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Red Alert: The key political task of the SACP Special Congress: put the working class at the center of our society

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

As we finalise preparations for the Special Congress of the SACP taking place this coming weekend (08-10 April, Durban), let us once more underline what the key political tasks of this Congress are. Preparations for this Congress have included intense internal debate on what is our overarching analysis and evaluation of the SACP of the first decade of our freedom. Based on this analysis, we have also identified what the tasks are for the working class and the SACP in the second decade of our freedom. Our Special Congress will consolidate this analysis and emerging programmatic perspective through a focus on the intensification of working class struggles and campaigns in the coming period.

In many ways, the SACP Special Congress is a direct call on all poor and working people in South Africa to ensure that the second decade of freedom becomes their decade by escalating mass mobilisation and struggles for jobs, poverty eradication, access to essential services and accelerated land reform.

Capitalism is failing our democracy: A class assessment of the 10 years of our democracy and challenges facing the working class

The SACP has been concerned that during the first decade of our freedom, analysis of class and class formation, both within our movement and in the public arena, has tended to take a back seat.

Notwithstanding important gains for workers and the poor, in economic terms the first decade of freedom has been most beneficial to the established and emergent strata of the capitalist class. Workers? share of GDP has declined dramatically, productivity has increased, and unemployment levels have escalated.

This is not to underscore the many gains that the workers and the poor have made since 1994, some of these being:

  • The inauguration, nurturing and consolidation of a thoroughly progressive, democratic constitution including a serious commitment to women?s rights and gender equality

  • Very significant labour market reforms, ensuring many more rights for workers.

  • Major transformation programmes in the provision of health, education and training, electricity, telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, and the beginnings of land restitution and land reform. Many of these measures have increased the social wage of workers and the poor, in particular poor and working class women.

Notwithstanding these and many other major transformational programmes, the systemic inequalities and under-lying structural crises that we have inherited are proving to be extremely stubborn. The prevailing growth and accumulation path will not be able to resolve the systemic, structural crises of under-development that continue to beset our society. The recent spontaneous social and civic uprisings in various townships demonstrate this reality: an expression of suffering by poor communities.

At the same time, the working class has responded seeking to defend its gains and advance its interests through struggles against privatisation, job losses, capitalist banks, apartheid land ownership patterns and for progressive economic policies, access to basic services, a living wage, etc. These working class struggles have made an impact on economic policy and government decisions: review of privatisation policy, massive investment in infrastructure by the public sector, the agreements reached at the Growth and Development Summit, the Mzansi account, etc.

This general trend informs patterns of class formation over the last ten years of democracy and class struggles within and outside the state.

The class assessment of the first ten years of our democracy, also needs to relate class formation to the gender question. For instance the class fragmentation of the working class has had a particular impact on women. It is women who have borne most the brunt of retrenchments and casualisation. They have borne the brunt in two ways; firstly as direct victims, but secondly, as the ones who normally have to face and deal with the reality of poverty in the household.

However, it would be wrong to project women primarily as victims. Millions of working class and poor women have been and continue to be involved in the liberation struggle and the daily battles against capitalism. In addition they are waging heroic struggles, albeit partially hidden, in stokvels, burial societies, co-operatives and many struggles at the household levels, both to cushion society against the ravages of the capitalist market and to keep households intact. It is around these struggles that we have to harness the (class) energies of women to build a progressive women?s movement and for the struggles for gender equality.

Most important is the question of the contradictory reality of a progressive government within a capitalist society, and the challenges for consolidating a national democratic revolution in favour of women, the workers and the poor. Related to this is the question of the extent to which we can address the national and gender questions within an accumulation regime that continuously reproduces some of these colonial and apartheid relations.

However it would be wrong for the Special Congress to focus only on analysing class formation and class struggles as phenomena outside our own movement. Our own movement and alliance is a ?broad church? representing a variety of class interests. This is its strength, but also its potential fault-line. It is for this reason that Congress will have to frankly reflect on how the class contradiction manifests itself within our own broad movement. For instance our alliance has been rocked by a number of tensions between 1996 and 2002. Were these tensions, the Congress ought to ask, merely about differences over government policy, or were they fundamentally a reflection of the deeper class contestations in broader society and within the movement itself?

Our Medium Term Vision: Making the second decade of our freedom a decade for the workers and the poor!

If the first decade of our freedom has principally benefited capital economically, then the struggle for the second decade of our freedom must be to make this a decade for the workers and the poor.

This means that we must build independent working class power and hegemony in all sites of power and influence in our society. The workers and the poor must have decisive and qualitative impact on all key sites of power and influence ? particularly political, mass and economic sites of power in society. In other words, there must be no company, government department or any other important institution in our society which implements any decision without integrating and taking into account the interests, aspirations, influence and power of the workers and the poor.

Our MTV envisages the following key outcomes by the end of the second decade of freedom:

  • Changing and transforming the current accumulation regime ? at present a regime that is ostensibly and consistently in favour of the capitalist classes ? into one that is oriented towards the workers and the poor;
  • Building a conscious cadre able to impact on state institutions and policy, economic institutions and mass formations in favour of the workers and the poor;
  • The harnessing of the multiplicity of mass formations and campaigns into a progressive, working class-led mass movement for transformation and socialism, including a working class-led civic movement and a large co-operative movement;
  • Building a progressive women?s movement led by working class women and based on a working class programme whilst also unifying the majority of South African women behind a progressive agenda;
  • Using the political and organisational muscle of the working class and other mass formations to regulate and direct significant resources in the private sector towards our developmental objectives;
  • A consolidated and stronger progressive trade union movement with the appropriate organisational, political and ideological capacity, including a decisive advance towards a single trade union federation in our country;
  • Substantially larger and stronger organisations of the workers and the poor, including the SACP, with significant presence and influence and impact in key sites of power; and
  • The development of a vast network and solidarity activities of socialist, communist and workers? organisations, formations, NGOs and movements in Southern Africa, and progressively within the African continent as a whole.

To achieve these outcomes many challenges lie ahead. Government?s much greater emphasis on building a strong state and parastatal sector that is capable of playing a strategic developmental role is one important step forward. But it must buttressed by sustained working class struggles for a strong public sector and interventionist state, which play a developmental and leading role in the economy.

Working class forces have to escalate mobilisation and organisation to defend its gains, advance its interests and roll back capitalism in our country. In this second decade of freedom, working class forces must intensify a sustained and mass-based class offensive on the power and interests of the capitalist class. The Special Congress will concern itself with the question of how to focus this class offensive to challenge pro-capitalist economic policy and the management and ownership monopoly of the bosses in the workplace and the broader economy. This must also include working class mobilisation against retrenchments, casualisation, outsourcing and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This approach also applies to the struggle for accelerated land and agrarian reform, job creation, access to basic and essential services and ensuring worker control of retirement funds, the broader democratisation of the financial sector and the building of a progressive co-operative movement. We will also focus on mobilising poor communities and families who are unemployed behind their struggle for sustainable and decent livelihoods. In all this, we will also focus on building a working class led women?s movement and taking forward the struggle for gender equality in all aspects of our society.

All of our formations, but COSATU in particular, need to give much greater emphasis to recruitment and organisation at the base, including at the point of production. COSATU has an important challenge to wrest from a profit-maximising, labour-exploiting capitalist class its monopoly over ownership and management of key sectors of the economy. The SACP has a special role to play in this regard.

The important African renaissance vision of our government, and the NEPAD perspective of good governance stand no chance of realisation unless working people and the poor of our region and continent claim democratic space for themselves. Poor and working people across Southern Africa and the continent as whole need to strengthen their solidarity and co-operation focusing on democratisation of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and the need for building working class voices for democracy, development and worker rights in the region.

The Alliance

This SACP vision must be located within the context of ensuring that we improve and enhance the functioning of our ANC-led tripartite alliance. In particular, the independent strength and capacity of working people needs to be consolidated within the broader alliance. This requires, amongst other things, a much greater active participation of workers in grass-roots level ward committees, community policing forums, school governing bodies, and ANC branches themselves.

Winning the battle of ideas and working class leadership

Related to all of this is the struggle for the ideological hegemony of the ideas and aspirations of the working class in key sites of power and influence. Working class hegemony means that progressive working class perspectives and ideas must, through democratic and strategic contestation, become the common sense, the only sensible explanation, and the only vision for the mass of our people and country as a whole.

A decade with and for the workers and the poor also means that the working class must take responsibility for the direction of our society, building the confidence and possibility for an alternative vision. This means the struggle for a society that stands for the emancipation of women, for gender, class and national equality.

Taking into account the ownership, content and role of South African media, cultural institutions and other avenues through which cultural and information hegemony are exercised in society, the SACP has a special role to contribute and enhance the voice, ideas and aspirations of the working class and the poor through engaging in the public domain and engaging other major institutions of South African society. This voice is concretely about engaging strategically in order to advance publicly and boldly socialist perspectives, alternatives and struggles.

In short, making the second decade of freedom a decade with and for the workers and the poor!