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Red Alert: Our Special National Congress: Making the Second Decade of Freedom, a decade with and for workers and the poor

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The SACP has just emerged from a highly successful Special National Congress held in eThekwini between 8-10 April. At this Congress we achieved the major objectives we had set for ourselves. The primary task was two-fold: first, to undertake a thorough assessment of the first decade of our democracy, from the standpoint of the workers and the poor; and, second, elaborate our medium-term vision for the second decade of freedom. Congress also undertook a very frank review of the strengths, achievements, weaknesses and challenges facing our Party during the first ten years of democracy. This enabled us to emerge with a clearer programmatic vision for building our Party and cadres.

It was a Congress in which there were no sacred cows. There was a frank evaluation of the performance, achievements and failures of our ANC government, of the global and domestic capitalist conjuncture and its impact on government, and on our movement and the transition as a whole. These were the key issues on which we focused, contrary to much media reporting on our Congress, in which politics is reduced to a market-place of competing electoral brands. Our medium-term vision enjoins the SACP to act as the vanguard of the working class in leading the struggle to make our second decade of freedom a decade with and for workers and the poor. In order to achieve this objective, the medium term vision commits the SACP to lead a struggle to build working class power in all sites of power and influence in South African society. The question of whether the SACP should contest elections in its own right was firmly located, at our Congress, within the broader question on whether such an option would advance or retard the objectives of building working class power in the current period. Electoral options for the SACP were never going to be discussed independent of, and in isolation from, our medium-term vision.

Our Special Congress was characterised by intense political debate and engagement, and it also canvassed a wide range of issues pertinent to the struggles of the working class in the contemporary period and beyond. Congress resolutions managed to pull together these broad discussions into very specific resolutions and a programme of action towards our 2007 National Congress.

Congress appreciated the presence and messages from our alliance partners, especially the address by the President of the ANC, Cde Thabo Mbeki, and the General Secretary of COSATU, Cde Zwelinzima Vavi. Some of the key issues advanced by the President of the ANC and the Republic, raised challenges with which we will earnestly and fearlessly engage, including through a planned bilateral between the senior leaderships of both organisations. The tone of Congress was partly shaped by the preceding bilateral meeting between COSATU and our Party, which had committed itself to escalating mass mobilisation of the working class to make the second decade of our democracy a decade with and for workers and the poor.

What is the SACP's medium-term vision for the second decade of our freedom? Our medium-term strategic perspective derives from our assessment of the first decade of freedom, as captured in our Congress declaration:

"The Congress endorsed the basic analysis of the main features of the first decade since the 1994 democratic breakthrough. There have been many important gains, notably the consolidation of non-racial democracy, the enshrinement of basic worker rights, and the transfer of significant resources to workers and the poor (including low cost housing, water, electricity, health-care and social grants). The SACP takes pride in the role that we have played, with our alliance partners, in winning these achievements in and through ongoing struggle.

"However our society continues to be dominated by a brutal and inhumane capitalist accumulation regime. It is an accumulation path that has remained fundamentally untransformed, notwithstanding our democratic breakthrough. Indeed this accumulation regime has seen a significant and ongoing growth in the relative share of GDP going to the (capitalist) bosses, and a declining share going to the working class. More than a million formal sector jobs have been lost. Some new jobs have been created in certain sectors, but as we meet, tens of thousands of jobs are being lost in the mining and clothing sectors. The impact of the capitalist accumulation regime has been devastating on the lives of millions of South Africans, particularly working class blacks and women. Capitalism daily reproduces gendered and racialised inequality."

In short, what our Congress was capturing is that, despite increased social resource transfers, there is a serious decline in the number of employed (waged) workers and a deepening of the crisis of underdevelopment afflicting the majority of our people. Much as significant political power is in the hands of the majority, substantial economic power still remains in the hands of the same capitalist class forces as under apartheid. Congress further concluded that, while many of the developments in our society over the last decade reflect broader processes in globalised capitalism, we have not used our majority political power with sufficient determination and strategic effectiveness to alter the persisting accumulation regime. Our government has often pursued "market-friendly" policies, which have ended up benefiting the incumbent capitalist class at the direct expense of the working class and the poor, the majority of whom are, of course, black. If the next decade is to be the decade of the workers and the poor this has to change, and the SACP has a special responsibility towards the achievement of this goal. Put differently, there is a limit to which the national democratic revolution can be further consolidated or deepened, unless the economic (class) question is confronted as the fundamental contradiction of South Africa's transition to democracy.

Congress further observed that whilst our democracy has "liberated" dominant sectors of the capitalist class from some of the secondary fetters of the apartheid era, capitalism has signally failed our democracy.

What then is the answer to this crisis? In brief, Congress agreed that the solution to this crisis lies in the mobilisation of the working class and the poor to build their collective power in three critical arenas. First it identified the challenge of building working class power in the state, as a critical and contested site of power. In this regard the challenge is that of making working class power felt such that we build a developmental, interventionist state driving an overarching industrial strategy, rolling back the tyranny of the capitalist market over the lives of millions of our people, and pressurising capital towards productive investment to create jobs and fight poverty. In this regard Congress agreed with government's own Ten Year Review, that substantial progress has been made in instances where the state has played an interventionist role (provision of housing, electricity, water, etc), but where the capitalist market has been left to its own devices, there has been no progress (eg. no investment in low-cost housing, no job creation and minimal support to small, medium enterprises).

Second, Congress identified the point of production as another key site of power to build worker power. This means building and strengthening a progressive trade union movement, and challenging the unilateralism of capitalist management in its control of capitalist enterprises. It also means building a powerful and democratic productive public sector, and consolidating cooperative forms of production in our communities. Congress resolved to support COSATU's jobs and poverty campaign, by, amongst other things, building SACP units in the workplace.

Third, Congress identified building working class power in the communities, in our urban and rural residential areas as a key objective to realise the second decade as a decade for the workers and the poor. At the end of Congress, the SACP launched the Alliance 'Know Your Neighbourhood Campaign', as part of commemorating the 12th anniversary of the assassination of our late General Secretary, Cde Chris Hani. The aim of this campaign is to undertake ongoing door-to-door work amongst poor communities, to identify and act on problems facing poor households, and through these build organs of people's power to change the lives of workers and the poor for the better.

The SACP understands that these tasks are not abstract, theoretical tasks, but require campaigning and communist activism. The main platform around which to wage an offensive against capitalism and its market is by deepening our already existing campaigns. Congress, to this end, had to evaluate our existing campaigns, their achievements thus far, including strengths and weaknesses. Congress was proud to note that our Party has been in the forefront of many of the key campaigns taking up issues affecting the workers and the poor.

We noted some of the major achievements of our financial sector campaign, aimed at transforming South Africa's financial sector to serve the interests of the workers and the poor. Through this campaign our Party managed to pressurise extremely reluctant banks into creating an affordable bank account for the more than 15 million South Africans previously excluded from the banking sector - the Umzansi account. The City Press, (whose journalists wrote on our Congress without even attending it, relying, instead, on poaching bits and pieces of other newspapers' coverage) has cynically dismissed these victories as nothing more than the "stabilisation of capitalism". Of course, so long as capitalism remains dominant, our advances will be provisional, partial and contested. But more than 800 000 poor South Africans (57% of them women) have already opened Umzansi accounts since this SACP-led victory, and they know the real difference this has made to their lives. Struggles to transform the banks are not just about specific victories (as partial as they may be). Struggles build working class power and confidence, they expose the hypocrisy of the capitalist bosses, and the initial timidity of the bureaucrats. This is a critical building block, it is momentum for the ongoing struggle for a different South Africa and a different world.

Congress further resolved on the intensification of our campaigns. Amongst the key struggles to be waged is that of calling for an amnesty for all workers and the poor currently blacklisted by the untransformed Credit Bureaus. Congress declared that if our country could give amnesty to apartheid criminals and murderers, and amnesty to the rich who had illegally invested offshore, why should we not call for an amnesty for the poor, for the black-listed to be given a second chance? This for us is an important struggle to roll back the tyranny of the capitalist market over millions of our people.

Congress also noted another major achievement of our financial sector campaign, the capitalist banks have been forced to pledge an amount of R42 billion for low-cost housing. This commitment came as a direct result of the SACP-led campaign for the transformation of the financial sector. Congress, however, committed itself to an ongoing struggle for a new model of financing low cost housing, by demanding an abolition for workers and the poor of long-term mortgage bonds calculated on the basis of compound interest. Congress committed the SACP to struggle for shorter paying periods. These are not struggles to stabilise capitalism, but struggles to challenge the logic of capital accumulation. In addition, Congress resolved to engage the organised working class to demand an effective say and control over the investments of their retirement funds, so that these are directed towards job creation and poverty eradication. These are important platforms for building capacity for, elements of, and momentum towards socialism and a socialised financial sector serving the interests of the workers and the poor.

Our Special National Congress also resolved to escalate the campaign for the acceleration of land and agrarian reform to benefit the overwhelming majority of our people. The key task in this regard is that of building local People's Land Committees to take up struggles for access to productive land for the landless poor in all localities of our country. Land and agrarian reform has been painfully slow in our country, and Congress reaffirmed the SACP's position that the market based 'willing buyer, willing seller' principle for land reform is retarding accelerated land reform. It was for this reason that Congress welcomed government's recent commitment to the convening of a National Land Summit. For us this summit must critically involve the mass of the landless poor and it must ensure that their demands are placed on the national agenda.

These campaigns all constitute part of a broader offensive by the working class to make the second decade of our freedom a decade with and for workers and the poor.

Congress (as the commercial media did not fail to notice) also debated the question of whether the SACP should contest elections in its own right. This question was discussed within the framework of our medium-term vision. Will such independent contestation, in whatever modality, advance or compromise the building of working class power in our society?

In approaching this question, Congress correctly resolved that the most critical challenge for the SACP and the working class in the next ten years is that of realising our medium-term vision, and the question of electoral options should be subordinated to this strategic imperative. Congress has resolved that the Central Committee should set up a Commission with a wide mandate to assess, as our resolution states, "the opportunities, challenges and threats to the achievement of our Medium Term Vision of building a Party of power, influence and activism. This must include the development of strategic options with regard to election participation by the Party".

Unsurprisingly, for those like the Business Day, which has been running a flattering but hypocritical campaign directed at the SACP, this resolution has provoked disappointment. The Business Day, among others, has been telling us that we "would make a very handsome opposition". They have been trying to cajole us into breaking from the ANC, not because they give a damn about South African workers and the poor, but because they fear that our alliance's two-thirds majority is showing signs of an increasing leftwards shift, abandoning privatisation and market fundamentalism. The SACP is not a commodity that only exists if it contests multi-party elections under its own "brand" name. The options pursued by our Party over the next ten years will be guided by our medium-term vision. We will not measure the relevance of the SACP on whether it contests elections in its own right or not, but on whether we are effectively building working class power, and a left majoritarian project, in line with the goals of our medium-term vision.

We have emerged from our Special National Congress convinced that we are capable of building an SACP that continues to play the role of a vanguard of the working class to deepen and consolidate the national democratic revolution towards the only rational alternative for our society - a socialist South Africa.