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Volume 6, No. 20, 7 November 2007

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Dual power - The living legacy of the Great October Revolution.

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

November 2007 marks the 90th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Beginning on November 7, 1917, in ten days that famously shook the world, workers and peasants, many of them in the threadbare uniforms of soldiers and sailors, organised by their soviets (organs of local popular power) poured out from their working class neighbourhoods, from their factories, battleships and garrisons, and marched upon the seats of power. 

They overthrew the bourgeois state that had been installed in February of that year. That state owed its existence to the popular revolt against the feudal autocracy and the imperialist war. Compromised by its class allegiances, the bourgeois government had been unable to even begin to deliver on the most basic demands of the popular masses. And so, on November 7th 90 years ago, under the banner of “Bread, Land, Peace!”, and shouting the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”, workers and peasants, for the first time in world history, abolished bourgeois rule and embarked upon a socialist revolution.

It is impossible now in 2007 not to view those events, at least partly, through the lens of the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is also imperative, not least for those of us who are communists, never to forget the epochal crimes committed in the name of “communism”, particularly in the Stalin years – crimes amongst whose victims were numbered many hundreds of thousands of communists. As we commemorate the 90th Anniversary of the October Revolution, we should remember that a revolution can devour its own children. We need to draw the appropriate lessons, so that we, in our turn, are not condemned to repeat history.

But if gross distortions and eventual collapse are part of the story, they are very much only a part – and even that part owes a great deal to external factors, in particular, the unceasing hostility and destabilisation of the Soviet Union by the imperialist powers.

Contrary to the Hollywood version of the Second World War, the epicentre of that war was the Eastern Front. It was on the outskirts of Leningrad and Moscow, and street by street, building by building in Stalingrad, that the tide of Nazism was halted, turned and finally routed. 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives in that war alone. Without the Soviet Union, the second half of the 20th century might have been a half century dominated by a real (and not fictional) axis of evil.

Let us also not forget the pioneering socialist measures introduced in the Soviet Union – an eight-hour working day, free health-care, free education, free crèches for workers’ children. Without the defeat of Nazism in Europe, and without the example of Soviet social achievements that inspired working class movements in the West, it is doubtful the welfare states that flourished in parts of the developed capitalist north after 1945 would ever have existed. Without the counter-balancing global presence of the Soviet bloc, would India have been decolonised, would China and Vietnam have been liberated, would the Cuban revolution have survived its initial years? And without all of these advances, Southern Africa could still be in the grip of white minority regimes.

While acknowledging the huge impact the October Revolution has had on the past century, we need to ask: What are the key lessons we need to derive for the present?

We suggest that there are two key lessons:

One: It is possible (and imperative) to press ahead with socialist-oriented transformation right now in the present.
The pessimists, those who lost their will to struggle with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, those who lost faith or who never had faith in the popular masses to begin with, those who were socialists when it was the flavour of the decade – they all keep telling us that “the global balance of forces is now unfavourable”. Socialism is something to be deferred until capitalism has been “fully developed”.

But when the Bolsheviks in November 1917 led the workers and peasants of Russia, along with dozens of oppressed nationalities, into battle for socialism – they, too, were plied with the same negative sermons. “Russia is too backward”. “Wait for the advanced capitalist countries like Germany to make their socialist revolution”. “Russian capitalism must first modernise”. “Wait for the Russian working class to mature”.

Lenin was portrayed in some “socialist” circles as a voluntarist, an ultra-leftist. But Lenin and the Bolsheviks understood that Russia would always remain backward within the imperialist world system, that the Russian working class and the democratic revolution (not least the national democratic liberation of dozens of oppressed nationalities) would always remain stunted unless a decisive break with a dependent and semi-peripheral capitalism was made. In fact, the impediments to Russia becoming a competitive capitalist power in 1917 were far greater than the (considerable) impediments to making a socialist revolution.

What about the global situation? Let us never forget that when the Russian workers and peasants of November 1917 rose up against bourgeois power, there was no external Soviet bloc to support them. This is not to say that the international balance of forces is irrelevant, but should we understand the construction of socialism as a “competition between two systems”?  Writing in a recent issue of Monthly Review, Claudio Katz (“Socialist Strategies in Latin America”) critiques this position:

“This approach is a remnant of the theory of the ‘socialist camp’ proclaimed by supporters of the old Soviet model. They gambled on defeating the enemy by means of a series of economic successes and geopolitical achievements, forgetting that one cannot defeat capitalism at its own game. Peripheral – or less industrialised – economies in particular can never triumph in a competition with imperialist powers that have controlled the world market for centuries. The success of socialism requires a continuous sequence of processes that undermine global capitalism.”

For a number of reasons, the “two camps” approach had a strong resonance for southern African liberation movements (and the SACP) in the 1960s, 70s and into the 1980s. With the collapse of the “socialist camp”, demoralisation was a likely (if mistaken) outcome. In Latin America in that period, by contrast, many major left movements (all with their own strengths and weaknesses) were less inclined to base their strategies on the existence of an alternative socialist bloc. This is surely one of several reasons why an important (but, of course, complex and uneven) wave of popular, anti-capitalist socialist renewal is now welling up across Latin America, from Mexico through Bolivia to Argentina. 

The world of 2007 is not the world of 1917. But like 1917 it is not a world of one-way traffic for the imperialist powers. The world’s “hyper-power”, the United States, despite its massive military superiority, is bogged down in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. Its Middle East military adventures are rejected at home by a growing majority. Its triumphalist 1990s neo-liberal “solutions” are discredited in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and in many parts of Africa and Asia. Structural adjustment programmes have given rise to mass-based social movements, indigenous peoples’ struggles, and electoral defeats for comprador elites across the developing world. In Latin America, in particular, the power of local elites (“national” bourgeoisies) have been hollowed out by trans-nationalisation and privatisation to multi-national corporates. In the face of rising popular mobilisation, the traditional recourse of the Latin American elites to military coups or one or another anti-democratic authoritarianism has been weakened (although it can never be entirely ruled out). It has been weakened by the earlier popular defeat of military regimes whether in Argentina, Chile, Brazil or Uruguay. The new popular mobilisation is frequently democratic and constitutional (see for instance the centrality of the Bolivarian constitution as a mass reference point in Venezuela), and no longer presents itself primarily as a rural or urban guerrilla. The popular, and increasingly anti-capitalist movement in Latin America, contests the class struggle on the terrain of electoral democracy, the constitution, human rights, media and social development, frustrating counter-revolutionary endeavours to locate the struggle back on the terrain of military contest. The Cold War, anti-communist “excuses” for repression have also evaporated.  This is especially the case in Latin America (with some exceptions like Colombia), but equally (although with its own specificities) here in post-1994 South Africa.

What are the key motive forces, or (to use Latin American terminology) what are the key subjects of this contemporary anti-capitalist struggle? This brings us to the second key legacy of 1917.

Two: Dual power re-visited
When Lenin and the Bolsheviks advanced the slogan of all power to the soviets in 1917 they saw in these spontaneously formed local councils of worker power the seeds of an alternative state. The bourgeois state, with its “façade of multi-party, parliamentary democracy” and a “liberal” constitution, was to be replaced by a different state, soviet power. The soviets of 1917, like the soviets that emerged in the 1905 Russian revolution, bore many resemblances to the spontaneous popular structures of the 19th century Paris Commune that Marx and Engels had studied and celebrated as harbingers of a different kind of proletarian state. They were characterised by various forms of direct and participatory democracy. Elected representatives and officials were revocable by popular assemblies and none was paid more than the average wage of a worker.

Between February and October 1917 in Russia a dual power situation increasingly developed – with the bourgeois “liberal” (in practice, not so liberal) parties controlling the Parliament/Duma and the key organs of state, with an alternative centre of power developing in the soviets/councils of workers and soldiers – in working class neighbourhoods, in factories, and barracks. It was these alternative self-organised centres of power, influenced largely (but not entirely) by the Bolsheviks that were a critical locus of power in the October Revolution.  

But although the state that emerged from the October revolution came to be described as “soviet”, it increasingly bore less and less resemblance to the spontaneous organs of localised working class power on which it supposedly rested. This was the result of many realities, including the drastic depletion of the seasoned working class cadres in a bitter Civil War and the challenges of a massive industrialisation drive and the administration of a huge country. The “soviet” state became increasingly bureaucratic, hierarchical, centralising, authoritarian, and staffed by a self-reproducing elite of apparatchiks.

Marxists were not wrong to recognise in the organs of popular power that emerged spontaneously in the Paris Commune and in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 a critical revolutionary reality and a key component of any future socialist state. But we tended to see these organs as the totality of socialist state power and as “alternatives” to, and abolishers of, the bourgeois state and “its” associated institutions – a separate standing army, courts, parliament, etc. In practice, in subsequent decades in the Soviet Union, bureaucratic state power displaced participatory and direct democracy.

What is beginning to emerge in, for instance, the Venezuelan revolution, what has always been at least an important residual reality in the Cuban revolution, and what is latently present in our own South African reality is a new conception of dual power. This is “dual power” not as a transitional reality, but as a permanent feature of an anti-capitalist revolution. Here organs of popular power co-exist with, buttress, check and balance other apparatuses of progressive democratic power (an army and police force, the administrative apparatus, a parliament). Organs of popular power need to act as a constant counterweight against the dangers of bureaucratisation, elitism, corruption and corporate capture that constantly beset the state apparatus, including a socialist state apparatus. These tendencies need to be constantly abolished. But localised organs of popular power, practising more direct and participatory forms of democracy, also have limited capacities to run a modern socialist economy, or, in isolation, defend the country against imperialist destabilisation.

The point is not that the one locus of progressive power should abolish the other, but that they should act to complement each other - as was seen, for instance, in the combination of armed forces, popular militias and mass mobilisation in the very rapid defeat of the 2005 imperialist-inspired attempted military coup against the democratically-elected Chavez government.

Here in South Africa, we developed strong “soviet” traditions, organs of popular power, a legacy of self-governance, in the midst of our struggle – particularly in the 1980s. These traditions have not evaporated, but post-1994 we have not really mastered the art of combining democratic state power with organs of popular power.

To take one of countless current examples - faced with the imminent extinction of our abalone (perlemoen) shell-fish stocks, as a result of poaching activities by criminal syndicates with international links, the ANC Minister of Environment and Tourism last week announced a total ban on perlemoen fishing. In the face of popular concern, with the livelihoods of coastal communities threatened, the Minister has backed down for three months. The Minister, of course, has science on his side. Perlemoen, a food source for communities along our coastline, stretching back to the beginnings of modern human civilisation, is about to disappear forever unless poaching is stopped. “And we cannot put a policeman every twenty metres along the shore-line”, the Minister has explained.

That is true enough. But with or without a ban on perlemoen catches, an overstretched police force and a very weak and under-resourced Sea Fisheries Inspectorate is not going stop the elimination of our stocks. Why have we not organised the local fishing communities themselves to form democratic vigilance units, to safe-guard (along with the organs of the state) their own local legacy passed down through many generations?

As we mark this 90th anniversary of the first socialist revolution in world history, let’s honour it - not as a museum exhibit – but as a living legacy that has every relevance for our challenges in the present.   



We can't go on like this…: Together, let's make sure things change!

An SACP Open Letter to the ANC Membership


Everything we have fought for together now lies in the balance. As we proceed to the ANC’s December 52nd National Conference in Polokwane, ANC branches, regions, provinces, national structures are divided like never before. An unprecedented climate of division and mutual intolerance prevails.

There are worrying indications that sensitive sectors of the state like intelligence, prosecutions and the public broadcaster have been polluted by political factionalism. The damage to our emerging democracy will be immense and it will not easily be undone beyond December 2007.

How did we get here? That, itself, is a matter of debate, but one thing is certain, we can’t go on like this. Together, let’s make sure things change!

The SACP has declined to endorse any particular set of names for the ANC top six, or for the additional members of the ANC’s NEC. This is an ANC process and we have hoped to respect its integrity. Besides, we have, in the recent past, had to deal with our own experience of blatant interference in the SACP’s electoral processes by external elements from within the movement. We know the damage this can do.

But this does not mean that we can now be indifferent observers of the forthcoming ANC national conference. As loyal members of the ANC ourselves, and as a longstanding partner in the ANC-led alliance, we are gravely concerned about the present reality.

At a national level, following our own congresses, COSATU and the SACP have been endeavouring to secure, as long agreed, bilateral and tripartite meetings with the ANC. Our intention is to engage with our leading ally on the basis of our own congress mandated positions, and to seek to ensure as much unity as possible as we proceed to Polokwane. Now, more than ever, it is important for the Alliance to close ranks and, whatever our differences and debates, to set an example of comradely conduct in the course of a hotly contested ANC electoral process. Sadly, we have the impression that the ANC’s national leadership is now so divided there is an unwillingness or incapacity to meet with us.

For years we have had to endure from some quarters of the ANC consistent displays of contempt and disdain for the elected national collective leaderships of the SACP and COSATU. We are told that the problem lies with us, that there have been good relations with this or that Alliance leader in the past – but this response confirms our concern. Our Alliance relations must be based on our shared strategic commitment to the national democratic revolution – and not on favourites, not on personal likes and dislikes. The SACP and COSATU must certainly respect the collective elected leadership of the ANC, regardless of our personal feelings. We are entitled to expect the same from the ANC.

Unfortunately, the contempt and disdain for elected alliance leadership is a style that has often cascaded down to provinces, regions and branches. And Alliance partners are not the only ones to have endured disdain - ANC provincial collectives, loyal but independent-minded ANC ministers (or former ministers), veterans, Youth Leaguers, and many more non-Party comrades know what we are speaking about.

The SACP is calling for an end to a leadership style in which loyalty to individuals over-rides loyalty to the struggle, in which gross incompetence trumps effectiveness, in which favourites are propped up in the midst of endless failure and scandal.

Things must change for the sake of the ANC itself. And this means that either the ANC leadership collective must change, or there must be a change of heart from that collective.

We call on ANC delegates to the Polokwane Conference to send a very strong message in this regard.

Let us elect a leadership that respects (and enjoys the respect of) the ANC in all its diversity.

Let us elect a leadership that engages with its alliance partners, whatever the differences and debates.

Let us elect a leadership that does not continuously mount rearguard actions against the clear policies of its own organisation, whether they be RDP or HIV/AIDS policies.

Let us elect a leadership that deals without fear or favour with corruption, ill-discipline and incompetence. No more one-sided interventions. No more leadership based on having leverage over others. No more buying of delegates. No more money politics.

The ANC’s crucial December National Conference gives us all a chance to lay a new foundation. It gives us all a chance to build an effective ANC capable of leading an Alliance that is no longer dysfunctional.

But on its own, and regardless of electoral results, the ANC National Conference can only be a beginning. Whatever the outcome in December, in January and February 2008 we will still be dealing with an ANC that has been deeply divided. There will be those who regard themselves as “winners” and those who see themselves as “losers”. It will be a hollow “victory” indeed for whoever “wins”, if we are left with a major disaffected bloc. Our conduct now in the present needs to be based on this sober realisation.

And this means that how we approach December and beyond must be based on principles and policies – and not on personalities.

What are these principles and policies? We have already highlighted many of them, and they include:

  • Respect the democratic process, respect the ANC National Conference. It is crucial that we affirm the need to respect our organisations and their democratic practices. How, for instance, can senior ANC leaders be telling the world at large, including ANC delegates about to attend the highest decision-making structure of our organisation, that “economic policy won’t change”? Declaring this as a personal expression of preference, or even as a prediction of what might happen is, perhaps, fair enough. But effectively declaring Conference debate on economic policy as closed, ahead of time and from on high, is out of order.
  • The centrality of mass work.  The ANC’s National Policy Conference draft resolution on “Organisational Renewal” correctly states that:

“In particular, it is proposed that when stating the pillars of the current phase of the NDR, we should re-affirm the position that the ANC is both a national liberation movement and a ruling party. In this regard, mass mobilisation and organisational work should be stated as the primary pillar, followed by the state, the economy, ideological struggle and the international pillar.”

Certainly for the SACP, this proposal is paramount. An ANC that leads its alliance on the ground in mass mobilisation and organisational work is critical. We need an ANC that re-discovers its true vocation and that empowers its Alliance partners to play their own complementary national democratic strategic roles. But for the ANC to return to its roots requires a leadership collective that understands and appreciates mass work.

  • Re-affirm intra-alliance protocols of conduct and mutual respect.  Limpopo must be used as an opportunity to reflect on strengths, weaknesses, challenges and mistakes made, with a view to correcting them. The Alliance has not functioned as it could have, and many of the stresses experienced could have been avoided. The habit of equating critical engagement with government by the allies as attempts at defeating the ANC, and other similar habits must become the things of the past. The 52nd ANC national conference must send a clear message in this regard, and seek to forge and institutionalise alliance protocols that formerly enabled us to defeat the apartheid regime and embark on the reconstruction of our country. Of particular importance is for the ANC to confidently and proactively (rather than defensively) lead the alliance.  It is also important for alliance structures to be meaningfully integrated into all key strategic decision-making, as well as seeking to strengthen each other's formations, as opposed to taking pot-shots at each other.
  • Build COLLECTIVE leadership. The attention in the media and even in our own ranks has become far too narrowly focused on the ANC presidency. Let us focus on the need to elect a united COLLECTIVE leadership that strengthens the democratic character of our movement. It must be a collective with a consultative and inclusive style of leadership, encouraging frank, open and comradely debates and engagements. We need an ANC leadership that will consciously act to unite the various strands of our movement - former MK veterans, the allies, the mass democratic movement, women, youth, etc.
  • Build the ANC and its alliance as the political centre. Let us ensure effective accountability and answerability of ANC (and alliance) cadres in whatever site they are located or deployed. As was strongly suggested by the ANC National Policy Conference, we need to ensure that there is not a technocratic (or even corporate) capture of strategic policy-making. The movement must be the key locus of strategic policy-making, not government. This is not to say that the movement should micro-manage or undermine the necessary autonomy of state structures.
  • Reaffirm the working class bias of the ANC. This means reaffirming the centrality of the ideological, revolutionary and mass capacity of the working class as the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution. This fundamental position is not in contradiction with the necessity of uniting the broadest ranges of social class and strata making up our movement – in fact, it is a precondition for achieving this broad unity.
  • Concerted ideological work and cadre development. The future of our movement and the reproduction of new generations of cadres cannot be left to chance. What kind of cadreship are we building if our branch life consists in little more than internecine factional battles, and individual fights around lists, tenders and deployments? Cadre development is, first and foremost, about activism on the ground amongst our people. This was the school of struggle for all of the revolutionary giants of our past. Activism must complement and be reinforced by dedicated ideological work, comradely debate and discussion. It is only in this way that we shall be able to build the values and morality of our movement, in which social solidarity and dedicated service to the people without any expectation of personal gain or reward are the priorities.
  • Lets focus on policies and not personalities.  Even at this late stage the SACP appeals for more focused attention on policies that will address the socio-economic conditions of the overwhelming majority of our people so that whichever collective is elected is guided by those policies. Let us consolidate and build upon the many positive policy and organizational recommendations made by the 2005 NGC and the 2007 National Policy Conference.

The SACP calls on fellow ANC members – together, let us rise to the challenge of the ANC 52nd National Conference. Together, let us re-build an ANC and an alliance of which cdes Albert Luthuli, Moses Kotane, OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani could be truly proud. That historic responsibility is now in our collective hands.