Over the recent period, beneath the appearance of relative calm in the South African Communist Party (SACP), serious divisions have begun to open up. These divisions are manifesting themselves along fault lines which have existed for long periods of the party's existence. Now, under the impact of the raging organic crisis of capitalism, the turbulence which accompanies it, the resultant instability in the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance and the emergence of formations to the left of the ANC, the cracks in the party have begun to open wider and wider. The SACP now finds itself struggling to fight for its relevance. Sooner or later all the divisions must burst into the open, further destabilizing the party and the already turbulent alliance.
In the run-up to the SACP’s 3rd Special National Congress which will be held from the 7th to the 11th of July this year, divisions in the SACP are beginning to emerge. Recently the new national secretary of the Young Communist League, Mluleki Dlelanga has called on the upcoming congress to decide whether or not the SACP should contest elections separately and independently from the ANC. “We don't say we want to leave the alliance. The question is: is it not the right time to test our strength in the local government elections?” he asked (IOL News 6/22/2015).
These sentiments were also being expressed by some SACP provinces like Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. In the province of Mpumalanga the SACP is subjected to mounting pressure from its ranks. In January of this year, tensions boiled over when ANC and SACP members physically clashed in the township of Kanyamazane. “Comrades” attacked each other with fists, stones, iron rods and sticks. Even guns were fired. Of course, this has nothing in common with the traditions of Marxism. Rather, it graphically illustrates the degree to which the situation has deteriorated in both organisations. Immediately, the YCL in Mpumalanga called for the dismissal of the premier and ANC provincial chairperson, David Mabuza whom they accused of corruption and of being an “Apartheid-era spy."
So serious is the pressure from below that the SACP in Mpumalanga says that “it is tired of working to convince its members to vote for the ANC.” (Mail & Guardian 6/26/2015). The provincial chairperson, Bonakele Majuba said: “We are continuously attacked by people who claim to be ANC leaders. They attack us, disrupt our rallies and we cannot campaign for such people. The party in the province will pursue other provinces to consider contesting state power through the ballot without breaking the alliance,” he said. Subsequently, the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the YCL have joined the call. The provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal said that “There is strong view on the ground from branches of the SACP to consider reopening the debate on whether the party should be contesting state power.”
Although other provincial leaders may disagree on the call for the SACP to stand in elections independent of the ANC, they nevertheless agree that the pressure from below is increasing very rapidly. For instance, the Free State provincial secretary told the Mail & Guardian: “When we campaign for the ANC, we always come across people who ask us why we are not contesting elections as the SACP. We explain to them that we are in an alliance with the ANC and sell the ANC to them. And then you go back sometime later and they say ‘but you were here and nothing changed.’” (Mail & Guardian 6/26/2015).
The position of the YCL in favour of contesting elections independently of the ANC was articulated as far back as 2003 when the SACP was on the receiving end of heavy blows from the Thabo Mbeki pro-capitalist wing of the ANC. At that time Mbeki openly marginalised the Communist Party to such an extent that some sections like the YCL made calls for the party to contest elections independently. Mbeki was eventually defeated at the historic 2007 Polokwane conference after a clear left wing developed inside the ANC and the alliance. This process started at the ANC 2005 National General Council when the rank-and-file of the ANC revolted against his capitalist policies and the marginalisation of the Tripartite Alliance. It was only thereafter that the SACP formed an effective coalition with the COSATU and the ANC Youth League and against the Mbeki faction.
But it is no accident that the old “State power debate” is resurfacing. The Polokwane coalition has completely unravelled. COSATU is riven with divisions and is on the brink of a disastrous split, the ANC Youth League structures were disbanded after the ANC's 2012 Mangaung conference and most of the SACP leaders were co-opted into government where they are serving as ministers and parliamentarians.
But this mounting pressure from below to contest elections on its own is likely to be fiercely opposed by the SACP leadership. The majority of its Central Committee (CC) are ANC ministers and deputy ministers - positions that come with huge salaries and privileges which many of the leading members will not want to give up.
Ever since the formation of the Tripartite Alliance in 1992 it has been the position of majority in the CC that the ANC was the undisputed leader of the alliance. This is in line with the longstanding view of the party that it must be in alliance with, and in fact subordinate to, the petty bourgeois democrats and the “patriotic bourgeoisie”. This means abandoning the struggle for socialism in favour of “National Democratic Revolution.” If the party therefore changes this position, it will materially change the nature of the alliance. This is something the petty bourgeois nationalists in the ANC will not accept. It will also put extra pressure on the SACP to break with the right wing politics of the ANC leadership and to present a more radical programme. It is for these reasons that the dominant Stalinist wing in the CC will resist on allowing such a motion to pass. Essentially, this represents two tendencies with opposing positions: the provincial leaders who are feeling the pressure from the branches and the CC which is closer to the state and the ANC tops. Sooner or later this contradiction must play itself out.
The roots of the crisis
The fundamental cause of the crisis is the false characterization of South African society and the nature of the South African revolution. According to the longstanding position of the party leadership, South Africa is a colony with both coloniser (the white minority) and the colonised (black majority) living in the same country. This is the so-called theory of “Colonisation of a Special Type”. Since the early days of the party, this “theory” has been used to argue that, being a “backward colony”, South Africa was not ripe for socialist revolution.
However, South Africa has a well-developed capitalist economy with features similar to the advanced capitalist countries. Moreover, the economy is highly monopolized. Just four giant banks control the entire financial system. Four companies dominate the telecommunications industry. The main ports and road networks are comparable to the advanced economies. It is one of the top mineral producers in the world. It has a huge urban population with a high cultural level. The majority of the population belong to the working class which has exceptional revolutionary traditions. In short, the material conditions for socialism in South Africa are 1000 times more favourable than they were for Russia in 1917.
“Colonisation of a Special Type” and the theory of two stages of the revolution have left their mark on the party. It argued that the racist oppression was the main form of rule and therefore that the task of the revolution was firstly to defeat white minority rule and to create a non-racial democracy before it could fight for socialism in the “second stage” of the revolution.
This is a fundamental point to make in order to understand the SACP leaders’ views when they speak about defending “our revolution”. In the last analysis this is the reason why the leaders of the party see its role as being subordinate to the ANC petty bourgeois nationalists.
This is the main reason why the defeat of the right wing Mbeki faction at Polokwane - on the basis of the SACP and COSATU winning over the rank and file of the Alliance - did not lead to the creation of a socialist programme in the ANC. Instead, many of the leaders of the then-left wing, such as the leaders of the SACP, joined the Zuma government while adopting the same policies as the previous one.
But once in government, the pressure on the SACP grew and the theories of its leaders were fully revealed to be false. Having committed to staying within the confines of capitalism, the SACP leaders had to accept its logic and carry out its attacks on the working class. Thus, having started on the basis of saying that the conditions for socialism are not ripe and that the class balance of forces are unfavorable to the working class, they gradually moved to completely abandon revolutionary politics and instead join the bosses’ attacks on the workers and youth. Calls for socialism, communism and revolution became nothing but empty demagogy in the mouths of the top leaders of the SACP.
With the SACP as its spearhead in the struggle against the left wing and the ranks of the Alliance, the new leading Zuma faction shifted further to the right at the 2012 Mangaung conference where it effectively discarded the Freedom Charter and adopted the pro-capitalist National Development Plan. This document is now described by ANC bourgeois, Cyril Ramaphosa as “the only game in town”. The only organised opposition to this came from the ANC Youth League which fought for a radical programme which included the call for the nationalisation of the mines. This is ultimately the reason why the League was disbanded afterwards.
It was the struggle to consolidate the grip over the ANC and fight the left wing which united the SACP bureaucracy with the Zuma clique ruling the ANC. In this struggle the SACP leaders used the party and its many thousand youth and trade union activists as a left cover for the right wing policies of the ANC. At every turn the SACP leaders argued against putting forward an independent Communist line with the excuse of preserving unity within the ANC. That is, they suppressed any opposition to the pro-capitalist measures which were passed by the ANC government (which the SACP leaders were themselves members of).
The majority of the South African workers and youth can see through this and the best revolutionaries are repelled by the hypocrisy of the Nzimande clique. Over the last period the mounting anger from below and sharp rise in the class struggle has seen no reflection at the top of the SACP. On the contrary the “Communist” leaders have opposed all the major struggles of the working masses.
In this situation, the workers and the youth have instead turned to organisations like NUMSA and the EFF which, with their radical stances, have reflected the mood amongst the masses far better. NUMSA has attracted the majority of the advanced workers while the EFF has dominated the public and parliamentary discourse ever since it was formed two years ago.
The call for the SACP to stand in the elections were thus informed by this development. This was admitted by the YCL national secretary in so many words: “The debate on the SACP capturing state power should be considered in the wake of the 6 percent electoral support enjoyed by the Economic Freedom Fighters.” (IOL News 6/22/2015).
While this has been happening, the Communist Party has largely disappeared from the scene as an active working class formation. In fact, the party became so deeply involved in government that it has largely become indistinguishable from the ANC. Originally, the leading party members were co-opted into government to give it a left cover while the ANC tops pursued open capitalist policies. In the end, the party became so wedded into ANC and COSATU factional fighting that it eventually lost most of its “communist” credentials. This has necessarily had an effect on the SACP and it explains the hysteria of Blade Nzimande and his shrill denunciations of both NUMSA and the EFF as “a stinking corpse” and “proto-fascists” respectively.
The vacuum which was created on the left by the rightward drift of the SACP has been filled by other forces while the SACP has become increasingly discredited. This is now threatening the role of the SACP as the left cover of the ANC bureaucracy. In South Africa there is no room for four mass organisations who can represent a working class constituency. The emergence of NUMSA and the EFF to the left of the ANC therefore poses a direct existential threat to the SACP. A section of the SACP bureaucracy understands this. On seeing its authority collapse and its positions within the state apparatus etc. threatened, it is trying to distance itself from the corruption and rot at the top of the ANC. In fact, this was admitted by Thulas Nxesi, the party’s deputy national chairperson. At a memorial lecture on May 18th this year in Polokwane, Nxesi warned of a “looming political disaster” facing the ANC. He had a stark warning on the issue of corruption: “We must never ever betray the loyalty and trust that people have given to government. If you are engaged in corruption, you are stealing from the poor and you are betraying the masses. The masses of South Africa will never be loyal forever. One day if you continue this mess they will turn against us. Don’t think this is blind loyalty. If there is mess after mess...after mess, one day you will regret it,” he warned.
Breakup of the alliance along class lines
Over the weekend of June 27th, the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, COSATU and the SACP held a summit in Centurion to discuss the problems which are plaguing these organisations. The summit was attended by the national leadership of the alliance. Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general described the aim of the summit in this way: “What we are trying to do is to be honest in unearthing what are the weaknesses, what are the sources of irritation and what are actually the basis of the divisions of the alliance.”
The structure of the talks were along these lines:
(1) The inherent organisational weaknesses driven by factionalism;
(2) Corruption and self-enrichment among members;
(3) Complacency in government and not working for the betterment of society
This shows a complete mischaracterization of the roots of the crisis. The nature of the crisis within the ANC is not organisational. Rather it a class issue. There are two irreconcilable forces at play in the alliance. On the one hand there is the working class, the poor and the youth. On the other hand there are the capitalist forces and the privileged layers. These are the likes of Zuma and Ramaphosa who live lives that are diametrically opposed to the daily suffering of the workers and the poor. In this battle, the Communist Party leaders have blatantly sided with the bourgeois forces of the alliance. In fact, so rabid has the party been in protecting Zuma that it has cut itself off from the advanced workers completely and also from large sections of the rest of the working class. In the final analysis, the crisis therefore has its origins in the breakup of the alliance along class lines.
Thus from a class point of view, the summit cannot achieve its stated goals of unifying the alliance. The forces of socialism and the forces of capitalism cannot be reconciled and any cosmetic “unity” will be fleeting and will be to the detriment of the working class. The only unity worth fighting for is working class unity. This must be fought on the basis of the implementation of the Freedom Charter and the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers’ control and management. In other words, it must be fought along class lines through all organisations against the tops of the ANC, SACP and COSATU who are in fact serving the interests of the bourgeois class.
Build the forces of Marxism!
The task of working class militants in the Tripartite Alliance is to build the forces of Marxism. There are many sincere and honest cadres in the ANC, SACP and COSATU who are fighting a progressive struggle and who are sincerely fighting for the interests of the working class. However, in the current period of turmoil and crisis the voices of these comrades are often drowned out by the factional fighting taking place in the alliance. In this process many good comrades often get sucked into the many battles and find themselves defending one group or the other.
However the task is to build the forces of Marxism independently of the official factions inside the alliance. There is a deep thirst for the genuine ideas of Marxism among the youth and the advanced workers and the ideas of Marx and Lenin carry immense authority among the working class as a whole. Therefore it is important to build an organisation which can bring the genuine ideas of Marxism to the youth, students and workers from all organisations. The building of such a Marxist tendency in South Africa is the biggest task facing today's advanced workers and youth.
South Africa has entered a period of instability on all levels - economically, socially and politically. The organic crisis of South African and global capitalism is having a profound impact on the consciousness of the masses. The class struggle has risen to heights last seen in the 1980s. Mass protests and strikes have rocked the country over the last period. The South African working class is restless and looking for a revolutionary way out. However, it is confronted by the biggest obstacle facing the masses - the lack of a revolutionary leadership. Such a leadership does not come about automatically. It must be built patiently, energetically and persistently among the ranks of the workers and the youth and independently of the current infighting at the top.