At a mass rally in Soweto on April 30th the Economic Freedom Fighters launched their manifesto for the August 3rd local government elections. This was a big event with a sea of red filling Orlando Stadium. For the working class people, the students and the poor who were in attendance, it was an opportunity to listen to Malema’s speech, in which he made the manifesto public.
The crisis of governance manifests itself more graphically at local level than anywhere else. It is the weakest sphere of government. It is so weak that in some places it is actually tottering on the brink of collapse.
The vast majority of community protests which have engulfed the country over the last decade are located here. Disgruntled communities are taking to the streets on a weekly basis to protest their dissatisfaction with the lack of delivery of basic municipal services such as running water, adequate housing, electricity and sanitation. It is also at local government level where the cancer of rampant corruption has its deepest roots.
The state (Reformism) and Revolution
As we explained previously, the EFF is a radical leftwing party with its roots in the fracturing of the ANC. It is a manifestation of the fierce battles and the upshot of the class struggle of the last period. It is a continuation of the process which started in the ANC Youth League before it was disbanded in 2012.
In the month leading up to the rally, the party held more than 200 consultative meetings in which the opinions and views of poor communities were sought. The effect of this could be seen by the reaction of the crowd at the stadium which felt that some of their demands were echoed in a speech given by party leader, Julius Malema. Malema has the ability to formulate these demands of the masses in language which they can relate to. This explains the largely positive reaction his speech received, both at the stadium and by those who watched it on television. However, it is not enough to assess the manifesto purely on the way it is perceived. In order to understand it better, it necessary to look at the manifesto more closely.
In his speech, Malema spelled out the social composition of these poor communities. He said they are mostly domestic workers, security guards, petrol attendants, mineworkers, receivers of government grants, unemployed graduates, etc.. In their class composition, these are the natural allies of the big industrial working class which is represented by organisations such as NUMSA, the big metalworkers’ union.
Although the EFF’s “People’s Manifesto” is written with the heavy use of revolutionary rhetoric, it does not conceal the fact that it still operates within the current economic and political framework. The EFF seeks to address the crisis by “capturing” the state and “transforming” the economy to benefit the poor. The whole thrust of the EFF manifesto is a commitment to “govern better” with popular community participation. However, this is only a more forceful expression of the ANC government’s Batho Pele (People First) policy which stands for the better delivery of services to the people.
It formulates the creation of what it calls the “People’s Municipality” in the following way:
The essence of the EFF commitments is that everything the EFF Municipality does should be people centred and should be directed towards CREATION OF JOBS AND PROVISION OF QUALITY SERVICES TO ALL. In this regard the EFF seek to create PEOPLE’S MUNICIPALITIES, whose primary inspiration and focus is the PEOPLE.
This “people-centred” theme is running throughout the manifesto. In the Opening Remarks the manifesto says: “The EFF’s revolutionary programme will always be rooted in mass organisation and activism, superior logic and taking the people along.” This is, of course, the EFF’s greatest strength. This orientation towards mass struggle and the fact that the EFF is not afraid to mobilise the masses are the main reasons for the hostility on the part of the ruling class towards the EFF. The ruling class fears that the masses will not stop half way, but will rather go beyond the limits of the system.
But it is clear that the manifesto of the EFF is a programme of progressive reforms without transcending the capitalist system. This flows from the approach of the manifesto in the Opening Remarks, where it says: “The Economic Freedom Fighters is a revolutionary political movement which seeks to replace the current government with a progressive one, more democratic, responsive, accountable and, corruption-free government. To achieve this, the EFF contests political power through elections within the difficult confines of electoral rules and systems that favour the existing political parties.”
The manifesto correctly states that the party is not constrained by the participation in elections: “The EFF’s contestation of political power through elections should, however, not be mistaken with our revolutionary determination to remove the current government by any other revolutionary means.”
But although this is a very radical position, it is limited to removing the (current) government through whatever necessary means. At present the means is through elections and through the existing capitalist state.
This is confirmed when the manifesto quotes its founding document: “Economic Freedom Fighters will contest political power, because we are guided by the firm belief that we need political power in order to capture the state and then transform the economy for the emancipation of black South Africans, especially Africans. The forms in which the EFF contests political power will, from time to time, be reviewed in the light of prevailing circumstances, but the primary role of mass organisation and activism, as a means to raise the political consciousness of the people, will remain the bedrock of political practice.”
Here the capitalist state is merely presented as an arena for contestation. It talks about “capturing” the state to use it to “transform the economy.” The EFF’s entire perspective for the South African revolution flows from this. In the final analysis, this is was exactly the position that the ANC had had when it first came into government two decades ago. It also tried to “transform” the economy through various means including the Reconstruction and Development Programme. But because it operated within the limits of capitalism, the system could not even afford these relatively mild measures. In the end, the laws of capitalism dictated that the government turn to more open attacks on the working class by adopting openly capitalist policies such as the Black Economic Empowerment, GEAR, ASGISA and the National Development Plan.
The reason for this failure by the ANC was that it is impossible to “transform” the capitalist state for such means. It is of course possible to have progressive reforms even within the limits of capitalism. However these reforms do not fall from the sky and are only a temporary feature under capitalism. Such reforms are a product of the class struggle and will be taken away the moment the system can no longer afford them. But the important point is that the state cannot be transformed into a socialist state under capitalism merely by laying hold of it. This is such an important point that Marx and Engels included it in the preface to the 1872 German edition to the Communist Manifesto on the experience of the Paris Commune. Lenin explained this in The State and Revolution:
“The only ’correction’ Marx thought it necessary to make to the Communist Manifesto he made on the basis of the revolutionary experience of the Paris Commune… One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'…
“Most characteristically, it is this important correction that has been distorted by the opportunists, and its meaning probably is not known to nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine-hundredths, of the readers of the Communist Manifesto. We shall deal with this distortion more fully further on, in a chapter devoted specially to distortions. Here it will be sufficient to note that the current, vulgar “interpretation” of Marx's famous statement just quoted is that Marx here allegedly emphasizes the idea of slow development in contradistinction to the seizure of power, and so on.
“As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is the case. Marx's idea is that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery", and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.”
When the ANC came into government, it too had the goals of running a responsive, accountable and corruption-free government. It did so by deploying its cadres in all levels of government on the basis their “strong developmental state” concept. But this did not change the underlying class relations. Because they were still operating within the confines of the system, the bourgeoisie managed to systematically corrupt a whole layer of them over time and “captured” a large section of the ANC leading members, absorbed them into the system and chained them to Capitalism.
The real nature of the state can be seen in the manner in which it violently acts to suppress community protests. This is the function of the bourgeois state. It is a monstrous, undemocratic machine run by thousands of unelected functionaries, municipal officials, bureaucrats, heads of civil service, police chiefs, army generals and judges whose duty it is to preserve the “the rule of law” and the current state of affairs which chains millions of people to drudgery, misery and wage-slavery. It is an instrument to preserve the capitalist system. It is not possible to “capture” the capitalist state and use it to serve the interests of the poor. As Marx and Lenin say, it must be smashed, dismantled, overthrown and replaced by a workers’ state on workers’ power and workers’ democracy.
It is of course correct that the EFF contests the upcoming elections “within the difficult confines” of the system. Marxists understand that, as a general rule, it is necessary to take advantage of all opportunities in bourgeois society to gain the ear of the masses. This includes participating in bourgeois elections. But for Marxists, elections and positions only serve the purpose of exposing these institutions and helping the working class reach the realisation that they must be disposed of and replaced by institutions of the class itself. Spreading the idea that these bodies can be reformed is counter-productive in this respect. The aim is to reveal the real enemy as being not the political parties but the capitalist system itself.
Land reform and allocation
The EFF manifesto sets out commitments to allocate land to poor people for residential, recreational, sporting purposes, etc. It commits to allocate stands to people for residential purposes for free. To ensure that an EFF municipality can optimally provide these services, the manifesto commits to a process of land expropriation. Here it puts position in the following way:
“The EFF People’s Municipality will pass by-laws which will expropriate and allocate land equitably to all residents of the Municipality for residential, recreational, industrial, religious, and agricultural purposes and activities with the principle of use it or lose it.”
The land question is certainly of vital importance to people both in rural and urban areas. It is striking to see with the naked eye the massive tracts of land which are in private hands while people are struggling to get a piece of land even for residential purposes. So the commitment of the EFF manifesto to land expropriation is correct. However, there is a glaring omission in the EFF manifesto as opposed to its earlier position. In its founding document and all its public statements the party has committed to land expropriation “without compensation.” This is one of the seven so-called “non-negotiable” pillars of its founding manifesto.
It is unclear what the reason is for this omission, but without the compensation clause in the manifesto, the matter is materially different to its founding position. Under current legislation land expropriation for public use is permissible. The government has just passed legislation in this regard. But it is a legal requirement that it has to be done with compensation. This is part of the problem on the land question because it has to go through a lengthy process which is ultimately responsible for the massive backlog in land claims. If the EFF position on land has changed and is indeed correct as it stands in its manifesto, then it simply conforms to current legislative provisions on the land question. In that case it is actually the same as that of the ANC’s.
How will it be financed?
The manifesto makes many commitments to provide free basic services for the poor. It states that an EFF-run municipality would establish municipal-owned housing companies to build houses; it makes commitments about providing spacious, quality houses; it promises to provide free public Wi-Fi in taxi ranks, parks and bus terminals; to end outsourcing by absorbing outsourced workers back into the municipality; to create an early childhood development centres in every ward; to abolish the use of consultants; to keep municipalities open 6 days a week, and to provide free electricity to indigent people and free running water to the poor. These are very important steps and we fully support these points.
But section C of the manifesto, which describe hows this shall be funded, raises serious questions. It consists of three very short paragraphs. It says:
“Primarily, the support for these Municipalities will be through
Efficient usage of the allocated budget, with the aim of using a minimum of 60% of the allocated budget on the delivery of services, not on intra-municipal salaries and operations;
Optimal usage of Conditional Grants;
Optimal collection and efficient allocation of revenue collected collected by EFF Municipality
Generation of additional income through Municipality Owned entities.
But this does not give any indication of how all these commitments will be funded in ways which are different from those which are permissible under the capitalist system. It merely states the established practices in terms of the existing requirements under the laws governing municipalities like the Municipal Management Finance Act. It is simply a change of emphasis which merely promises that the party will use the system in a more “optimal” and “efficient” way.
Part of the problem in local government is that many municipalities are simply not economically viable and are completely unable to sustain themselves. Over the last two decades, the government has tried various measures to try to get out of the crisis. It has tried different approaches to municipal planning; different measures of financing and support; an increase in money transfers on an ad hoc basis from central government; increasing revenue collection and spending capacity plans and enhancing the administrative and financial capacities of municipalities. All of these attempts have failed one after the other.The majority of local governments in South Africa are completely dysfunctional and many are tottering on the brink of collapse.
Capitalist measures like the so-called “conditional grants” and “equitable share” of national revenue were consistently slashed for the last two decades to the point where local governments were forced to rely almost wholly on self-generated revenue to fund the delivery of a range of basic services. The result was that municipalities was forced to cut back on services to the poor, resulting in an explosion of protests. The crisis of local government flows from the crisis of capitalism.
The political crisis is an expression of the economic crisis which has seen funding for local government severely cut over a number of years, both at local and national level. With the South African economy slowing towards zero-percent growth and the world economy approaching a new recession, funding for government programmes, including for municipalities, will come under intense pressure. In the final analysis, this can only be overcome by expropriation of the bourgeoisie.The solution is not this or that reformist measure that needs to be adopted or merely the more optimum use of government finances, but the system itself which has proved to be completely incapable of being reformed.
How to keep the “Revolutionary Councillor” honest
In section B of the manifesto, the EFF sets out the duties of its councillors. Some of them include:
- Establish Representative People’s Committees which will advise the councillor about critical issues in the ward
- Hold monthly community meetings
- Visit schools, churches, health facilities and social organisations
Under the current system, ward committees are set up and function as advisory committees to the councillor. But the manifesto of the EFF does not say how the convening of “Representative People’s Committees” are any different from setting up ward committees, which is currently the requirement.
The manifesto sets out a guide to what an EFF councillor should look like. Some of the points made in the guide include that:
- A revolutionary councillor is a well-informed/knowledgeable professional in the way he/she approaches the political question of revolution.
- A revolutionary councillor abolishes his/her ego and attachments to personal success; she or he is selfless.
- A revolutionary councillor is never depressed, bored and sad; there is always something to do and revolutionary actions to be taken.
- A revolutionary councillor does not hold grudges or complain about unnecessary matters.
- A revolutionary councillor always reads and listens to people to understand the struggles and suffering of people on the ground.
- A revolutionary councillor does not dwell in the conspicuous consumerist practices that seek to blindly show off privilege.
Commenting on this, the Daily Maverick calls it “A radical reinvention of ANC’s failed cadre deployment policy”. Indeed, the ANC also proposes similar lofty ideal on its cadres. But this did not prevent the party from deteriorating along the lines which it seeks to prevent.
The EFF manifesto wants its councillors to be morally upright individuals who are dedicated to serving the interests of the community. But it does not put in adequate mechanisms to achieve this. The party wants its councillors to live in the communities where they are elected and be accessible on a 24 hour basis. But the best way to ensure this is to put in additional measures like giving the community the right to recall any councillor who fails to serve their interests. A second mechanism is to limit the wage of the councillor to that of an average municipal worker and to invest any additional money and any perks back into the community.
In South Africa, at the current time, many apeople are attracted to the prospect of a lucrative career as a politician. On the other hand, given the social conditions in many townships and rural areas, some see a career as a functionary or a counselor as a means to escape poverty. In either case, this often overrides any commitment to serve the poor. The reduction the remuneration to the level of the workers’ pay, together with making the position of councilor subject to recall, will cut across this. It is the best way to prevent all the careerists and job-hunters from becoming councillors. It will ensure that only those people who are truly dedicated to serve the community are eligible.
Over the last few months there were numerous reports in the media about possible coalitions after the elections. The EFF has not ruled out the possibility of this. The weakened state of the ANC now make the prospect of opposition coalitions a distinct possibility. The aim of the manifesto to “remove the current government”, especially in some of the big metropolitan areas, could become a tempting prospect.
While the EFF is committed to remove the “current “ government, it should not overlook the fact that the ANC’s National Development Plan is strikingly similar to economic policy documents of the Democratic Alliance, something the DA is very proud of.
The DA views the EFF as “too extreme” to govern. Therefore it will not enter into coalitions unless the EFF severely waters down its programme and approach. The dropping of the non-compensation clause from the manifesto will encourage the DA to push for more concessions. Any attempt to form coalitions with the bourgeois opposition makes the EFF culpable for the attacks on the living standards of the poor. In the end, it could do serious damage and will put the future existence of the party in jeopardy.
The most important aspect of this year’s local government elections is that it could provide a focal point for the accumulated anger, frustrations and discontent in South African society. It is not possible to predict the precise form this could take. It could express itself in the form of an explosion of strikes and demonstrations, a mass boycott of the elections or a mass protest vote against the ANC government and a sharp swing for the Economic Freedom Fighters.
All of this flows from the conjunctural crisis which manifests itself in various explosive ways periodically. The contradictions in society are rapidly coming to the fore as graphically expressed in the current political crisis.
The crisis in the ANC represents a crisis for the ruling class as a whole. The collapse of the moral authority of the party means that the bourgeoisie is in uncharted waters. What they fear is that once the masses begin to move, the current ANC leaders would not be able to hold them back. Unable to solve the crisis and feeling the ground move beneath their feet, deep divisions have opened up in their ranks as the ruling class.
On the other hand, the student protests are an indication of the deep malaise in society and the determination of the youth to fight back. The rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has its roots in the rising class struggle, is also an indicator of this process. Through their radical rhetoric they are providing an outlet for some the discontent in society, especially of the youth.
All of this could be expressed through the party in the runup to the elections and on the day of the elections itself. It could usher in a new phase of struggle after the elections in the form of a revolutionary crisis. But for the movement to be successful, it is not enough to remain within the present system which is the source of the problems. By remaining within the capitalist system, the EFF is bound to follow the laws of capitalism, which in a period of crisis means fierce attacks against the workers and the poor. The only way to fulfill the aspirations of the South African workers and poor is to break with the system and replace it with a socialist regime based on the ownership and control of the main levers of the economy by the working class.