, Lenin, Selected Works, p. 251)
The fact that there is an ANC government in power does not change things fundamentally. First of all the whole structure of the state apparatus is geared towards the defence of capitalism. Thus, anti electricity cut-off protesters from Soweto are arrested outside the house of Johannesburg's mayor and are denied bail, while prominent members of the apartheid's terror machine like Wouter Basson are acquitted of all charges. When a farm worker commits an act of violence against a white farmer a full scale police investigation is launched which in most of the cases leads to the imprisonment of the farm worker. When a farmer shoots dead a black trespasser on his property, very little fuss is made about the case, and in most of the cases, the farmer will walk free. A poor unemployed youth is more likely to go to jail for stealing R100 from a businessman, than an employer for closing his factory, stealing the livelihoods of hundreds of workers.
And if the ANC government was to fundamentally challenge the interests of capital in order to provide for the majority, then without a doubt, the state apparatus would be used to sabotage such a government and the "special bodies of armed men" would be mobilised even against the government to defend private property of the means of production.
We say, with Marx and Engels, that the "democratic state" is an opportunist catchword which tries to prettify bourgeois democracy.
What kind of debate?
Finally, Cronin makes an appeal for a "sober debate" about the issues rather than a "fundamentalist exchange over the meaning of texts coupled with prosecutorial language directed at each other". This is obviously correct, and certainly the tone of Mokaba's letter was provocative, particularly his last quote from Lenin about the "squealing and yelping of the lap-dogs of bourgeois society".
Once again this is another unscrupulous use of quotes by Peter Mokaba. Lenin wrote these lines in The Immediate Tasks of Soviet Power when trying to discuss the methods of how to organise Soviet power and the economy. In fact, once again, Mokaba cuts out of the quotation the bits he is not interested in. When Lenin talks of "the lap-dogs of bourgeois society" he mentions them by name "from Belorussov to Martov". He is therefore referring to the right'wing, Menshevik, critics of the Soviet government. How does he think that this is related in any way to his attack against the left-wing critics of the ANC government is anybody's guess. What it shows is that Mokaba might have read a bit of Lenin, but he has definitely not understood any of it.
The tone of the debate is important, but even more important is the need for clarity and for addressing the fundamental questions, something which in my opinion Cronin fails to do.
The whole debate arises from the 48-hour general strike called by COSATU against the ANC government policies in August last year. Mokaba charges that this was a political strike and that it was wrong for the SACP to support it. To this Cronin does not reply. He seems more interested in apologising for the SACP's criticisms of ANC policy than in defending the action taken by the South African workers to defend their rights and conditions.
The main problem here, one which Cronin refuses to acknowledge, is that the ANC in government is pursuing openly pro-capitalist policies (opening up the markets, privatising public services and companies, etc). This has created great disillusionment amongst the masses of people who voted for the ANC expecting more than just political rights, expecting delivery of real changes in their living conditions, in the fields of housing, access to water and electricity, jobs, etc. Leading SACP members are part of this government and some of them are directly in charge of implementing this pro-capitalist policies.
The Communist Party should be opposing these policies and organising working class action against them. At the same time, the SACP should explain that the urgent needs of the masses can only be fundamentally addressed by the socialist transformation of society. Only if the massive resources of South African capitalism are expropriated and put under democratic workers' control can a solution be found to the problems of unemployment, homelessness, access to basic services, etc.
The implementation of such a programme would obviously meet with stiff resistance on the part of the ruling class and the state. This resistance can only be decisively broken on the basis of the mass mobilisation of the working class and the poor in defence of their interests. As shown by the recent events in Venezuela when the masses of the people come out on the streets, nothing can stop them. A successful socialist revolution in South Africa would have a tremendous effect in all the neighbouring countries and throughout the world working class movement and could be the beginning of the struggle for socialism on a world scale.
But how should the SACP deal with the problem of the entrenched right-wing leadership of the ANC? Most COSATU and SACP members are also ANC members or supporters. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of ANC voters would enthusiastically support a programme of struggle for socialism if they were convinced that this is the way to solve their immediate problems.
If SACP and COSATU activists were to launch a bold campaign to fight for a socialist programme within the ANC, they would easily be able to take over the ANC structures or at least win over an overwhelming majority of its rank and file. The importance of this is that it would allow a clear socialist revolutionary programme to be linked with the traditions of struggle of the ANC.
But the first problem that has to be addressed is the programme and policies of the SACP itself. If it is to serve the interests of the working class and those of the South African revolution, the Party must adopt a clear Marxist analysis of the present situation and tasks. That is the challenge it faces.