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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 5, No. 68, 15 November 2006

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Strengthening an anti-imperialist front as a platform for co-operation and solidarity amongst communist parties and other leftist forces

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The 8th international meeting of communist and workers parties that took place in Lisbon, Portugal on 10-12 November 2006, was one of the most successful since the inauguration of this gathering in the late 1990s. The meeting was attended by more than 60 communist and workers’ parties from across all the continents.

The meeting congratulated the host, the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which came with the idea and actually convened and hosted the first seven meetings of this nature. What started as a relatively low key meeting in Athens some eight years ago, this time drew the participation of the highest number of parties, with a significant number of delegations led by their party leaders.

The international meeting communist and workers’ parties is indeed neither an attempt to immediately rebuild a communist international, nor is it just a talk shop divorced from the real communist and anti-imperialist struggles taking place in many parts of the world. The meeting marks a steadily growing confidence amongst many communist and other leftist forces since the major setback of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European socialist countries in the early 1990s.

This meeting, as we noted in our press release last week, takes place against the backdrop of a growing crisis of the militarism of US imperialism, especially the clearly impending stalemate on the US illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. The latest manifestation of this crisis has been the electoral defeat of the Republicans in the US mid-term elections, with the Iraqi issue being the reason for these electoral losses.

We also noted in our statement that a new progressive bridgehead has opened in Latin America, with a growing rejection of neo-liberalism and the continuing leftist advances in this region. These advances in Latin America are very significant as this is a revolt in an area that the US has for years unilaterally claimed as its sole sphere of influence, and where for decades the US had supported and also directly unleashed brutal repression, wars, and some of the worst dictatorships the 20th century has seen. These are signs that there is a gathering crisis in the current twin strategy of imperialism, neo-liberal policies and growing US militarism.

The looming crisis of imperialism was also captured as such by Cde Gennady Zyuganov, Chairperson and leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, in his statement to this Lisbon international meeting:

“Contrary to the claims of Western propaganda and its Russian underlings to the effect that the USSR was one of the main sources of the tensions in the world, the international situation has deteriorated in the years since the perfidious destruction of the USSR. The imperialist world as represented by the Western Countries and Japan is sinking into a crisis. Capitalist production in the foreseeable future will exhaust natural resources and bring about a global ecological catastrophe. The world is heading for a series of wars caused by the desire of the “golden billion” to legitimise the plunder of other peoples in order to prolong its well-being. Western society is witnessing rapid degradation, disintegration of the family, renunciation of morality, the growth of violence and a cult of vice and perversion”

The observations and conclusions of the international meeting made similar points:

“…neo-liberalism, militarism, war and the attack against fundamental rights, liberties and guarantees are inseparable components of the offensive by big capital and imperialism.

“The struggle is for the domination of the planet’s energy resources and the control of distribution routes is an important factor in the geo-politics of imperialism as is obvious in the Middle East, Central Asia, African and in other regions”

To this end the meeting concluded:

“The advances of the popular and anti-imperialist struggles that are sweeping through Latin America and the processes of (reclaiming) sovereignty and co-operation in solidarity that are taking place in Latin America are (welcomed).

“The relevance and urgency of socialism was generally underlined.

“It was underlined that the present international situation makes it particularly necessary to strengthen the co-operation of all progressive and anti-imperialist forces and, in particular, that of Communist and Workers’ parties from all over the world”.

Emphases on international solidarity and the importance of strengthening the anti-imperialist struggles should not be seen as a substitute or the downgrading of the nation-state as a site for intensified anti-imperialist struggles. Contrary to the imperialist and some ultra-leftist arguments about the diminishing significance of the nation state in the light of contemporary imperialist globalisation, anti-imperialist struggles must be fought intensely at the level of the nation-state. These should include intensification of national struggles for workers’ rights, including the fight against casualisation and informalisation of the working classes; confronting the power and plunder of multinational corporations; fighting against neo-liberal policies of privatisation and liberalisation and rolling back the tyranny of the capitalist market; as well as deepening the democratic spaces opened through anti-colonial independence struggles and gender struggles including struggles against racism, xenophobia and all other forms of discrimination.

The communist movement and the challenges in the African continent

The SACP’s participation in the international meeting of communist and workers’ parties was also used to sharply raise the challenge of underdevelopment in the African continent and the continued plunder of the natural and mineral resources of our continent. The African continent is the worst victim of what the SACP has characterised as simultaneous integration and marginalisation of the African continent into the current imperialist global order. The more Africa is drawn into the orbit of neo-liberal economic policies, the more it becomes vulnerable to further exploitation. One manifestation of this is that despite the fact that Africa has the highest returns for foreign investment, it is attracting the least of foreign direct investment.

The African continent has suffered immensely from the structural adjustment programmes either imposed by the International Monetary Fund or self-imposed from the 1970s into the current period. These structural adjustment programmes, coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union, have severely rolled back many of the progressive gains made immediately after independence in many countries, especially the cutting back on social services like health and education, including the privatisation and looting of public resources by multinationals with, sometimes, the full collaboration of domestic political elites.

Indeed it would be wrong to simply project the peoples of Africa as victims, much as their lives have been devastated by imperialist plunder, looting, poverty and wars. Heroic anti-colonial and independence struggles have been fought on our continent. The primary challenge for our continent is that of the completion of the process of national liberation, through a renewed struggle for social emancipation and the building of developmental states able to serve the overwhelming majority of its peoples. The struggle for the completion of the national liberation tasks has been severely rolled back and disrupted by imperialism and its economic policies. It is on this terrain of completing the tasks of national liberation that we should be seeking to rebuild a socialist movement in the continent, as contemporary imperialist-linked solutions will not address the problems of poverty in the continent.

What Africa needs is the rebuilding of something along the lines of national liberation alliances and mass movements forged during the era of anti-colonial national liberation struggles. As we have argued before, we need to take forward the vision of the national liberation and independence struggles, especially that there can be no meaningful political liberation without economic emancipation, in all its national, class and gender dimensions.

Some insights from bilateral engagements with, and experiences of, the Portuguese Communist Party

We extended our visit in Portugal with two days of intense bilateral engagements with the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), including visits and engagements with its General Secretary, Cde Jeronimo de Sousa, and visits to some of their district structures and municipalities controlled by the PCP.

An important lesson from the then promising 1974 revolution in Portugal that overthrew the 46- year dictatorship of the then fascist Caetano, not unlike the French revolution, is that defeat of repressive regimes is not a guarantee that progressive forces will take over, nor a guarantee that even if progressive forces take over they will necessarily carry out a revolutionary programme called for by the intense revolutionary activities and demands of the mass of the people who overthrow such regimes. Similarly Latin American armed and mass struggles of the 1950s to the 1980s that brought about ‘transitions to democracy’, actually dislodged, albeit temporarily in a number of countries, the very revolutionary movements that brought about those ‘democratic’ changes.

Despite the many revolutionary actions taken by the mass of the Portuguese working class and landless people, especially in the South, after overthrowing the Caetano dictatorship were appropriated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements, disguised as ‘parties of the left’. In the immediate aftermath of the 1974 Portuguese revolution - which incidentally created rapid conditions for the liberation of Angola and Mozambique - the Portuguese peasants and farmworkers, amongst others, seized and subdivided the land owned by the big agrarian bourgeoisie – the latifunda – amongst them. These struggles were prepared for and led by the PCP which for decades had organised and mobilised from the underground.

But the failure of the PCP to capture state power in 1974, even if partially only in the south of Portugal where it was strongest, led to a very quick reversal of all the revolutionary advances made by the workers and the poor. It was for this reason that the PCP could only lament in later years about the fact that although the immediate post 1974 Portuguese government was not a revolutionary government, it had revolutionaries inside it. This is perhaps an instructive lesson that having revolutionaries in a government is only a necessary but not sufficient guarantee to build a revolutionary government. Without a revolutionary programme there can be no revolutionary government!

Another instructive lesson from contemporary Portugal is about intra-imperialist contradictions especially inside the European Union (EU). There is both a centre and a periphery inside the EU, an organisation that is normally claimed to be advancing the collective expression and interests of all its member states. The often talked about EU agricultural subsidies contradictorily serve agendas of different fractions of capital inside the EU itself, and tend to favour some of the EU members above others - classic uneven development of capitalism within an advanced capitalist bloc itself!

The Socialist Party-led Portuguese government gives farm subsidies to even the absentee landlords whose land has been reclaimed, including through force, from the peasants who had seized them after 1974. This has had the effect of discouraging large sections of the agrarian bourgeoisie, including the absentee landlord, from engaging in productive farming. The absentee landlords are made up of the many of those whose land was seized by peasants and farm-workers after 1974.

We visited the rural towns of Evore and Arraiolos, where agricultural production - which had dramatically increased agricultural production when the peasants seized the land from the latifunda and divided it amongst themselves immediately after the 1974 revolution - has declined significantly. The current regime of government subsidies also serve to disincentivise productive farming, with devastating consequences to workers and the poor. The net impact of this has transformed Portugal into a consumer market, if not a dumping ground, for agricultural products produced in the more advanced countries of the EU (eg France and Germany). This is because the alternately ruling Socialist and Social Democratic Parties are class hostages to significant sections of the ‘trading bourgeoisie’ in the growing services sector, a sector also made up of  ‘middle men and women’ who package and distribute agricultural products imported from other parts of Europe.

The decline of agriculture has, amongst other things, led to significant instances of deindustrialisation in Portugal, the running down of the agro-processing industrial sector, even including the running down of the largest port in Lisbon. It is ironically this contradictory and subordinate location of Portugal in the EU that has seen vehement opposition by its agrarian bourgeoisie, and small farmers for that matter, to the abolition of agricultural subsidies that will amongst other things benefit Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Indeed joining the EU, Portugal has had to abide by stiff conditionalities, the massive privatisation of social services, including hospitals and schools, a struggle that is being energetically taken up by the PCP. This is the fate awaiting many of the former socialist countries in Eastern Europe which have either joined or are queuing to join the EU. In the EU, and indeed the entire global neo-liberal regime, the role of the state is simply to provide a regulatory environment for accelerated capital accumulation by the capitalist classes and not to provide social services!

The SACP remains convinced that socialism is the only humane and rational alternative to the barbarism of capitalism. Intensification of the anti-imperialist struggle and international working class solidarity is one major vehicle to realise this alternative.


Wither “National Democratic Revolution 1”?

November 2006

Comrade Joel Netshitenzhe’s reflection in Umsembenzi Online Volume 5, No. 67 titled “NDR, Capitalism and Transitions to Socialism” was postured as a response to the South African Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary’s “What is the National Democratic Revolution” in a preceding issue of the same publication. An observation I recently made is that the concept NDR is somewhat used as a ‘multi-purpose’ concept, which cannot and should not be reduced to a right or wrong debate. Because of its multi-purpose usage the debates about NDR are thereof a semantic or conceptual contest, which was initially necessary, yet steadily loosing its relevance and necessity. In the course of engagements around the NDR, there gradually appears conceptual, semantic, dogmatic and hubris tendencies, which have subsided the essence of NDR, if it is existent.       

NDR has in the recent past or even earlier been theorised as the “shortest route to socialism”; “dialectical resolution of the class, gender and national contradictions”; “non-capitalist or socialist orientated transition in SA”; “management of capitalism and the contradictions that arise thereof”; “liberation of Africans in particular and blacks in general”; “resolution of national grievance”; etc. The concept of NDR has been so elastic, and consequently dwindled into meaninglessness and incoherence. 

This elasticity is mainly influenced by some pre-analytic predispositions of those who discuss NDR, and there should be an admission that post apartheid, the concept of NDR has been utilised for various reasons, under different circumstances and through various ideological telescopes. Perhaps an even more important admission is that post apartheid; the NDR has been conceptualised by different components of the Mass Democratic Movement as in pursuit of not only dissimilar, but contradictory objectives and goals, through different routes and means. Accordingly, the diametrical differences about NDR are not only about the end, but the means to the end.  

These differences are rather reflected in the theoretical if not semantic or conceptual contest of whose understanding of NDR is correct and whose is not. Discussions about the NDR are really more of a semantic or conceptual contest between Luthuli House and COSATU House, which is steadily eroding the essence of debates and discussions about the South African revolution. This contest is characterised by simple errors of conceptual inconsistencies and incoherence, which does not help in defining the tasks of the Mass Democratic Movement, as led by the ANC in the present conjecture. It is not only the debate between the Party GS and Comrade Netshitenzhe that epitomises this erratic conceptual contest, but the recent discussion documents and resolutions thereof of the SACP, ANC and COSATU.  

Notwithstanding my observation, I think that chicanery should however not be employed to obfuscate these issues, particularly the understanding of the few common objectives that currently define the leadership of the tripartite alliance. There are deliberate practices on proclaiming no knowledge of some historical facts and common understandings, such that the debate is not only an erratic conceptual contest, but heavily ahistorical.

For instance, discarding the SACP conceptualisation of NDR as non-capitalist or socialist orientated portrays a picture that Comrade Netshitenzhe is unaware of the Party 1962’s Road to South African Freedom. In the 1962 SACP’s “Road to Freedom”, non-capitalist NDR entailed “strengthening of the State sector of the economy, particularly the fields of heavy industry, machine tool building and fuel production2”. “Road to Freedom” emphasized on the “control of vital sectors of the economy through nationalization of the mining industry, banking and monopoly industrial developments3”. This is not very equivocal, maybe expect the fact that the Party termed this process of nationalisation and strengthening of the State sector ‘NDR’. Perhaps the SACP should call for or find means to realise ‘nationalization of the mining industry, banking and monopoly industrial developments’ without naming this process ‘NDR’4?  

The GS actually mentioned this aspect, and he said: “For the SACP, especially since the adoption of the Native Republic Thesis of 1928 ('A struggle for a native republic as a stage towards a socialist South Africa'), we had always understood the national democratic revolution as the most direct route to socialism. The latter perspective was fully elaborated in our 1962 programme, 'The Road to South African Freedom'”. So a non-capitalist or socialist orientated NDR could be referring to what in globalisation dictum could be called an ‘developmental’ state, which does not only play the developmental role, but owns key productive forces. I reckon the calls for nationalisation arises out of a supposition, which still has to be proven otherwise, that such will broaden and strengthen government capacity to fund and drive developmental programmes and projects in a sustainable way.

Whilst there could be objective and purposeful justifications for a stronger state and nationalisation of mining industry, banking and monopoly industrial developments, a problem seemingly arises out of the fact that the SACP refers to this phenomenon as ‘NDR’. It is certainly a problem in Comrade Netshitenzhe’s view because in the current conjecture of the NDR “'Struggle' takes various forms, including legislation and regulations to limit rapacious profit-maximisation, taxation, ideological struggles around social values and so on”. NDR is not appropriation of productive forces as the ‘socialist orientated NDR’, or perhaps the Freedom Charter could have presaged.

I suppose the ‘illogicality’ of a non-capitalist or socialist orientated ‘NDR’ as Comrade Netshitenzhe posited is on conceptual basis. I can only suppose that such is the case, since I would not want to believe that rightfully, Comrade Netshitenzhe would attempt to make anyone believe that the phenomenon of nationalisation is ‘illogical’, since it cannot and should not be subjected to a debate of logic or illogic, but to such aspects as necessity and feasibility in the present conjecture. If the GS could have directly said that nationalisation is the way to go, a response pitched at Comrade Netshitenzhe’s level of ‘logic’ was less likely to occur in the manner it did.

Largely the debate about ‘NDR’ is conceptual, and subsiding the essence of the issues that ought to be discussed. In most cases, this conceptual debate leads to mistakes, which could be avoided if the debate was on the essence of the South African revolution. For instance, the seeming insistence of the Party that the ANC currently be held liable for Morogoro resolutions and Green Book pronouncements on NDR is impolite, particularly that new resolutions were taken. The Party cannot really expect that the ANC has since frozen on accepting that there is a link between national liberation and socialism.

This is somewhat similar to the Party’s abandoning of the Stalinist ‘Native Republic Thesis’, which although inconsistent ideologically prescribed a two stage revolution in South Africa. The Party could obviously have not frozen on its position that the South African revolution should undergo two stages, hence the 1962 Road to Freedom, which conceptualised the revolution as unilinear towards communism en-route national liberation and socialism. What does the Party make out of a situation that the ANC officially resolved in its 50th national Congress in Mafikeng to create a black bourgeoisie5? This and many other resolutions, which predate 1990, was an official position of the ANC, and questions should be asked on which resolutions does the Party expect the ANC to uphold, earlier or latter ones? There is scope within the Mass Democratic Movement and ANC to alter some of these resolutions and pitch the South African revolution in a direction, which should be collectively agreed upon and followed.

Although positions and resolutions of the ANC could have changed over time, they should have not been allowed to metamorphose to a situation where there is a plain acceptance that the extent at which NDR can go is reformation of the capitalist system to build a better life for all. The MDM formations understand better than anyone that empirically and historically, capitalism thrives on massive socio-economic inequalities, and a reformation of the system that does not include expropriation of productive forces for the benefit of all, cannot build a better life for all. Somehow, the expectation that there can be a better life for all under capitalism is tantamount to the expectation toddlers have after writing and posting gift requesting letters to the mythical Father Christmas every festive season.     

Nevertheless, the emphasis of the SACP that its understanding of NDR s socialist oriented or non-capitalist gives rise to the possibility that they might be another NDR existent. The SACP’s emphasis of a ‘socialist orientated’ or ‘non-capitalist’ NDR is seemingly counterpoised to another NDR existent elsewhere. If really there is a consensus that by characterisation, NDR has socialist orientation, there is no need to particularly emphasise that it is socialist oriented, because such is a form of submission to a possible existence of a rival NDR.   

The mistakes committed around engaging these issues extend to the most progressive Labour federation in South Africa, possibly Africa and world, COSATU. Most of these mistakes were reflected in the recent COSATU Congress resolutions on the ‘NDR’ and socialism. To highlight the key issues, COSATU resolved to “adopt an official position that rejects the separation of the NDR from socialism and asserts that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only guarantee that there will be a transition from NDR to socialism; (persuade) the state should to take drastic steps on the redistribution of wealth, e.g. via the tax system; bring back the fundamental thrust of the Freedom Charter and the RDP on nationalisation of key and strategic industries; re-direct the NDR towards socialism and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies that are attempting to arrest it from achieving its logical conclusion, that is socialism.”

Now these COSATU resolutions resemble the necessary and continued militancy in the Trade Union movement, yet they do not help to clarify in concrete terms what type and kind of state South Africa should be. For instance, the resolution about the redistribution of wealth through tax system somewhat commits COSATU to what Comrade Netshitenzhe referred to as the ‘Struggle’, which should include “legislation and regulations to limit rapacious profit-maximisation, taxation, ideological struggles around social values and so on”.   Moreover, the emphasis on ‘NDR’ on the resolutions and its supposed linkage to socialism exposes the federation to unnecessary conceptual dismissal over the conceptual ‘illogic’ of ‘NDR’, which leads to socialism. Because according to Comrade Netshitenzhe, “the most an NDR can do is to reform the capitalist system to build a better life for all”. These are conceptual schisms that continuously arise in the debates and discussions around and about ‘NDR’.

At a certain stage, the Party, COSATU and all those formations that proclaim socialism as the future should be called upon to explain what socialism in South Africa and the route to such arrangement of the political economy and society should be. Such explanation should certainly be considerate of the gender and national contradictions, which have throughout been said to be premised on class as a primary contradiction in South Africa. Usage or misusage of the concept ‘NDR’ in such explanations will further obfuscate the discussions and debate around and about the South African revolution. Discontinuation of private ownership of minerals wealth could be a step towards such direction, and indeed the reality that the working class need political power and hegemony (in Gramcian sense) to manifest such reforms remains intact. This and other issues should not be subsided under the rhetoric of ‘NDR’. Subsequently, perhaps the concept ‘NDR’ ought to be withered away and the essence of the South African revolution retained. This would entail that those of us who aspire a socialist future do not find comfort in the cocoon on meaninglessness and incoherence, which ‘NDR’ has become.  

Nyiko Floyd Shivambu 
Member of the YCL and National Executive Committee Member of the South African Students’ Congress (SASCO)

1. The title Whither “NDR” is ironically derived from Joseph Stiglitz’s “Wither Socialism?” The ideological telescopes of the two titles are however radically different.

2.SACP, Road to Freedom, 1962

3. Loc cit.

4. Nzimande, B. What is the National Democratic Revolution, Umsebenzi Online, Volume 5, No. 66, 18 October 2006

5. African National Congress Resolution on the National Question, Mafikeng, 1997