- Red Alert: Capitalism and the values of the National Democratic Revolution
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
When the Chief Executive Officer of Shoprite � a large South African based supermarket chain- Whitey Basson pays himself R59 million in salary and bonuses, with 80% of shareholders approving, where is our country going? When sections of the black elite splash their wealth by spending on multi-million rand mansions, and, with few exceptions (eg COSATU), there is public silence even from government, one wants to ask, again, where are we going? Two years ago, the same Whitey Basson paid himself R8,3 million rand despite a poor performance by his company. This is the same Shoprite whose workers earn an average of R24 000 per annum. The workers got a mere 7% wage increase this year.
All of this opulence is happening in the midst of 40% unemployment, with more than half the population of our country living in poverty. Basson and sections of the black elite are enriching themselves in the context of a continuing job-loss bloodbath, whole-sale casualisation and the continuing decline of workers� wages as an overall percentage within the economy. This despicable accumulation by a few is also happening in the midst of protests in townships and informal settlements.
Despite enormous progress we have made as a country, this is a reflection of the growing rot in our society. Capitalism is undermining the values of solidarity and threatening the heroic legacy of our national democratic revolution. This is certainly not what we struggled for.
At the core of this malaise is of course the capitalist system itself. Some within our ranks argue that the objective of the national democratic revolution was never to destroy the capitalist system. They ask: �What�s wrong if blacks become filthy rich?�. They tell us that: �We did not struggle to be poor�. If we speak out against these things, we are accused of wanting �wealth to remain in the hands of a white minority�. But the Freedom Charter said that the wealth of our country shall be shared amongst the people, not a few people, the PEOPLE as a whole!
Those who argue now that �the national democratic revolution was never intended to challenge capitalism� are hoping that we will forget what the ANC was saying a few decades back. For instance, in the ANC�s famous 1979 �Green Book�, in which the leadership collective of the movement assessed long-term strategic perspectives, the following things were asserted:
�We debated the more long-term aims of our national democratic revolution, and the extent to which the ANC, as a national movement, should tie itself to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and publicly commit itself to the socialist option. The issue was posed as follows:
�In the light of the need to attract the broadest range of social forces amongst the oppressed to the national democratic liberation, a direct or indirect commitment at this stage to a continuing revolution which would lead to a socialist order may unduly narrow this line-up of social forces. It was also argued that the ANC is not a party, and its direct or open commitment to socialist ideology may undermine its basic character as a broad national movement.
�It should be emphasised that no member of the Commission had any doubts about the ultimate need to continue our revolution towards a socialist order; the issue was posed only in relation to the tactical considerations of the present stage of our struggle.
�We all agreed that the way in which we publicly expand on the contents of these paragraphs requires a degree of tactical caution. At the same time it is necessary:
a. for our movement itself to entertain no ambiguities about the aims of people's power and the role of the primary social forces, both inside and outside our movement, which will underwrite these aims, and
b. to gain increasing mass understanding for the idea that, in contrast to many old-style nationalist movements in Africa, we believe that there can be no true national liberation without social emancipation.
�The seizure of power by the people must be understood not only by us but also by the masses as the beginning of the process in which the instruments of state will be used to progressively destroy the heritage of all forms of national and social inequality. To postpone advocacy of this perspective until the first stage of democratic power has been achieved is to risk dominance within our revolution by purely nationalist forces which may see themselves as replacing the white exploiters at the time of the people's victory.�
In other words, in 1979 the senior leadership of the ANC understood very well that unless capitalism was transformed in South Africa, our revolution risked being hijacked by �purely nationalist forces� intent simply on replacing white exploiters with themselves. Are we supposed now to forget this concern?
The capitalist market and its untrammelled dominance in our society are fast becoming a brake to the further consolidation and deepening of our democracy. The current rate of capital accumulation by a few and the growing gap between the rich and the poor is simply unsustainable. Sooner or later it will threaten the very sustainability of our democratic order.
Unfortunately it is not just a matter of a capitalist system we have inherited. We need to pose an uncomfortable but absolutely necessary question: have our own economic policies especially since 1996 including the current trajectory of BEE not actively fostered the situation we face today? We should not pose or answer the question in a polemical way, with a �we told you so� attitude. But it should be based on a frank, mature, comradely and honest reflection based on the tried and tested method of �criticism and self-criticism�.
We need to point out that as the SACP we are not unaware of the vastly changed global terrain within which we are seeking to advance our democratic revolution. Nor are we neglectful of the inevitable impact on what is possible of our negotiated transition. Nevertheless it is critical that we ask ourselves whether we have, as a movement, used the qualitative shift of the domestic balance of forces in favour of the liberation movement and the people to maximum effect.
As the SACP we believe that the necessary imperatives of national reconciliation and our appreciation of the need to engage soberly with domestic and global realities, have been exploited by the existing white domestic bourgeoisie to consolidate its economic position. An emerging black fraction of capital has not challenged or transformed this reality; it has simply been a useful partner in the process.
The BEE policies we are pursuing were originally argued on the grounds that it is imperative to create a �patriotic (essentially meaning black) bourgeoisie� to drive growth and development in our country. However, the model and trajectory of BEE has not created anything remotely close to a patriotic bourgeoisie. What we have is, essentially, a parasitic, comprador black section of the capitalist class, dependent on the collaboration of white capital and parasitic on its access to the state. Rather than the BEE capitalist providing our democratic state with leverage over established capital, we see the exact opposite happening. BEE capitalists are the Trojan horse for established white capital to implant their interests into the heart of the new state and into our movement itself. This trajectory has become a breeding ground for corruption, greed, crass materialism and much of the malaise in our very own structures as eloquently outlined in the Secretary General�s report to the ANC National General Council in July this year.
Precisely because of the nature of this emergent black, parasitic bourgeoisie, it is incapable of effectively participating in a progressive growth and development effort, let alone being able to lead it. The intra-class scrambling over BEE deals (as recently illustrated by the current debacle around the Gautrain tender, for instance) is no foundation for anything patriotic. These elements are so busy fighting each other they are incapable of leading serious investment for the development of productive forces to address the problems of jobs and poverty in our country.
It is also important to point out that the very codes of good practice for BEE are not addressing the fundamental question of the wealth being shared amongst the people as a whole. Instead they focus largely on elite skills development and training, and share-ownership. This is certainly not what we need if we are to address the massive economic problems our revolution is facing.
We agree with President Mbeki that one of the critical challenges facing our movement and country is that of fighting corruption. This is a cancer eating into the fabric of our society, both in the public and private sectors.
However the very current capitalist trajectory is at the heart of generating corruption in our country. It is a trajectory that has fostered �the millionaire� as the best role model for the youth of our country. This is fostered by media at a rate never imagined by our forebears, who led a heroic, selfless struggle for the general upliftment of our people. Our democracy has further unleashed the capitalist market onto our people and society, with very minimal attempts to roll back the capitalist market and its values. This is the breeding ground for corruption!
In addition we seem to be fostering a very liberal approach to fighting corruption. An endless appeal to the upholding of the rule of law is a necessary but hopelessly insufficient response to the cancer of corruption. Yes, the organs of justice are important in this fight, but the fight against corruption should essentially be a political struggle, characterized by the mobilization of all our structures and people to fight the growing �dog-eat-dog� attitude, and promote values of solidarity and collective sharing. There are a number of sites to fight this scourge.
First of all, we need to intensify the ideological offensive against the selfish values of the capitalist system, and strengthen policies that roll back this overwhelming dominance of the market over the lives of our people.
Secondly, we should be openly critical and challenge the emerging alliance between business and politics, as expressed through the ever closer working relationship between some of our cadres within the state (and indeed in our political formations) and emerging business elites, some of the latter brazenly telling all of us that the aim of capitalism was never to address poverty, and that the state has a duty to nurture these narrow selfish interests.
Another key arena of struggle to fight the values of self-enrichment and corruption is the need to strengthen accountability of those deployed in state offices, as the ANC NGC correctly observed. State office carries with it not just the responsibilities to govern responsibly but it also often carries enormous powers of patronage. We should seek to implement the guidelines emanating from the ANC NGC that the powers of prerogative to appoint or dismiss given to various roles in the state should be heavily balanced by effective democratic consultation with the organizations, and not be treated as an absolute �state-based� right. The creeping patronage in our movement precisely derives from inadequate democratic checks and balances on this power. This is a source of corruption as it begins to create patrons and beneficiaries that tend to override commitment to the service to the people and the organization. Even worse it creates �other members� members�, whose primary loyalty are less to the organization than the �patron�.
Arising from the above point, a critical gap in our evaluation of the first decade of our democracy is that we have not critically reflected on the type of state we have built since 1994. At our November 2005 Central Committee, the SACP will focus its attention on this matter, including the relationship and intersection of that state with major class forces in society - the working class, domestic and international capital. During the first decade of our democracy most of our internal debates, including within the Alliance, have understandably been dominated by economic questions, without adequately reflecting on the character of the emergent state and its role in reinforcing or transforming the accumulation regime underway in our country. This is an important task to evaluate where we are in relation to the task we had set ourselves in the mid 1990s to build a national democratic, developmental state.
A further important challenge in defending and consolidating the values of our national liberation movement is that of fostering a cadre committed to service to the people and the country without any expectation of personal reward or accumulation. A conscious programmatic approach to producing such cadres is needed. This requires that we frankly ask the question of whether public servants and public representatives should be involved in business activities at all. The interface between business and public service is another potential breeder of corruption, and requires vigorous and close scrutiny.
Absolutely key in the struggle to create a better life for all, and in fighting this crass materialism and corruption is the mobilization of the main motive forces of our revolution, principally the workers and the poor, to drive a sustainable growth and development strategy. The challenge is in the first instance to rebuild vibrant and campaigning ANC branches, capable of driving local economic development and building solidarity amongst our people. It is a challenge to liberate our branches from being gatekeepers and pathways to state power. Let us build them as basic organs of our movement and for the people.
ANC branches, and indeed all alliance local structures, need to be consciously built as organs of people�s power, leading and mobilizing a whole range of other progressive forces and our communities. They must be structures that are consistently active, and not only mobilized for election campaigns, and also characterized by vibrant internal debates on critical issues facing our revolution. They should be leading a variety of campaigns in driving IDPs, taking up land and agrarian struggles, leading campaigns for provision of basic services to all. This is the only way to build an alternative society based on social solidarity.
As the SACP we pledge our complete dedication to this task.