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Umsebenzi Online


Volume 5, No. 67, 1 November 2006

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The Cuban socialist revolution remains an inspiration, always and forever!

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
We are writing this edition from Cuba where a delegation of the SACP is on an official party to party visit as part of our bilateral relations and programme with the Communist Party of Cuba. We are visiting Cuba at an interesting time, when there is a confluence of both positive and negative developments both in Cuba and in wider Latin and South America. This last weekend President Lula won a landslide victory for a second term as Brazilian president. The Venezuealan Bolivarian revolution is proceeding apace, and Evo Morales is settling down as President of Bolivia and taking significant measures in restoring the wealth of Bolivia to the people as a whole, primarily the nationalization of gas and other natural resources.

The Cuban revolution, in the early to mid-1990s, faced what was perhaps its most difficult period since the counter-revolutionary Bay of Pigs invasion and the missile crisis of the early 1960s. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist countries brought untold misery to the people of Cuba. In 1989, the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet bloc of socialist countries, 85% of Cuba's trade was with these countries. With their collapse the Cuban economy rapidly declined by 39% by 1993. There were severe shortages of oil, food with the population literally losing body weight as a result of these problems.

Under the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba, led by Cde Fidel Castro, together with the mass of the Cuban people, who were willing to withstand the hardships for the sake of their future, the economy slowly began to pick up from 1994. In 2005 the Cuban economy grew by 11,8%, taking it back to almost its 1989 levels, now without the Soviet Union, but through the sheer determination of the revolutionary people of Cuba. Most significantly during the mid-1990s and 2005 Cuba increased its production of domestic oil from satisfying only 6% its energy needs to satisfying 46% of these needs - a truly revolutionary breakthrough given the harsh effects of the blockade on this country.

Tourism, which is the highest earner of foreign currency in Cuba's economy generated more than $2bn income in 2005. Cuba now has less than 2% unemployment, life expectancy stands at 77 years, the highest in Latin America, and infant mortality at 6, 2 per 1000, the lowest in Latin America and lower than in the United States. There is more than 95% of access to electricity by Cuban households, and 85% of Cubans own their homes and they do not owe any bank, with no tax whatsoever on housing, and the 15% of the population that rent houses do not pay more than 10% of their monthly salaries.

The inspiration of the Cuban revolution principally lies in the fact that it is the Party cadres and structures that are at the core of all the governmental programmes, mobilizing people to actively take a lead in the implementation of these programmes. It is not the other way round, a deficiency of many promising revolutions, that of the 'governmentalisation' of the revolution, sidelining the progressive political and mass formations. All these achievements by the Cuban revolution underline the superiority of socialism over any other system. Socialist Cuba is a country whose every cent is devoted to the improvement of the lives of its ordinary citizens, nothing more, nothing less!

Even more impressive is that even during the most difficult period of the revolution in the early to mid 1990s; the Cuban revolution maintained and increased its spending on its four priorities, free education, free health care, social security for all, especially for the more vulnerable and affordable housing for all. In addition Cuba has maintained its 0% percent of illiteracy, with average standard of education for the population standing at Grade 9. Over and above this there are more than 20 000 Cuban doctors and other health professionals assisting in many other developing countries. These are indeed truly colossal achievements given the disastrous history and impact of either IMF or self imposed structural adjustment programmes in many developing countries, whose effects has been to slash standards of living to horrifying poverty levels.

The US government had hoped that with the collapse of the Soviet bloc of socialist countries in the early 1990s, Cuba will not even last a year. Sixteen years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc of countries, not only has Cuba survived but has overcome its worst crisis and instead is getting stronger. It is for these reasons that the Bush Administration is getting agitated and further escalating the economic and political war against Cuba.

On 10 July 2006 the Bush Administration released a report by the 'Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba', through a declaration by George W Bush, presented to the media by its joint co-convenors, US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez. They were accompanied by a US appointed and US based 'Cuban Governor', a certain Caleb McCarry.

Amongst other things the economic and political war against Cuba, whose content and implications is summarized by the Speaker of the Cuban Parliament, include the following:

"All properties would be returned to former owners, including all the homes from which millions of families would be dislodged, in less than a year and under the supervision and control of the US government via a US Commission for the Restitution of Property Rights. "All aspects of the economy would be privatized including education and health services; all the co-operatives would be dissolved and grand estates of old restored; social security and assistance would be eliminated including all pensions and retirement pay; and a special programme of public works would be organized for senior citizens that would employ them as long as their health allows… All of this would be the responsibility of another US government apparatus, the Standing Committee for Economic Reconstruction.

"Since upon carrying out the above they would encounter the tenacious and invincible resistance of the people, maximum priority would be given to massive and generalized repression against all members of the (Communist) Party, all members of the social and mass organizations as well as other government symphathisers."

The July 2006 declaration is the clearest expression of the intentions of US imperialism to try and smash the revolution and brutally roll back the very many benefits gained by the Cuban people from their own revolution. Indeed imperialism, and its capitalist system, is nothing more than a direct attack on, and erosion of, a better life for all. It is for this reason that the SACP insists that capitalism is indeed no solution to the problems facing the overwhelming majority of humanity today or in the future. It is for this reason that the Cuban revolution remains an inspiration to all of humanity and that a more humane alternative is indeed possible and feasible.

The Cuban revolution also helps us to expose the hypocrisy if not the brutal class logic of imperialism and capitalism. If imperialism tells us that socialism is not a viable alternative for humanity and that Cuban socialism is inherently doomed to fail, why then maintain and intensify the illegal and immoral embargo? Why not let Cuban socialism to collapse on its own, without an embargo, if it is so inherently flawed as claimed by the US? Similarly if the US claims to be so principled about its fight against terrorism, why violate its own laws and judicial system to continue to incarcerate the five Cuban heroes, who were arrested in the United States in their work to fight against terrorist attacks against the Cuban people? Indeed one may as well expand this and ask the question that if the US is a champion of multi-party democracy, why then want to illegally subvert the democratic processes and choices of the Venezuelan people?

The illegal US embargo against Cuba, the leftist advances in Latin America, coupled with the clearly impending and inevitable disaster of its militaristic actions against Afghanistan and Iraq, failure to deal with the Korean nuclear crisis, military threats against Iran, are all signs of the crisis of US global militarism and its fear of the very real possibility of intensified resistance against its global designs and an emergence of a better world. These developments are not signs of a confident imperialism of the 'end of history' triumphalist tone of the early 1990s, but an imperialism which hides its lack of confidence in its own morality and methods, exposed by its brutal political, economic and military wars in many parts of the world.

However, the struggles to consolidate existing anti-imperialist struggle and wage new struggles for socialism in a unipolar world, dominated by increasing militarism and other forms of imperialist aggression, pose new and complicated challenges for genuinely communist and other left forces. The very policy choices made by existing socialist countries to use elements of the capitalist market to defend socialist gains pose new dilemmas. In the case of the Cuban revolution, the partial opening of the tourism and other sectors to foreign capital has the problem of attracting the much needed skilled human resources away from the state sector towards the partially market-driven services sector because of better salaries, eg. Cuban doctors, engineers and teachers leaving the state sector to become waiters and drivers in the partially capitalist sectors of the economy.

In addition, the introduction of the capitalist market into some of the economic sectors poses new challenges for state planning. This poses a difficult dilemma between, on the one hand, the temptation to micro-manage every conceivable sector of the economy, including restaurants and other micro operations, thus dispersing the planning capacity of the state away from its overall developmental role, and, on the other hand, allowing the gradual growth and development of a (potentially reactionary) domestic bourgeoisie? We will however return to some of these complex questions in future editions of this publication.

It is for all the above reasons that the SACP should deepen its solidarity with the Cuban revolution, both inside and outside South Africa, working together with other progressive forces in the world, even as a very necessary dimension to confronting poverty in our African continent itself. This is because the Cuban revolution embodies some of the best of the values and generosity of humanity, desperately needed in all struggles against underdevelopment.

The Cuban socialist revolution shall forever remain a beacon for building a better world for all!

NDR, Capitalism and Transitions to Socialism

Response to the Red Alert, Vol. 5 No. 66, of Wednesday, 18 October 2006 -  by the SACP General Secretary, Cde Blade Nzimande - What is the National Democratic Revolution? Joel Netshitenzhe

As the ANC and the SACP - the two political formations in the Revolutionary Alliance - prepare for their national policy and elective gatherings next year, they have to review the experience of more than a decade of democratic governance. This will help them better to lead the mass movements within the Alliance (COSATU and SANCO) and society at large.

Reflections by General Secretary Blade Nzimande on, What is the National Democratic Revolution in the last issue of Umsebenzi are an important contribution to this festival of ideas.

What then is the NDR? The GS argues quite correctly that as a theoretical construct, it is a product of analysis of struggles in colonial and repressive societies in the 20th century. The concept applied to countries where the working class played a leading role in the democratic struggle.

Why was it not simply called a National Liberation Revolution (NLR)? As the GS asserts, it is a "revolution led by progressive motive forces (mainly oppressed and exploited)", and it aims at constructing societies that address both the political and socio-economic underpinnings of such oppression.

Why was it not called a People's Democratic Revolution (PDR), and therefore is it correct for the GS to argue that the NDR aims to "build people's democracies"? In the categories developed then, a People's Democratic Revolution such as in Bulgaria and Poland represented a popular struggle which, without a significant rapture, transformed within a short space of time into a socialist project. In this instance, the leadership of the PDR by a party of the working class was the central determinant.

This may sound like the splitting of hairs: but ask the graduates of Robben Island, and they will tell you that debate on this issue of the difference between PDR and NDR continued for more than ten years. The matter was not resolved! Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to conflate the two.

The issue of the level of development of productive forces is critical in Marxist analysis. For instance very progressive national liberation revolutions in Mozambique and Angola, which in the earlier years adopted socialism as their ultimate objective were characterised as pursuing a socialist-oriented (more forthright) path to socialism. Others, such as Zambia were said to be pursuing a non-capitalist (more ambivalent) path to socialism. They were expected, in a global environment of strong 'living socialism', to by-pass the capitalist mode of production.

Therefore, in a capitalist society with advanced productive forces such as SA, to posit the notion of "capitalist orientation" or "socialist orientation" simply is illogical. Unlike historical transitions from communalism to slavery, to feudalism and to capitalism, production relations of socialism do not emerge within the womb of a capitalist society. They are created consciously by a victorious working class.

The first and critical act in a Socialist Revolution is the transfer of power to the working class. It may well be that such an act manifests itself through the seizure of power, or even through victory in an electoral contest. It could also be that, as in Cuba, the broad revolutionary front transforms into a revolutionary working class party, and sets out to pursue socialism.

What then is the interplay among these complex factors in the South African setting? The GS helps point us in the right direction.

Firstly, as he argues: "…contrary to the arguments of our left and right detractors, the Alliance is still important, since the main objectives of the NDR have not been achieved, despite progress made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough".

Secondly, he asserts that the NDR is not a socialist revolution, but it is "not a struggle for capitalism either". Indeed, as the Freedom Charter asserts, and as the Alliance argued in the discussion document, State, Property Relations and Social Transformation, the NDR should restructure elements of the capitalist system to remove the socio-economic manifestations of apartheid colonialism.

Thirdly, if the NDR is not a socialist revolution, what should the national democratic movement do in the midst of a developed capitalist system? The GS decries the NWC response to the SACP Discussion Document which asserts, quoting an earlier document:

"While the motive forces strive to change elements of the capitalist system in the interest of the NDR, they have to manage the capitalist system in line with the main elements of its own logic. For instance, they have to manage such issues as stabilising a sharply depreciating currency, preventing and smoothing out volatility in the financial markets, and dealing with complex matters of world commodity markets…[I]t also means, in the immediate sense, engaging with the conjuncture as is, to ensure increased rates of investment by private capital and a growing economy that creates jobs."

Herein lies the importance of nuance. In the GS' critique, the original NWC formulation "have to manage the capitalist system" is transformed into "the task of the ANC is to manage capitalist relations" and later into the "aim of the NDR being to 'manage the capitalist system'".

The issue is, even if it may not be an "aim" or "task", it has to be done. In any case: is the ANC expected to lie in ambush to expropriate the expropriators; when we seek to attract domestic and foreign investments and assure investors of a climate for their investments are we engaged in a hoax; in a small open economy linked to global markets, how else do we manage these challenges!

The ANC describes the democratic state's relationship with capital as one of unity and struggle: 'Unity' because we have to attract private owners of capital to invest. They do so to make profit, and society benefits from job-creation and development of productive forces. 'Struggle' takes various forms, including legislation and regulations to limit rapacious profit-maximisation, taxation, ideological struggles around social values and so on.

The most an NDR can do is to reform the capitalist system to build a better life for all. This revolves mainly around the apportioning of surplus value. Much of this can obtain at various levels of intensity. But no matter how radical, such efforts would not overthrow the capitalist system. Besides, that is not the task of the NDR.

To pretend otherwise is to mislead the working people. Perhaps a more apt question for the SACP in the current phase is, what is socialism and how is it to be achieved in the current South African and global settings!

In this regard, there are difficult choices: contest and win elections so as to construct socialism; pursue insurrection of the revolutionary working class against the current government; or transform the ANC into a Communist Party.
That is, if the Party disagrees with the GS' argument that "the main objectives of the NDR have not been achieved", and that "deepening and consolidating the NDR is the glue that holds our Alliance together".

Simply put: currently, all schools of thought in the Alliance should jointly endure the hard and patient slog of consolidating the NDR. Long Live the Alliance!

** Joel Netshitenzhe is a member of the ANC NEC and Head of the Political Education Subcommittee.