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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 6, No. 4, 7 March 2007

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

In line with our 2006 Augmented Central Committee declaration that the year 2007 is the ‘Policy Year’ and the ANC also calling for this year especially to be one of a festival of ideas, it is important intensify debates on the key political and policy questions in our revolution. To this end the SACP has already held a highly successful National Policy Dialogue, which explored a number of key political and policy questions. A full report of this Dialogue will soon be available through our website.

One of the key issues debated at our National Policy Dialogue was to what extent can the national democratic revolution (NDR) be deepened in the current period, without this revolution taking some targeted socialist type measures, with a state that decisively intervenes in the economy and seek to re-direct the massive resources in the hands of the capitalist class towards significant developmental projects. The general feeling was that the NDR requires some serious socialist type measures, especially around the economy. This issue also arose out of the observation that much as our revolution has notched some important victories, including relative stabilization of our democratic institutions and significant government resource transfers to the poor, the colonial character of our economy remains essentially intact.

One significant manifestation of the colonial character of the South African economy is the fact that despite higher levels of sustained growth, unseen for decades in our country, this is not translating into sustained creation of quality jobs. But much more seriously is the fact that the single biggest beneficiary from the current growth path is the same old sections of the capitalist class, the white capitalist class, and all indicators point to widening income gap and worsening poverty. In fact, since 1994 the white capitalist class has become even richer. Much as there has emerged a black section of the capitalist class, this remains not only tiny, but is highly dependent and parasitic on the white capitalist class and the state.  

In fact, even the current model of BEE seems to be increasingly controlled and benefiting the very same white capitalist class, and in many ways threatening to erode the values that have underpinned our national liberation struggle and movement for decades. This model of BEE is increasingly creating a culture of entitlement from significant sections of the middle classes and the bourgeoisie (black and white), and is a potential source for massive dissatisfaction from the overwhelming majority of our people.

Indeed there has been a significant growth of the black middle class, though Duma Gqubule, writing in the business section of this week’s Sunday Times, is drawing our attention to the fact that whilst there is much talk about a growing middle class, the figures do not show this, and this might be in fact be an exaggeration. The SACP’s own concerns is that this is also a middle class that is highly indebted and more pre-occupied with dreams of breaking into bigger capitalist stakes than using its skills and resources to tackle underdevelopment and poverty in our country.

It is these and a host of other related questions that fundamentally raise the issue of the direction that our NDR is taking, and especially the question of the motive forces that should be at the helm of this revolution. This question also arises specifically because of a new, clearly revisionist conception of who the motive forces are in the NDR, especially emanating from within what the SACP has referred to as the ‘1996 class project’ that has become dominant, albeit not hegemonic, both in our movement and in the state.

The class project has come up with a completely new definition of the motive forces of the NDR, defining them as all those who stand to benefit from transformation of South African society. This is a radical departure from the historical characterization of the motive forces of the NDR. Historically, and current concrete realities also demand this, the motive forces of the NDR are those CLASS forces that have the revolutionary capacity and determination to transform South African society for the benefit of the workers and the poor of our country.

Now we are told that basically all those who STAND TO BENEFIT from the transformation underway are all, equally, motive forces: the working class, the petty bourgeoisie, the middle classes and even the black sections of the capitalist class.   

There are a number of very serious problems with this characterization. The first major flaw is that, according to this definition, the white capitalist class can, objectively, also be regarded as a motive force for the NDR, because not only does it stand to benefit, but has actually benefited handsomely from economic ‘transformation’ currently underway in our country!

The second major problem with this new definition is that being a beneficiary of transformation does not define what kind of benefit we are talking about. Being a beneficiary also includes massive accumulation of wealth at the direct expense of the workers and the poor. Such kind of benefits are in direct contradiction to the long standing perspectives of our movement that ours was not a struggle to replace a white elite with a black elite, but to transform the conditions of the overwhelming majority of our people.

Thirdly, motive forces are motive forces precisely because they are also committed to and capable of driving transformation for the benefit of the workers and the poor. Even the concept of ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’ was premised on the understanding that such a bourgeoisie will actively invest and act in a manner that develops the productive capacity of our economy so that we can create jobs and sustainable livelihoods for our people. This re-definition of motive forces therefore perverts in the most opportunistic manner even the very notion of ‘patriotism’ itself. In this conception a patriotic bourgeoisie becomes synonymous with self-enrichment. After all, ‘what is wrong if blacks become filthy rich’, as ‘we did not join the struggle to be poor’?

Fourthly, the most serious deficiency with this new definition of motive forces is that it is completely silent on the tasks and responsibilities of a motive force. As our Deputy General Secretary, Cde Jeremy Cronin, consistently points out, this reduces the characterization of motive forces into some kind of an awards ceremony, where all and sundry is a motive force, by virtue of either being black or a beneficiary. The other day I was listening to an ‘After 8’ debate with Brian Molefe, chief executive of the Public Investment Commission (PIC), on the role of black executives in corporate boards. Nothing emerged in that debate as to what the PIC’s expectations are from those corporate black executives in broader economic transformation, except some vague hope that by virtue of being black they will somehow play a transformational role. In essence, being a motive force is now being reduced to some kind of entitlement (benefit), as opposed to tasks, responsibilities and sacrifices to drive a transformation programme that will truly benefit the overwhelming majority of our people.

It is in fact clear that this new definition of motive forces seems to be a post-facto theoretical justification for the narrow BEE policies and practices that are being pursued.

Our movement has, in the past, correctly insisted that the working class is the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution, a perspective re-affirmed by, amongst others, the ANC NGC in 2005. It is also worth noting that the current draft document of the ANC Strategy and Tactics ignores many of the decisions taken by that NGC on this matter.

However, the working class itself cannot be regarded as a motive force by virtue of being a working class; it has to clearly define its tasks and responsibilities and consciously, purposely seek to act as such a motive force. Being a motive force is also not just a matter of declarations, it is a role that has to be earned and won through concrete struggles on the ground. It is for these reasons that the Medium Term Vision (MTV) of the SACP is a vitally important perspective and guide in building the working class as a motive force. Our MTV enjoins us intensify the struggles to build working class hegemony in all key sites of power, as the only guarantee to consolidate and deepen the national democratic revolution.

For the middle classes and black sections of the bourgeoisie to be motive forces, they must act as such, in the broader interests of the most thorough transformation of South African society, beyond pre-occupations with deal making and other shenanigans such as the unfolding Fidentia scandal and the battles around the lotto tender. The fundamental question is what role are these class forces playing in developing the productive capacity and development potential of our country to address poverty?

It is therefore necessary that in the run up to all the major congresses and other events these and other related matters are thoroughly debated.