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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 5, No. 56, 17 May 2006

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The class struggle continues: The May 18 COSATU General Strike

By: Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

On the eve of the COSATU general strike on Thursday 18 May 2006, one cannot help but be reminded of the very profound observations by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto in 1848:

'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle' The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations? It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation

'The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation'.

One is tempted to add that the bourgeoisie and its capitalist system have also converted many erstwhile revolutionaries into its paid ideologues, priests and peddlers of capitalist policies.

South African society is a strange mixture, one of the more advanced capitalist economies in the developing world in the midst of some of the worst international poverty. It is an advanced capitalist economy that daily reproduces the conditions for this poverty to thrive.

This systemic contradiction is reflected over the last decade. We have had one of our longest sustained economic growth periods, yet the majority of our population remains marginalised and in poverty.

It is this reality of an advanced (but racialised) capitalist society that led the SACP in its 1962 programme to characterise South Africa as a 'colonialism of a special type'. It was a characterisation that was subsequently embraced by our movement as a whole.

 The 1962 programme noted that: 'On one level, that of 'White South Africa', there are all the features of an advanced capitalist state in its final stage of imperialism. There are highly developed industrial monopolies, and the merging of industrial and finance capital' But on another level, that of 'Non-White South Africa', there are all the features of a colony. The indigenous population is subjected to extreme national oppression, poverty and exploitation, and a lack of all democratic rights''

Of course, 12 years of democracy have brought about major changes. But have we decisively transformed the economic foundations of colonialism of a special type? In many ways this is the core question being posed, in action, by current working class struggles, including the strikes underway in various sectors of our economy, as well as the May 18 Cosatu action. Indeed, we may even ask whether our economic policies since 1996 might not have actually reinforced some of the key systemic economic features of 'colonialism of a special type'.

The current international and domestic accumulation trajectory is in many instances reinforcing and reproducing some of the features of colonialism of a special type. Evidence of the persisting trends towards growth and development and simultaneous acute impoverishment and marginalisation are to be found in the declining share of GDP accruing to workers, and in the deep-seated persistence of racial inequalities, including an apartheid wage gap, and even of overt racism, especially in the workplace.

The SACP Central Committee Discussion Document released today notes this trend and a general silence about it as evidenced in the lack of  'any serious appreciation of the manner in which (strengthened) capitalist accumulation within South Africa, rather than innocently providing the resources for sustained 'delivery', is actively reproducing the very crises of underdevelopment''

Whilst a single COSATU general strike will not suddenly change the current accumulation trajectory, it can play a very important role in the struggle for a new economic path for our country. Firstly, it highlights the extent to which our economic policies of pursuing restoration of capitalist profitability as a basis for job creation and poverty eradication are inappropriate. The COSATU action highlights the urgency of a serious need to progressively transform the capitalist character of our economy. It is the only way forward towards the achievement of our development objectives.

Secondly, apart from highlighting the need for policy change, working class action is also an important contributor towards building the capacity of South Africa's working class to lead a different economic trajectory. As we have said before, just as the working class was the main motive force in the struggle to defeat apartheid, it is the working class that should be at the head of the struggle to transform the current accumulation regime in our country. 

As usual, our detractors will seek to ridicule and delegitimise this COSATU action. They will tell us that 'strikes do not create' jobs and that 'a general strike is a political strike'. Indeed a general strike is a political strike, precisely because it seeks to point out that the task of transforming the current accumulation regime is of fundamental importance in consolidating and deepening our national democratic revolution. Without such transformation the very advance of the national democratic revolution is at stake.

Are we still living within exactly the same colonialism of a special type dispensation? Obviously not. Critically, the present capitalist accumulation path is now no longer underpinned and reproduced by a white minority state. But this is not to say that the main features of this accumulation path have changed. 'De-racialising' the commanding heights of the capitalist economy on its own produces no systemic changes. The ownership and control of private capital in a capitalist society are not some neutral technical function. Ownership and control is premised on the intensifying labour exploitation and maximising profit. That is the iron law of capitalism. And, while the state is no longer a white minority state, there has been a concerted class attempt to ensure that the new political elite is thoroughly submerged within an emerging black capitalist stratum. This phenomenon is slowly but steadily creeping into the midst of our leading cadre, and none of our formations is necessarily immune.   

The process is justified by the latest ideological fad that claims that the key problem in South Africa is that there is 'too much distance' between the 'political class' and the 'economic class'. In other words the merging of the political elite with capital is presented as a key task of the national democratic revolution.

That is why the SACP is of the strong view that we must disrupt this emerging alliance between some of our leading political cadres and emerging capitalist interests in order to defend the values and the objectives of the national democratic revolution. The biggest threat to our national democratic revolution is that 'money' will triumph over the people's will. Building working class power is essential in order to invert this phenomenon, by ensuring that the people's will triumphs over 'money'. It is the task of the working class to build its power to ensure that public service is separated from private capital accumulation.

It is within the above context and challenges that the COSATU action should be located, as part of broader working class struggles to ensure that we build a developmental state whose priority is to address the interests of the workers and the poor.

It is for these reasons that the SACP fully supports the COSATU action and calls upon all its leaders, cadres and members to join this action in their numbers.

The class struggle continues - with and for the workers and the poor, to safeguard the national democratic revolution!
 


Foreword to SACP central committee discussion documents.

The document that follows is in two parts, and it forms the basis for discussions both inside and outside the SACP on the relationship of the SACP to state power in a democratic South Africa. These documents are official Central Committee Discussion Documents, but they do not constitute the official views of the SACP.

Amongst the issues that our Special National Congress (SNC) discussed in July 2005 in Durban was the question of whether the SACP should contest elections in its own right. Much as there was very fruitful and informative debate and discussions, the matter was not concluded by the SNC. That SNC took a resolution that the Central Committee must establish a commission to investigate the SACP's relationship to state power in the current period and into the future, including the question of whether the SACP should consider contesting elections in its own right.

In discussing this SNC resolution, the Central Committee felt that the best way to guide and conduct this debate must be through a structured discussion document, and this is what this special edition of Bua Komanisi contains. This document has been developed and approved by the Central Committee to facilitate such a discussion.

The Central Committee further decided that the General Secretary of the SACP must head the Commission with members of the Politburo as members of that Commission.

The terms of reference and programme of the Commission has already been adopted by the Central Committee. The work of the Commission will include engagements with all SACP structures, our allies, the broader democratic movement, progressive academics, the progressive NGO movement and the broader South African public that has an interest in one or the other on the question of the SACP's relationship to state power. In addition, the Commission will engage with fraternal parties and movements in different parts of the world.

The key questions through which the Commission will be engaging all these formations, which are also the questions we would like to use in approaching this discussion systematically, include the following:
 
1. A general political analysis and response to the discussion document, and attitude towards the possibility of SACP contesting elections on its own
2. Experiences of relevant organizations on contesting elections (pro and cons, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities) and other matters to be taken into account by the left contesting elections in capitalist societies
3. Experiences with alliances, mass movements and the working class and its various formations
4. The importance and methods of mobilizing resources to contest elections
5. The relationship between the party and its public representatives
6. Modus operandi of a Party in power and its constitutional structures and mass mobilization, including the impact of an electoral party on party mobilization, and state and party relations
7. Some key considerations when in power or in opposition
8. Experiences with, and coverage by, media during and outside election campaigns, and the general behaviour and attitude of the media towards left parties

Part I of the Discussion Document broadly deals with the historical evolution and current status of the relationship between the SACP and the ANC, within the context of the three main contradictions that the national democratic revolution seeks to address, the class, national and gender contradictions. It aims to elicit discussions on the changing nature of this relationship, lessons that can be learnt out of it and the challenges in the immediate future.

Part II of the Discussion Document characterizes the kind of state we have built thus far since 1994, within the context of the evolving class struggles since the 1994 democratic breakthrough. This part ends by posing some very specific questions on some of the options facing the SACP on its relationship to state power and its electoral options.

We invite all our structures, our allies and other allied formations and fraternal organisations to engage with this Discussion Document and give us their frank and honest feedback, as part of answering the question of the relationship of the SACP to state power and its future electoral options. The SACP will also consciously seek to create numerous platforms for engagement with this Document and the questions under discussion.

The findings and recommendations of the Commission will be tabled for discussion and decision to the 12th Congress of the SACP, provisionally scheduled for July 2007.

Blade Nzimande
SACP General Secretary
 
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