South African Communist Party Congress: Return to the ideas of Lenin!

Jordi Martorell looks at the 2002 SACP pre-congress documents in the light of the developments in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994. The positive break with the Stalinist two-stage theory must not mean a retreat into social-democratic ideas. The break with Stalinism should mean a return to the genuine revolutionary ideas of Lenin, for socialism and the overthrow of capitalism as the only way to acheive genuine liberation.

At the end of July 2002 the South African Communist Party will celebrate its 11th Congress. Nearly 900 delegates will meet to discuss the challenges facing revolutionaries in South Africa and the world today.

It is now eight years since the country celebrated the first democratic elections after the end of apartheid in 1994. At that time the joy of the people of South Africa was overwhelming. Millions of black workers, peasants, youth and women who had been denied all democratic rights for decades poured to the polling stations. Millions voted for the ANC giving it a result very close to 66%. Many felt that at last they had control of their own country and things were going to change fundamentally. For them liberation meant not only having the right to vote, the right to move freely in their own country without the need to carry passes, the right to elect their own representatives to government, the freedom to organise, etc, but also, and equally important, the right to a decent house, proper education, a quality health service, access to clean water, electricity, jobs, etc. For many of the hundreds of thousands of activists the struggle was not simply for democracy, but for a new South Africa, a socialist South Africa, in which "the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole," as the Freedom Charter said in 1955 in summing up the aspirations of the majority of the oppressed.

Eight years later is a good time to make an honest appraisal of the new South African democracy, the so-called "rainbow nation". In our opinion, the documents of the South African Communist Party fail to do that. The whole thrust of the SACP pre-Congress document (which was published in Bua Komunisi!) is that the present period we are in is one of a National Democratic Revolution. The document says: "The strategy of the party can be summarised as being to advance, deepen and defend the National Democratic Revolution." (1.7.3, Bua Komanisi! June 2002, vol. 2, issue 3) This statement really summarises the enormous ideological confusion of the party congress documents.

A National Democratic Revolution?

Let's first of all analyse what the National Democratic Revolution is, where this conception comes from, and what it means. The first time the expression was used in the Marxist tradition was at the Second Congress of the Communist International. There, the expression "bourgeois-democratic" referring to the liberation movements in colonial countries was replaced by "national-democratic" or "national revolutionary". The reason for this was to emphasise the fact that the bourgeois forces in the colonial countries were becoming more and more linked up with imperialism and increasingly afraid of the potentially dangerous consequences of a revolutionary movement of the masses against imperialism. The bourgeoisie in the colonial countries was more afraid of the revolutionary potential of the masses and was therefore no longer prepared to lead a genuine anti-imperialist movement.

This is how Lenin explained it at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920: "A certain understanding has emerged between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often, even perhaps in most cases, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, although they also support national movements, nevertheless fight against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with a certain degree of understanding with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is to say together with it."

The Indian delegate at this congress, Roy, explained in his theses which were adopted, that the most important task in the colonial countries was "the creation of Communist organisations of peasants and workers in order to lead them to the revolution and the setting up of the Soviet Republic. In this way the masses of the people in the backward countries will be brought to communism not by capitalist development but by the development of class consciousness under the leadership of the proletariat in the advanced countries." From these passages we can see that the meaning of the national democratic revolution in Lenin's times was the struggle of workers and peasants against imperialism independently from the bourgeois forces in these countries.

However, later on, once Stalinism had emerged in Soviet Russia, the genuine traditions of Leninism were completely distorted. In the case of the colonial revolution, Stalin replaced the class independence theory of Bolshevism by the two-stage theory of Menshevism. According to this, the workers and peasants had to fight for a democratic republic before they could undertake the struggle for socialism. Since in this "first stage" of the revolution the tasks were only national and democratic, the workers and peasants needed an alliance with the bourgeois and middle-class elements, an alliance furthermore, which should be led by them. This theory had nothing to with Bolshevism and in fact was contrary to the whole experience of the Russian Revolution itself.

The argument of the Menshevik tendency of Russian social democracy (as socialism was commonly known at that time) was precisely that since the tasks of the Russian revolution were democratic (the abolition of Tsarist autocracy, the distribution of the land to the peasants, freedom for the oppressed nationalities), that therefore the leadership of such a revolution belonged to the bourgeois forces. The Bolsheviks (the revolutionary wing of Russian social democracy led by Lenin) argued that the Russian bourgeoisie had arrived too late on the scene of history and was unable to play an independent role. The weak Russian capitalist class was tied by all sort of links to the feudal land owners (and could therefore not fight in a consistent way for land reform), and the Tsarist dictatorship itself. Furthermore, the Russian bourgeoisie was more afraid of the movement of the masses than it was ready to fight against Tsarism. Therefore, the Bolsheviks explained, the only class in Russia that could lead the revolution and carry out its democratic tasks is the proletariat. We must note that at that time the Russian working class represented a small percentage of the population (perhaps less than 10%). However it was, according to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the only force able to lead the revolution to its successful conclusion.

The coming to power of the working class, in an alliance with the peasantry, would give impetus to the revolutionary struggle in Europe, and the socialist revolution of the workers in the more advanced capitalist countries of Europe would allow the workers' government in Russia to move over to socialism. There was thus no need for a separate "democratic stage" of the revolution. The Russian Marxist who best understood this was Trotsky in his theory of the permanent revolution.

These were the theories. So what actually happened during the Russian Revolution in 1917? During the February revolution the mass of workers and peasants overthrow the Tsarist autocracy. At that time the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had the majority amongst the movement of workers and peasants and they handed the power of the streets to a Provisional Government led by Kerensky, that is a government of the bourgeois democrats. Lenin from the beginning argued against this. In his famous April Theses, as soon as he arrived back in Russia he explained that no confidence should be given to the Provisional Government, and that workers and peasants should continue the struggle for "Bread, Peace and Land" (that is the democratic demands), because those could only be achieved on the basis of "All power to the soviets", that is a government of the workers and peasants.

In effect, what happened in the months following February 1917 was that the Provisional Government supported by the Mensheviks proved completely unable to carry out any of the democratic demands of the masses. It could not put an end to the war, did not distribute the land to the peasants, and did not give freedom to the oppressed nationalities. The ideas of the Bolsheviks gained more and more support in the soviets, the organisations of workers' and peasants' democracy. In October 1917 the Bolsheviks had gained a decisive majority amongst the workers, peasants and soldiers, and the Pan-Russian Congress of the Soviets voted to take power away from the Provisional Government and put a soviet government in its place. The theory of permanent revolution had been brilliantly confirmed by events. The Menshevik theory of two stages had been proved fundamentally wrong.

But after Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, the Communist International was forced to adopt the Menshevik two-stage theory. In South Africa in 1928, the young Communist Party was forced to adopt this theory in the form of the Native Republic Thesis which talked of the need to fight for "an independent native South African republic as a stage towards the a workers' and peasants' republic". This was really a Menshevik position which assumed that a Native Republic could be achieved by means other than the workers and peasants taking power. In effect what was being implied is that before that a separate stage was needed in which the black middle-class elements would be in power. That was precisely the policy of the Mensheviks regarding the Provisional Government and the complete opposite of Lenin's position.

The two-stage theory in South Africa

The CPSA at the beginning did not accept this idea. S.P. Bunting, and the rest of the party's delegation that went to Congress of the Communist International where this discussion took place, were extremely critical of the CI position, and argued that the democratic, national and agrarian tasks of the South African revolution had to be achieved by means of the class struggle. Bunting was later summarily expelled from the party together with many others who for one reason or another fell out with the Stalinised leadership of the Communist International. One of those expelled was for instance Thibedi, one of the first Africans to be elected to the party's Central Committee, one-time editor of the party's publication Umsebenzi and energetic trade union organiser. Bunting also explained how at that time the ANC was a moribund organisation and that in fact "the Communist Party itself is the actual or potential leader of the native national movement." (Quoted in Fifty Fighting Years, p. 64, A Lerumo.) The Native Republic Thesis in fact implied ceding the leadership of the national liberation movement to the middle-class leaders of the ANC, while the Communist Party would play an auxiliary role. And this, which was in direct contradiction with Leninism, was exactly what happened.

The South African Communist Party has indeed moved away from the two-stage theory in the last few years, and this development is one which all Marxists should welcome, since this is not merely an obscure theoretical question, but one which is crucial to understand the nature and character of the South African revolution. However, what was a positive step forward in the party's thinking at the 1995 Congress of the SACP, we now see being transformed into an important step backwards. Let's look at the explanation given in the Party documents for the forthcoming congress to the reasons for the adoption of the slogan "socialism is the future, build it now". On the one hand it is said that in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the existence of the Soviet bloc "created an important counter-balance to the dominant imperialist bloc" which "established conditions in which progressive national liberation movements in the South, having achieved power, had much greater prospects for advancing radical national democratic revolutions, which were characterised as "non-capitalist", or as having "socialist orientation". After the fall of the Soviet bloc, the document continues, a "radical NDR" was still needed to overcome the legacy of colonialism.

This in reality confirms again the two stagiest position of the SACP. First we need "a non-capitalist radical NDR", one with a "socialist orientation" and then later on we can talk of socialism as such. We are not told what this kind of strange animal, neither fish nor fowl, is or what it looks like. Most importantly there is no class analysis of this "stage". Are we talking here about the expropriation of the means of production and the abolition of capitalism? Are we talking about maintaining the capitalist mode of production? What classes are leading this "radical NDR"? Presumably since this was, we are told, at the time the analysis of both the ANC and the SACP, we have to assume that this "revolution" was to be led by the middle-class elements from the leadership of the ANC. This is clearly a two-stage approach, and the slogan "socialism is the future, build it now" is supposed to reinforce this conception. This is a case of one step forward, two steps back.

Dictatorship of the proletariat

The second reason given for the adoption of the "socialism is the future" slogan is the SACP's analysis of the successes and failures of the Soviet socialist system itself. The document asserts that: "In the Stalin period, the Marxist perspective of socialism emerging dialectically in the terrain of a dominant capitalism ('within the womb' of capitalism) was abandoned. It was asserted that socialism could only be built after a proletarian 'seizure of power' and under the auspices of a 'dictatorship of the proletariat'". These few lines contain an enormous amount of confusion. It is correct to criticise Stalinism for its theory of "socialism in one country", but it is completely wrong to describe the formulation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the proletarian seizure of power as Stalin's mistakes, as opposed to the "Marxist" (?!) perspective of socialism emerging from capitalism. In fact what this represents is the abandonment of revolutionary Marxism, of Leninism and its replacement by social-democratic reformism!

Of course, the leaders of the SACP are free to abandon Leninism if they want to, but they should not try to hide the fact by attributing Lenin's positions to Stalin. This is a completely dishonest method, since we are convinced that the drafters of this document are not unaware that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a fundamental aspect of Marxism.

Let Marx speak for himself. In a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852, he says clearly:

"Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society."

Commenting on this letter in his major work on the question of the attitude of revolutionary Marxists towards the question of the state, State and Revolution, Lenin says the following:

"To confine Marxism to the theory of the class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is what constitutes the most profound distinction between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as big) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which the real understanding and recognition of Marxism should be tested. And it is not surprising that when the history of Europe brought the working class face to face with this question as a practical issue, not only all the opportunists and reformists, but all the Kautskyites (people who vacillate between reformism and Marxism) proved to be miserable philistines and petty-bourgeois democrats repudiating the dictatorship of the proletariat." (Lenin, Selected Works, State and Revolution, pp. 261-62)

We can see that, for both Marx and Lenin, the Marxist theory of the state was a crucial part of their revolutionary ideas. The crucial thing to understand is that the state serves the interests of the ruling class, it is not neutral between the classes, and that for the working class to take power, it cannot simply take over the existing capitalist state structures, on the contrary, these must be replaced by a workers' state, a workers' democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

South Africa today

But this is not merely a theoretical discussion. How does this apply to the current situation in South Africa? After the 1994 elections we had a situation where the ANC won the elections and thus formed the new government (though at that time it was a Government of National Unity including other parties), but on the one hand the state structures were not fundamentally transformed, and on the other economic power was still in the hands of the same handful of (white-owned) monopolies which had dominated the highly concentrated structure of the South African economy for decades. This is recognised in the document itself when it says that: "whilst the liberation movement has attained elements of political power…economic power still remains with the same class forces as in the old apartheid order." (op. cit., 4.6)

What this basically means is that we are dealing with a capitalist state structure defending the capitalist mode of production. This we can see when the police and other repressive forces are used against striking SAMWU workers during the current municipal workers strike. When the police arrest hundreds of anti electricity cut off protesters, or when the police are used to evict squatters fighting for a piece of land to live on. In all these instances the police, a very important part of the state apparatus, is used to defend the interests of capital. The fact that the ANC leaders are sitting in government does not make any difference. As long as they are committed to the maintenance of the capitalist system, as we can see clearly that they are with polices like GEAR, the privatisation of public utilities, the liberalisation of trade, etc, they are no threat to the capitalist state in South Africa. It is true that at different levels a whole new layer of civil servants has been appointed who come from the liberation movement. But this is something that the ruling class in South Africa can accept as long as their fundamental interests and property are not affected or threatened in any way. If one morning Alec Erwin or Trevor Manuel were to decide that, for the sake of argument, in line with the Freedom Charter, Anglo-American and De Beers were to be nationalised under workers' control and run for the benefit of the majority of the population, then we would see the state and the capitalist class use all the means at their disposal to prevent this from happening. In this example we can see the validity of the Marxist theory of the state.

From this correct appraisal of the current situation, the document then concludes: "a decisive shift in the balance of forces would involve an intensified struggle and progressive consolidation of economic power by the democratic bloc of forces in the NDR." (ibid.) With this, the SACP leaders imply that there is somehow a "democratic bloc of forces" which will progressively wrest economic power away from the white capitalists. But what are the classes that compose this "democratic bloc"? As far as we can see the ANC leadership and government is dominated by those who represented the interests of the black middle class and nascent black bourgeoisie and who are firmly committed to capitalism. Are we therefore talking about the creation of a black bourgeoisie as the task of the NDR? And, how is that going to benefit the interests of the working class? The main problem here is that the ANC is a multi-class alliance, this much the SACP document also recognises. But in this alliance there are different and counter-posed class interests that cannot be reconciled. As long as ANC government accepts the limits of capitalism it cannot rule in favour of the working class. The ANC government operates in the framework of the so-called globalisation and a weak South African economy which is not fit to compete in the international markets. There are only two solutions to this dilemma, either a policy in favour of the interests of capital nationally and internationally, or one that makes a decisive break with capitalism at home and abroad. The ANC government has clearly chosen to pursue a pro-capitalist policy. But the mass of workers and peasants who vote for the ANC and who compose the rank and file of the ANC, COSATU and the SACP are fundamentally opposed to these policies.

This cannot be described as a National Democratic Revolution that must be "strengthened and deepened". The SACP has the duty to tell the truth to the masses. This is a capitalist economy and a pro-capitalist government. Unless the workers go on the offensive and challenge decisively this government's policies and the very basis of the capitalist system there is no other way forward. And this cannot be done by means of a "progressive consolidation of economic power by the democratic bloc of forces" because this so-called "democratic bloc" has no economic power at all to consolidate. Economic power is clearly in the hands of the same capitalist class as it was prior to 1990. It is true that a handful of black people have now joined the director's boards of the big capitalist companies, mainly as a token to "black economic empowerment", and also a handful of black people have now became capitalists themselves. These are a very small minority and most of them are small capitalists. But in any case, surely the working class does not stand to gain anything by the so-called "de-racialisation" of capitalism. A capitalist is a capitalist, and is out to extract the maximum amount of surplus value from the workers that he can, and the colour of his skin does not make any difference to this primordial motive force.

The experience of other African countries that won freedom from direct colonial domination some time ago should serve as a lesson and a warning to the South African masses. In most of these countries we saw a situation in which the coming to power of the national liberation movements left the fundamental economic structures of the country untouched. Sooner or later the governments in these countries went down the road of Structural Adjustment Plans, that is pro-capitalist policies and had to face their own people, particularly their own working classes in the process. Neighbouring Zimbabwe is a clear example of this process. This is exactly what is happening already in South Africa.

Limits of capitalism

The SACP Congress document talks at same length about the ANC's Freedom Charter and of its anti-capitalist content. That is absolutely correct. The Freedom Charter is not a socialist programme. It is a programme of wide-ranging democratic and national reforms. Some of them even go a long way in challenging the capitalist system, particularly when it says, "the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole." This clearly cannot be achieved under capitalism, and many of the other demands contained in the Charter also go beyond the limits of today's South African capitalism, for instance: "the land shall be shared amongst those who work it", "there shall be work and security", "there shall be houses, security and comfort", "the doors of learning and culture shall be opened", and so on.

From the experience of the last eight years of the "business-friendly" policies of the ANC government we can see clearly that none of these demands can be fully achieved within the limits of the capitalist system. The unemployment rate is now according to some official estimates more than 36% of the labour force. Since 1994, 500,000 jobs, 10% of non-agricultural jobs, have been destroyed. Some 18 million citizens in more than 3 million households live in poverty. Between 1991 and 1996, the incomes of the poorest 50% of the population fell by 21%. In fact in the same period the only income group which experienced a substantial improvement in its conditions was that of the richest 10% of African households. Figures for the post 1996 period are still not available, but the situation is likely to have worsened with the introduction of GEAR policies and the crisis in the South African economy. (All figures from a National Labour and Economic Development Institute, NALEDI.)

Although it is true that some limited progress has been made in the provision of water, electricity and houses to poor South Africans, the scale of the problem created by decades of apartheid capitalism is such that it cannot be solved unless a massive programme of investment is put in place, something which is not going to happen as long as the ANC government follows faithfully the policies of "fiscal prudency". Quite a lot of the progress made has actually been reversed by the "cost-recovery policies" introduced by the same ANC government. This in other words means that if a household or a community is too poor to pay for access to water or electricity, these basic services are cut off. More than a million people have already been cut off from their water supply. Land reform has proceeded at snail's pace. The 1994 ANC election programme, the Reconstruction and Development Programme, which was discussed and adopted by all parts of the liberation movement, promised that by 1999 30% of arable land would have been distributed. So far, only 3% has been distributed.

These are just some statistics, but they cannot convey the massive disillusionment of millions of people who had participated in the liberation struggle and who voted for the ANC in 1994 and then again in 1999 in the hope that their lives would be fundamentally transformed.

The struggle for socialism and the balance of forces

The obvious conclusion that Communists in South Africa should draw is that one must organise the struggle against capitalism, rather than try to run it in the best way possible so that some limited reforms might be introduced. The task of Communists in South Africa is to link the struggle for immediate reforms (housing, health, electricity, water, education, jobs, land, etc) with the struggle for socialism, and in the process of the struggle for these immediate improvements in the living conditions of the majority raise the consciousness of the masses to the tasks of the struggle for socialism. Certainly there are still many democratic and national tasks of the revolution to be carried out in South Africa. However we must be clear that these can only be solved through the struggle for socialism. In that respect the character of the South African revolution is socialist.

Many objections can be made against such a strategy. The leadership of the ANC is particularly fond of quoting the "unfavourable balance of forces internationally and in South Africa". Apparently, because of "globalisation" and the domination of world capitalism, to which we have to add the fall of the Soviet Union, there is no alternative but to engage with the world market. These ideas also find an echo in the SACP Congress documents:

"There is general agreement…that the global balance of forces is not in favour of an accelerated deepening of the national democratic revolution. The overwhelming dominance of global capital and imperialism poses a very serious threat to the attainment of the objectives of the NDR." (op. cit., 4.8)

This is no more than a justification for the right-wing policies of the ANC government. And it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the ANC government elected by the masses of workers and the poor pursues right-wing policies, then we get the demobilisation of these same masses and the balance of forces becomes even more unfavourable.

If the ANC government were to propose a bold programme of reforms this would surely create a wave of enthusiasm. It would also attract the rage and opposition of the forces of capital, nationally and internationally. If that same government were to explain to the workers and youth that the only way to achieve jobs, housing and a decent life for all is to nationalise the country's top monopolies under democratic workers' control, so that the resources of the land can be used to improve the life of the majority, it would certainly gain massive support for these proposals.

It is true that the forces of capital internationally are strong and powerful, but they are certainly not almighty. Recent examples show this clearly. A mobilisation of the masses with insurrectionary characteristics recently defeated the privatisation plans of the Peruvian government. The same was the case just a few months ago in Paraguay, when a wave of workers' strikes and peasant protests forced the government to withdraw all its privatisation plans. Most importantly in Venezuela a mass mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of people were able to defeat a military that had the support of the bosses organisation, the Catholic Church, all of the mass media and the US embassy.

What these examples prove is the active mobilisation of the masses is able to defeat - even if it is just partially or temporarily - the forces of globalisation, the forces of international capital. In South Africa we have seen glimpses of this power in the August 2001 general strike, the mobilisation of people in working-class and poor communities up and down the country against eviction from council houses, against water and electricity disconnections, and currently the magnificent all out strike by hundreds of thousands of municipal workers called by SAMWU.

The South African working class

In this respect, the conditions in South Africa are even more favourable than in other countries because of the existence of a strong, organised working class with very revolutionary traditions. South Africa is not a backward agricultural country, but a mainly industrial one, where the majority of the population live in urban areas. In 1999 a NALEDI report called "Unions in Transition: COSATU into the New Millennium" explained how: "contrary to union decline in many other parts of the world, in 1998, 3.8 million workers out of 4.9 million formal sector workers were in unions." The same report gave the figures for trade union density as having grown from 34% in 1991 to a staggering 51% in 1999. This process has gone side by side with an important increase in informal employment and the increase in unemployment, which certainly are factors that weaken the strength of the South African working class. However, this is a formidable force that can provide the backbone for a serious struggle for socialism. The recent experiences of the mass general strikes in countries like Spain, Italy and Greece show that once the more organised sections of the working class, the traditional heavy battalions of the industrial proletariat, start to move, then all the other sections of casual, temporary, informal and unemployed sections of the class follow them into the struggle.

The South African working class, because of its numbers, its organisational strength, its militant traditions, but above all because of the unique position that it occupies at the centre of the capitalist mode of production, is the only class that can take all the oppressed layers of the nation forward. We have to remember that this was also the case in Russia in 1917, when the working class represented a small minority of the population in a very backward country, where semi-feudal agriculture still played a decisive role in the economy. In South Africa, the industrial development of the apartheid regime has created the ruling class' own grave-diggers. The South African revolution therefore can only be socialist and proletarian.

The deepening of the crisis of capitalism internationally in the next months and years will hit harder the countries in the periphery. Argentinean-like collapses are in the pipeline for other similar countries and it is not ruled out that they could even visit South Africa. The collapse of the rand in every single round of financial instability in the so-called emerging markets is an indication of the fragility of the country's economy, particularly now that the ANC government has introduced wide-ranging trade and financial liberalisation.

This will force the masses of workers and the oppressed onto the offensive, as we have already started to see. The task of communists is to give this inevitable movement a revolutionary perspective. To explain clearly that the capitalist system cannot be reformed and that from a capitalist South Africa no transition to socialism will take place unless it is through a revolutionary process in which the wealth of the country is put under the democratic control of the majority of the population. This is what the SACP should be explaining clearly.

These ideas would certainly create divisions and splits within the ANC. But this is inevitable. The SACP congress documents while recognising that there are different trends and ideological currents within the ANC, treat all of them as equally valid and states that "there is no single corner of our movement that has all the wisdom to carry forward our revolution". But how can policies that are completely opposed be reconciled? How can one movement be in favour and against privatisation at the same time? One particular expression of this contradiction can be seen even within the SACP. In the Party's recent statement on the SAMWU municipal workers strike, there is not a single word in support of the workers' demands, only support for the call of the minister that both parties should go back to the negotiating table.

But while the SACP leadership has maintained a public position of cautious neutrality regarding SAMWU's strike, the ANC leadership has taken a very confrontational attitude. Even president Mbeki chose the opening of the Africa Union meeting in Durban to launch an attack on municipal workers. He said that some of those attending the meeting "were embarrassed and disturbed that there were some in our country that decided to undermine this magnificent, united national effort. These were the striking municipal workers in Durban who, while exercising their legitimate right to strike, decided that they would welcome the rest of Africa by fouling the streets of Durban with refuse. Prompted and encouraged by their leaders, these sought to misuse and degrade the songs, slogans and communication methods of our movement for national liberation, and thus dishonour and betray our movement at a critical moment in Africa's continuing liberation struggle." (ANC Today, vol. 2, no. 28, 12-18 July 2002)

The problem is here clearly posed by Mbeki. There are two concepts of what liberation is. For the striking municipal workers liberation also means the right to a living wage. For Mbeki it means grandiose talk of African Renaissance. For Mbeki it means a "united national effort", but unfortunately, the interests of workers and those of the capitalists cannot be reconciled.

These debates are important and should not be hidden. Many SACP members are at the same time ANC activists, branch secretaries and in general ANC organisers at many levels. SACP members are also COSATU shop stewards and elected officers at different levels. They should be taking the ideological struggle for socialism into these bodies. Instead of that what we find in many instances is SACP members, and leading members at that, sitting as ANC members and actually implementing pro-capitalist policies against the interests of the mass of ANC, COSATU and SACP rank and file members.

If a serious battle were to be waged within the ANC and COSATU for genuine revolutionary socialist ideas, there is no doubt that this battle would be won. That would also be the only way to build a strong ANC. Probably the openly capitalist elements, many of them in the current leadership of the organisation, would leave as a result.

That would be preferable to a situation where even though the SACP leaders exercise great caution and moderation in their criticism of some ANC leadership policies (see for instance the Mokaba-Cronin debate in the pages of the African Communist), the ANC leaders do not waste an opportunity to launch vicious attacks on the SACP. The most recent example was at a recent ANC NEC press conference where Smuts Ngonyama, ANC's head of presidency described SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin as being "unfaithful and spreading deliberate lies".

But, if such a battle for socialist ideas were to be waged, the millions of ordinary working-class people who form the core of ANC supporters and rank and file members would become more united, mobilised and resolute to carry out the struggle against oppression than they are now.

But in order for that to happen, first the SACP itself must clarify its own ideas and strategy. The positive break with the Stalinist two-stage theory must not mean a retreat into some social-democratic idea of reforming capitalism out of existence. The break with Stalinism must mean a return to the genuine revolutionary ideas of Lenin. Only in this way can genuine liberation be achieved, not just some de-racialised version of the same old capitalist system. Otherwise a movement of the masses will take place regardless, but instead of finding in the Communist Party a revolutionary leadership, the SACP will be reduced to merely providing a left cover to the right-wing policies of the ANC government.