Volume 6, No. 17, 19 September 2007
The revolution is on trial (2): Defeat Palace Politics!Adapted excerpt from SACP Message of Solidarity to COSATU Central Committee on 18 September 2007
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
Despite the many advances made by our revolution since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, one of the single biggest threats to our revolution and its integrity is the creeping in of what our Deputy General Secretary, Cde Jeremy Cronin, correctly refers to as 'Palace Politics'. Like all palace politics it is the politics of backstabbing, pursuit of individual wealth, use of state organs to settle factional scores, use of media leaks to destroy each other, patronage as means to consolidate political (and often class) power.
Palace politics are political manouvres in the palace, characterized by political manouvres at leadership level to outmanouvre, smear each other in order to achieve narrow personal and elite (class) power, where the mass of our people are turned into spectators, if not voting fodder. In fact were it not for the continuing campaigns and class struggles of the working class, which are now cynically dismissed by elites as populist, the masses of our people would have ceased to be active participants in the struggle to consolidate and deepen the NDR.
Palace politics are also gendered politics, dominated by powerful males, sidelining women and usually using the gender question not to empower women but as a means to empower the very male protagonists in the palace.
The single biggest casualty of palace politics has been the increasing hollowing out of the some of the dearest values that have built this movement of ours over the years; open and frank comradely debates, service to the people without expectation of any personal gain, loyalty to the movement without using one's position to advance individual motives. Palace politics have also been characterized by the vulgarization of the theory and practice of the liberation, including Marxism-Leninism, to suit these palace manouvres.
A classic example of the vulgarization of Marxism-Leninism, essentially to try and discredit working class struggles is illustrated in the ANC Today series titled "A fundamental revolutionary lesson: The enemy manouvres but it remains the enemy". Apart from the conspiratorial character of these series, including seeing enemies even where there are not, illustrates another habit of palace politics, that of delegitimising legitimate working class struggles, whilst being silent about the manouvres of the real enemy - monopoly capitalism and its imperialist backers, including their neo-liberal policies, some of which our government has enthusiastically adopted.
For instance, in last week's ANC Today article titled Defeat the Resurgence of the Workerist Tendency, the anonymous author(s) correctly warn against workerism, but exaggerates the existence of syndicalism within COSATU. Reading this article one may come to the conclusion that syndicalism is the defining feature of COSATU. Stripped of its revolutionary pretences, the article is advocating for right wing workerism which argues that workers should only focus on economic issues and leave politics to the bourgeoisie. In other words, exercise of political power, particularly state power, must be the 'core-business' of capitalists, i.e. Politics must be the exclusive preserve of the palace!
At this COSATU Central Committee, we have to admit that palace politics are taking a grip in our movement, and require decisive intervention to uproot all of this, as none of our organizations are being spared this spectre of palace politics. Principled, inclusive and comradely debates are increasingly being replaced by imputation of motives into genuine positions held by comrades on political issues and challenges of the day. This is new in our movement, and if truth be told, it is threatening to tear our movement apart unless it is urgently confronted.
One key feature of this current period of palace politics is that we are increasingly outsourcing political decisions that we have to make, internal comradely debates and responsibilities to state organs and the media.
It is now very common that when concluding and summarizing a debate in many of our internal meetings, we couch these in terms of press releases rather than concluding the substance of the debate for purposes of engaging our own structures internally. In other words, the first question we tend to ask in concluding a debate on any matter is how we are going to present this to the media, rather than asking the question of what have we, as an organization agreed upon, and how are we going to engage our own structures around such decisions. We then end up 'spin-doctoring' our own decisions to ourselves as leadership and to our members, because the primary medium of communication is now the media! Indeed our revolution is on trial!
As historical materialists, let us go back to our recent history to try and underline the dangers of palace politics. If during the period between 1990 and 1994 we were in the current state as we are now, how long would it have taken us to remove the apartheid regime from power? My answer would be that many more years than it took us and possibly a very, very long time indeed.
The period 1990-94, our revolution was faced with very complicated challenges. It was a period during which the Soviet Union collapsed at the same time as we unbanned our liberation movement; a period during which the apartheid regime intensified its low intensity warfare from the killing fields of KZN, to the train massacres in Gauteng, to the Boipatong massacre, to the Bisho massacre, to the assassination of our late General Secretary, Cde Chris Hani.
The 1990-94 period was also a period in which we had to, internally, debate very complex issues facing our revolution, including: the meaning of the collapse of the Soviet Union, how to rebuild the internal legal structures of the liberation movement, the relationship of negotiations to armed and mass struggles, the role of the Alliance in the new period, etc. These were indeed very difficult questions in a very difficult environment. Our revolution itself was indeed on trial during this period!
Now consider the following scenarios and possibilities, transplanting the challenges of that period into today. If when Joe Slovo argued for sunset clauses and a government of national unity in order to secure our transition to democracy, today others would have avoided engaging with the merits or demerits of this argument in a comradely and frank manner, but instead call upon the NPA to investigate and possibly charge him on some concocted charges? If Blade Nzimande argued against the sunset clauses, he would be falsely accused of stealing R500 000 from the SACP or be labeled 'extra-ordinarily arrogant', instead of listening and engaging with his arguments in a frank, but comradely manner.
During the period mentioned above, if one comrade argued that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the bureaucratization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he would then be accused of abusing a union credit card, of being an 'ultra-left', a 'populist', and possibly even be labeled a racist! Another comrade during this period is caught with his hands on the till, stealing millions of rands meant for building self-defence units and SACP structures on the ground, then turns around in his/her defence, saying he/she is being targeted for being pro-Mbeki and anti-Zuma, as a cover to the millions he/she has stolen at the direct expense of the organization!
Yet another comrade during that period argues that there is no contradiction between, on the one hand, the negotiations process and, on the other hand, maintaining the armed struggle and building the self defense units, a brown envelope would be delivered under the door of a newspaper editor accusing him of all sorts of improprieties.
One way of reflecting on the rot that is creeping into our movement is to adapt the infamous saying that 'I did not join the struggle in order to be poor', and substitute it with the slogan that 'I did not join the struggle and liberate this country in order to carry 3 cell phones because my main cell phone is definitely tapped by some of the very state organs one helped to bring about, and one's security is being approached to inform on one's movements, in a democratic South Africa'!The fundamental problem is with the leadership not with the masses!
This CC and indeed all of us will have to ask and answer the question of how have we come to be in such a situation, threatening to destroy the heroic legacy and sacrifices of a generation of leaders and cadre that laid the foundation for our liberation.
We must however stop the habit of just blaming our lower structures when we have problems; 'it's the non-functionality of SACP branches', 'it's the shop stewards who double up as mashonisas' or 'it's the ANC councillors'. Yes indeed there are many problems in our local structures, but these problems are also being reinforced by the political environment we have created as leadership - playing palace politics!
This is a period in which we have to own up to the fact that we find ourselves in such a situation primarily because of the problems within OURSELVES - THE LEADERSHIP. It is not the masses who are playing palace politics, but us as the leadership, individually and collectively. The mass of our people are interested in rolling back the power of the credit bureaux, joblessness, casualisation, poverty and lack of basic services. Instead of approaching them as objects of endless izimbizo and as recipients of delivery (important as these are) decided upon by the leadership, they want to be active subjects, participants and drivers of the national democratic revolution!
This Central Committee will have to ask itself some very serious questions. To what extent have we fostered a leadership style in our movement that is intolerant of dissenting views, reinforced its power and control through state and other forms of patronage, tolerated, if not encouraged, conflation of (individual) private capital accumulation with public responsibilities, and sought to substitute movement power for state power?
In order to explain why we are where we are we need also need to go back to our theoretical, strategic and programmatic bases. 'The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggle'. This means that our revolution is on trial precisely because it is faced with an intensified class onslaught against the working class (joblessness, casualisation, rolling back of worker rights especially in the most vulnerable sectors of our economy, the job-loss bloodbath of the 1990s, a strategy of 'lowering the cost of doing business for business', and positioning the white and new black elites for using state procurement and economic policy for enrichment of a few, etc). Palace politics feeds on rolling back working class struggles.
At the base of this onslaught and offensive against the working class, including against the SACP as is happening currently, is an alliance between imperialism, white domestic big capital, sections of emergent black bourgeoisie, and sections of our own cadre located with the state, and elements located in strategic positions with our very own working class movement and formations! The latter would include sections within our working class formations which have either been compromised through business interests (an alliance between business unionists and business communists) or sheer opportunists who see, in this new era of our revolution, opportunities to enrich themselves or ensconce themselves in power.
It is all these realities that manifest themselves through the fractious processes leading up to the COSATU Congress last year, the current offensive against the SACP and the problems besetting us in the lead up to the ANC's 52nd Conference in Limpopo in December 2007.
Most importantly, never again should we allow our COSATU to face such fractious challenges and attacks on some of its leaders as we saw in the run up to COSATU's 9th Congress in September last year.
Never again should we allow the SACP to be undermined by forces hostile to a communist agenda, including disgruntled elements within its own ranks.
Never again should the working class of our country allow the dominance of a project such as that similar to the 1996 class project within our dear African National Congress.
Our revolution is on trial precisely because we need to defend the unity of our organizations, and make sure that, especially within our ranks, we get rid of all those elements that are hell-bent on dividing and weakening working class organizations. In particular we need to expose all those who masquerade as champions of the working class whilst advancing the class project of the capitalist class, both the white and black sections of this class.
When we look at the many once promising, but now failed progressive revolutions, it all started with some of the things we are seeing in our own movement. It is also for this reason that the revolution is on trial, and only the working class can rescue it!
The surest way to rescue our revolution is to defeat palace politics and place mass politics at the centre of our national democratic revolution.