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Issue 145 - Third Quarter 1996


Building the new South Africa's economy

Alec Erwin is Minister of Trade and Industry, and was recently elected as the president of UNCTAD. Erwin, a member of the SACP and also a former leading trade unionist, delivered the following address to the Business Day, Business Banquet. Are things really as bad on the economic front as much of the media likes to argue? Erwin argues forcefully that they are not.

In 1990 I was a unionist working in KwaZulu-Natal. I, along with my comrades were, to all intents and purposes, involved in a civil war. In late 1985 a slaughter had taken place near Amanzimtoti and as unionists we approached business and the press and indicated our severe misgivings as to what might be happening. Our fears were correct, and in the ten years that followed somewhere in the region of 15,000 people died, thousands more were wounded and thousands fled their homes.

As we knew then, and as we now see confirmed, the role of the state at the time was dangerous and hidden behind an opaque curtain of secrecy. The courts - usually despite the police - sometimes briefly protected, often exposed, but never ended the ordeal. People turned to their own resources. The organised, the fleet, the strong increased their chances of survival. The innocent cried out, but died.

The efforts towards peace and an ending of the violence were continuous from 1987. Without them (including the National Peace Accord) I don't know what would have happened. But even with these continuous efforts, violence and lawlessness did their ugly work of brutalising and demoralising.

Now we are winning this battle, we are turning the tide. With whatever energy we have, many, many of us will work to ensure that we never go back to that hell. Organised crime does not know what it has taken on when it attempts to establish a stronghold in our new democracy.

Economic policy pre-1994

But in 1990 other important developments were taking place. Economic policy was being addressed in a serious and conscious way by the Alliance. The ANC launched a major policy exercise in its Department of Economic Policy and COSATU's Economic Trends Project was well under way. The participants in these projects met in Harare in 1990 and workshopped a wide range of policy issues. In the publication that emerged from that workshop you will note that the basic building blocks of the current policy were there, including that of nationalisation.

During the Harare workshop another major initiative was decided upon - the Industrial Strategy Project. This fitted in well with a wide ranging discussion and research process then taking place in the union movement. In 1993, the Porter methodology on clusters was incorporated into this overall approach through a joint COSATU/ANC initiative.

In 1992 the ANC produced a major policy document Ready To Govern, which built on the Harare policy document. Here nationalisation, privatisation, joint ventures, etc. were strongly debated and then decided upon. Current government policy does not differ from that decision although it has added considerable detail to it. However, let us be frank, some in government and in the Alliance have at times forgotten that position and been flustered by aggressive media pressure.

Also in 1992, Derek Keys unlocked a log-jam and the National Economic Forum was launched. A wide range of economic issues were dealt with. This was the age of forums: housing, transport, electricity, and many others. Out of this activity basic policy emerged, not only in each case but as a coherent entity. There are reasons for this:

  • the various democratic forces and the Alliance were coordinating their activities - not as well as they would have liked - but they were doing it.
  • the participants were addressing concrete issues and attempting to solve real problems.
  • by 1993 the TEC (the negotiated, pre-election Transitional Executive Council) had an Economic Transformation Committee, which dealt with a wide range of issues, including the planning of South Africa's global dollar issue, the World Trade Organisation, and the 1994 budget. The interaction between unions, business, the public service and the ANC was continuous and widespread.
  • around the middle of 1993, the Alliance began pulling all these threads together, and after endless workshops, conferences and drafts, produced the RDP. This was no ordinary policy document since it was the condensation - mediated no doubt through the political perspective of the Alliance - of an almost unique civil society dialogue. I say "civil society" because, if the truth be told, the National Party government of the time played, as government, a very passive role. Particular NP ministers, however, did play an important role.

What is to be gained by this brief looking back? Firstly, much of this is all too easily forgotten in the current hurly burly of news reportage. This happens because our media generally elevates one of their functions above others. They stress news making and editorialising in combination - hence a day-to-day preoccupation. Too little attention is paid to developing the highly skilled and specialist human resources capacity to provide accurate and knowledgeable reportage (free of editorialising) and analytical perspectives.

This is a pity because another reason for highlighting these past events is to make a point about the magnitude of our collective achievements in addressing violence, political change and the economic challenge.

Let us just focus on the economy. In 1990, this was an economy heading for a major train crash. It was stagnant, shedding employment, insular and characterised by conflict. Debt was rapidly rising as was public sector employment.

However, the economic reform process did not start in April 1994. It began inching forward from 1992, propelled by the civil society process outlined above, and when the ANC became a virtual de facto government in the latter half of 1993 and the leader of the Government of National Unity in 1994, this reform intensified and gathered pace.

Forgetting this does us very little good because it propels us towards two dangers. The first is the syndrome of wanting government to put everything right and then endlessly criticising it for failing to do this. Government hasn't a snowball's hope in hell of getting everything right, only our collective efforts can do that.

The second is that we then also forget just how resilient and resourceful our body politic (including civil society) and body economic is. We also forget also how resilient our economy has been under the guidance of those two bodies since 1992. I find it worrying that we can achieve so much over these years, and then start to forget it. Let me contrast two current processes. The first is worrying and the second is encouraging.

The first is how we deal with the current exchange rate situation. We all know that financial markets are particularly sensitive and, because they operate on real time, they are volatile and inherently prone to herd-like activity. This is a difficult feature of the current world economy, and every finance minister and central banker in the world is individually and collectively grappling with this. We would all agree that when you have to walk past something amorphous that has the tendency to turn into a rampaging herd, then we should try not to wake the damn thing up (imagery credited to my close comrade Trevor Manuel). It is an uncomfortable sort of discipline and damn frustrating at times.

But do we also have to lapse into a wobbly jelly of rumour and silliness? I want to argue very strongly that we should not, and cannot afford to. What we have to do is to take a sober look at the situation and do what has to be done. We have done this before and pulled off staggering achievements. We have succeeded in a few short years in preventing a train crash and in stabilising the economy. Growth is positive, manufacturing employment is poised for growth, investment and exports are positive, inflation is contained, trade prospects are good, we cannot really complain about foreign direct investment levels. Interest rates are too high and the public sector restructuring has to be carried through. The targets in government's Growth, Equity and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic framework are challenging but achievable.

We have dealt with far worse - why are we allowing ourselves to hesitate? Fortunately, much of this hesitation is really rooted in media perceptions, because the basics remain sound and serious decision-makers are moving forward.

But it is the stark contrast with the second process that is of interest. Crime is a major problem, and we have to break its back once and for all. Here business must be praised for its active and collaborative response. Communities, too, have responded - and here I do not only refer to PAGAD. This is the South Africa that will succeed. We are not standing back and saying: "Let's see if government can solve the problem."

In saying this, I do not by any means underestimate what has to be done, but I want to stress again that if I look at our current position, then it is structurally different to what we faced in 1992. In government we have learnt and we have had to adjust our policy in certain areas. I would identify the following:

  • we did not realise the extent of the fiscal problem - debt, poor quality capital expenditure, poor budgetary procedures and ineffective expenditure. To correct this, fiscal discipline has to be tightened and a major budgetary reform undertaken.
  • we did not realise the extent of the malaise in the overall public sector, leading to stagnant institutions (Eskom being the exception). This requires new strategies for resource mobilisation, based on the interaction between budget, development financing institutions, parastatals and partnerships with the private sector.
  • the structural problems of the deployment, size, skill, salary and managerial capacity in the public service were underestimated. The extent of reform needed to create a modern and effective civil service is considerable and, in the medium term, will cost money.
  • finally, whilst we knew Southern Africa was important, we did not fully realise how crucial it is that we generate growth and development in Southern Africa through joint action with our SADC partners. But here, progress is now faster than seemed possible a year ago.

We are addressing all these areas with a good degree of success. We have been a determined, innovative and often patient people. These capacities are still needed. We cannot falter now. For me Gramsci's "pessimism of the intellect" allows common sense and good analysis to prevail, but it is "the optimism of the will" that generates noble efforts and successes.

We - as a people and economy - are traversing a unique time in history. We need pragmatism, passion and determination, and above all a confidence in our ability to succeed. Scepticism - or pessimism of the intellect - as a precursor to pragmatic action is fine. Scepticism and cynicism as a substitute for analysis is destructive. The choice is our's, and it should be easily made.

The Role of the Working Class in consolidating and deepening the National Democratic Revolution

Blade Nzimande, deputy chairperson of the SACP and chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, delivered the following address to the national congress of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Kempton Park, September 1996). Nzimande defines the leading role that workers need to play in the unfolding national democratic revolution in our country.

    "...the proletariat alone is capable of carrying the democratic revolution to the end ... that the main task of the proletariat at the current historical moment is to carry the democratic revolution ... forward to the end ... that any minimisation of this task inevitably results in the working class being transformed from the leader of the people's revolution carrying with it the mass of the democratic peasantry, into a passive participant in the revolution tailing behind the liberal bourgeoisie." (Lenin, 1907)

Whilst Lenin was reflecting on the tasks of the Russian proletariat in 1907, the above quotation captures very starkly, albeit under different conditions, the main tasks of our working class in this phase of the national democratic revolution in South Africa. In this, the 1996 Annual Congress of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), the above quotation also sets out clearly the tasks that lie ahead for the working class within which to locate the struggle of organised workers. The recent and on-going struggles over the direction of the RDP, the battles over property and lock-out clauses in the new constitution, as well as the debates and struggles over the government's macro-economic strategy, all point to the need for a politically conscious and politically organised working class to assert its imprint over the outcome of these struggles. At the heart of these struggles is fundamentally the question of the capacity of our people to stick to and defend the path of the national democratic revolution in the light of a very serious all-round offensive by South Africa's capitalist class to shape post-apartheid society in its own image and interests.

Our point of departure: A struggle for a socialist South Africa

It is important that when one is examining our current situation and trying to map a way forward, we reassert our starting point, that the struggle of the workers of this country is a struggle for a socialist South Africa. We are re-asserting this not because it sounds good to us, nor because we want to appear to be politically correct when addressing workers' gatherings, but because the tasks that we have set ourselves as the liberation movement in this phase of our struggle are not sustainable in the longer term, short of a transition to socialism. Secondly, that, despite the setbacks to the struggle for socialism on a world scale, capitalism cannot be a solution to the problems that face humanity in general, and particularly the immense majority of the people in our country.

The national liberation movement led by the ANC has set itself the task of addressing the basic needs of the majority of our people like housing, education, health, social welfare and job creation. The Reconstruction and Development Programme is our vehicle to achieve these objectives. The RDP is a programme whose most thorough implementation will benefit the immense majority of our people, in particular the working class and the landless rural masses. The fact that we now have a government of national unity led by the ANC provides a unique opportunity to advance these goals.

However, the advances made by the RDP will, in the long term, not be sustainable as long as a big slice of our wealth remains in the hands of the capitalist class. Wealth in the hands of the capitalist class means wealth inaccessible to addressing the needs of the majority. It is this objective reality that necessitates a struggle for socialism.

The struggle for socialism is not an abstract struggle that can be wishfully brought about through socialist rhetoric. Rather, it is a struggle that should be firmly located in the major struggles of the day. It is a struggle that must also be fought on the terrain and with the issues posed by the immediate challenges and tasks faced by the majority of the people. This is also because the working class must never make the mistake of isolating itself from the issues that affect the immense majority of the population. It is the task of the working class to popularise the struggles for socialism in the widest possible sectors of South African society.

The importance of the working class to lead the present struggles is rooted in our understanding that the outcomes of such immediate struggles should favour a transition to socialism and building the political and economic capacity of the working class to engage the capitalist class.

It is for this reason therefore that we must understand the character of our transition and the balance of class forces at the present moment.

Class struggle and deepening the democratic breakthrough

The holding of the first democratic elections in South Africa in April 1994 was, perhaps, the most significant event in the unfolding national democratic revolution in our country. Hence our Party's characterisation of this event as a democratic breakthrough.

Since this breakthrough a number of advances have been made in strengthening our gains. Firstly, we are about to finish a new constitution. Of particular significance in the constitution is the rejection of the bosses' demand to the constitutional court that the right to strike must be balanced by a right to lock-out. This is a major victory for organised workers and the working class as a whole; a victory won through years of struggle of organised workers against a cheeky capitalist class spoilt by the apartheid regime and its repressive cheap labour policies. In completing the new constitution we must make sure that the employers' "right" to lock-out must never find its way into the constitution of a democratic South Africa.

On a number of social fronts we have seen progressive legislative and policy measures aimed at realising some of the key objectives of the RDP. Some of these measures are taking the transformation process forward in areas like education, health, social welfare and land.

Nevertheless, historic and significant as the democratic breakthrough is, it should not obscure the fact that on its own it did not mark liberation and the completion of the tasks of the democratic revolution. Our concept of a democratic breakthrough precisely captures both the advance marked by this electoral victory as well as signalling the fact that, despite this victory, there are still a number of strategic and tactical tasks to deepen and consolidate the NDR. The concept also captures both the advances and limitations of a negotiated transition. This reality is also captured in the Strategy and Tactics document of the ANC adopted at its 49th Conference in Bloemfontein in December 1994:

    "The elections of April 1994, the establishment of the GNU led by the ANC and the adoption of the interim constitution amount to a qualitative historical moment in the course of transfer of political power from the white minority to the democratic majority. This moment marked a decisive but not a complete transfer of political power. The democratic majority has won only some of the important elements of that political power necessary for the advancement of the struggle towards the completion of the current phase of the democratic revolution." (ANC Strategy and Tactics, 1994 p.6 - emphases mine)

What this means is that deepening our gains at this point in time is going to be a major struggle, which further lays bare the essentially class character of our revolution. Implicit in the very notion of a democratic breakthrough is the centrality of class struggle in decisively shifting the balance of forces in favour of the majority of the people in our country.

As part of this struggle, the capitalist class, its allies and political organs - the National Party and the Democratic Party - are intensifying the class struggle on all fronts, trying to shape the character of the post-apartheid state in their favour. This is marked by some of the attacks being waged on organised workers and the working class as a whole:

Demonising organised workers as an employed elite, as if the capitalist class cares about the unemployed and under-employed.

Struggling for a constitution that entrenches the property of the rich and peripheralising the propertyless as perpetual dependents on hand-outs from the bourgeoisie.

The aggressive push towards privatisation and all-round attack on the role of the state in economic development. This is in line with the neo-liberal agenda of sidelining the nation-state on matters regarding economic development other than to open those countries to the superexploitation by multinationals and their local allies.

The continuous push towards federalism, whose main purpose is to divide the working class whilst increasing the centralisation of economic power and political influence in the boardrooms of monopolies.

What kind of post-apartheid state?

In order to understand the current situation, it is important to analyse some of the features and character of South Africa's emerging post-apartheid state.

A debate that our Party, the SACP, is taking up seriously is the question of the character of the present South African state and the kind of state that needs to be constructed as a matter of strategic priority. Our understanding is that the main content of the class struggle at this point in time is the type of state that South Africa should have. Should it be a modern capitalist state defending the interests of the capitalist class or a state that defends and advances the interests of the working class, the landless rural masses and the propertyless classes in general?

The debate is principally around whether South Africa can be characterised as a capitalist state or a nascent, but weak, national democratic state. Related to this is the question of whether the working class can be said to be taking a leadership role in the formation of this state, or is it merely responding to the pressure of the capitalist class and its allies in their attempts to shape the state in their interests? It is also within the context of this debate that one should pose the question of the macro-economic framework recently adopted by government (and endorsed by the NEC of the ANC).

South Africa still remains a capitalist state despite the inauguration of a government of national unity led by the national liberation movement which was overwhelmingly voted into power by the vast majority of the working people. It is a capitalist state precisely because the core state structures of CST (Colonialism of a Special Type) have not been abolished or transformed and still reflect the dominance of capitalist interests, as well as the obvious fact that the main motor of South Africa's political economy still remains private monopoly capital.

Furthermore, the South African apartheid state has features of a colonial state deriving from centuries of colonialism and decades of colonial-type apartheid rule. It is the structural features of the apartheid state that still remain in place despite the end to the white minority regime and the end to state repression.

One other enduring factor of the South African state is that it is a patriarchal state, whose foundations and mode of reproduction has been the oppressive and exploitative gender relations, at the core of which has been the oppression of women. The acuteness of this exploitation sharply expresses itself in the oppression of black working class women, particularly rural African women who have borne the brunt of the landlessness of the rural masses and the system of migrant labour.

However it would be wrong and inaccurate to say South Africa is still a capitalist, colonial and patriarchal state in exactly the same manner as during the apartheid era. The major difference between the previous apartheid order and the emerging one is that the apartheid regime deployed all its resources, including the state apparatuses, to defend the bosses at all costs. The new government has taken office with the full backing of the working people, and, in particular, with the full mandate of the African working class. This government is also committed to the Reconstruction and Development Programme, a programme whose implementation stands to benefit the working class and its allies. Furthermore, since the inauguration of this government significant measures have been taken to advance the position of women in society and to lay the basis for the eradication of gender inequalities in general, and patriarchy in particular. In short, it is a contested capitalist state where the national liberation movement is uniquely placed to transform the very character of the state.

It is our considered view as the SACP that the struggle is not only an economic one, but that economic questions are fundamental in deepening the national democratic revolution. Economic questions are vital at this point in time as the various class forces try to position themselves in a manner that would entrench their economic interests for a long time to come. It is for this reason that the capitalist class is embarking on such an aggressive push towards privatisation. It is in moments of transition like ours that there is a deepening of the economic debate and economic struggles, as the class that emerges victorious at this stage is likely to determine the direction that the country will take economically and particularly the type of post-apartheid state we are going to have. This by no means suggests that struggles prior to this period were not about economic power, nor that future economic direction of the country will be decided once and for all only during this period. But this serves to underline the importance of shaping economic policy at a time when the liberation movement is assuming state power.

However, to reduce the struggle at this point in time purely to an economic struggle would amount to a narrow economism that will not strategically advance and direct us towards socialism. This is because economic questions are decided within the broader context of the balance of forces within a larger political arena. The political strength of the broad liberation movement, the Tripartite Alliance in particular, will determine the course of economic development that we follow. Similarly, the international balance of forces has a major impact on the strategic and tactical choices that we make.

It is from this class perspective that we should also be approaching the macro-economic framework of government and the attitude and behaviour of the various class forces towards it.

On the macro-economic framework, the SACP's view is that it is important that government adopts a macro-economic framework that will guide the implementation of the RDP. It was for this reason that the SACP had welcomed the publication of the macro-economic framework. However, the SACP has problems with the framework on mainly two grounds. The first one is that it is largely premised on sending signals to investors that there is a climate for profitable investment in South Africa. This actually translates into a heavy reliance on the capitalist class to lead the process of economic development and reconstruction; a role that the RDP specifically assigns to the state. It is our argument that unless the state plays an active role in economic development the capitalist class is unlikely to be attracted to invest purely on the basis of sending the right signals.

The second problem is that adopting a macro-economic framework is not merely a question of producing a document, no matter how correct its assumptions might be, but is essentially about a political process that requires maximum possible consultation, particularly within the Alliance. It should be honestly and frankly conceded that there was no adequate consultation on this process, thereby creating serious problems as to how the Alliance is to impact and guide government policies in future. Had a draft version of this document been subjected to extensive debate within the Alliance, we could have avoided the problem of public haggling over it, and consequently such discussions would have enriched the Alliance strategies on economic development.

The macro-economic strategy document raises some very fundamental tactical and strategic questions for the working class in the immediate future. On the tactical front it is of utmost importance that this document is seriously engaged, particularly in relation to the fleshing out of its details as well as implementation. It would be wrong now to be seen to be complaining on the sidelines, the task is to shape the details of this document such that its own assumptions are continuously subjected to review. There is enormous space for renegotiating some of its fundamentals as its details are developed and implemented. The capacity of the working class to achieve these tactical objectives around the implementation of the macro-economic strategy depends on the strength of working class organisation and the Alliance itself to impact on government policy.

What needs to be pointed out, however, is that government did not adopt this strategy as an injunction from the IMF, but as an honest attempt to provide a macro-economic framework for taking the RDP forward. Criticising the framework should not be seen as questioning the bona fides of our comrades in government. Rather, our tactical focus should be on continuously subjecting this framework and its detail to the macro-economic assumptions of the RDP. That is why it is important for organised workers to identify terrains through which the details of this are fleshed out. These principally include the restructuring of state assets, the evolving labour market policies and organised worker power on the shop-floor.

The three main strategic questions for the working class

There are three main strategic challenges posed not only by the macro-economic framework, but by the whole imperative of defending and deepening the democratic breakthrough.

A. International balance of forces

It would be incorrect for us not to come to grips with the fact that the international balance of forces is not in favour of the most rapid consolidation of our national democratic revolution. The collapse of the Eastern bloc socialist countries as well as the strengthening of the imperialist neo-liberal bloc has severely limited the economic choices of developing countries and anti-capitalist political forces. One of the most serious consequences of neo-liberal globalisation is the transformation of nation-states into extensions of the international capitalist institutions, whose major role now is to secure the conditions for strengthening neo-liberalism: deregulation and privatisation. This has seriously undermined the sovereignty of many third world countries.

In the light of this we need to avoid two very serious mistakes in grappling with the reality of globalisation. The one mistake is that of dismissing this globalisation and adventurously pursuing a national agenda as if this reality does not exist. This is the mistake of the ultra-left. The other mistake is that of a right-wing type, whereby governments simply submit to this global situation - more or less turning those nation-states into municipalities of this so-called global village.

The SACP is of the view that the nation-state has not been superseded and it is still an important site of struggle in countering the neo-liberal agenda. The fact that nation-states still have an important role to play provides the space for forging a national agenda that could fight back against some of the worst features of neo-liberalism. The RDP was developed with this particular understanding in mind - an attempt to engage the neo-liberal global order in a manner that would advance the socio-economic objectives of our people. It is these spaces that the working class should be concretely seeking in order to advance the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people and to seek to make South Africa an active participant in trying to reshape the global world order.

Therefore the main strategic imperative for our country in this global order is to seek to work with other forces to roll back some of the worst effects of the neo-liberal global market. This requires that, within the framework of the RDP, we actively seek alternatives to neo-liberalism. Internally this means that, amongst other things, we should be seeking to develop a whole range of forms of economic ownership that advance the interests of the working class and the developmental objectives of the RDP.

For instance, we need to challenge the notion that black economic empowerment only means the development of a black bourgeoisie or a "patriotic bourgeoisie"- an ambiguous concept, yet to be defined by those who advocate it. Black economic empowerment should be rescued from this perspective and be given concrete meaning directed at empowering the mass of the people of our country. There is no reason why we should not be exploring alternative forms of economic ownership like co-operatives. Embedded in the meaning of black economic empowerment as articulated by those aspiring to be capitalists is the notion of individual empowerment as opposed to collective economic empowerment of the working class, landless rural masses and small businesses.

B. Working class leadership over the struggle

Perhaps the most serious and practical challenge facing the working class in particular in the post-1994 era is an organisational one. The driving force of the entire tripartite alliance is the acceptance of the leadership of the working class in the national democratic revolution. Therefore the challenge is how to concretely translate this into reality and take it beyond conference resolutions into a palpable reality. The questions that we need to engage with relate to the type of struggles that we should be waging and looking at what the most appropriate forms of political organisation are to undertake this task effectively.

The SACP salutes the role that has been played by organised workers in deepening and defending the gains of our revolution. In particular, organised workers have played an important role in the struggle to roll back the neo-liberal market. However, it is also a reality that whilst organised workers are clearly the leading detachment and the bedrock of the working class, they do not constitute the entire working class nor are their struggles the totality of working class struggles. I am not making this point as a means to belittle the role of organised workers, but to point out the political challenges lying ahead for the working class as a whole. The challenge therefore, first and foremost, is to directly link and continuously interpret factory struggles within the broader political struggles. This means, amongst other things, linking the factory struggles to the national democratic revolution and to socialism. This means that we need to increase our political propaganda on socialism as the ultimate solution to worker's problems.

Secondly, organised workers need to consciously strengthen their role in all the political formations of the alliance, the ANC and SACP. We must not make the error, as some of our comrades do, of adopting a cynical attitude towards the ANC in particular. The ANC remains the broad vehicle for the attainment of the objectives of the working class in this phase of our struggle. The working class orientation of the ANC will be realised if organised workers in particular play an important role in this, our movement. Similarly, an SACP without the active participation of organised workers, in particular, can simply degenerate into a left-wing debating society or a communist fan club which is not linked to day to day struggles and strategic objectives of the working class.

Underpinning the above question is the issue of clearly developing a perspective on what it actually means, in practice, for the working class, together with its allies, to be leader of the democratic revolution. This means, amongst other things, that we should consistently and steadfastly approach this transition from a class perspective. There seems to be a retreat from this in the light of the setbacks of the left forces internationally. For example, the main content of our revolution is the resolution of the national question. But dealing with the national question outside of its class foundations will mean the national liberation and advancement of only the petty bourgeoisie and not the working class. For instance, affirmative action that is not grounded and led by the working class as the main motive force of our revolution will only benefit the middle classes.

To assert the leadership of the working class over the revolution also means developing, as a conscious strategy, the political consciousness of the working class, so that it is able to act as a political force for its own interests and those of the widest possible sectors of South African society. In practice this means the spreading of socialist propaganda and Marxism as a tool of understanding current struggles in our country.

C. Construction of a national democratic state as the main strategic objective

Whilst the main content of the national democratic revolution is the resolution of the national question, the main strategic objective of this revolution in this phase should be the struggle for the transformation of South Africa's capitalist state into a national democratic state. Such a state is one where the political and economic power decisively shifts from the capitalist class and its allies into the hands of an alliance of the working class, the landless rural masses and elements of the middle strata, particularly the black middle strata. This is the actual meaning of the transfer of power to the people.

However, this state is neither a liberal democratic nor a socialist state, but it is a transitional state. Therefore in such a state privatisation cannot and should never be the policy of the national liberation movement, since privatisation in essence strengthens the capitalist character of the South Africa state

Focusing the energies of organised workers and the working class as a whole on these key tactical and strategic questions is a much more appropriate route to deepening the national democratic revolution. In so doing we must be guided by this very important observation made by one of Latin America's foremost left-wing political analyst, Carlos Vilas:

    "The sociological profile of an army tells us little about the content and the political scope of the war, and the same is true of revolutions. Those who fought in the trenches of the French revolution were not bourgeois, but they fought for what became in the end a bourgeois revolution.... There is nothing unanimous about social transformation; its measure depends on the meaning it is assigned by the various actors involved." (Vilas, States, markets and revolutions in Central America, Monthly Review Press, 1995, pp.37-38 - emphases mine).

It is on the basis of the above strategic issues that the working class should strengthen its leadership over the revolution.

75 Years of Unbroken Struggle

Charles Nqakula, SACP General Secretary delivered the following address to the main national rally in Gugulethu, Cape Town (28th July 1996), to mark the Party's 75th anniversary.

The Communist Party of South Africa was launched 75 years ago here in Cape Town. Just three and a half years earlier, the great October Bolshevik revolution had stirred a flame of hope amongst working and oppressed peoples all over the world. South Africa, on the distant tip of another continent, was no exception. Our Party's launch was inspired by the heroic example of the first ever workers' state in world history.

Within seven years of its launch, our Party made a watershed strategic decision. Our communist pioneers came to appreciate that the road to socialism lay, in South Africa, through a major national liberation struggle. We came to the profound understanding that, besides a bolshevik communist party, the struggle in South Africa required a broad, mass-based national liberation movement. That historic mission went to the African National Congress. It was the duty of communists to learn from and to help to build the ANC.

In July 1996 we can see just how profoundly correct this double strategic perspective was.

Only the ANC

It is the ANC and only the ANC, at the centre of a broad alliance, that has been capable of leading the overwhelming majority of our people in the liberation struggle against race rule. Only the ANC has been able to lead our country and our people through a difficult transition process. It is only the broad leadership, communists and non-communists, of the ANC that has been capable of bringing democracy, and relative political stability to our country. It is the ANC, with its alliance, that has piloted one of the most progressive constitutions in the world through the Constituent Assembly. It is the ANC that enjoys overwhelming electoral support in our country. And it is the ANC that must lead the ongoing process of Reconstruction and Development in South Africa.

This is our strategic perspective as Communists. This is the culture that we have inherited from 75 years of struggle on the soil of South Africa. The unity of our alliance is more relevant than ever before.

But unity is not mechanical agreement. The leadership of the ANC is not a leadership that is asserted bureaucratically. We are talking about a capacity to lead, and that capacity is something that communists and non-communists in the ANC must seek constantly to build and to renew.

Nor does the leadership of the ANC mean that we as South African communists cease to think for ourselves. In fact, the very strengths of the ANC, its breadth, its multi-class character, its radical patriotism, are also the reasons why an independent but allied party of socialism is also needed. As a party, in our own right, and within the alliance, we shall continuously and consistently raise the political perspectives of socialism, and the concerns of the workers and the poor.

Macro-economic debate

Since mid-June, there has been an important debate within the ANC-led tripartite alliance on a macro-economic framework. This is a real debate, and it is a necessary debate. Any macro-economic plan must stand or fall on the basis of its own merits. Such a plan must be tested both in practice and in constructive and ongoing debate.

As the SACP we are committed to constructive debate on this matter. But to have a constructive debate, it is very important to have a clear grasp of what the debate is actually about. Listening to and reading the media over the last few weeks has not always made this an easy task.

Forces hostile to our alliance have attempted to present the government's Macro-Economic Plan as some major strategic departure, as an embrace of Thatcherism. On the basis of this deliberate falsification, private sector forces have been goading the alliance. "Why is the SACP so silent?", they accuse us, hoping to stir up a crisis.

When we do speak out (because we feel we must, and not because of their incitement), then they goad the ANC to break the alliance. We sometimes have the impression that the only time the SACP appears in some newspapers is under one of two possible headlines:

  • "The vanishing left" - that is when we are agreeing with government; and
  • "Growing signs of alliance break-up" - that is when we are involved in debate.

What is the truth in this matter? 

Our comrades in government have tabled a macro-economic framework. It is a framework FOR the implementation of the RDP. Our comrades have not suddenly been seduced by Thatcherism. They, like us, are concerned about the real pressures and constraints on our economy, and they are seeking to find the most effective macro-economic policy to implement the RDP. We completely accept their sincerity.

We do, however, have misgivings about the macro-economic framework they have tabled. We are concerned that:

  • there has not been sufficient political, strategic oversight of the process;
  • the model is too restrictive, it runs the danger of crushing any possibility of growth; and
  • there is too great a reliance on private sector investment, on sending the "right" signals to private investors.

This is what the debate is about. It is NOT about whether the alliance should continue or not. It is NOT about whether we support the RDP or not.

The alliance will continue. And constructive debate within the alliance on the macro-economic framework will continue.

We are proud of the ANC that we have built, collectively, communists and non-communists. However, the international history of liberation struggles is not without examples of heroic resistance movements becoming, after liberation, the bureaucratic platform of a narrow, new elite. We are determined that this will not be the case in our country. The ANC, and our alliance, however broad, must remain rooted among the vast majority of our country - exploited workers, the unemployed, those without decent shelter, the rural poor, the millions who continue to suffer from the legacy of apartheid.


The ANC is not our only alliance partner. As communists we are proud of our long and often pioneering track record in the trade unions. As communists we have always seen ourselves having special responsibilities and a special relationship with the labour movement.

The militancy, the strong traditions of shop-floor democracy, of mandating and mass mobilisation embodied today in COSATU, represent a major asset in the ongoing struggle for transformation.

Precisely because of the strength of the organised working class in our country, there is a sustained attack on it by the private sector. Yet how hypocritical this attack is!

The very people who have proposed a two-tier labour market (a first tier for COSATU workers) and a second, sweat shop tier for the rest, hypocritically label organised workers "an elite".

The very people who propose the privatisation of health-care, of transport, of housing delivery - thereby making these things available at most to only reasonably well paid workers - these are the very people who call organised workers "an elite".

The very people who want to break COSATU's participation in our tripartite alliance, and therefore break COSATU's strategic alignment with the poor, the landless, the unemployed - these very people hypocritically call organised workers "an elite".

The very people who constantly preach to us that the market's verdict must reign supreme are the one's who, when it comes to their own pockets, happily disregard the verdict of the market. Last year, for instance,

  • Afrox directors awarded themselves a 96% salary increase although profits were only up 15%
  • Dorbyl directors awarded themselves a 201% salary increase, although profits were down 25%
  • AECI directors awarded themselves a 122% increase, although profits were down 8%.

Who, we ask you, is the real elite in our country?

COSATU understands, it needs to understand, that it is at a critical cross-roads. If the revolutionary trade union movement in our country focuses narrowly on its own members, if it simply fights defensive, workerist battles for the preservation of the jobs and wages of its own members, it will be outmanoeuvred. It will, indeed, become a diminishing (if junior) elite. Of course, the bread and butter of trade unionism is, indeed, the defence of jobs and wages. But trade unions need, also, to integrate themselves into a broader strategic, transformation process.

Strategic trade unionism is a well entrenched tradition within COSATU. As an ally of COSATU, as socialists, the SACP pledges to work tirelessly to reproduce and develop this tradition. The best guarantee for such strategic unionism lies precisely in a powerful, independent COSATU, and a COSATU located integrally within our broader alliance.

A people-driven transformation

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, we find ourselves in the midst of a South Africa in which, in the short space of two and a quarter years, so much has been achieved, and where so much still remains to be achieved.

In particular, the critical struggles that lie ahead are to secure social and economic transformation, to carry forward the logic of the April 1994 democratic breakthrough into all spheres of our society.

In order to do this, we need to help strengthen the capacity of government to govern. But we also need to revitalise the Masakhane campaign, returning it to its original conception.

Yes, households must (when they can, and when they actually receive services or housing) pay rents, rates or bonds. Yes, students should study. Yes, workers should work. Yes, government must govern.

But Masakhane means "Let us build together", it means a genuinely people-driven process of transformation. Communities must have an active role in ongoing transformation that extends well beyond paying up.

Students must study, but they must also struggle in order to study. They have to struggle to secure the minimum conditions necessary for effective study. They have to struggle to ensure a relevant syllabus and the transformation of places of learning. They also have to struggle for the honour to contribute to the broader process of transformation.

Yes, workers must work. But what if there is no work? What if wages are poverty wages? Workers must work, but they must also struggle to democratise the work-place and the broader economy.

And government? Yes, government must govern. But governance is the concern and responsibility of us all. It is not a narrow bureaucratic task.

The international situation

75 years ago, when the pioneers of communism on the African continent met here in Cape Town, they were very conscious of the wider world out there. How can we fail to be less internationalist in our perspectives today?

Yes, we know, internationally, 1996 is not 1921. But 1996 is also NOT 1991.

In the space of just five years, from India, through Russia and Eastern Europe, to Italy, and on into Latin America, there is an important process of socialist renewal.

In the space of just five years, the so-called "Washington Consensus" has lost much of its glitter. In the advanced capitalist countries, faced with growing unemployment and deepening inequality, socialist, left and other progressive forces are mounting an important struggle against the mindless destruction of the welfare state.

In the former Soviet bloc, communist and left forces have won elections or, as in the recent case of Russia, now constitute the major electoral opposition bloc. The people of eastern Europe are increasingly rejecting shock therapy, privatisation and the general "third-worldisation" of their societies.

In the actual 3rd World, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF are both hated, and they are now meeting increasing resistance.

Back in 1990-1, at the time of the legal re-emergence of the SACP, some people portrayed our party at the "last of the Mohicans", as a "dinosaur", as the last growing communist or socialist party in the world. It was a myth then. It is an even greater myth now.

Our party was launched 75 years ago to fight imperialism and capitalism under the banner of communism. Now, 75 years later, our world and our country are still divided into a small, powerful elite, and a vast majority of exploited and oppressed.

The struggle to leave no stone unturned so long as there is class exploitation - that is the struggle of socialism. We see no reason to revise our fundamental commitment to this cause.




The Strategic Necessity of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat: - a reply to comrade Jeremy Cronin

Dale T. McKinley disagrees with Jeremy Cronin that the SACP has been correct to drop the concept of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. McKinley argues that, without this core concept, the SACP's engagement with the current transitional realities in South Africa will lack a clear strategic purpose.

Comrade Jeremy Cronin, in taking up the debate on the question of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (DoP) and democracy (AC, no.143), is absolutely correct on one score - this is not a debate which we as a Party can "quietly side-line", but one which we must confront "honestly and head-on". It is in this spirit that I offer this critical engagement with cde Cronin's perspectives. As Communists, we must openly grapple with this most central of debates, for it goes to the heart of our strategic vision and activities in the fight for socialism both in South Africa and internationally.

The central critique that Cronin makes of the entire concept of the DoP derives from his interpretation of Lenin's arguments, and to a lesser extent from the earlier programmes of the SACP (CPSA). Such a critique sees the fundamental "problem" as one which posits "a totally different workers' democracy that installs itself by abolishing `bourgeois parliamentary democracy'". For Cronin this has led to the "tendency to think of socialist revolution as something that is prepared ... outside of capitalism ... (leading) to a situation of `dual power', and finally the abolition, from the outside, of the old and installation of the new." It is upon such an interpretation that Cronin constructs an argument for our Party to abandon the DoP and to embrace the radical (socialist) potential of a "transformed, non-racial parliamentary system."

As against Cronin's approach, I want to argue that we must reclaim the concept of the DoP and with it much of what was correct in our Party's earlier theoretical and programmatic approach to revolutionary struggle. Such a reclamation should be at the centre of our strategic approach, as Communists, to the still-capitalist dominated terrain within which that very parliamentary system is grounded.

The meaning and character of the DoP

It is necessary from the outset to clarify exactly what we understand by the term Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Cronin's interpretation, deriving from his readings of Marx and Lenin, sees the DoP as "a protracted form of state lasting through the entire transition period between capitalism and full communism." However, this only presents a partial picture of the DoP. Both Marx and Lenin argued in numerous writings that the DoP was both a form of government (state) and regime.

Herein lies a substantial distinction that we need to make - namely that the DoP is both a period in which the working class is governing (a form of government or state), but also in which the character of that governance leads to the gradual replacement of the state (a change in the class content of regime). Without the latter recognition, which contains within it the qualitative character of the DoP, we are only left with a change in the form of government/state which is an incomplete understanding of the concept of the DoP. The absolute necessity of such a recognition is captured clearly by Lenin:

    "Without representative institutions we cannot imagine democracy, not even proletarian democracy; but we can and must think of democracy without parliamentarianism, if criticism of bourgeois society is not mere empty words for us." (V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution).

This is not just a matter of semantics (or who can find the best Lenin quotation). Indeed, Cronin's incomplete interpretation allows him to claim that the DoP is guilty of a "mechanical approach" in which it posits the "simple" equation of parliamentary democracy = dictatorship of the bourgeoisie while soviet (or council) democracy = the DoP. As such, Cronin is able to attack the DoP as erroneously counterposing different "class forms of democracy" which, in his view, falsely leads to the argument that parliamentary democracy must be replaced by an "alternative form of democracy if the proletariat is to be the dominant class."

Representative of this approach is Cronin's argument that, in the case of our South African transition, struggling for the DoP would "simply organise all conservative and/or disgruntled forces into the hands of ... counter-revolution." According to Cronin this, in turn, would constitute a "dictatorship against all those more or less unhappy with the present situation ..." (inclusive of striking nurses, land hungry people, parliamentary opposition and third force elements). In my view, such an approach exhibits a conceptual confusion about the DoP.

The "dictatorship" component of the DoP is based on both a class analysis and practicality (i.e. programme), and its actualisation cannot (and should not) be tethered to the institutionalisation of the various social fault-lines which make up the present "mix" of conflicts. In other words, struggling for the DoP serves to actually bring together all those social forces with an objective interest in getting rid of capitalism rather than chasing them into the hands of counter-revolution. Conversely, Cronin's argument closely parallels that made by Kautsky and the German Social Democrats against those who argued for the DoP at the time. As the historical record of inter-World War Germany clearly reveals, it was Kautsky's approach which assisted in both the co-optation and eventual destruction of working class forces, giving rise to the very counter-revolution that this approach was supposedly designed to neutralise.

Confusing form and content

I would argue that Cronin is confusing an assessment of the form of bourgeois rule with the material/class content or base of that rule, whatever form it might take during the transition. Surely, it is not particularly helpful to simply define parliamentary democracy as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie but more importantly, to come to grips with its material and thus class foundation (at its base, not as applied to its different forms)? Likewise, it is not merely, as Cronin asks, whether or not we must "replace" one form of democracy with another but rather what kind of strategic struggle on the part of working class forces will lead to the material/class content of democracy changing?

As a result of Cronin's incomplete interpretation, he mistakenly attributes, to the entire concept of the DoP, an approach that is dominated by a change in the forms of democracy. The form of democracy will indeed change under the DoP, but the real issue is the character/content of the movement itself which struggles for a changed democracy that is not set within a foundation of capitalist class control. Cronin's fundamental mistake is to narrow the characterisation and conception of the DoP to a mere change in form. If we accept Cronin's interpretation and understanding of the DoP then there can be little doubt that "in most cases" it will definitely lead (in Cronin's words) "to a dictatorship in general".

Cronin makes the argument that there exists some sort of inherent dynamic in the conception and actualisation of the DoP that leads to a dictatorship of the Party rather than the proletariat itself. This argument is backed by the use of two quotes, one attributed to Lenin but taken from the works of Stalin, the other from Stalin himself. Furthermore, Cronin critiques the arguments for the DoP in the SACP's 1962 "Path to Power" Programme as wrongfully advocating a vanguard role for the Party in the struggle to "... destroy the state of dictatorship of the capitalists...". The political and theoretical implications of such an argument are clear - the DoP is necessarily anti-democratic.

Once again though, this perspective limits itself to the form rather than the content of the struggle for a working class controlled state and any democracy practised therein. We need to ask ourselves a simple yet fundamentally important question in this regard: does acting as a vanguard in such a struggle (for the DoP) necessarily mean that we must - by association - become exclusivist or does it rather entail putting an explicitly working class programme to the fore, to then be "judged" by the oppressed classes and any other social force in the process of class struggle?

As I have argued elsewhere (see Links, no.3, 1994), focusing on the class content of the struggle for the DoP rather than the various social-political forms of any parallel democracy, allows us to recognise both the potential usefulness (i.e. the extent of practical involvement) of a democratic form and the materialist basis upon which that form rests. We can thus equip ourselves with the potential to provide strategic insight and direction into ways of struggling for a socialism that seeks to fundamentally change both form and content.

The "Inside-Outside" Myth

In addition to Cronin's interpretation of the possible forms of the DoP, he makes a further argument that the DoP "evades the problem of bourgeois democracy since bourgeois democracy's precise significance is the inclusion within the democratic framework of the dominated classes" (cited from Alan Hunt). This point is backed by reference to Marx's comment (in Class Struggles in France) that such inclusiveness "... helps the hostile classes to victory and jeopardises the very foundations of bourgeois society." The most immediate question that comes to the fore, and which Marx himself posed on numerous occasions, is exactly what is the character/content of this inclusiveness?

This is a fundamentally important question, because it points us to the practical basis upon which a struggle for the DoP should concretely be approached. While there can be little doubt that the onset of democratic conditions - flowing, in the case of France at the time, from a feudal society - are a bonus for, and result of, working class struggles, it does not then follow that because there is now institutionalised bourgeois democracy the working class will, again, by association, necessarily move towards undermining bourgeois rule. Indeed, for "proof" of this we only need to look as far as the 20th century history of the western working class and their corresponding inclusion into bourgeois democratic frameworks. In other words, what has happened to the "victory" of the "hostile classes?"

Cronin's argument that the DoP is a struggle from the "outside", as opposed to an "inside" parliamentary struggle, is misplaced. Such an argument fails to recognise that struggling for the DoP itself can only truly take place on terrain that is real - i.e. that which confronts the revolution at the time. Indeed, it was that fiercely independent communist and sometimes critic of the Bolsheviks, Rosa Luxemburg, who stated this recognition with infinite clarity:

    "In the field of political relations, the development of democracy brings ... the participation of all popular strata in political life. But this participation takes the form of bourgeois parliamentarianism, in which class antagonism ... and domination are not done away with. Exactly because capitalist development moves through these contradictions ... exactly for this reason must the proletariat seize political power and suppress completely the capitalist system" (Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution?)

Whatever specific criticisms one might make of certain tactics employed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in struggling for the DoP, the strategic necessity of the DoP clearly encompassed participation in the bourgeois "order". However, the crucial "test" of such participation was its character and goals, not whether there should or should not be participation. In other words, the revolutionary organisations/forces must have a clear understanding of exactly why they should participate and the direction in which it will lead. Listen to what Lenin had to say about practical struggles for the DoP:

    "... the form of proletarian dictatorship that has already taken shape, i.e., Soviet power in Russia, the Rate-System in Germany, the Shop Stewards Committees in Britain ... all this implies and presents to the toiling classes ... greater practical opportunities for enjoying democratic rights and liberties than ever existed before..." (V.I. Lenin, "Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat", delivered at the First Congress of the Communist International, March 2-6 1919).

The problem with Cronin's arguments are that they make a false dichotomy between the supposed "inside" and "outside" approaches that then sustain a narrow conceptualisation and practice of the DoP. Instead of this, we should see the struggle for the DoP as being fundamentally defined by its content and direction, not its size or form. And here is a crucial point - the fact that the DoP might, through struggle, take on the form of proletarian control of the state (what Lenin calls the "mass-scale organisation of the classes oppressed by capitalism"), in no way denies its possible (and democratic) existence, in varying forms, under different objective conditions.

Parliamentary participation to what end?

If our starting point then becomes active participation in the immediate reality in which we find ourselves, the central focus of any struggle for the DoP must be around the character of that participation. For Cronin our participation in the parliamentary form of representative democracy should seek a "transformation" of parliament, local government etc., in order to make them "user-friendly, answerable and transparent." This, according to Cronin, can create the space for "working class and popular forces" to "reverse" exactly what the bourgeoisie has done - i.e. "'co-opt' or hegemonise popular forces in the framework of parliamentary democracy."

The answer to this "inside" "reversal" process shows why it is so important to distinguish between the form and content of our struggle as well as recognising the material foundation on which it takes place. The very reason why the "popular forces" cannot - and have everywhere been unable to - reverse the process within a capitalist-dominated parliamentary scenario, is precisely because it is the bourgeoisie that retains ultimate power and control over the accumulation of capital and the means of production. Indeed, it is this very control and power that gives the bourgeoisie the capacity to co-opt, otherwise it would be a cake-walk for the "popular forces."

It is not that such parliamentary democracy is completely useless in the present struggle for socialism. Rather, it is the recognition that the working class, popular forces and the political Party cannot - and again, have been unable to - merely wield an institutional form in order to "make" revolution under socio-economic conditions whose material foundation is one of capitalism. Have we not yet learnt that one of fundamental mistakes/failures of "actually existing socialism" vis-a-vis the Stalinist model was the reliance on the wielding of an institutional form in the name of the oppressed? Arguing, as Cronin does, that it was correct for our Party's 7th Congress to drop the DoP because of the backdrop of failures in the Soviet Union is representative of a position that does not recognise that the DoP should not be reduced to the wielding of any institutional form.

Arguing for, and practically attempting a reclamation of the DoP within the actually existing conditions that we face, does not mean that parliament should be dismissed as merely a bourgeois facade. It is to place at the forefront of our struggle for socialism the recognition that the only way in which working class forces can effectively engage in a parliamentary scenario is with a clear understanding of its material base combined with a revolutionary programme dedicated to fundamentally undermining its capitalist foundation. Lenin and the Bolsheviks consistently argued (and showed in practice) that participation in the bourgeois "order" had to be accompanied by a systematic unmasking of its dominant class basis in order to enable working class forces to effectively fight for the proletarian democratisation of its form by the class content of their struggle.

Cronin charges that the main weakness of the DoP is that it falsely "counterposes parliamentary democracy and soviet democracy." In regard to what has been argued above, it seems to me that Cronin is confusing ends and means here. The practice of "counterposing" - both theoretically and practically - is part of the rich Marxist-Leninist tradition of hoped-for achievement of struggle as well as a way of clearly delineating an alternative vision.

Indeed, this counterposing is not about the specifics of the forms that the struggle will take in the course of attempting to realise the vision, it rather captures the essence of the fundamental difference between the tactics and strategy of making revolution. If we do not engage in the constant practice of counterposing then we will surely end up "achieving" exactly what Cronin wants to avoid - i.e., freezing tactics into a general theory (strategy). Thus, the tactic of engaging in a capitalist dominated parliamentary scenario can quickly become both the means and end of our struggle for socialism, something that has certainly been the case with all working class forces that pursued this route as a strategy for achieving a different vision.

SACP strategy and the DoP

In his polemical response to the German and Dutch left over the question of participation in bourgeois parliaments (Left Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder), Lenin argued that, while Communists must participate, they must do so as Communists in order to wage a protracted struggle that puts forward an alternative politics to overcome "bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary" prejudices. Lenin added that Communists should direct their criticisms against those unwilling or unable to utilise elections, parliament itself and the general democratic process in a revolutionary and Communist "manner". As applied to our South African transitional context this should raise two extremely important and inter-related strategic questions: what should be the character of our Party's own involvement in parliament?; and likewise, what should be the character of our involvement in the Alliance? I want to answer both simultaneously by arguing that under the present framework there is no realistic way of practising the kind of politics we need to in a revolutionary and Communist "manner".

It is one thing to be in a political Alliance with the ANC as a means of affecting the transition in a left direction and being in touch with the mass of the ANC working class membership. It is an entirely different thing for that Alliance to be organisationally institutionalised to the extent that the SACP's own specific and/or independent organisational/parliamentary presence is practically enveloped. Indeed, such an envelopment makes it exceedingly difficult to practise a socialist politics within the present democratic/organisational framework in order to raise the necessary questions as a means of mobilising and organising the working class in a socialist direction. Just as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party agreed to be part of a broad-based progressive "provisional revolutionary government" as long as the Party retained strict control over its representatives and maintained its own independence, so the SACP needs to do the same in our transitional phase.

Indeed, it is the main contradiction of Cronin's approach to the question of the DoP that, while insisting that we must pursue a deepening of participatory democracy, he gives the SACP no real means to pursue such a strategy specifically as Communists and a Communist Party. In reality, the kinds of policies that are now emanating from parliament and from the various levels of local government and community fora, regardless of the individual contributions of Party members, confirm the absolute need for the SACP to engage in the democratic process as representatives of the Communist Party.

What we presently have is a situation where Party members are simultaneously supposed to be leaders of the SACP as well as leaders of government, parliament, etc., within a political and socio-economic context in which they are being forced to perform the function of managers of capitalist social and economic relations. As an example, negotiating with public sector workers as managers (bosses) over the very struggles that workers are waging as members of the Communist Party! It is legitimate to thus ask what will then be the approach of our Party when the workers directly challenge these same leaders' position and authority on the basis of direct democratic representation of interests?

If we accept at face value the argument of many in the liberation movement that the ANC has conquered political power, then the present structure of participatory democracy leaves the SACP with no grounds or basis for its own (Communist) political representation. This is all the more so given that, in reality, we are in a transition where political power has only really been accessed (not conquered) and where, just as importantly, economic power is being selectively diffused to accommodate the class interests of sections of the black majority, while remaining firmly in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

This is the reason why it is correct to identify the present democracy as bourgeois, not because working class forces do not have any role or representation within it, but because the character of that representation remains solidly within the boundaries of the bourgeois form. Thus, the only strategic way of engaging with such a reality is do so as a Communist Party, as identifiable and confident Communists in order to transform both the form and content. This is saying nothing else than that we should struggle for the DOP.

Let's Keep our Strategic Priorities in Focus

It is now nearly two-and-a-half years since April 1994 and what our 9th Party Congress described as the "democratic breakthrough". This breakthrough has opened up a bridgehead for the advancing, deepening and defence of the national democratic project.

But the national democratic project continues, of course, to be hampered by the very things it seeks to resolve - mass unemployment, deep poverty, homelessness, low levels of education, a transport crisis, rural backwardness, the patriarchal oppression and marginalisation of one half of the population - in short, by the results of decades of systematic racist, capitalist and patriarchal underdevelopment.

The key strategic question that confronts us is: National Democratic transformation - BUT UNDER WHICH CLASS HEGEMONY?

In the face of the challenges confronting us is a fairly disparate range of forces, classes and strata, at the heart of which is the ANC. These are the forces bent on carrying forward a national democratic project, and opposed (in varying degrees) to the legacy of backwardness, underdevelopment and oppression we are inheriting.

But these national democratic forces represent complex, quite dynamic, shifting realities, which are liable to unify around two distinct versions of the national democratic project. The first of these is a very limited notion of national democratic change.

National Democratic transformation as "modernising" and "normalising"

On the one hand, there are those forces that are liable to conceive of national democratic transformation as a project:

  • to "modernise" the South African economy, to make it "more competitive" on the "global stage";
  • to "normalise" South Africa's political dispensation, and to "normalise" our relations with the world, through a "de-ideologised", "let's be friendly to everybody" foreign policy; and, generally,
  • to stabilise and surpass the present crisis within a new capitalist order in our country.

Around this version of national democratic transformation is a potential, new ruling bloc in formation, dominated by the bourgeoisie - including, in practice, both major fractions of the old (white) bourgeoisie and new, emergent capitalist fractions. The latter, while they may take the lead in this process, will conceal their dependency on the former ("modernising" white fraction of the bourgeoisie) with a great deal of rhetoric about "the need for a patriotic bourgeoisie", and questions like "how else will the ANC raise money for the 1999 elections?" (without asking too many other questions about what kind of ANC they have in mind).

But this potential, and already partially emergent ruling bloc, will not (and could not) go it alone. It will certainly seek to present its interests as those of a broader range of middle strata, especially the rapidly forming new black middle strata - professionals, private and parastatal managers, middle and senior civil servants - "modernising", "normalising", "globalising", "black economic empowerment" (all potentially positive projects, but presented one-sidedly here ), and plain self-enrichment will be among the major themes around which this bloc will attempt to consolidate itself. Socialism, more substantial transformation, the Freedom Charter - all of these traditions tend to be viewed patronisingly, as "things of the past", as "hopelessly out of date".

Real issues, like women's oppression, are picked up within this first version of change, but they then become confined to largely elite concerns and resolutions - ensuring a quota of women are represented within the emerging public and private sector elite.

This project (it is not necessarily a wholly conscious or elaborate project) will not ignore the organised working class. It will seek to incorporate the more organised, more skilled sections of the working class as a junior partner within its ruling bloc - a point made by comrade Charles Nqakula in his 75th anniversary speech elsewhere in this issue of AC.

The strengths of this "modernising" version of the national democratic process should not be underrated. This kind of ideology has a certain spontaneous self-evidence about it, especially for the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of new professionals, public and private sector junior and middle managers, and newly elected representatives in all tiers of government. These are the individuals who, at a subjective level, are the most obvious beneficiaries of the 1994 breakthrough. There has been a very sudden and dramatic (and long overdue) increase in the possibilities for professional advancement, with accompanying increases in power, privilege and authority. What makes these developments particularly significant is that, by and large, these tens of thousands have constituted the core cadre base for our movement.

The structural limitations of their advancement are not yet always apparent at present. It may only be five or even ten years before there is a dramatic decrease in the sudden intake and promotion of tens of thousands of individuals into the modernising, non-racial middle strata. Those who have not yet "made it", can still dream of succeeding. But, without major transformation struggles ahead, the majority, will not "make it". But in these heady days, where the sky seems to be the limit, that is not always so apparent.

We emphasise immediately that we are not condemning the progressive emergence of new, non-racial, middle strata. Our point here is not to advance some moralising, "the poorer the better", thesis. Our concern is that, unless we self-consciously grapple with new realities, this development will give rise to a self-satisfied, and very limited version of our national democratic project.

This version of national democratic transformation is also strengthened by the still prevailing (although now less triumphalist) international hegemony of neo-liberalism. It is an hegemony that has been sustained, partly, by the international crisis in progressive projects (the socialist crisis, the severe problems and distortion of NDR projects in the South not least Africa, and by the relative eclipse of social democracy).

However, whatever advantages this version of national democratic transformation might enjoy, it also suffers from major weaknesses.

In particular, it is likely to prove unstable and unsustainable. In practice, it amounts to a 30%-70% solution, an attempt to overcome the present post-apartheid crisis by stabilising a new capitalist order around, perhaps, 30% of the population, while the great majority, the majority of the working class, the rural poor, the unemployed, the informal sector remain marginal in a "flexible", "unregulated" and substantially "right-less" second tier. This majority will remain overwhelmingly young, female and black - and its best hope, if this version of transformation prevails, will be of some trickle-down from a "modernised" and "normalised" new South Africa.

This path towards transformation is both unjust and unworkable, and therein lies its second weakness and danger. Its instability might lead to a growing emphasis on law and order, discipline and sacrifice (again, none of these in themselves is wrong - but a one-sided emphasis in which these are qualities expected of the poor, and not the elite, can become a diversion from the real problems and real needs for deepening and speeding transformation). As the structural (and sheer numerical) limitations on upward mobility for the previously oppressed majority become more apparent, as pressures mount for "more delivery", there are dangers that the newly arrived, taking their place alongside of an older white elite, will increasingly identify with top-down managerialism (in the name of professionalism), and the use of authority - seeing in the excluded 70% less the motor force for ongoing transformation, and more a threat to newly acquired privilege and power.

The national democratic project under the hegemonic leadership of the workers and the poor

There is, of course, a second and real trajectory for our NDR. It is a trajectory that we need constantly to propagate and to develop. Broadly, this second potential trajectory is one in which the social weight, interests and concerns of the working class as a whole, and the broader rural and urban poor, are hegemonic.

It needs, however, also to be a hegemony that embraces a broad national democratic bloc - including a large majority of the middle strata and significant sectors of an emergent bourgeoisie - "a patriotic bourgeoisie". Such a progressive hegemonic bloc depends on many factors - ideological, organisational, mobilisation and struggle. It needs to be grounded on a clear understanding that the first version of national democratic transformation is limited, unstable and unsustainable.

To defend THIS version of the NDR requires more than rhetoric about our past traditions, above all it requires an intelligent engagement with the new realities in which we find ourselves. We believe that the perspectives charted by the SACP 9th Congress, together with other key documents of our broader, ANC-led movement (notably the RDP), elaborate this alternative and much more progressive vision of the NDR.

NDR unity remains a key task

We have distinguished two broad potential trajectories for national democratic transformation, corresponding to two potential hegemonic classes - the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In practice, the alignment of different class forces is less clear-cut, the alignment is contested, and often confused. These two potential trajectories are intermingled within a single movement, within a common front of opposition to the past. This intermingling itself underlines that we are not dealing with wholly different social forces, but rather similar social forces that can be harnessed, potentially, behind one or another class project.

For all of these reasons the SACP needs to continue to play an active role in nurturing the unity of our broad ANC-led liberation movement. This role is not in contradiction with the equally important task of continuously propagating and contesting for one rather than another class hegemony over this broad liberation movement. We repeat: CLASS hegemony, which is not the same as this or that organisation's hegemony over the process, nor is working class hegemony the same as a narrow workerism that excludes a wide range of progressive forces.

In the confusions, complexities and difficulties of the present, let's keep our strategic priorities in focus.

All GEARed up

Hein Marais takes a long, hard and critical look at the government's recently announced macro-economic plan (GEAR). We must move the debate, he says, away from labels, to an intelligent scrutiny and discussion of what is envisaged in GEAR.

South Africa's surplus of acronymns was augmented in June 1996, when the government released its macro-economic strategy. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel immediately declared the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) plan "non-negotiable" in its broad outline, although the government was willing to negotiate "the details with our social partners".

Drawn up by a coterie of progressive and mainstream economists, GEAR's prescriptions lit the faces of business leaders but shocked many within the ANC alliance. Critics immediately dubbed the plan "neo-liberal". While the label was not inaccurate, it scarcely promoted incisive public debate which, instead, became waged as an exchange of ideological insults and sweeping generalisations.

Like motherhood and applie pie, GEAR's stated objective defies criticism: it would achieve, claimed the government, growth with job creation and redistribution, thus couching it within the broad parameters of the RDP. One should remember, though, that the RDP itself had undergone considerable changes since early 1994, when the government attempted to reconcile the Keynesian approach of the original RDP Base Document with the neo-liberal precepts hammered home by business, the IMF and World Bank. The result was the 1994 RDP White Paper which became the grounding framework for the Programme. The success of the programme would depend on a dynamic partnership between the state and private sector. The signal departure lay in the concept of a "developmental state" that would manage the transformation process within strict macro-economic parameters. This inverted the schema of the RDP Base Document. Rather than determine how the RDP could be achieved without unleashing unmanageable fiscal lassitude and monetary instability, the emphasis shifted to achieving the RDP within the context of fiscal and monetary stringency. GEAR elaborates that shift.

Although the comparison was very seldom drawn explicitly, the superficial correspondence between GEAR and the apartheid government's Normative Economic Model (NEM) perhaps explained the feverish responses. According to the National Institute for Economic Policy (NIEP), GEAR "represents a recourse to the policy goals and instruments of the past apartheid regime" - a harsh but plausible judgment(1). The NEM had promised to increase growth to 4.5% by 1997, reduce unemployment and redistribute a tiny percentage of income to the poorest 40% of South Africans. Achieving that would have required (i) cutting the fiscal deficit; (ii) stemming the outflow of capital; (iii) reducing corporate taxes; (iv) curbing inflation; (v) boosting the export sector with supply-side measures; (vi) exercising wage restraint by applying "greater flexibility in the determination of wage rates relative to productivity"(2).

GEAR promises to increase annual growth by an average of 4.2%, create 1,35-million new jobs by the year 2000, boost exports by an average 8.4% per annum through an array of supply-side measures, and drastically improve social infrastructure.

The rancour that greeted GEAR stemmed from the methods chosen to achieve these targets. The plan hinges fundamentally on a massive increase in private sector investment. This would be elicited by:

* slashing state spending to drive the budget deficit down to 3% of GDP by the year 2000;

* keeping inflation in single digits;

* reducing corporate taxes and providing tax holidays for certain investments;

* gradually phasing out completely exchange control regulations;

* encouraging wage restraint by organised workers;

* creating a more "flexible" labour market by deregulating certain categories of unskilled work and exempting small businesses from aspects of the new labour regime;

* speeded-up privatisation.

The plan met with approval from the corporate sector which deemed it "investor friendly" and praised the manner in which it "responds to many of the concerns expressed by business"(3). Most observers concurred with that view. Researcher Jenny Cargill noted that "the government has met most of [business'] macro-economic demands", and went on to remark that "it is certainly difficult to identify social equity as an explicit feature of the strategy"(4). Indeed, GEAR contains only two overt references to the RDP, one of them in an annex which describes how the budget deficit target can be met by slashing the RDP Fund. Little wonder that deputy president Thabo Mbeki would choose to bait critics at a media briefing by inviting them to "call me a Thatcherite" - which one journalist declared "an apt comment on the overall direction of GEAR"(5). Surprising many activists, the SACP responded with disarming ambiguity; while it was not in complete agreement with GEAR, it commended "its consistent endeavour to integrate different elements of policy" and approved "its clear framework within which monetary and interest rate policy must work"(6). It was left to Cosatu to strike the discordant notes. The federation expressed "serious reservations" over GEAR's "conservative fiscal policies"(7), and warned that "if you try to get the lowest paid people to pay for growth, there will be problems"(8). Significantly, however, Cosatu did not release a detailed response to GEAR - despite having commissioned such a study (which was completed)(9).

Public debate over GEAR became an ideological slanging match - perhaps to the relief of its advocates who were thus spared having the strategy's many contradictions held to the light of public scrutiny.

Two key tests have to be applied to GEAR. Most fundamentally, even if the strategy does meet its targets, will this increase social equity? By presenting GEAR as a set of tools to help achieve the RDP's objectives, the government claims it will. Secondly, given the current political and economic context, and the matrix of postulated causes and effects on which GEAR rests, is the strategy likely to meet its targets?

The next section explores these questions.

Boosting growth

GEAR's growth projections (from 3.5% in 1996 to 6.1% in 2000) hinge on increases in private investment and net non-gold exports, as well as substantial state expenditure in social infrastructure.

The strategy unloads the duty of economic salvation squarely onto the shoulders of the private sector - not only as the source of private investment but through partnerships in the public sector (created by a programme of privatisation). Those partnerships are meant to enable the state to meet its infrastructural and other obligations while, simultaneously, trimming state expenditure. GEAR's crux, though, lies in an anticipated, massive increase in private investment. The document's calculations show import expenses (over the five year GEAR period) depressing the fiscus by -0.2%, while state spending is scheduled to add a fiscal stimulus of only 0.5%. It follows that achieving the projected 4.2% average annual growth requires a huge fiscal stimulus of 3.9% (or 93% of the total stimulus) from private investment. Thus, as NIEP warns, "the projected growth rate is almost completely dependent upon the rapid success of government policy in stimulating private investment" (1996:6).

What specific measures are proposed to ensure business meets this duty ? The answer is "none"; presented instead are a set of adjustments which, according to the orthodox view, would create an optimal climate for private investment. Most important are a reduced fiscal deficit and low inflation rate(10). At this most basic level, the notion of a "developmental state" practically dissolves. By buying into the argument that a fiscal deficit of 1996 proportions(11) "crowds out" private investment, GEAR poses state spending as an impediment to economic growth. Summarised, the "crowding out" argument holds that when the state borrows to finance a deficit it competes for funds with the private sector. This is said to reduce investor confidence, drive up interest rates and slow growth(12). Thus, GEAR aims to reduce the fiscal deficit (to an average 3.7%), which should lead to lower real interest rates (average 4.4%), boost investor confidence and trigger a dramatic rise in private investment (average 11.7%).

The entire sequence rests on rickety assumptions. Most obvious is the danger that a deteriorating external current account (which the document sees as an enduring difficulty) will lead the Reserve Bank to intermittently intervene by hoisting interest rates, thereby interrupting the purported chain reaction (NIEP, 1996:7). With the "independence"(13) of the Reserve Bank entrenched in the constitution and the institution screened from parliamentary scrutiny, the government has no authority to persuade the Bank to desist from such responses.

The need to slash the deficit has become an article of faith for supporters of orthodoxy, who see a fiscal deficit in the region of 5-6% of GDP as anathema to a sustainable growth strategy. Yet, even the World Bank does not offer unambiguous succour for this view. Deviating from classical economic analysis (or its late 20th century variant, neo-liberalism), it has allowed for instances where a fiscal deficit of even 12% might be acceptable, as long it is integral to a growth pattern(14).

This is not to argue that the size of the fiscal deficit is irrelevant, which it is not (incurring a large debt burden to finance the deficit and a high inflation rate are two, possible and important consequences). It is merely to acknowledge that considerable controversy exists about the presumed need to cut state expenditure to a particular level and whether this does act as a trigger for private investment. Rather than see investment as a direct function of investor confidence, for instance, a less orthodox approach would view it as "primarily determined by profitability of investment and the complementarity between investment by the state and the private sector"(15). Rather than "retreat" from the economic realm (leaving in its wake a favourable climate for investment), active state involvement is needed to develop conditions for profitability. NIEP reminds that, internationally, greater attention is being paid to

"the role that public productive expenditures on infrastructure (such as investment on roads, transportation and housing) and social services (such as education, health care and welfare) play in promoting not only a country's economic well-being and growth, but also in encouraging private investment." (1996:8).

In that approach public expenditure "crowds in" private investment by helping create a structural bedrock for sustainable growth. This would appear particularly apt for an economy - like South Africa - that requires structural changes to achieve comparative advantage in the world economy, and where the government is committed to overcoming or at least lessening social inequalities.

In contrast, GEAR views such public spending as part of the problem. Yet it is bereft of measures that can increase the likelihood of large-scale, sustained productive investment by the private sector. Its central pillar, as Cargill has noted, "rests on a leap of faith", although she and GEAR's advocates have taken heart in Nedcor figures claiming that "new investment projects at any one time [in 1995] amounted to between R100 and R140-billion"(16). What these figures do not disclose is that the preponderance of this investment has been in capital-intensive plant upgrading and a handful of existing gargantuan projects.

Neither does GEAR explain satisfactorily why the 1996 deficit(17) was incompatible with a growth strategy, or why the target had to be precisely 3% (and not 2% or 4%). Beyond the "crowding out" argument, a deficit is typically seen as constraining growth because (i) it diverts government funds towards interest payments and away from social spending, (ii) if it is financed through foreign loans it increases the external debt burden (leading to Balance of Payments difficulties), and (iii) it leads to inflation.

In 1996, the government paid R34.4-billion interest on its debt; current debt levels would push that figure to R63-billion in 2000 - hardly alarming for a country whose public sector debt stood at a respectable 56% of GDP (compared to an average 72% for OECD countries) and whose external debt was decidedly low(18). The latter point is vital, since a deficit at 1996 levels did not significantly destabilise the Balance of Payments situation. Servicing loans taken to finance the deficit does diminish the funds available for social spending. But GEAR's remedy (driving the deficit down to an apparently arbitrary figure by cutting public sector spending) has the same effect: it drains the pool of government funding. One supposed "evil" is replaced with another, inconstestable evil. Thus GEAR's logic pivots on the "leap of faith"(19) that a reduced deficit will spur private investment to dramatic levels. The ensuing, postulated growth (coupled with more effective tax collection) will then swell state coffers, enabling a massive increase in real government investment growth during GEAR's final two years (7.5% in 1999, 16.7% in 2000). What happens if this tenuous chain reaction does not occur ? Does public sector spending remain at the diminished 1996-1998 levels ?

GEAR does not entertain such incredulity. Neither does it acknowledge other trends that contradict the sequence of effects the strategy relies on. The ILO has pointed out that, unless they are massively inflated in a bid to kickstart growth, budget deficits "tend to be counter-cyclical": they fall with rapid growth, and rise when the growth rate falls (ILO, 1996:32-33). The ILO concludes that

"if deficit reduction were desired, the most effective way to achieve it would be through faster economic growth. However, deficit reduction as an ex ante policy constraint results in slower growth and greater difficulty in reducing the deficit"(20).

Such reasoning, however, has been shouldered aside in the South African debate which has tarred any resistance to deficit reduction with the brush of macro-economic populism, blurring the rather obvious distinction between fiscal control and fiscal austerity.

Even if the presumed need to reduce the deficit were inviolable, methods other than slashing state spending were available - including more effective tax collection, more progressive tax rates for the top 20% of income earners, or a capital gains tax. GEAR recoils from the latter two options, and instead offers an array of tax allowances(21).

What about the inflationary impact of deficit spending ? There is no inevitable correlation between inflation and fiscal deficits. Inflationary pressure is caused by an increase in the money supply; thus, if the deficit were financed through money creation(22), higher inflation would result. But, unlike most developing countries, South Africa has a developed private sector market for government bonds - which allows it to sidestep the inflationary effect by financing the deficit "in a manner that does not increase the money supply in excess of the rate of ouput growth" (ILO, 1996:34).

Besides, the monetarist obsession for managing relatively minute shifts in the inflation rate borders on the pathological. South Africa's inflation rate has not been high; from 1981-1991 it averaged at 14%, since then it has dropped to well below 10%. Yet GEAR explicitly makes reducing the inflation rate one of the main objectives of monetary policy, without indicating how this will impact on other factors(23). This fixation adds another fly to the ointment - by demanding that the Reserve Bank apply contractionary, growth-inhibiting measures whenever the inflation rate seems poised to step out of line.

Creating jobs

The experience of "jobless growth" from 1994-1996 brought home the realisation that economic growth does not necessarily ease unemployment. GEAR is therefore linked to specific job creation targets. It predicts 1.35-million new jobs by 2000(24), of which 833,000 will be created through GEAR adjustments - 308,000 through higher economic growth, 325,000 through "changes in the flexibility of labour markets", and 200,000 through "government-induced employment" (mainly infrastructural development and public works programmes).

Politically, this is GEAR's Achilles' heel, for the prickly notion of labour market flexibility is central to this aspect of the plan. In Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's words:

    "As South Africa proceeds with trade liberalisation and adapts to international competition, downward pressures will be placed on unskilled wages. If this is not accommodated by the labour market, then unemployment will rise"(25).

Manuel went on to remark that "it is likely that wage bargaining in unionised sectors has contributed somewhat to the slowdown of employment"(26) - a sentiment that harmonises neatly with the SA Foundation's demand for a two-tier labour market (segmenting better-paid, organized workers and low-wage unskilled entrants into the job market).

Having seen most of its macro-economic demands heeded in GEAR, business, understandably, is pushing hard to extract further concessions in the sphere of labour.

The assumptions embedded in GEAR's call for "regulated flexibility" demand scrutiny. Job creation stands at the centre of GEAR's efforts to alleviate poverty. Its premise, however, is that employment levels are determined largely by the real wage rate. Thus the trend of jobless growth can be reversed by introducing (among other adjustments) wage restraint and flexibility, and selective deregulation of the labour market. This thinking is questionable on several grounds. Firstly, according to the ILO, South Africa already has a flexible labour market where "even large-scale firms resort to `informal' forms of employment, through sub-contracting, out-sourcing [and] use of casual labour"(27). The ILO found that 82% of firms use temporary labour and 45% contract labour(28). Moreover, "[m]any workers have little employment protection, retrenchments are fairly easy and widespread, [and] notice periods are short or non-existent"(29). Secondly, the economy is already characterised by considerable wage flexibility, with wages in certain industries fluctuating dramatically. The ILO has found that in sectors "such as metal goods, footwear, paper products, furniture and plastics, average black wages relative to subsistence actually fell" between 1984 and 1992(30). Thirdly, the truism that rising black wages have encouraged capital-intensive production, thereby depressing private sector employment(31), has been soundly debunked, leading the ILO to conclude "that the available studies have not demonstrated either that real wages have been rigid or that they have had a strong negative effect on employment" (1996:188-96). Fourthly, while employment creation is one way of reducing poverty and social inequality, it does not necessarily have this effect if employment creation occurs mostly in low-wage jobs(32).

Yet GEAR sees the "introduction" of regulated flexibility in the labour market as a key element of its job creation strategy. This would entail, for instance, exempting categories of workers from aspects of labour regulation, reducing real wage increases in the private sector to 0.7% per annum, opting for sector-based standards rather than introducing a national minimum wage, and extending industry-wide agreements to non-parties only if job losses are avoided. Some of the anticipated adjustments might violate existing labour laws, but Manuel has stressed that "laws could be changed, if necessary"(33). The ILO comment on such adjustments is apposite:

"It would be strange to promote "two-tier" labour markets when the country has struggled so long to overthrow a two-tier society and a two-tier labour labour system, when the vestiges of that system were still being dismantled." (1996:11)

To cement these measures, GEAR (and the Labour Market Commission) calls for a "social accord" that will traverse issues such as investment, service delivery and equity. In the short-term, however, the emphasis will be on cobbling together a deal in which labour would accept wage restraint in exchange for a commitment from business to exercise price restraint.

The political strains this might induce are plain to the eye - particularly in relations between the ANC and Cosatu. Two further aspects warrant careful consideration. Firstly, NIEP has perceptively drawn attention to the impact of the gradual lifting of exchange controls on any attempt to hold business to its side of the bargain in a social accord (1996:22). Labour - and government - might find themselves hostages to increasingly strident demands from business for further adjustments, or else capital exercises its veto by taking flight. Secondly, the labour movement cannot ignore the tensions such an accord will cause within unions between leaderships and rank-and-file membership. The depressed wages and prolonged income inequality envisaged by GEAR will spark renewed labour struggles by workers, leaving union leaderships in an unenviable position.

GEAR recognises the need to improve productivity, but focuses on training as the remedy, at the risk of downplaying the ensemble of other factors that cause low productivity - low wages and the apartheid wage gap (which sees managers earn as much as 15 times the wages of unskilled workers), poor management, and the under-utilization of production capacity.

Trade, taxes and exchange controls

GEAR's other main features require brief mention. The strategy correctly assumes a continued drop in the share of foreign revenue provided by gold exports. Thus it aims to boost manufactured exports and trigger a staggering 23% increase in the export-GDP ratio within four years. NIEP regards this target as "unrealistic and unattainable", particularly because "the government has not developed a carefully formulated and precisely targeted industrial strategy geared to those sub-sectors that have potential for export growth" (1996:14). The allegation is harsh, since industrial strategy counts among the more advanced policy areas of the ANC government. Yet, NIEP's concern cannot be dismissed. GEAR provides no detailed linkage between its macro-economic adjustments and industrial policy. Furthermore, growth in export-GDP ratios registered by other countries prompt some skepticism about GEAR's 23% target - between 1970 and 1994 the average figure for OECD countries was 6%, for Brazil 5% and South Korea 4%(34). The skepticism is amplified when one considers that neither GEAR or current industrial policy provides for an active state role in targeting sectors, and that the time lag in achieving comparative advantage through human resources development makes rapid export growth unlikely.

On exchange controls, GEAR wisely resists the "big bang" approach but will gradually continue easing these restrictions. Foreign investors are to gain easier access to domestic credit, with wholly foreign-owned firms able to borrow up to 100% of shareholder equity. Inexplicably, though, exchange controls are to be eased for local residents as well(35), thereby facilitating capital flight - this, in a strategy that rests squarely on encouraging massive domestic investment.

GEAR's restructuring of taxes is manifestly non-progressive(36). Currently, 37% of tax revenue is derived from indirect taxation (VAT, which discriminates against low-income earners) and so-called "sin taxes" (levies on tobacco and alcohol which have a similar, discriminatory effect); with the likelihood of increases. Several options existed to achieve greater progressivity, including a capital gains tax (the absence of which enables companies to lower their effective tax rates by converting income into capital gains), a tax on luxury consumption and a tax on unproductive land (NIEP, 1996:9). Reportedly, a tax on capital equipment was mooted, but rejected(37). Instead, personal and corporate taxes are to be reduced if growth occurs, and tax holidays will be offered for targeted investments. Overall revenue is slated to increase by way of more effective tax collection.

Will GEAR reduce social inequality ?

It is impossible to avoid noting GEAR's correspondence with neo-liberal orthodoxy. Much more is at stake, though, than detecting the ideological antecedents of the strategy.

In the final analysis, one question remains paramount: Is GEAR likely to reduce inequality ? On this score the strategy offers little comfort. It provides no targets for reducing inequality, despite the World Bank's often-quoted warning that "any revival of growth that fails to achieve visible redistribution and poverty reduction is likely to falter under the pressure of growing social unrest"(38). The document sees job creation as the main avenue for income redistribution - a path the ILO admits "is a way of reducing inequalities", although "one would be a little skeptical that it would do so quickly or substantially"(39). That skepticism is likely to be compounded by the fact that restricting wage increases for organised workers and allowing payment of sub-poverty level wages to certain sections of the labour force count among GEAR's prerequisites for meeting its employment targets. Moreover, the GEAR document admits that the Reserve Bank model (upon which it is based) did not provide information on income distribution or sectoral employment effects, nor did it bring the potential effects of lower government expenditure to bear on income distribution (NIEP, 1996:23).

Once scrutinised, GEAR seems to hover between different worlds. Rhetorically, attempts have been made to align it with the socially progressive objectives of the RDP. But the central pillars of the strategy are fashioned in accordance with standard neo-liberal principles - deficit reduction, keeping inflation in single digits, trade liberalisation, privatisation, tax cuts and holidays, phasing out exchange controls, etc. This is alarming for several reasons. There exists no example internationally where neo-liberal adjustments of the sort championed by GEAR have produced a socially progressive outcome. Despite its overall objective of attaining "growth with job creation and redistribution", GEAR sets no redistributive targets and demurs on the linkage between growth and income redistribution. Although presented as an "integrated" scenario, the document fails to integrate its main elements: for instance, the impact of restructuring government spending on employment and redistribution is sidestepped, while the relationship between the plan and industrial policy is left undeveloped.

It is plagued, moreover, by glaring internal contradictions. Social infrastructure is to be expanded, while public sector spending is drastically cut. Job creation is presented as a signal objective while deficit reduction will require, according to one estimate, the shedding of 300,000 jobs - not only "redundant" pen-pushers but teachers and healthworkers. As part of the measures meant to encourage foreign investment, exchange controls are, incongruously, also to be relaxed for residents. Rapid economic growth through a mix of policies that include tight monetary discipline (which typically constricts growth) - leading NIEP to remark that "the government's expenditure policy is taken hostage by the contractionary monetary policy of the Reserve Bank" (1996:23).

Embarrassing as it might be to its architects and advocates, GEAR is a trickle-down strategy that posits a redistribution of wealth and income not as a reinforcing dynamic for economic growth but as its outcome.

Five years ago, a prominent economist warned against an accumulation strategy which focuses on restructuring and regenerating the manufacturing sector in particular, by using `neo-liberal' (market-based) policies to alter cost structures and restore profitibality, and to expand markets for manufacturers, above all through exports ... Neo-liberal policies involve the state limiting its own economic activity in relation to the provision of goods and services, for example by a process of privatisation. Secondly, state intervention in the activities of other economic sectors is limited to defining the broad parameters of market processes - that is, the general cost levels of productive factors (labour and capital especially) and other incentives (such as tax allowances and subsidies) ... The neo-liberal export-oriented strategy would, in sum, reinforce and extend the dualistic structure of South African society(40).

Compare such a strategy with the often-stated committment of Nelson Mandela and the ANC - that

"We cannot rebuild our society at the expense of the standard of living of ordinary men and women. We cannot develop at the expense of social justice. We cannot compete without a floor of basic human(41) standards."

An alternative macro-economic strategy?

Silumko Nondwangu is Eastern Cape Regional Education Officer for the National Union of Metalworkers of SA. Writing in his personal capacity, he voices deep concerns about the direction that macro-economic strategy is taking in our country.

The ANC-led government inherited a skewed economy characterised by import substitution, an inward-looking economy, protectionist measures to shield industries from foreign competition, coupled with outdated work organisation practices that relied on a cheap, unskilled labour force.

This economy has been unable to produce goods that are affordable to the majority of the people and has relied on a domestic market that constituted 5% of the population. Competition was minimal, if it ever existed, with a few conglomerates controlling and manipulating the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, financial institutions, production processes and regulating prices, and determining supply and demand of a particular product. This is what, in the South African context, represented an unregulated, free market system, where market forces on their own determined the demand and supply of goods and services.

The 1994 elections ushered in a democratic dispensation with concomitant obligations of becoming part of the global society. We gained acceptance and recognition as a developing country and became a member country of international institutions like GATT/WTO, dealing with trade liberalisation between member countries. We had to reciprocate trade with other countries by opening our markets and reducing our tariff regime for other countries to freely market and sell their products and services in our markets. This has been done without due regard to the structural economic problems, largely inherited from the previous regime.

Insufficient attention was paid to the fact that the South African economy is an integral part of Southern Africa, which for decades has been devastated by the minority regime, civil wars and IMF/World Bank imposed structural adjustment programmes.

There has also been insufficient awareness that we are a Third World country with some First World characteristics, and not a First World country as some may want to think. This means that we have to compete with a developed, modernised global economy that is technologically advanced, and therefore capable of selling quality goods cheaply in our markets. We have negotiated a trade regime to gradually reduce our tariffs without carefully understanding the implications of this, and therefore developing strategies to cushion the effects of such a regime.

In response to this emerging crisis, the previous regime introduced and adopted, on an ad hoc basis, ill-informed economic instruments encapsulated in their "Normative Economic Model". It was characterised by elements of a Structural Adjustment Programme:

  • that government should reduce its deficit in order to avoid entering into a debt trap. An option for doing this being the selling off of state assets to reduce and service the debt.
  • that trade should be liberalised, in order to gain access to foreign technology, goods and services that our economy cannot produce.
  • that the role of the state in the economy should be reduced, to allow market forces to regulate the economy.

Carrying the past into the present

The macro-economic strategy document recently announced by the Minister of Finance seems to confirm, albeit in a co-ordinated fashion, the economic policy document introduced by the former Minister of Finance, Derek Keys, in his "Normative Economic Model". Among the principal features of both are:

  • an export-oriented economy;
  • an obsession with accelerated growth at all costs - redistribution to trickle down later;
  • a flexible labour market that encourages growth and job creation in the economy;
  • a clearly defined role for the state that avoids tampering with market forces;
  • a gradual relaxation of exchange controls to allow investors to freely expatriate their profits; and
  • a social agreement to facilitate jobs, and encourage wage and price moderation.

President Nelson Mandela frankly admitted that the opening of the economy to the world market, reduction of tariffs, and creating conditions conducive to investment has not led to massive job creation in the formal sector of the economy. I quote:

    "But let us be brutally frank. Despite the welcome rate of growth, very few jobs have been created. In fact, against the backdrop of new entrants into the job market, there has been a shrinkage in opportunities. If we do not act together in the public and private sectors to develop and implement such a strategic vision, the danger is that even the modest growth we have attained will peter out in a few years, as increasing unemployment and accelerating poverty bear down on our society. We need a national vision to lift us out of this quagmire". (President Mandela, opening of parliament address, 9 February 1996)

The key question that needs to be addressed is whether the recently published economic policy documents will be able to lift us out of this quagmire? We refer to the business lobby, SA Foundation document, Growth for All, the labour document, Social Equity, and the government's GEAR document.

In critical areas, like growth targets, export orientation, trade liberalisation, budget deficit reduction, the tax system, a flexible labour market, fiscal discipline, restructuring state assets (privatisation), and the reduction of government spending, there is a convergence between government and business. Such a convergence does not necessarily mean that the envisaged economic instruments are the same. But areas of convergence can be summarised in the following terms:

  • compete or bust;
  • government has no business in business (privatise quickly);
  • let market forces regulate the economy;
  • reduce government expenditure on public infrastructure as this could escalate interest rates and push up inflation.

These assumptions fly in the face of a long-stated commitment to deliver in terms of the RDP. The human element of the RDP has now given way to economic realism. The dissolution of the RDP office, and the lack of a political explanation accompanying it, given the centrality of the RDP, raises doubts and suspicions about the commitment to massive public infrastructure investment. The key to debt is not its size but the capacity of the economy to grow in order to service the debt. This is why the international lending and ratings agencies treat Italy differently to Zimbabwe. South Africa, by any standard, does not have a high level of foreign debt.

Is there an alternative?

A complicating factor in this debate is the absence of a common strategy informing the Alliance as a collective in regard to the role of the state in the economy, a macro-economic strategy, massive investment in public infrastructure, and the restructuring of state assets. The RDP that held the Alliance together as a political and economic instrument is under review.

Government expenditure is not simply a question of maintaining an economic growth cycle, there is a vast backlog of justified social and economic expectations from the constituency which elected government. In fact, there are substantial linkages between the two, as foreign investors are constantly pointing out. Social instability stems from unsatisfied expectations and escalating crime caused by unemployment. Fostering social stability requires government expenditure on basic needs, housing, utility services, education and health. Some of these are the very items which, in theory, the economy should be able to competitively produce and thus fuel a growth cycle. The question is how to finance those capital expenditures that have high multipliers into the recessed manufacturing sector of the economy.

The second issue is the consequences of remaining in a self-imposed structural adjustment programme. To be clear, there is no argument here for the sort of explosion of government expenditure that characterised our neighbour's attempts to lift the living standards of their people in the 1960s to 80s. The world is too financially harsh a place for that sort of economic short-cut. However, there is a possibility that we will reach the same point if we do not spend more now.

The fundamental premise of those obsessed with competitiveness and economic growth at all costs is that all else must become subservient to the drive for exports. A competition which, as they should know, we are not likely to win given Indonesian or Indian wages in industries like clothing and footwear, or consumer electronics.

The obvious alternative is the expansion of our domestic market. However, we should not be so naive to believe that this is an either/or situation. Bias towards satisfying and growing the domestic market does not mean ignoring exports. The two must work in synthesis. We should direct our attention to sectors that we need to develop and which can compete internationally, while understanding those sectors where the price of exporting will be too high, and international competition too high.

Key issues

The labour movement and government have been hammered with the examples of the Asian NICs. This presumes that the labour movement will either accept the suppression of worker rights and rewards in exchange for growth, or that it can be coerced into it. The spectacular growth of Asian economies has come at the cost of democratic freedoms, and in particular through the ruthless suppression of organised labour. These are the very things that the South African union movement has so recently fought for and apparently achieved. It is difficult to see how the movement could surrender its positions and commitment for the vague promises that an "Asian miracle" could be replicated on the southern tip of Africa.

The tariff regime signed with the WTO has serious economic implications for the development of the manufacturing industry in this country. This is particularly the case in sectors in clothing and textiles where thousands of jobs have been lost due to tariff reductions and illegal importation of goods. This is just the tip of an iceberg, and it could spread to other sectors of the economy. We should not assume that we cannot re-open some of the detailed commitments, nor that our relatively sudden entry into the WTO gave sufficient time to understand all the implications.

The critical point is to avoid approaching trade and industry policy through an ad hoc series of reactive decisions taken in isolation from a broad, macro-economic strategy that integrates the short, medium and long-term goals of our country. Simply stated, it may be better for South Africa to import cheap door hinges from Southern Africa for its RDP than lose those jobs to China.

At the heart of the policy dispute in our country is the nature of the diagnosis of our problems. To many of us, the central cause of the country's difficulties remains the poverty of our people - their lack of jobs and hence their inability to command the required purchasing power to support expanding output and investment.

That, in turn, calls for an active intervention by the nation state in the economy and the creation of a public sector through capital investment and the crowding-in of private investment for the expansion of the output and hence employment. This approach to economic policy remains ever relevant to our present economic difficulties.

By contrast, the opposing view, which is now very much applauded by some, is the belief that subjecting our economy to the disciplines of monetarism, the global demands for open trade, the ending of tariff protection, and so on, is the necessary precondition for long-term stability and sustainable economic growth. This approach has failed in other countries, and will fail dismally in this country. We cannot leave everything to market forces in a class-ridden environment, marked by considerable inequalities in the distribution of incomes and wealth. Market forces left to themselves will serve to exacerbate these inequalities.

Policy options

What we lack is a bold and comprehensive macro-economic strategy that attempts to tilt the balance towards addressing inequalities in the domestic sector, rather than a strategy of endless and self-imposed responses to the dictates of domestic and global capital.

The state needs to develop regulatory policies designed to limit and define the areas of our integration with the world economy and craft government policies towards regulating the impact of international competition on the domestic economy. We must guide the market rather than conform to it.

In developing further policy positions, the state should strive to do the following:

  • use existing state assets strategically to provide housing and employment. This means the strategic deployment of state assets to meet RDP objectives;
  • intervene in the development of a coherent industry policy;
  • co-ordinate monetary and fiscal policy;
  • link the meeting of basic needs to an overall, economically expansionist programme; and
  • provide mechanisms for linking Southern African economies around real economic activity which is not reliant on private investment into the region.

These and other economic policy instruments need to be developed further, applied and tested to bring back life into the RDP.

Free Choice!

The Minister of Health, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, recently tabled in parliament a highly progressive Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which will significantly broaden the legal scope for abortion, thus conferring on women a much greater control over their own bodies, by broadening their reproductive rights. The SACP fully supports the Bill. In September, the National Executive Committee of the ANC also gave its full backing to the Bill, rejecting calls in the media to allow ANC MPs a "conscience" vote on the matter. However, not all ANC MPs were happy with this decision. It was against this background that Nomboniso Gasa, a feminist activist aligned to the SACP and ANC wrote this open letter.


Dear Comrades,

Like many of you, it was not at university or as a result of "Western influence" that I learnt of abortion. I was seven when I first heard the Xhosa word ukuqhomfa (to abort). It was in a village at Ntshingeni at St Marks in Cofimvaba. A telegram had arrived for my mother to tell the family of a deceased young woman who had died aborting. This was not the last I was to hear of abortion.

Right through my childhood and teenage years we heard of people who had aborted, we saw fetuses and sometimes fully developed babies in the rivers, in the dongas and where women went to collect firewood. In answering my nagging questions my Dad snapped and said: "Once and for all let me answer you, and after this just shut up! Abortion is real, unpleasant, frightening, and it happens. But, I do not want to talk about it. We do not talk about it, people do not." I was twelve years old. Of course I did not shut up. My father's reply simply unleashed another set of questions.

In the years that followed, my father and I made our peace. We did not talk about abortion, but it always came to our doorstep.

My most vivid memory is of the woman who came to our house because her husband had kicked her out. Her face was unrecognisable, he had hit her because she had "failed as a mother" - their daughter was pregnant. She came to ask my parents to take her to the doctor. I recall her face and her pain as she said to my mother: "Marhadebe, what can I do? If the whole village did not know about this I could make a `plan'. I am a devout God-fearing Christian, but I swear to God I could do it. My daughter does not want this child. She did not want to do it, she says. She wants to make a `plan'. She says she does not care that the whole village knows about it. She wants to speak to Madlamini [an old mid-wife]."

A couple of weeks later the daughter committed suicide.

For those of you who think you do not need to hear this, think twice. For those of you who think you know this, please be patient. You are about to make a difficult decision. But you have to bear in mind the responsibility that puts on you. Although the issues may seem complex, your vote will either be for the continuation of the above misery, or (in the words of our ANC election slogan) for a "better life for all".

This is not a "marginal" or "boundary" issue as has been said by others. It is central to women's emancipation.

As an ANC movement we have a history of growing commitment to women's emancipation. Over the decades of struggle, we have gone through different phases. We began as a political movement

that did not even allow women membership, to a much more vigorous attempt to address women's oppression. In our grappling with the problem we came with the notion of "triple oppression" (race, class and gender). In the 1980s comrade OR Tambo, in those brilliant January 8th statements of the time, made ground-breaking observations. I remember one year that he said that "the oppression of women is embedded in cultures, religious practices...", and he urged us to do more than "pay lip service" to women's emancipation. We began to say that "the struggle for women's liberation is a revolution within a revolution."

In the 1990s we have pioneered new policies, and a Constitution and Bill of Rights that have put the issue of women's emancipation very centrally onto our agenda. The national institutional structures that are being set up, and the policies that are being elaborated will help to create and entrench a legal framework for the emancipation of women.

Now, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill presents an opportunity to take this process forward. It will go a long way in demonstrating your commitment and willingness to stick your necks out for women. In this business of women's emancipation there are no safe zones.

In the 1980s it was the progressive religious sector that said that "there is no middle ground". If you choose to be silent. If you choose to be neutral, then you choose the side of the oppressors, the mighty and powerful.

If you agree that the loss of life that results from back-street abortion is unnecessary, if you agree that the reproductive rights of women are central to human rights, then you will agree that free choice is essential.

Once more let me say (it has been said by others), that the Bill does not introduce abortion to South Africa, nor will it force women to terminate pregnancies. The Bill lifts the veil on the suffering of many women in this country. It challenges the notion that the only ones that are entitled to choice are the rich.

As an old and wise midwife in Chamama Cofimvaba put it: "Kanye aba bafazi bathandaza kakhulu eCaweni, ngabo abajikelezayo xa kumnyama befuna amancedo, ngoba abantwana babo banzima" (The very same women who pray in the Church are the ones who at dusk run around seeking help because their daughters need help.")

You have to decide if you want women to continue living these schizophrenic lives. Now is the time!

Nomboniso Gasa

Marxism and the National Question in a Democratic South Africa

Basing himself on a number of recent critiques of Marxism's lack of an adequate theory of the national question, Phillip Dexter argues that national identity is basically a constructed reality. What social forces are hegemonic in this construction becomes decisive. Dexter is SACP Western Cape Provincial Secretary and an ANC MP.

The issue of nationalism and all the phenomena and concepts related to it, such as race, ethnicity, class and gender are of great significance for South Africans because they go to the heart of what we mean when we say we are building a united, non-racial and unitary country. Whilst the issue of the new constitution has dealt with this matter at a formal level, the issue of nationalism in particular still represents a challenge to the liberation movement and the Party. The particular flavour given to the concept of nationhood in South Africa, the influence of the notion of reconciliation for example, seems to represent a potential threat to a progressive definition of a South African identity, as does the institution of patriarchy. The challenge to the SACP is to concretely deal with this issue to ensure a South African identity is defined that takes the NDR forward and helps to lay the basis for socialism. To do this we need to understand what this thing called "nationalism" is.

The classical Marxist debate on the national question is pertinent because, it has been argued, Marxists have never satisfactorily dealt with the issue. Munck, Benedict Anderson and Regis Debray are amongst many other progressive commentators to make this claim. We need to consider these criticisms because, if our theory of nationalism in particular and of identity in general is wrong, our political objectives will obviously be all the harder to achieve. We can even be led into defeat on falsely held premises.

In the South African context, it has been the SACP that has, to a large extent, given direction, meaning and content to the approach of the NLM on the national question. It is the

relative success of this theory that has led to the issue of the national question being dealt with through the theory of Colonialism of a Special Type. This has, in a very real sense, given a unique character to the national democratic revolution in our country. In the light of current debate on this issue in our country, the relative failure of the NLM to win the support of former oppressed minority communities and the uncertainty about the direction of the NDR, this exercise in self-examination is critical. Some examples of criticisms of Marxism, Marxist theory and socialist practice identified below may help to identify some of the theoretical issues we need to grapple with as communists and socialists.

Some criticisms of Marxist theory on the national question

Ronaldo Munck has helpfully summarised the history of Marxist engagement with the issue of nationalism. His major criticism of this engagement is that Marxists have tended to overemphasise the economics of capitalism against the territorial and physical aspects of nationalism. This has led to a form of economic reductionism that has seen class as the only determinant of social development. In addition, Marxists in the developing parts of the world have had a relationship with the phenomenon of nationalism that can be characterised as opportunistic, he claims, without really trying to understand the phenomenon fully. In short, Munck argues that Marxism has no theory of nationalism, but has rather produced some practical guides in the historical writings of Marxists that seek to explain how best to engage the national question from a tactical point of view.

Benedict Anderson, has identified the fundamentally problematic relationship of socialist governments with nationalism. They have tended to place national interests before internationalist ones, for example. Anderson, argues for an understanding of nationalism as being rather more like kinship, and he compares nations to religious communities. Nationalism is, therefore, not an ideology, or false consciousness, as has been argued in some of the more reductionist Marxist models. Anderson identifies the fact that Marxism does not take into account the "sacred aspect" of nationalism. By this he means that Marxists have not recognised the fact that nationalism represents the desire to avoid mortality through a more durable social entity, which individuals can belong to that does not suffer the fate of individuals, namely death. He suggests these weaknesses in theory can be overcome by the notion of the nation as both a real and imagined community that provides for this immortality.

Regis Debray has argued that Marxism has no theory of the subject and that it has an idealist theory of ideology. These weaknesses have led Marxists to overlook the importance of group identities in general, and have undermined the struggle for socialism. Debray describes collective social identities as a trans-historical category, and the nation as the predominant expression of this category in the capitalist mode of production. For Debray, "the national" will continue to exist even under a communist mode of production. What this phenomenon expresses is the sacred character of social existence. This sacred character is generated by the organising of the collective, which necessitates enclosure and exclusion. This defines the group as other to the individual and it is thus recognised and revered as sacred. Debray argues that all forms of social organisation of people are expressed in an ideological form, but that we should not mistake this expression for the form of organisation.

There is, therefore, a sociology of voluntary groups that we need, as Marxists, to understand. The arguments that economics determine this sociology, even in some vague last instance, are simplistic and do not explain the problem of ideology, or symbolic efficacy, that is, how ideas are able to motivate both individual and collective human subjects. Debray suggests a dynamic relationship between biology, territory and psychology that determines the strategic nature of all collective identities. These are continually negotiated and contested. Any particular national identity can therefore only be understood historically and whichever political forces have exercised hegemony in the generation and maintenance of a particular national identity will have a strategic advantage in this regard.

The merits of Debray's theory include the fact that we can extend this to our consideration of other social identities, such as sexual identities and gender relations. It is not the

intention of this contribution to argue that the national and gender questions are identical or can be dealt with by some overarching meta-theory. For the purposes of this discussion, the national form of identity will be concentrated on, but the consequences for these other identities would need to be dealt with as well. If collective social identities are trans-historical, and are constantly negotiated and contested, then the challenge for Marxists, according to Debray and to some extent Anderson as well, is to define these identities, and in some sense to "own and control" them. This requires a hegemonic project, for this effort will surely not be uncontested by other social forces. The question then becomes - to what extent is that hegemonic project viable?

Is there a Marxist theory of nationalism ?

According to the orthodox view there is such a theory, or rather a body of theoretical discourse, even if there has been a debate and contestation over the content. Munck identifies some of these opposing views, running through the history of the debate.

  1. Nationalism is essentially a form of false consciousness. It is a reactionary force except when associated with the phase of early capitalist development. In the socialist and communist future the contradictions created by the phenomenon of nationalism will gradually be dealt with and will eventually disappear.
  2. Nationalism can be a progressive force if located within a broader political project that is revolutionary in character. Whilst national identity may not necessarily be grounded in material conditions, that is, it is an imaginary or ideological phenomenon, it arises from the contradictions created by capitalism. Nationalism is, therefore, similar to, or a variant of class, or is derived from the class basis of capitalism. We can, therefore, distinguish between proletarian and bourgeois nationalisms by the objectives and characteristics that these nationalisms articulate and display.
  3. Nationalism is inextricably linked to other phenomena, such as imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, economic development, the state, and even geography, history and anthropology. To fully understand the phenomenon we must rise above the reductionist views and simple pragmatism, summarised in a. and b. Using Gramsci's concept of the "national popular", for example, we can come to an understanding of nationalism which describes it as a terrain of contestation that the working class must occupy and establish hegemony in. Nationalism is, therefore, not trans-historical but also does not wither away. It can also be increasingly "internationalised" in struggle.
  4. The fourth view may be somewhere between Anderson and Debray, where nationalism is seen as being the manifestation of a deeper sociological phenomenon which has its roots in the sacred nature of collective existence, the social physics of that existence and our human fragility. As such, the phenomenon of "voluntary collective identities" has an existence which is somewhat autonomous, even though it can be moulded and shaped by other phenomenon, for example class interests or war. In this view, nationalism is not trans-historical, but what it expresses is. Voluntary collective identity is, therefore, something that is here to stay even in a socialist or communist future. This view does not preclude the strategic options raised in c., but clearly exposes the inadequacy of the theory that we have to explain such voluntary collective identities.

To what extent is this theory valuable in our determination of a programmatic response to the issues raised under the heading of "the problem of the national question"?

It seems from even the cursory examination of some issues that it can be argued that whilst Marxism has dealt with aspects of the national question, it has not been able to develop a consistent theoretical approach that will guide the socialist movement and progressive forces on the issue. For example, James Blaut has suggested that, for those on the periphery of the capitalist nations, the theory of nationalism has to be decolonised. But it also has to be gendered and classed, as Nzimande has suggested. That having been said, we need to still deal with what exactly nationalism is, and if some of the critics are correct, the issue of collective identities in general. Marxists need, at the very least, to recognise the immediacy, the potential and the dangers that the national question represents. It would be most strategic to ensure that the working class and its progressive allies define the national identity, not only in territorial terms but in terms of class, gender and with an internationalist bias. The nation is a strategic resource that the working class ignores at its peril.

One important issue which Debray raises that we need to recognise is that national identities are forged in opposition, and often most successfully in wars. The transition to democracy in our country, particularly in this era of increasing globalisation, removes any significant "Other" against which a South African identity can be forged. The cessation of hostilities between the apartheid regime and the democratic forces also limits the coercive options for the NLM. The pressure to revert to old, comfortable identities that are primarily based on perceived racial and ethnic identities is therefore very great, even if these identities were artificially created. We need to consider whether this contradiction can be dealt with by ensuring the identification of an "Other" that will reinforce the progressive definition of what it means to be a South African. For example, can "war" against poverty, or the struggle for reconstruction and development be a viable rallying point as a substitute for war against any other nation? (Incidentally, the fact that identities could be "artificially" created by the apartheid government may be evidence that a progressive identity can also be forged.)

Related to this is the fact that nationalism and national identity are aspects of the ideological. The classical Marxist definition of ideology sees it as an imaginary superstructure at best, or false consciousness at worst. Is it not worth considering whether this approach to ideology is either idealist or reductionist, or both? If we explain nationalism as grounded in the material world we need to understand to what extent consciousness is determined by that material circumstance and also to what extent it helps shape this material circumstance. It may be that, as Debray puts it, the nation is just one aspect of the trans-historical phenomenon of collective social identity. We therefore need to understand how the subject is constructed. If national identity is defined by more than just class, as it seems reasonable to argue, we need to understand what else determines it, and see to what extent these phenomena can be mobilised by progressive forces.

If ideology is more than just simply "in the head" or "in the world", but is more something like "the world in the head in the body in the world", then what generates and maintains any identity, and more especially historical collective identities such as national ones, is a complex mixture of coercion, persuasion, consent, acceptance and resistance. We need to get the balance between these right. We also need to understand that nations, like tribes, clans and other such groups may be social groups that are not easily defined but they have an existence

which has practical consequences for the struggle for socialism. Even if they are not preordained groups based on racial or other criteria, they are at the very least the residue of struggles that have been waged historically. What gives any of these groups meaning is that there is a very real history with meaning for those who consider themselves to be members of such a group.

The national question in South Africa

In the South African situation it is instructive that the SACP's strategic and tactical approach in relation to the NDR has been precisely that described above in c. and d. In summary, the ANC-led Alliance's approach to nationalism and the national question was previously located in a broader understanding of global and regional forces, the perceived global movement from capitalism to socialism, and the development of capitalism and the colonial encounter in South Africa (Mzala 1988).

Whether this has been by design or by accident is, for the moment, not important. But our future approach will be critical. We are already showing signs of confusion, in relation to the definition of a South African national identity, where a murky, colonised, unclassed, ungendered, "rainbowism" rules.

The SACP has not aggressively entered the debate about what kind of national identity we should be constructing, and in whose interests it is that it takes the form and content it does. We also seem to be confused in relation to issues of linguistic, cultural and religious minorities, where, for example, we simultaneously chastise anyone who raises the issue of Coloured identity, and at the same time support the ANC granting a Religious and Cultural Council in the new Constitution.

We have also failed to address the relationship between these identities, and the perpetuation of racist and sexual stereotypes and the institution of patriarchy. Do the amaBokke-Bokke really contribute to the transformation of our country into a non-racial, non-sexist society ? Can apartheid categories be continually manipulated by "ethnic entrepreneurs", or is their success due to a vacuum created by the failure of the Party and the NLM to address this issue? If all social identities are manufactured, be they racial, ethnic, or religious (even if some of them are grounded in material relations, such as gender differences and class position), the extent to which these are manipulated, and by whom, is of the utmost importance.

Lastly, we need to ensure that in the process of maintaining the broad front of class forces that drive the NDR, we do not compromise on the content of the South African identity forged in the struggle for liberation. It is easy to see how real class and gender interests can be compromised for abstract national ones. It is also easy to see that, unless the working class maintains hegemony in the NDR, national identity can become a resource for oppression and exploitation. That takes us back to the question - what is nationalism and how do we deal with the national question ? Marxist theory, both historically and currently may not provide a clear, ready-made answer, but it does elucidate the problem and raise the important issues that we need to consider in relation to the national question.

South African Foreign Policy Since April 1994

Raymond Suttner is an SACP central committee member, and an ANC MP. He chairs the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs. In this paper, he considers the confusions and complexities in foreign policy since April 1994.

South African foreign policy is almost continuously under fire from columnists, politicians, cartoonists and others. Some doubt whether there is a foreign policy at all. Others say that what foreign policy there is, is made on an ad hoc basis. Some criticise it for being idealistic at the expense of pragmatic considerations. Others criticise it for being pragmatic at the expense of idealism. Some suggest that our foreign policy is self-destructive, particularly in the choice of friends (like Cuba, Libya and Iran) that alienate the United States. Still others argue against relations with dictatorial regimes like Sudan and Indonesia. There are many other criticisms.

These attacks from so many sides do not necessarily mean that we should resort to cliches to the effect that "the truth is somewhere in between", or that "criticism from so many different vantage points means that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) must in fact be getting it right". We need an analysis of what has been done and measure this against objectives that are clearly articulated.

We need to be clear about the political vantage point from which criticisms come. It may be that some of the comments derive from impatience over the apparent slowness in reconstruction of the DFA and some aspects of foreign policy. At the same time, there is no doubt that some of the criticism derives from a larger attempt to prevent transformation of a critical element of modern state power. What the realpolitik school tries to achieve is the elevation of the pragmatism of the apartheid state, representing its own narrow interests, to the policy of the democratic state. This would preserve, under disguised forms, the interests of a slightly larger, but still narrow set of interests.

The suggestion that there may not be a foreign policy at all needs to be taken seriously. There may well be a foreign policy only in the sense of a series of individual decisions. It is undeniable that decisions concerning foreign policy are taken on a day-by-day and perhaps hour-by-hour basis. But what is open to question is whether there is a foreign policy in the sense of a broad strategic approach that informs all decisions. There are broad commitments to human rights, peace, justice and so on. But whether there are policies for implementation is open to question. There are broad aspirations and individual decisions. But there is not a clear framework for the realisation of broad strategic objectives.

This absence of a broad strategic approach can be seen in the treatment of individual bilateral issues as well as in the conduct of multilateral relations. An important intervention, that may provide the opportunity to deepen discussion on foreign policy questions and remedy some of the limitations on policy formulation thus far, is the recent publication of a DFA "Discussion Paper", which is described as part of a process leading to a White Paper.

Who are the main actors in foreign policy, how are they coordinated?

One of the inherent difficulties in foreign policy is that there are a number of actors, with varying levels of power, and there seems to be little in the way of coordination.

Governmental actors.

The most powerful actor in foreign policy, though not necessarily the most frequent is the President. It is not clear whether the Presidency relates on a regular and coordinated basis with other foreign policy structures when it makes interventions on foreign policy questions. Nor is it clear that there is a structure that relates to the President on an advisory basis, as one finds with other presidencies in other parts of the world. The President has a legal adviser and, as far as I know, no other full-time, specialist advisers.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is intended to be the main decision-maker on foreign policy matters. His capacity to effectuate that role is severely limited by a number of factors. The present programme of work for the Minister appears to entail a substantial amount of time spent outside of the country (some 139 days in 1995). This possibly means that he has no practical day-to-day control over foreign policy, or the DFA. Perhaps it is left to the Deputy Minster, who is in the country most of the time. But it is not obvious that there should be a division of labour that leaves a head of a ministry away from its central functioning most of the time.

The Ministry is serviced by the DFA. This is a large department, consisting of numerous desks with considerable specialised knowledge. It is, however, often characterised by conservatism, and it is primarily staffed by diplomats and bureaucrats of the previous period, who, of course, are also mainly white.

The dominant ethos of the Ministry may have changed from the apartheid era. But, in conversations with personnel, one often gets the sense of very narrow, conservative approaches. In particular the perspective on international relations appears to be "realism", with emphasis on a limited, trade-based conception of national interest. As the department likes to say: "Foreign policy is trade, trade, trade."

Even within this perspective, there may be reason to question the degree of expertise that the department has to deal with issues like trade agreements (bilateral or multilateral), or to challenge existing norms in, and governance of the global economy. The main concern seems to be the endeavour to be "nice" to all countries and to introduce South African business to potential partners abroad.

The character of the DFA is crucial because, on a day-to-day basis, the Minister cannot be expected to have expertise on every issue that arises. The advice of desk officers is often decisive. The appointment of four ANC people as Deputy Directors General is an important and positive development, though it needs to be balanced against their being surrounded by hundreds of old-style bureaucrats and diplomats.

Apart from the Presidency and the DFA, decisions and interventions with significance for foreign policy are made by numerous other Ministries. Most crucial amongst these is the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), whose trade policies are of considerable foreign policy significance.

The relationship between the DTI and DFA needs to be looked at afresh with a view to rationalising their areas of activity and drawing fully on their respective expertise. Careful consideration needs, in addition, to be given to suggestions of a possible merger of the two departments.

There are, of course, also other governmental departments with significant impact on foreign policy. The way in which the Department of Home Affairs approaches cross-border migration may have a seriously destabilising effect on neighbouring countries, as well as building xenophobic tendencies within South Africa. Other departments that make decisions and interventions that impact on foreign policy include: Defence; Health; Safety and Security; and there is also, significantly, the recently established committee on arms sales, the NCACC.

Despite the significance of these other decision-makers for foreign affairs, it is not clear that there is a mechanism for coordinating all the inputs on foreign policy matters, particularly in the region.

Non-governmental actors

In the first place, there is Parliament, and particularly the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs. Parliament has traditionally played no role in foreign policy-creation. The new Portfolio Committee has been trying to carve out a role, partly as a monitor of what the DFA and Ministry are doing, and partly as a contributor to the process of foreign policy-making.

Thus far the Committee has not been very successful in either. Its low level of specialisation has limited the extent to which it can monitor the activities of a massive department, though it has managed to articulate broad norms of accountability. Its contribution to foreign policy-making is also limited by its capacity to develop and articulate such inputs into policy. Contributions tend to be in very general terms and in relation to very immediate issues. The Committee's input is often limited by the fact that a decision may well have been taken before the Committee has had the opportunity to meet with the authorities (a clear example of this was around Nigeria in the course of l995).

The Portfolio Committee has also been limited by the absence of regular structures for such an input to be made. Ministers and the Department have welcomed the principle of such contributions, but in practice there is not space to make much of an input, before a decision is taken. Many controversial matters are learnt about in the press, rather than discussed as part of a process where the Committee inputs into decision-making. This relationship is still young and it is improving. Despite these problems, it is too early to say that it will not develop into an important process of cooperation.

Other potentially important actors in civil society include the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance. The ANC, through its NEC subcommittee on international relations is trying to make a regular input into foreign policy, focusing on specific issues. This influence tends to be behind-the-scenes, but is, nevertheless, a promising development.

Cosatu and the SACP have a relatively greater independence of government than the ANC. This may place them in a better position to raise some issues. Thus far their impact has been limited.

We are in a period when the ANC-led government has not yet implemented traditional positions on some areas of policy, such as Western Sahara and China. There is no reason why the SACP and Cosatu should not be in the forefront of questioning why there is delay, and advancing proposals for resolution of particular problems.

It is a traditional preoccupation of those concerned with democratic foreign policy to insist that it is a public concern and that it should be democratic in its making as well as result. In practice, this is hard to achieve. The publication of the DFA Discussion Paper, as part of a White Paper process may provide the opportunity for much greater public involvement.

In the last two years, however, there has been sporadic involvement of civil society in foreign policy matters. In the first place, negotiations on the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), hailed as a great success by the negotiators, was condemned by organisations like the Environmental Monitoring Group, which commented in the press and presented evidence to the Portfolio Committee.

The execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and others in Nigeria was a significant factor in mobilising civil society involvement in foreign policy, which continues to a limited extent to this day. Considerable outrage over the results of "quiet diplomacy" evoked a massive public upsurge concerning foreign policy over Nigeria. This led to the establishment of a popular-based foreign policy group - the SA- Nigeria Democracy Support group.

There is a relatively well-established Cuban solidarity movement with structures in major centres. There is also considerable public involvement in the debate over China, though this is mainly restricted to intellectuals.

Foreign actors who have considerable impact on SA foreign policy

It is, of course, not just domestic forces and institutions that impact on our foreign policy-making. A fuller consideration of foreign policy-making would need to look at the influence that, for instance, the USA and the EU have on us. What is the level of influence of SADC? Is it of a much lower order? If so, why?

Multilateral relations

The previous regime's foreign policy was primarily bilateral, because it was excluded from most multilateral organisations. The present government has re-entered a wide range of multilateral forums, but there clearly is an experiential gap. The Deputy Director General for multilateral affairs, Abdul Minty, has had considerable experience in the liberation movement and there are other liberation movement diplomats who have joined the department.

But the liberation movement's experience was mainly as a lobby group for its own interests, not as a part of the discussion of broad international issues. We did not function as an equal member of such organisations, trying to influence their broad direction. The liberation movement was there in order to advance its own limited goals. Our capacity, as South Africa, to impact on these broad multilateral forums, ranging from the UN, OAU and SADC through to negotiating forums concerned with particular issues (like landmines, or the NPT, for instance) will require time to develop. It will require training and re-training, and it will also require clear articulation of policy goals for these forums.

What is not always clear in our multilateral policies is the place of consensus seeking. This question emerged, for instance, around South Africa's role in the NPT negotiations. Is consensus seeking an end in itself? Or is it a conditional goal, depending on the issues? In negotiating over the question of anti-personnel landmines, for example, ought we to be comfortable within a rather general consensus? Or, considering the terrible record of land-mine activity of the apartheid regime, should we not be in the forefront of calling, with certain other states, for a total ban?

The Nigerian issue was initially tackled, from our side, bilaterally. Following the execution of Saro Wiwa, we then dealt with the issue multilaterally, only to find ourselves isolated, particularly in Africa. South Africa was, for instance, the only African state to withdraw its High Commissioner, most African states appear to be reluctant to take steps that may incur any degree of displeasure from the side of the Nigerian junta. On the other hand, trying to operate within an African consensus, we have also found ourselves criticised for not supporting a resolution calling for a special rapporteur on human rights for Nigeria. Had South Africa supported this resolution we may have been isolated even more on the continent. By going for African consensus we have achieved a more limited objective. Is it not correct to go for such a limited approach and seek to build a consensus? And if we go this route, is it not going to have to be quite gradual, in the light of our country being a new actor on this terrain? Would impatience on our side not lead to the allegation of would-be hegemonism?

It is now difficult to know how we can play an effective role in assisting the advance of Nigerian democratisation. We are obviously struggling to find an effective way of assuming some kind of leadership that could entail, in the African context, taking up a position that, at this point in time, is supported by few other states, but nevertheless points in a direction most compatible with our constitutional values, advancing democracy and human rights. The answer to this challenge is not easy to provide.

Human rights

Human rights figures prominently in the 1993 (and revised l994) ANC policy document on foreign affairs. A concern for human rights features regularly in the speeches of the Minister and Deputy Minister. In May, for instance, speaking in the Senate, the Minister said: "Since South Africa itself has been the scene of grave abuses of human rights...we have vowed to play a leading role in the promotion of human rights and democracy internationally..."

But the Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs come under considerable criticism for doing too little about advancing human rights in foreign policy. This criticism is not totally valid, in my view. Too little attention is paid to the problem of advancing human rights in foreign policy. It is easy to articulate a commitment. It is difficult to find a way of effectuating it.

How does one manifest a commitment to advancing human rights in foreign policy? In the first place, there must be a characterisation of a human rights situation, one must first establish that it is an international and not a purely domestic matter. The prohibition on intervention in the internal affairs of states is not a sham, but an important element of national sovereignty.

Much of the battle in the world today is to internationalise the human rights practices of contending states. The USA, for instance, seeks to present the Cuba question as an international "human rights" problem. Other forces, raise the question of China, Indonesia, Sudan, the aboriginal people of Australia, or American Indians. Are these all international issues, and is a progressive human rights agenda behind all of these?

In our characterisation we need, also, to avoid becoming captive to liberal, democratic notions of human rights, which emphasise a limited number of issues such as multi-partyism and freedom of the press. While these are very important concerns, we need to bring to the fore liberation movement human rights principles, such as self-determination.

While South Africa should form its own opinion as to what constitutes a genuine international human rights issue, it is best to have such a characterisation made by a multilateral body like the UN or ILO, supplemented by human rights bodies like Amnesty International, Africa Watch, etc.

International norms, deriving from the UN Charter, tend to treat human rights as an international matter where the practices of a country amount to extreme and systematic human rights violation. This is in contrast to cases of human rights violation that may be serious, yet nevertheless are the result of administrative action by individual officials rather than official policy. Using such a framework, one can distinguish between human rights violations that may occur sporadically or occasionally in many countries, and the systematic human rights violations that occurred, for instance, in apartheid South Africa.

Having made a characterisation, one needs to adopt a position towards such violations and develop a strategy for influencing it. Here we need to be very frank and honest and to recognise that there is a big chasm between South Africa adopting a position that a country's human rights practices are extreme and systematic and a threat to peace, and being able to do something effective about it. (By contrast, the United States has resources at its disposal for influencing the behaviour of other states, should it wish, which we do not have.)

The simple way that some people advocate to resolve this is to `speak out' on all occasions, supporting this or that resolution. There is no denying the merit of acting on one's conscience, but that is not in itself a strategy for realising objectives such as democratisation in Nigeria, or halting human rights violations in Indonesia.

Another position is to suggest that South Africa should break off diplomatic relations with countries like Indonesia and Sudan, or should not establish diplomatic relations with China because of human rights violations. Mixed in all these responses are bilateral and multilateral approaches. What is clear is that there is a place for both, and we need to be clear exactly what is achievable in each case, and what the limitations are. There is some merit in bilaterally raising human rights questions, though there is some doubt as to the effectiveness where we have little clout with the state concerned.

Breaking off diplomatic relations is often advanced as an approach based on the precedent of successful of anti-apartheid campaigns. There is no doubt that Indonesian genocide against East Timor is a crime against humanity, comparable to apartheid atrocities, and there has to be a concerted effort to develop mechanisms against it. But this is a process which South Africa can only impact upon gradually. There is, at present, no international campaign of states of which we can be a part. That still has to be built, presumably with the East Timorese themselves giving the lead. We must not think that our interventions as a state (which is not to preclude interventions by civil society) can jump the gun and pre-empt the need to build such international alliances.

Flowing from the qualified way in which the question of human rights in foreign policy has been confronted, the treatment of certain problematic bilateral relations has been unsatisfactory.

What does our commitment mean in relation to Sudan? What is the level of cooperation between South Africa and Sudan? Assuming that we do not consider breaking off diplomatic relations an appropriate step, for the reasons advanced briefly above, do we nevertheless have mechanisms for raising concerns about human rights violations? Do we monitor developments and report on these to any structure? If so, what is done with such reports? These are matters that still need clarification within the continuing debate on human rights in foreign.

In short, what meaning does the commitment to human rights have in foreign policy? The answer is not going to be simple, and it is not made easier by simply confronting real issues abstractly. The challenge is not disposed of by relatively general aspirations on the side of the department nor by the dogmatic advice of some critics to break off diplomatic relations or "speak out".

De-ideologisation and Universalism

There are bound to be controversial aspects of a democratic foreign policy. One must be ready to defend our relationship with Cuba, our being part of the nonaligned movement and the South. This is a partisan foreign policy, a democratic foreign policy, a foreign policy that is biased towards advancing development, defending self-determination and sovereignty. This kind of partisanship is apparently contradicted by an oft-repeated commitment to the "de-ideologisation" of foreign policy.

John Daniel has criticised this:

    "What we have had is more continuity than change, and the adoption of a traditional mode of western diplomacy. Cadets at the foreign service examinations now believe that South Africa's foreign policy had been de-ideologised, and that the principle of universality is being applied to international relations. This principle or approach treats all nations equally regardless of their type, nature or human rights records. Where there is a problem with, say, a particular government's human rights record, `quiet diplomacy' and face-to-face contact is used to seek a change in behaviour. Is this not the familiar discourse of the Thatcher-Reagan era that was so pilloried a decade ago by the democratic movement inside and outside the country?"

Daniel is correct to connect de-ideologisation to the emphasis on universalism. These principles are not part of any ANC document. They imply pragmatism, that one should maximise the number of countries with which one has good relations. One should consequently, it seems, dilute any criticism of individual countries or the global environment and this goes along with pragmatism in decision-making.

These principles seem to stand counter to any conception of a hierarchy of importance of relationships. There is no real criteria for why you want to develop any particular relationship. (This seems to be manifested in the fact that South Africa is participating in the Indian Ocean Rim initiative, without clear motivation). The principle of universality appears to be the desire to be well received and liked by all, on the assumption that this is how to advance South African interests.

ANC and Government interests in foreign policy

A perception has been created that the foreign policy of the new South Africa and the party political concerns of the ANC are often indistinguishable. The writing off of Namibian debts was related to the SWAPO-ANC relationship, the Taiwan/China question has sometimes been argued in relation to support of one or other type to the ANC at various times, South Africa's relationship to Cuba is linked to ANC "debts" to Cuba.

It is important that the government corrects this impression and articulates clear foreign policy perspectives that are not narrowly party political. At the same time, such a perspective must not entail losing its principled character by being enveloped within blanket terms like universality or de-ideologisation.

The question of our relationship with Cuba, for example, must be explained as a special one, relating to the role that the Cuban people have played in liberating the subcontinent, a debt that the entire South African people owe to them. It is not a purely ANC matter, but a debt owed by all freedom-loving people within our region.

Likewise the question of China/Taiwan must ultimately be resolved by weighing up the various factors that are strategically important for South Africa in relationships with the two entities. These are relationships of trade, diplomatic and multilateral questions, questions of principle and questions of alliances.

Obviously we need clarity as to where we locate ourselves in the world, whether it is just an ideological predisposition to link up with the South, or whether there are objective reasons to see South Africa's fate tied to that of the developing world. Clearly, far from foreign policy being "de-ideologised", it is always going to be suffused with ideological choices of various kinds relating to alliances, our place in the world, our self-identity and other factors. Let us not deny this reality, let us intelligently engage with the realities of our situation and the world in which we find ourselves.

Russia After the Elections

The Russian presidential elections this past June and July have solved nothing, they have merely prolonged the crisis. From Moscow, Vyatcheslav (Slava) Tetekin, provides an assessment of the elections and of the situation that now prevails in Russia.

The real significance of the two-round, presidential elections in Russia in June and July is that the country is still undecided as to which way to go. If the elections had been genuinely free and fair the results would certainly not have been 53% for Yeltsin and 40% for Zyuganov. (I am personally convinced that Zyuganov won in the first round). But, either way, it is clear that the nation is seriously split.

The elections have left Russia in the same state of political uncertainty and even created new problems. The campaign has simply exacerbated some of the most sensitive issues - the state of the economy and the health of Yeltsin. The chance to change obviously bankrupt policies has been blocked for the moment. In fact all this means that the presidential elections in Russia have formally been held, but in essence they have been postponed.

The nature of the elections

They can hardly be recognised as free and fair. There were several main factors which enabled the ruling group to retain power:

  1. Vote rigging. With the Central Election Commission being virtually a government department (it receives funding from the presidential administration), one could not expect much fairness. For instance, the army which is seriously unhappy with Yeltsin allegedly gave him over 60%; while the voters in Chechnya gave Yeltsin an improbable 72%.
  2. Total control by the government over the mass media, especially the TV. This control was used to sow anti-communist paranoia, predicting all sorts of catastrophes should Zyuganov be elected. Yeltsin had unlimited access to TV, while Zyuganov was deprived even of his final official statement on the day before the elections.
  3. Administrative pressure on all levels, with the local administrators given "indicators" of what figures to produce. The first round of the elections revealed the "unreliable regions" and a lot of arm-twisting was used to ensure "correct" results in the second round.
  4. Bribing the voters by providing or promising all sorts of financial and other rewards far beyond the capacity of the budget. Yeltsin's team is said to have spent nearly US$100 million on the campaign (the amount allowed by the law is about US$2 million). The promises given to various social groups and regions amounted to US$50 billion. All this was, of course, forgotten or "postponed" immediately after the elections.
  5. External interference through the unprecedented US$10,5 billion IMF loan to Russia just before the elections which enabled the government to pay the long delayed salaries of millions of workers.
  6. Even the false picture of health presented by Yeltsin during the campaign (he had been absent from the public scene for most of 1995) was itself an electoral fraud.

The real danger of this massive election-rigging lies not just in the fact that it helped to retain in power the old team, but also in the fact that it has distorted the signals coming from society. It is a distortion that enables the leadership of Russia to insist on the continuation of a hopeless policy. The objective needs of the society will eventually enforce changes. But time is being lost while problems keep growing, thus making any eventual recovery more difficult.

Electoral tendencies

Despite a tremendous brainwashing campaign, practically all major industrial and agricultural regions of Russia itself (in the original sense of the word, that is the European part of the Russian Federation) strongly supported Zyuganov. Yeltsin was supported by those regions and social groups which are involved in profitable export-import operations - that is, the cosmopolitan present and former capitals of Russia - Moscow and St.Petersburg; the home city of Yeltsin - Ekaterinburg; and the port cities and major raw material producing regions. It is a "colonialism of a special type", with several areas (primarily the capital cities) profiting from the "reforms", at the expense of other regions.

A surprising feature of the elections was that many regions (in particular in poorer Northern Russia) and social groups which suffer most from the "reforms" heavily supported Yeltsin.

It was a clear result of the unprecedented mass-media and administrative pressure on the population. The opposition, however, did not use all its resources to ensure victory and made mistakes.

These mistakes included:

  1. The success of parliamentary election campaigns in 1993 and 1995 led the opposition forces to expect the same trend for the presidential campaign. But it was a different campaign. The ruling group could allow itself to lose the parliamentary campaigns because Yeltsin's 1993 constitution vested total power in the presidency, rendering the parliament not so important. But the presidential campaign was a matter of survival for the ruling group, and they put far more energy and resources into it than the 1993 or 1995 campaigns.
  2. It was believed that objective factors (i.e. the rapidly worsening economic situation and the falling living standards of millions of Russians) would automatically bring victory. But subjective factors, exploited by the ruling group (mass media control, administrative pressure, handouts, etc.) played a decisive role.
  3. The opposition did not fully use its organisational potential (the Communist Party with its 500,000 members is far bigger than the rest of the political organisations in the country put together).
  4. The numerous, blatant violations of the constitution and of other laws by the ruling group during the elections were not challenged in the courts.

Economic situation

At the root of the political turmoil in Russia is the total fiasco of the attempt to enforce monetarist, "free-market" concepts on an economy organically unreceptive to these methods.

It is the defeat of an ideologically-motivated "neo-internationalist" approach, that is, of an attempt to impose Western standards and liberal theories on a society driven for centuries by different value systems. Bad seeds were planted in the wrong soil.

The ruling group's effort to win the elections drained the economy. The state budget was used to bribe the electorate, making productive investment practically impossible.

The country is on the threshold of financial catastrophe. There is no clarity about the future economic and social policies. The government made control of inflation (as demanded by the IMF) the main strategic task, virtually destroying industry, as rigid control over the money supply deprives industry not only of investment but even of the funds it needs to pay workers' wages.

The government relies primarily on Western loans, but with tax collection at 58% of the projected figure no foreign aid will save it from bankruptcy. Even the IMF (more than sympathetic to the current Russian leadership) refused to provide the next portion of the US$10 billion loan until the Russian government puts some elementary order into its house. Of course the failure (or rather voluntary refusal) to enforce the tax collection on business (alongside with generous handouts to the population) was an important part of Yeltsin's campaign "to win hearts and minds".

A major part of the national wealth goes now into personal consumption, while capital investment is at an appallingly low 17% of the 1989 figure. As pro-government economic experts admit "the paradox of the present economic situation in Russia is in the simultaneous destruction of the scientific- technical potential and growth of the family wealth of the population".

The society is in a confused mood. On the one hand, popular discontent is very visible with strikes and hunger strikes of hundreds of thousands of workers who have not been paid salaries for months. On the other hand, millions of people are directly or indirectly involved in plundering the national wealth. Despite visible and appalling social differentiation there are still no sharp class antagonisms as the wealth is redistributed to benefit larger groups of the population through traditionally strong family ties. But as industry and agriculture are grinding to a standstill, the national cake is becoming smaller and smaller.

The reserves of strength accumulated during more than 70 years of Soviet power (which allowed "the reformers" to experiment on Russia) are obviously coming to an end. Now Russian industry is producing 40,8% of what it used to produce in 1989, while the decline in hi-tech areas is even greater. In the machine-building industry the level of production is 24% compared with 1989. The government is not even trying to improve the situation. In the projected budget for 1997, growth is not mentioned among strategic objectives.

The balance of political forces

The results of the elections were certainly a set-back for the left and patriotic forces, but the impact was far weaker than the devastating blows suffered in August 1991 and October 1993. There is no feeling of gloom or a sense of defeat in the ranks of the opposition. The failure to win the elections did not split it. Gennady Zyuganov, 52, remains its recognised leader. Despite ferocious anti-communist propaganda, over 30 million Russian voters supported a communist candidate - this is a very significant reality in itself.

A popular opposition leader, Aman Tuleev, has been appointed minister in charge of Russia's relations with the former republics of the USSR. This shows that the ruling group cannot totally ignore the message from the voters. At the moment the opposition is studying the lessons of the elections and regrouping. A United Front involving major opposition forces was formed on August 7.

Unity will be a big problem for the ruling group. The present Russian administration was held together basically by the personality and authoritarian style of Yeltsin. He put together various branches of his government in a way that enabled him to serve as a supreme arbiter. Now that Yeltsin is increasingly losing the ability to run the country, in-fighting in the Russian leadership will be even more ferocious.

There is no obvious heir to Yeltsin. The contest for this position will be between prime-minister Chernomyrdin, the mayor of Moscow, Luzhkov, and the Secretary of the Security Council, general Lebed. All three, despite their increasingly patriotic rhetoric (including Lebed with his self-declared ultra-nationalism), are relying on the support of the same compradore forces in Russian business circles. The struggle between the three contenders has already started. It will be a highly personalised contest, partly because the ruling group has failed so far to form a major political party. This is not so much the result of an organisational problem, but rather the simple fact that the ruling group cannot advance a major social idea which will be attractive enough to masses of people. Yeltsin's presidential campaign was run, not on a constructive platform, but on an awkward blend of primitive anti-communism and the implied idea that "Yeltsin might be bad but communists are worse".


The problems of present-day Russia are not so much economic: Russia is seriously sick but it is not going to die. With all its troubles Russia retains powerful industrial and scientific potential, and effective educational and medical systems. Its strategic nuclear force is still an extremely strong deterrent. The real problems are mainly of a political nature:

  • the lack of clarity in the society as to the direction of further movement. People seem to be reluctant to "return back to socialism", but they are even more reluctant to "go forward to capitalism".
  • the lack of political will in the national leadership (which stems from the first point).

In these conditions, the outline of a "third way" between the worn out pre-1990 model and the totally bankrupt post-1991 model of socio-economic policy is gradually emerging. It will be characterised by more active than at present government involvement in running of the economy (but not total state control as it was previously); by a pluralistic political system; by a foreign policy that is more independent than now (but less rigid ideologically than before).

There is a growing consensus on these matters. But it will take years before this outline will emerge in a visible form, largely because resistance of the forces which profit from the present chaos (including the international forces) is very strong. Eventually it will be neither "Back to Socialism" nor "Forward to Capitalism" but "Forward to Socialism" (but a different model of Socialism of course).

With all its problems, Russia remains a major factor in world affairs. It is clear after the elections that there is no return to the blind pro-Western policy associated with the former Foreign Minister, Kozyrev. Although Russia will remain dependent on Western loans, regardless of who comes to power, it will have to conduct a far more independent foreign policy. Most (but not all) of the pro-Western elements in the Russian ruling group which dominated the government between 1990 and 1994 have lost their positions.

It seems that Russia will face new presidential elections as early as 1997. In fact, as I predicted before the elections, Yeltsin will be able to retain power but will not be able to run the country. If the present ruling group failed in relatively favourable conditions (which they inherited in 1991), if they brought a prosperous country to this miserable state, they will hardly succeed in the present crisis conditions.

The National Question in Post-Apartheid South Africa - Reconciling Multiple Identities

Yunus Carrim, ANC MP and SACP central committee member, outlines an overall approach to the question of national and ethnic identities, and considers the unfolding nation-building process in our country.

A fundamental task of the national democratic revolution is the overcoming of the racial, ethnic, regional, class, gender and other divisions of apartheid, and the welding of a sense of South African nationhood. With the democratic elections of April 1994, a qualitatively new basis has been created for addressing the national question in South Africa. Key aspects of this include the ending of legal racial and sexual discrimination, one person - one vote elections, and a commitment to reducing material inequalities as part of a united, non-sexist, non-racial democracy.

Of course, the prospects for national unity and integration have been considerably enhanced with the transition since April 1994. But it is also clear that the ethnic and racial identities of the apartheid era cannot be attributed solely to the state's social engineering and that the resilience of these identities in new forms is going to pose challenges to the emergence of a broader South African national identity.

The transition has, on the one hand, given impetus to the evolution of a broad, non-racial identity, and on the other, to the emergence of ethnic and racial identities in new forms. Exactly how these two processes are to be reconciled constitutes a major challenge for post-apartheid South Africa.

The nature of the transition is reflected in the way the national question is addressed, and the way the national question is addressed impacts on the quality of the transition.

Fundamentally, the current transition revolves around democratisation, development and nation-building - and these three aspects are inextricably linked. The transition, importantly, has to be understood against the background of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the imperatives of globalisation, the particular balance of political forces in the country, and the means through which power was transferred to the majority. It is, in short, a limited transition - and it is continuously unfolding.

The transition will not inevitably consolidate into a victory of the national democratic revolution - or socialism. In fact, in terms of key indicators of advance towards the completion of the national democratic revolution - the control of the state by the working class and its allies, restructuring of organs of the state, economic transformation, and reduction of material inequalities - developments are very ambiguous. Major battles lie ahead to determine the shape and direction of the transition.

Nature of the national question

What is meant by the "national question"? In particular, what is the nature of the national question in South Africa in the context of the present transition? In general, the national question essentially refers to the attainment of popular sovereignty by a country, especially through liberation from colonial or minority rule, to political unification, to national self-determination, and to the process of creating a nation. In South Africa, it has traditionally referred to liberation from white minority rule, the ending of the bantustan system, and the political unification and integration of the country, and the creation of a single South African nation.

For the ANC-led liberation movement, the content of the national question has flowed from an understanding of apartheid South Africa as a "colonialism of a special type". Essentially, apartheid was seen as comprising all the core features of colonialism - except that the colonisers, constituted in the white minority, and those colonised, the black majority, lived in the same territory.

Hence the struggle was understood to be for the national liberation of the black, particularly African, majority. This would be achieved through a national democratic revolution. But, given the relationship between apartheid and capitalism, for the SACP the tasks of the national democratic struggle could not be completed without the emergence of a socialist society. A current within Marxism even argued that a non-racial capitalist society was not possible in South Africa. The SACP held that the national democratic and socialist struggles were linked, and the national question could not be adequately addressed without the creation of a socialist society in South Africa. Of course, it was understood that the struggle would unfold in phases - but national democratic and socialist aspects would be inter-linked.

The present transition in South Africa, as explained, constitutes a qualitatively new phase in the ongoing national democratic revolution. In the context of this transition, the national question refers at present to the erosion of racial discrimination, the post-bantustan integration of the country, the enfranchisement of the population, and the forging of a broad sense of South African nationhood that is particularly sensitive to the social diversity of the country. It is very closely linked to the deepening of the democratisation process and the reduction of material inequalities in the country. In the longer term, the national question refers to the emergence of a new South African nation based largely on the culture, values and interests of the African working class and its allies - who constitute the majority in this country and the dominant forces for the thorough-going transformation of South African society in the interests of the poor and disadvantaged. The culture, values and interests of classes and strata outside this alliance that are reconcilable with it will also constitute part of the new South African nation.

In the context of the new international environment and the specific transition underway in this country, the ANC government sees the South African population as constituting a "rainbow nation", and has committed itself to national reconciliation and nation-building. "One nation, many cultures" was the theme of President Mandela's inauguration. The government calls for a "new patriotism". It recognises that the ethnic, racial and other divisive identities of the apartheid era will not disappear easily, and that the nation-building process will have to come to terms with this. The government has, however, not spelt out an explicit theory and strategy of nation-building in South Africa. This is becoming increasingly necessary.

Ethnicity reconcilable with nation-building

The terms "ethnic group" and "race" are often used interchangeably, and sometimes conflated with "nation". But on analytical and practical grounds it is necessary to see them as distinct, if related. An ethnic group comprises people who share a sense of belonging together on the basis of **cultural*** criteria, such as language, religion and customs. A racial group comprises people who share (or who are perceived to share) certain physical characteristics, such as skin colour. While racial groups are usually defined by "others", ethnic groups frequently define themselves. Ethnic groups often flow from an in-group feeling of togetherness and usually define their own boundaries. So, while a racial group is often an outcome of external classification, ethnicity is the product of self-identification. Racial groups are also often more durable than ethnic groups, people usually cannot change their "race", but the boundaries of an ethnic group are fluid and malleable.

A nation refers to a group of people who share a common territory, economy, independent state, political sovereignty, and a sense of belonging together. What distinguishes a nation from a racial or ethnic group is sovereignty and statehood. If an ethnic or racial group is seeking an independent state and sovereignty, it is aspiring to be a nation. Nations are usually multi-racial and multi-ethnic (and, of course, multi-class, even if ultimately they represent the interests of a particular class or combination of classes).

These different categories should not be understood mechanistically or a-historically. They are meant to serve as a practical guide. There is nothing natural or immutable about these identities. They are social constructs. They are shaped and reshaped over time.

Ethnicity as such is not inherently conflictual or irreconcilable with a national identity. It is the way ethnicity is politicised, in particular its use to secure economic and political goals. that is divisive and undermines nation-building. A nation cannot be built out of thin air. It has to be significantly forged on the basis of the existing identities that pervade a country. A South African nationhood will have to build on the positive and harmonious aspects of the ethnic identities of the people.

People have multiple identities - and these can be reconciled with each other. One can, for example, be Zulu, African, black and South African; or Hindu, Indian, black and South African. There is nothing inherently conflictual about this. The challenge, in fact, before our new democracy is to provide the space for people to express their multiple identities in a way that fosters the evolution of a South African national identity.

Class and gender fundamental

Class and gender are, however, fundamental in these multiple identities - and an advanced sense of nationhood depends vitally on coming to terms with this. There are huge material inequalities in South African society. For example, South Africa has amongst the most acute income inequalities in the world. These income and other material inequalities will have to be significantly reduced if a developed sense of nationhood is to emerge.

These material inequalities are, of course, reflected in ethnic, race and regional terms - but increasingly it is in class and gender terms, both within and across the first three categories that these inequalities are being most acutely experienced. The basis for this was, of course, established under apartheid, for, while blacks were subjugated, it was the African working class, rural poor and unemployed, and particularly women amongst them, who suffered the most.

The class and race aspects of apartheid society have been constantly referred to, but the oppression of women was, in fact, a key component of apartheid. Tessa Marcus notes that "the oppression of women is integral to, indeed is a presupposition of, the perpetuation of African national oppression and the existence of a racial hierarchy has a direct bearing on the position of women." ("The Women's Question and National Liberation in SA", in van Diepen, M, ed., The National Question in SA, Zed Press, 1989). Clearly, gender equality will have to constitute a vital part of the content of the national question - and will have to be addressed on an ongoing basis as the transition unfolds.

But if class and gender are fundamental, they are interwoven with ethnic and racial identities in complex and contradictory ways. It is the mobilisation of a particular articulation of class, race, gender and ethnic interests, through a national democratic struggle, that effected the overthrow of the apartheid system and sustains the present transition. How these categories relate to each other, and the mobilisation and interests of what particular combination of them is ultimately being advanced in the present transition is debatable.

It is the African working class and its allies that led the struggle for overthrow of apartheid. It is the working class and the poor, and particularly women amongst them, who bore the brunt of apartheid, and it is they who objectively have the most consistent interest in erasing the legacy of apartheid and fundamentally transforming South African society. Given the position, power and organisation of the working class, it has a crucial role - in co-operation with its allies - in determining the pace and nature of the transition and the content of the national question.

However, given the nature of the transition and the current balance of forces, it is the broadest range of classes and strata of the population that have to be mobilised to sustain and advance the transition, both in the general interests of the population and in the interests primarily of the working class and its allies. In a way that is sensitive to the present conjuncture, and does not unduly alienate other classes and strata, the working class and its allies have to increasingly take the leadership role in the struggle, and their interests must come to more clearly predominate, even if the interests of other classes and strata that are reconcilable with their's must also be advanced.

As the process advances, the culture, values and interests of the African working class and its allies will increasingly come to constitute the core of the new South African - in a way that provides space for the expression of a multiplicity of identities that are reconcilable with it. The more this happens, the more the overall transition will be deepened in the interests of the poor and disadvantaged, and the more the transition deepens, the more will the new South African nation revolve primarily around the values of the poor and disadvantaged.

In sum, the present focus on a very broad sense of nationhood reflects the limited nature of the present transition. A more cohesive sense of nationhood will be both a cause and consequence of the deepening of the transition.

An African rainbow

In the context, then, of a deliberate, ongoing nation-building process, the notion of a "rainbow nation" for the present is apposite. The deep-seated racial and ethnic conditioning of the apartheid era will not disappear overnight. Although there is much more social contact among ordinary South Africans across the ethnic and racial divides in the new era, insecurities, mistrust and suspicions persist. It is largely at the level of elites that reconciliation and a more non-racial ethos is being experienced. But even among the elites, competition for positions and hegemony of ideas often becomes imbued with racial and ethnic undertones, at times even within the liberation movement. The legacy of our past and the complexities of the present provide a context for these difficulties.

In the circumstances, then, it would not make sense for the state to impose nation-building from above in some sort of Jacobin sense. An African "melting pot" is not appropriate. A "rainbow" nation is. A rainbow signifies the coming together of people of different backgrounds who make up this country.

The "rainbow" nation idea should not be used to fossilise ethnic and racial identities, and entrench a form of multi-racialism, in which each community largely inhabits its own separate cultural universe, and has equal representation in the broader culture and other spheres of society. It should, on the basis of existing conditions, pave the way for deepening non-racialism. A developed non-racialism is both increasingly the means and goal of the nation-building process. As the transition deepens, non-racialism is given a more specific cultural and class content.

There is certainly nothing inherently conflictual about both asserting African, and particularly African working class, leadership and non-racialism. In fact, such leadership can strengthen non-racialism. Failure to assert such leadership will serve to strengthen a narrow, exclusive Africanism, on the one hand, and an empty, artificial non-racialism, on the other.

Establishing an appropriate content for non-racialism and the overall nation-building process also means coming to terms with the sense in which it is useful to identify Coloureds and Indians with Africans as blacks. To arrive at this understanding it is necessary to more carefully consider the objective position of the Coloured and Indian communities and the different classes and strata within them in present post-apartheid society. But the subjective attitudes and consciousness of these communities in general are also important. In both the 1994 national elections and the subsequent local government elections the vast majority voted for the National Party, and it is obvious that they are alienated from the current ANC-led transition.

It is important to seek to win over Coloured and Indian people to support the transition, but it is also necessary to come to terms with the limited possibilities of this in the present situation. At the subjective level of consciousness and attitudes, they share much in common with whites - who must also be won over to support the transition. But this does not mean that Coloureds and Indians must be simply lumped together with whites as "minorities". It might be useful to see them generally as subordinate minorities as distinct from whites who constitute a dominant minority, even in the present phase of an unfolding transition.

Essentially, though, it is necessary to understand the differences between Indians and Coloureds in general, on the one hand, and Africans, in general, on the other, and the class and strata divisions within and across them - in order to give a specific content to non-racialism and arrive at a clearer sense of the role of different classes and communities in the process of nation-building and advancing the overall transition.

Diversity towards unity

Given the present phase in the nation-building process, considerable room is being given for the expression of diversity. The new Constitution provides for a Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. The Bill of Rights, particularly through its clauses on religion, language, culture and education, also provides for diversity. The Constitution gives equal status to eleven official languages and acknowledges several other minor languages. It provides for the creation of a Pan South African Language Board to promote the development of and respect for the different languages. A national Council of Traditional Leaders and provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders are recognised in the Constitution.

The expression of this diversity must, however, ultimately serve to foster national unity. For example, the language policy of the new South Africa must ultimately provide for the use of and respect for all the languages in a way that also simultaneously allows for the emergence of one or two languages as national languages that facilitate national unity.

The Cultural Commission provides an enormous challenge. If it approaches its responsibilities appropriately, the Commission can be an invaluable mechanism to provide for both national unity and cultural diversity in a mutually reinforcing way. If, on the other hand, it loses sight of the imperatives of national unity and provides for unbridled expression of cultural diversity, the Commission will disunite people and corrode a sense of South Africanness.

In good measure, the provision in the new Constitution for a Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities is a concession to the (Afrikaner Nationalist) Freedom Front. It serves, however, to shift the focus from territorial to cultural "self-determination", and from white Afrikaners alone to the population as a whole.

Legislation is to follow to set out the precise role, structure and processes of the Commission. In terms of the Constitution, one of the Commission's functions is "to recommend the establishment or recognition, in accordance with national legislation, of a cultural or other council or councils for a community or communities in South Africa."

It is important, however, not to create separate independent cultural councils for each community. A single council should rather be created in which the different communities are more likely to come to terms with each other and realise that whatever their cultural differences, they share a broad core of values - and in this way a sense of South Africanness can be fostered.

On the other hand, separate councils will serve to isolate the communities from each other, fossilise their ethnic identities, and create unnecessary suspicion and competition amongst them.

A crucial question, of course, is what criteria will be used to decide which communities qualify for participation in a cultural council. A plethora of small, spurious "ethnic communities" could sprout overnight in all their divisiveness - and the Commission has to strenuously guard against encouraging this. The Commission should serve to harness existing ethnic identities in the interests of nation-building, and not stimulate the manufacture of new but retrograde ethnic identities.

It is ethnic, not racial, communities that would qualify to participate in the Cultural Council. In fact, by giving appropriate space for the expression of ethnicity, racial identities could be gradually de-emphasised. If Afrikaners were to qualify for participation in the Cultural Council on linguistic grounds, for example, this would mean that all Afrikaans speakers, irrespective of race, would have to be represented. Similarly, the Indian community will not qualify on racial ground - but a Muslim or Hindu community would qualify, irrespective of race.

Inevitably, the Cultural Council will have to define its relationship with the Council and Houses of Traditional Leaders. To the extent that claims for ethnic expression are legitimate they are often a part of human rights - and so there will have to be close cooperation between the Cultural Commission and the Human Rights Commission. Ultimately, both the Cultural Commission and the Council should serve to de-emphasise racial identities and provide expression for ethnicity in a way that contributes to the evolution of a broader South African national identity amongst the people.

Another challenge to the nation-building process could be provided by the development of regional identities and rivalries, especially as the nine provinces become entrenched. The new Constitution, however, makes for a very innovative system of cooperative government which allows for provincial autonomy and national unity at the same time. The development of regional identities may, in fact, be useful in partly eroding ethnic and racial identities. If implemented successfully, the new system of co-operative government will certainly foster the evolution of a South African national identity that is also sensitive to the country's diversity.

The national identity that emerges also has to have an appropriate internationalist orientation, particularly in view of the position South Africa currently occupies in Africa, the South and the international community more generally. It should not give rise to a national chauvinism. The xenophobia emerging within significant sections of the South African population, including the working class and poor, has to be confronted. There has to be a constant struggle to invest the nation-building process with a progressive content.

South Africa's transition takes place in unique times, has unique features and offers unique opportunities. Considerable innovation, creativity and imagination were invested in crafting the negotiated settlement, the two post-apartheid Constitutions and the broad parameters of the transition. The same energy is called for in shaping a unique nation-building project that takes account of the lessons of the past and the complexities of the present. But nation-building, as has been constantly stressed, is inextricably linked to the overall transition in this country, and the same energy must be invested in advancing the transition, in the interests primarily of the poor and disadvantaged.


1. NIEP (1996:2). Based in Johannesburg, NIEP became the institutional successor to MERG.

2. "Key Issues in the Normative Economic Model", p. 17, cited by Kentridge (1993:24).

3. Business Times, 16 June 1996.

4. "Growing Pains?", Democracy in Action (August 1996), p. 27.

5. Business Times, 16 June 1996.

6. Cited by Patrick Bond, 1996, GEARing up or down?, SA Labour Bulletin Vol 20 No 4 (August), p. 30.

7. Ibid.

8. Sunday Times, 23 June 1996.

9. Author's interview, August 1996.

10. The other key variable - political stability - lies somewhat beyond GEAR's grasp.

11. Officially measured at 5.1% of GDP, although Finance Department officials admitted off-the-record that it stood closer to 5.8%.

12. The argument was forcefully advanced in the SA Foundation's ideologically-charged Growth for All economic strategy document, although NIEP claims that there exists "no empirical evidence to suggest" that this process "has ever occurred in South Africa" (1996:6).

13. Jeremy Cronin is correct in dismissing this notion of independence: "They have close personal and historical ties with the corporate, and particularly the financial sector. The `independent' policies of the Reserve Bank closely reflect the strategic interests of this priviliged minority"; see his "Exploding the myths of then neo-liberal agenda", Business Day, 9 November 1994.

14. See the World Bank's Paths to Economic Growth, 1993, p.5. When applying itself strictly to South Africa, however, the Bank adopts the orthodox view; see Reducing Poverty in South Africa: Options for Equitable and Sustainable Growth, pp. 48-52.

15. ILO (1996:29).

16. Op. cit., p. 6.

17. Which officially stood at 5.1% of GDP.

18. In 1994, it stood at 23% of GDP, prompting many observers to regard the country as "under-borrowed".

19. Cargill, op. cit., p.6.

20. Op. cit. p. 33.

21. These include tax holidays and accelerated depreciation for all new investments in manufacturing.

22. For instance, if the government sold bonds to itself via the Reserve Bank.

23. The World Bank, incidentally, is much more circumspect on this front. It has warned that reducing a moderate inflation rate like South Africa's might have significant impact on ouput and employment costs; see its Reducing Poverty in South Africa, p. 164.

24. This represents employment growth of 2.9%, while the labour force will grow by 2.5% - slightly lowering the unemployment rate.

25. Sunday Times, 23 June 1996.

26. Ibid. The sub-text is familiar and dastardly: organized workers, who have fought courageously to win humane wage levels and working conditions, are deemed a hindrance to social equity, a privileged interest group that defends itself at the expense of the unemployed.

27. ILO, 1996, Restructuring the Labour Market: The South African Challenge, Geneva, p.12. This document represents the most extensive study to date on the country's labour market.

28. See NIEP (1996:19).

29. Op. cit., p.19.

30. ILO (1996:194-95). The Department of Labour is currently investigating claims that in the clothing industry "wages as low as R1,11 an hour, in practice R49,95 a week, are not uncommon"; Business Report, 15 October 1996.

31. The World Bank has shown a particular penchant for this argument (which Trevor Manuel parrots above); see eg. P. Fallon et al, 1994, "South Africa: Economic Performance and Policies", Informal Discussion Papers on Aspects of the Economy of South Africa No 7, World Bank, Washington.

32. The US experience in the 1980s is sobering. Low-wage jobs grew substantially during the decade, but poverty levels increased dramatically, with 10% of the population experiencing a 16% drop in real earnings. See Hobsbawm, E., 1995, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, Abacus, London, p . 573.

33. See Business Times, 16 June 1996.

34. Ibid.

35. Local investors will be allowed to swop up to 10% of their assets for foreign assets, for example

36. Corporate taxes contribute only 16% of the overall revenue; Mail & Guardian, 19 July 1996.

37. The aim would be to encourage investment in labour-intensive enterprises. However, this could backfire and merely discourage productive investments.

38. World Bank, 1994, Reducing Poverty in South Africa: Options for Equitable and Sustainable Growth, Washington, pp. 1-2.

39. ILO, 1996, Restructuring the Labour Market: The South African Challenge (An ILO Country Review), Geneva, p.18.

40. Stephen Gelb, 1991, South Africa's Economic Crisis, David Philip, Cape Town, pp. 29-30.

41. Nelson Mandela, cited in ILO (1996:1).