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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 5, No. 57, 07 June 2006

In this Issue:

The Red PenRed Alert

The class question as the 'fault-line' in consolidating the National Democratic Revolution

By: Blade Nzimande, General Secretary


Before addressing the substantive issues we wish to address in this edition, it is proper for the SACP to congratulate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest COSATU affiliate, for its successful Congress held in Midrand on 24-27 May 2006. We also wish to warmly congratulate its newly elected leadership, including the new General Secretary, Cde Frans Baleni.

We also wish to congratulate the immediate past General Secretary of the NUM, Cde Gwede Mantashe - a member of our Central Committee and Politburo ? for the sterling work, dedication and exemplary revolutionary role he has played in the various positions he occupied in the NUM for more than 23 years. As the SACP we are proud of you, for your work and communist example in the trade union movement. Siyabonga ndodana yase Cala!

Interestingly, some of the dynamics in the lead-up to and at the NUM Congress itself illustrate the shifting class dynamics in our revolution since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, which is the subject of this edition. We will come back to this matter later.

The class content of the national democratic revolution: The 1996 Class Project

In the midst of intensified class struggles and at the height of Alliance tensions during the 2000-2002 period, the SACP pointed out that at the heart of those struggles and debates was the question of the strategic direction of our national democratic revolution. We also pointed out that the class question was increasingly becoming the 'new' fault-line. New, not because the class question and class struggles are new in the national democratic revolution, but because the class contradiction was playing itself out 'anew' inside and outside our movement, and on a terrain in which the liberation movement was now in power.

Our detractors will argue that this is 'typical' Marxist class reductionism. Not at all. The SACP has always insisted that the national democratic revolution seeks to address and overcome the class, national and gender contradictions in their relationship to each other. As the Central Committee Discussion Document reminds us, by quoting from extracts from the political report adopted by the SACP Central Committee in April 1977:

" (in) a situation such as ours" the main immediate instrument for the achievement of the aims of our national democratic  revolution is a mass movement capable of galvanising all classes in an assault on racist power. The African National Congress is such an instrument and our loyal participation in the liberation front which it heads is in the best interests of the class whose vanguard we claim to be.'

But the same 1977 statement quickly reminds us that:

?It is clear that the dominant force in this alliance must be the working class and it is their supremacy in the new state that will emerge after victory, which will prevent our revolution from grinding to a halt at the point of a formal political takeover.?

In so far as the class and national questions in our democratic revolution are concerned, the SACP had always insisted that seeking to address the national question, without addressing its class content, can only lead to the defeat of the democratic revolution itself. This is because, much as the ANC had always been a multi-class movement, its primary character and orientation derives from its bias towards the working class, and the victory and advance of the democratic revolution can only be safeguarded through the leadership of the working class.

The recently issued Central Committee Discussion Document also seeks to consolidate and take forward our analysis as encapsulated in one of our Special National Congress Discussion Documents (?Class Struggles in the National Democratic Revolution: The Political Economy of Transition in South Africa ? 1994-2004? in Bua Komanisi Vol 4 No.1, 2004 at www.sacp.org.za). This document, amongst other things, argued that:

?The second major development at the level of capital has been the rise of a small, but increasingly influential, stratum of black capital. Increasingly inter-related and inter-connected with this stratum is a larger black professional middle class, including significant numbers of senior state officials for whom a career in 'the private sector'is increasingly seen as a logical progression. Although still proportionately small in relation to the capitalist and middle classes as a whole (which remain largely white) and miniscule in relation to the black population as a whole, black capital is clearly an increasingly influential force. Together with the somewhat larger black managerial and professional strata it is an important focus of state policy (black economic empowerment) as well as increasingly influential ideologically?.

Whilst we are happy that our CC discussion document is receiving wide attention, with unprecedented visits to our website for instance to access the document, the document has in some instances not been handled correctly. The substantive matters we endeavour to raise in the discussion document are in danger of being distorted by some of the critics and even by some of the more enthusiastic supporters. In some instances it has been vulgarised, elevating some aspects of it outside of the context of the substantive issues it raises. In other instances it has been sensationalised, especially by the media, and reduced to an attack on this or that personality. In other instances, again especially in the media, attempts have been made to opportunistically and in a sensationalist manner co-opt it into the so-called 'succession debate' in the ANC.

One of the main arguments in our Discussion Document is that since 1996 (perhaps even prior to that) a particular class project has consolidated itself and has become dominant in our movement and the state, spreading its influence to other layers of society, including sections of the media. This class project is a combination of certain objective processes of class formation in a democratic South Africa, and of deliberate policy choices followed by the government and capital, especially since the adoption of GEAR in 1996.

The central economic thrust of the class project has been to seek to restore capitalist profitability after the capitalist crises of the last 10 years of the apartheid era, as a basis for addressing the massive developmental challenges in our country.

The black middle classes

This dominant class project consciously seeks to consolidate itself at a variety of levels. Its key class base increasingly seems to be the growing black middle classes (both within and outside the state structures) and the small, but growing, black sections of the bourgeoisie. These strata are increasingly strident, actively pushing for upward mobility and its 'entitlements' to break into the bigger stakes of the mainstream capitalist economy.

Since 1994 there have been significant changes in class formation within the black middle classes. There has been a relatively rapid upward mobility within the state sector. There has also been a significant growth of black middle strata in the private sector, although this is significantly slower than in the public sector.

The slower pace of the growth of the corporate black middle classes is principally due to a combination of four factors, continued resistance to affirmative action by many in white middle management, continuing skills paucity of black professionals in some sectors (engineering, accountants, etc), the model of BEE that has been fostered since 1994, and the failure of our institutions of higher education to produce enough professionals in some of the skilled areas. With regard to the latter, there are now also new forms of exclusion within our higher education system, especially universities, like that of setting higher standards (eg. a 60% pass to proceed to the second level of actuarial studies). This has had a huge negative impact in the production of the requisite number of black graduates across the required skilled areas, many of whom come from poor backgrounds.

Our model of BEE, whilst incorporating affirmative action, tends to place overwhelming emphasis on share-ownership. The net result of this is that, whilst some of the black sections of the bourgeoisie are becoming shareholders in a number of sectors of the economy, there is a paucity of black skilled professionals running technical operations in the mining, manufacturing and, to a certain extent, the financial sectors.

There has also been a rapid decline, to the point of near-extinction, of the trading sections of the middle classes, which were a much more visible layer of the middle classes under apartheid. This stratum seems to have been swallowed both from above and from below. The swallowing from above has manifested itself in two ways. Firstly, a tiny sector of these township grocery shop-owners has made it into the bigger stakes of the mainstream capitalist economy. Secondly, the overwhelming majority, however, has been displaced by the growing penetration of big shopping malls into some of the major townships of our country.

However, the single major reason why the trading section of the middle classes has rapidly declined has been the growth of the informal sector, principally the spaza shops and taverns - the 'tavernisation' of the trading petty bourgeoisie. The growth of the informal sector has been largely fuelled by the large-scale retrenchments in the mainstream capitalist economy, thus throwing many workers into survivalist modes on the fringes of the capitalist economy.

There is indeed nothing wrong per se with the growth of a black middle class, as this is, at one level part, of addressing the legacy of racial exclusion under apartheid. A black middle class in itself is not a negative development at all. The question is what kind of a black middle class is being fostered within the context of this dominant class project and its economic trajectory of restoration of capitalist profitability. This is where some serious problems are emerging.

The current model of BEE is fostering a 'get-rich-quick' mentality, and a focus on enriching a smaller upward elite. One little talked about consequence of this BEE trajectory is that we are also fostering black middle classes that are possibly living beyond their means and getting increasingly indebted. Part of our growth ascribed to the growth of the black middle classes may, in fact, be funded through debt. A few years down the line these middle classes will be victims of the usual 'predators' - the credit bureaux and liquidators. So the middle class bubble may still burst in ways that are not being adequately analysed currently!

The spending patterns of the black middle classes are, in the main, fostered by two related processes. The first is that they are increasingly being lured by the ever-predatory financial sector, whose profits derive from high levels of indebtedness. The second factor is that this spending and indebtedness may be fostered by a combination of the hope of 'soon-to-come' rapid black upward mobility and/or hopes to break into the bigger stakes of the capitalist economy by landing major BEE deals. We may be creating highly indebted, job-hopping and, in between, 'deal-negotiating', black middle classes which cannot even adequately focus on their managerial and professional responsibilities. How often are the managerial styles of this stratum distracted or guided by seeking big BEE deals?

One significant manifestation of the type of black middle classes we might be fostering is the growing exit of skilled professionals from the public sector into the private sector. For a significant layer, not necessarily all, of our public sector professionals, their public sector jobs are no more than a waiting station for the next 'BEE train'. This has a hugely negative impact on the kind of public sector needed to drive a developmental state to meet our massive socio-economic challenges. According to recent statistics, some 80% of current students in teacher training colleges are white!

There is also a growing synergy between sections of the media and the aspirations of these black middle classes and black sections of the bourgeoisie. One cannot help but suspect that underlying the increasing obsession with the 'succession debate' in the media and among black sections of the bourgeoisie is a concern to ensure an economic (and political) regime that will consolidate their economic gains of the last twelve years.

It also remains to be seen to what extent the newly formed 'Native Club' is part of the ideological consolidation of this dominant class project, riding on the back of an absolutely critical imperative - that of growing and consolidating the black intelligentsia in our country.

Domestic (and to a certain extent global) capital is also actively fostering the development of these classes with the hope that this will show-case a supposedly 'deracialised' capitalism for the benefit of all without regard to skin colour. It is for this reason that the SACP Discussion Document draws attention to the compradorial and parasitic nature of the black sections of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes, dependent on both the state and established (white) capital for its advancement.

Tentacles into the trade union movement

Some of the developments surrounding what was otherwise a successful NUM Congress referred to earlier might provide pointers to the extent to which unions are increasingly being contested by the dominant class project. Trade unions are, in the first place, for defending worker gains and advancing their workplace interests. But for capitalism trade unions are ?pension funds?, ?big businesses?, and lucrative ?markets?, especially for the financial sector.

Take the example of the NUM alone. It is the largest COSATU affiliate and the dominant union in the more than R10bn Mineworkers? Pension Funds. It is a union that effectively half-owns the multi-billion rand and highly successful Teba Bank. Teba Bank is controlled by both the Chamber of Mines and the NUM through a trust whose primary goal is social development for the benefit of mineworkers and their communities. Add to all this the fact that the NUM has close to R70 million in cash reserves! Surely this is 'mouth-watering' for any capitalist predators, both black and white.

If you add the entire trade union movement into this equation, we are indeed talking about a trillion rand 'industry' for capital. Indeed the workers' retirement funds, insurance and other funds are already in the hands of big capital. In fact, the capitalist system itself is funded by these workers' monies. But there is intense competition over the control of these by companies in the financial sector, and fuelling this further is the fact that these union funds are new areas for primary accumulation for the emerging black sections of capital.

The above realities are certainly playing a part in some of the tensions and contestations that emerge within the trade union movement. This is a matter that requires urgent attention by the working class as a whole. A key challenge in this regard is to ensure that we intensify the struggle for the effective control over these funds by workers themselves. Workers must have a much bigger say over how these funds are invested to meet our development challenge. It surely cannot be business as usual when some of these funds are used to fund continued enrichment of established finance capital and a few black capitalists! This is a critical arena of struggle by the working class, as part of asserting its role as the motive force of our revolution. This is also an important defensive struggle to protect the trade union movement from being torn apart by capitalist greed, and to defend the 'proletarian' character of our progressive trade union movement as a whole.

A project in crisis: The need for intensified political and policy debates

The SACP Discussion Document argues that, given some of the realities elaborated upon above, this dominant class project is in a crisis. The core of its crisis derives from the inability of capitalist stabilisation and growth to resolve our socio-economic crises of unemployment, poverty and persisting, if not deepening, social inequalities. Part of that crisis is, of course, the very type of the black middle classes we are creating. Middle classes, properly mobilised and under the leadership of a working class led by a developmental state, can be a source of the much needed drive to address our developmental programmes. Unfortunately this seems not to be the case in our country at the moment. There needs to be a radical transformation of the growth path underway.

These crises have translated themselves into ravaging the organisational capacity of our movement as eloquently outlined by the Secretary-General, Cde Kgalema Motlanthe, at the ANC?s July 2005 National General Council. It is not only the ANC that is being threatened by the values fostered by the dominant class project, but all our Alliance formations.

It is for these and other reasons that the SACP decided to produce a detailed Discussion Document, yes to assist its own internal debate about its relationship to state power, but also for wider debate about the character of South Africa?s transition to democracy.

Asikhulume

This is the original version of the SACP article whose shorter version appeared in Business Day 7 June 2006.

In mid-May the South African Communist Party issued for public comment a document that had earlier been approved by our Central Committee as a discussion paper. It has been published in Bua Komanisi (the information bulletin of the CC), in the 1st quarter 2006 of The African Communist, and on our web-site. The discussion document is in two parts, the first deals with the historical relationship between the ANC and SACP, and the second looks at class struggles and the post-1994 state in South Africa. The intention of publishing this document was to ensure wide debate within the SACP, the ANC-led alliance, and, indeed, among the broader public around the pressing challenges of the South African political, social and economic reality.

The SACP is heartened that the intention of stimulating national debate has, indeed, gone far beyond our initial expectations. Copies of the document are in demand throughout ANC and COSATU ranks, and there is even considerable Southern African and international interest.

However, we are also concerned that the substantive matters we endeavour to raise in the discussion document are in danger of being distorted by some of the critics and even by some of the more enthusiastic supporters. It is important in this context to re-affirm what the discussion document is, and therefore what it is not; and to re-affirm what it actually says, and what it does not say.

In the first place, the document is not a power play into the ANC presidential succession debate. Obviously, any discussion about present political and socio-economic realities in our country will inevitably have some implications for any such debate. But we have no intention of allowing the systemic issues we are trying to open up for debate to be turned into a personality contest. We have consistently argued that the ANC presidential succession question is an ANC matter. Indeed, the origins of our discussion document are to be found in a debate in our SACP April 2005 Special National Discussion. This debate was not about which ANC presidential candidate we should support, but whether the SACP should consider fielding its own separate party list in future elections.

In the second place, the document is emphatically not arguing for a weak presidential centre, or for a weak state. Power is not a zero-sum game. We are concerned that there is a serious imbalance in the way in which power has been centralised within the presidency while parliament is relatively weak, and while the popular mass movement, historically led by the ANC, has been considerably demobilised and fragmented. This power imbalance is liable to result not in a strong presidency, but in a power centre that is vulnerable to isolation and to undue influence by established and newly enriched capital. That is our central concern. 

Far from disagreeing with ANC policy on the kind of state we require (as some of our critics have alleged), we strongly support the many ANC conference resolutions that call for a strong, active developmental state that is capable of leading the huge transformation challenges in our country, in a world that is not spontaneously sympathetic to this endeavour. This is why we always opposed the public asset-stripping frenzy that surrounded the earlier drive to privatisation in the years 1999 to 2002. We saw in this frenzy the danger of a serious weakening of the developmental capacity of our new democratic state.

We support (and our discussion document quotes) the strategic resolution from the ANC's July 2005 National General Council that notes that the forging of an effective developmental state in South Africa cannot be a simple repeat of the Japanese or South Korean experience. The ANC NGC passage reads:

'In many international cases, the developmental state has been characterised by a high degree of integration between business and government. The South African developmental state has different advantages and challenges. While we seek to engage private capital strategically, in South Africa the developmental state needs to be buttressed and guided by a mass-based, democratic liberation movement in a context in which the economy is still dominated by a developed, but largely white, capitalist class.' (paragraph 20, ANC National General Council, July 2005, Consolidated Report on Sectoral Strategies).  

The relative weakness and disunity of the mass-based movement in our country at present (as elaborated upon by the ANC secretary general?s report to the NGC) means that it has not always been able to effectively buttress the state, strengthening and complementing it in the developmental struggle - and so we often find government out on its own. A current example is government?s attempt to spend some R7,7 billion of public funds on taxi recapitalisation. Yet government is being opposed, and some senior officials even physically threatened, by the very forces that stand to benefit from this largesse. Meanwhile (and all alliance partners must accept responsibility for this) millions of frustrated township commuters are left unorganised and voiceless.

The recent Kenyan counter-example is instructive in this regard. There, a popular wave of anti-corruption mobilisation empowered government to move ahead rapidly with the scrapping of dangerous minibuses and in enforcing compliance with new safety regulations, without spending R7,7 billion. 

Government has resources and capacity, but it also has limitations, including the limitations imposed by inter-state protocols. We accept, for instance, that government needs to conduct its Zimbabwean policy within the framework of inter-governmental responsibilities, including those of SADC, the AU, or the UN. However, the ANC has often been exceedingly timid, as if it, too, were bound by the rules of diplomacy ? 'quiet' or otherwise. A notable exception was the ANC Women's League brave and morally inspiring espousing of the Amina Lawal case in Nigeria. But, too often, articulating the values of our national democratic revolution in regard to international events has been left to alliance partners, who have then been castigated for 'rocking the boat'.

The weaknesses of parliament may very well be because parliament is weak, and not because of some external presidential hand that is deliberately marginalizing the institution. But the serious power imbalance between a relatively strong executive and a relatively weak legislature means that key decisions (on re-drawing provincial boundaries, or spending R20-billion on the Gautrain, for instance) are insufficiently open to transparent and extensive public scrutiny. It is for this reason that the SACP discussion document calls, amongst other things, for the implementation of the constitutional requirement that parliament be allowed to amend money bills.

President Mbeki is the duly elected democratic president of our country. President Mbeki will be our state president until 2009. The SACP has twice thrown its full weight behind an ANC electoral list that has had President Mbeki as its presidential candidate. The SACP and, more importantly, the workers and poor of our country have absolutely nothing to gain from a weak government, from a disunited movement, or a 'lame-duck' presidency for the next three years.  But unity and strength will not be built by pretending there are no challenges, or that every comradely criticism is a personal assault, or that there are no systemic lessons to be learnt from our recent past.

For the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document please click here

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