First Quarter 2003
Implications of Iraqi war
2. American Empire, the Bush administration's strategic policy by Professor Rainer Rilling
1. The Political and Organisational Tasks of the SACP by the SACP Secretariat
Joe Slovo Memorial Seminar
2. Reflections on the contemporary significance, relevance and meaning of Joe Slovo's 1988 pamphlet "The 3. South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution" by Blade Nzimande
11. ‘The Assassination of Lumumba’ – review by Suraya Dadoo
Iraq and the end of the benign globalisation myth
The illegal invasion of Iraq marks a dangerous escalation of US aggression. But it is also in continuity with more than a decade of intensifying US global unilateralism. It is important to underline both the continuity and the dangerous new features that this aggression marks.
After Bush’s narrow (and disputed) presidential election victory, US global politico-military strategies have been dominated by a powerful circle of Reaganite military men and neo-conservatives – among them Paul Wolfovitz, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Rainer Rilling’s article in this edition of the AC outlines the profiles and perspectives of this powerful circle. Essentially they are the advocates of a new, post-Cold War American imperial role. Just a few years back, in the AC we noted how the word “imperialism” had dropped from the vocabulary of most political discourse. For their part, the Wolfovitzes now speak unabashedly of the American empire. In his preface to the official, “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” (September 2002), George Bush boasts: “Our world is divided in many ways: rich/poor; North/South; Western/non-Western. But more and more, the division that counts is the one separating America from everyone else.”
The election of Bush, and the September 11, 2001 tragedy have created conditions for these neo-conservative circles to emerge supreme within the US administration. But would the invasion of Iraq have occurred if Al Gore had been adjudged to have won the presidential election? Or if Colin Powell was not as relatively marginalized as he is? It is hard to be sure, and history is not about what might have happened.
However, while subjective realities do have an impact on history, it is important to be aware that many of the core features underpinning the Iraq invasion, have been present over the last dozen years. Since the end of the Cold War period (1945-1990), the US has been consolidating and implementing policies to affirm and entrench its monopoly on the super-power mantle. Prior to 1990, the world inter-state system was dominated by the existence of two power blocs, each possessing a significant nuclear capacity. The UN, and especially its Security Council, the Warsaw Pact, NATO, and many other realities were premised on this two bloc system, and on doctrines of mutual deterrence (a balance of power - indeed, a balance of terror).
All of this changed dramatically around 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and, soon after, of the Soviet Union itself. What were the principal emergent features of the new global configuration?
One view, probably the dominant view, was that we had surfaced into a new reality of unprecedented possibilities. With the Cold War over, the many regional wars that had been connected, in one way or another, to “super power rivalry” could be ended. The billions and billions of dollars, roubles and rands pouring into armaments could now be diverted into growth and development. With the Berlin Wall and other “impediments” down, there were unprecedented possibilities for a liberalised and globalised free market. All the peoples of the world would be able to benefit from an endless horizon of globalised growth.
In one of his recent weekly columns in ANC Today, President Thabo Mbeki captures this view very well:
“When the Cold War came to an end many said that we were entering a new world of peace, the permanent relaxation of global tension, and the demise of power blocs. All humanity would benefit from a peace dividend that would open the way to the eradication of the great scourges of poverty and underdevelopment…” (ANC Today, March 28)
Cde Mbeki correctly notes that the invasion of Iraq has shown this vision to be no more than a “dream”.
There were always two fundamental errors in the dream of a benign post-1990 globalisation. In the first place, the collapse of one power bloc did not mean the demise of the other. It meant the United States became more powerful and more tempted into military, diplomatic and economic unilateralism. Unilateralism has certainly been accentuated in the last years under Bush, but it has been a feature throughout the 1990s. The Gulf War (1991) was, as we now know, a deliberate sucker-punch for which Saddam Hussein fell. He was led to believe by George Bush Snr’s ambassador in Baghdad that the US would welcome an Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, in the “interests of stabilising” oil supplies. In fact, the US was looking for an excuse to deliver a humiliating blow to the most powerful military power in the region – of course, partly in the “interests of stabilising” US oil supplies. This was the first major blow struck in the name of the newly ascendant single super-power. It met with little international opposition (apart from within the Arab world), at a time when the world was still off-balance.
On Clinton’s watch, the US refused to sign the ban on land-mines, effectively boycotted the World Conference Against Racism, bombed Yugoslavia and engineered regime change there, and launched, but still on a limited scale, the “preventive war” doctrine with cruise missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan. Aggressive US unilateralism is certainly not an entirely new phenomenon.
The second illusion in the dream of a new era of benign globalisation was that the developed economies of the North could act as the locomotive of a relatively harmonious process of global growth and development. What “developing” economies had to do was hitch a ride (through liberalisation, privatisation and getting our own carriages in order). Attaching ourselves economically to the great locomotive of the North was, so the dream told us, all that was required.
However, as the article by Samir Amin in this issue of the AC demonstrates, far from being a locomotive of growth and development, the US economy is extraordinarily parasitic, and its parasitism has been accentuated through the past decade. In 1989 the US trade deficit stood at a whopping $100 billion. By 2000 it had grown to $450 billion. The US now has a trade deficit even in high technology goods. These facts are underpinned by systemic social and economic problems within the US – including falling labour productivity relative to competitors, a poor educational system, and the general cutting back on public spending. The “growth miracle” in the Clinton years was fed, as Amin notes, by expenditure based on growing social inequalities.
The parasitism of the US economy can only be sustained by major capital flows from the rest of the world. The US increasingly relies on extra-economic coercion (notwithstanding the rhetoric about “free market” principles). Virtually the only area in which the US has a comparative advantage is in the armaments sector (60% of world trade), a sector that operates outside of the rules of the market.
The war in Iraq, for which Congress has just passed an additional $80 billion, needs to be understood, systemically, against this background. The world is being coerced into, not just supporting an unjust and illegal war, but into propping up parasitic US consumption and “growth”.
Major transnational corporations from outside of the US have been complicit in funding this parasitic consumption and growth path, in part, because any alternative has been seen as a threat to the whole global system of capital accumulation. However, there are growing intra-imperialist strains. US unilateralist undermining of global institutions is not confined to the UN. Last month (March 2003) the World Trade Organisation ruled against US steel tariffs, which have mainly hit EU, Japan and South Korean steel-makers. The US has not accepted the ruling, and is appealing against it. This is one of many such WTO rulings against the US. In the US Congress there are even mutterings to the effect that the US should quit the WTO.
In the first week of the Iraq war, the Bush administration dispatched Alan Larson, the US under-secretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, to Brussels to allay the concerns of EU multi-nationals and to mend transatlantic relations. According to the Financial Times (March 28), he “met with a barrage of criticism from business leaders”. Not because the European businesses are particularly opposed to the war, but because they are concerned that they will lose out to US companies in the profitable business of post-war reconstruction in Iraq. “George Brodach from ABB, the Swedish industrial group, asked why some US companies were being awarded contracts for reconstruction while Europeans had no opportunity to win them”. Howard Chase from BP and others expressed similar concerns about growing US economic unilateralism.
Apart from popular moral and political outrage in their countries at the illegal invasion of the Iraq, the anti-war position of some of the governments of major powers is also influenced by these underlying economic realities. For decades, Western Europe and Japan have propped up US economic parasitism. In the last decades of the Cold War period, this was seen as a necessary price to pay. However, the Cold War rationale has now disappeared. More and more, Germany, France, Japan (and Russia and China), like the rest of the world, are being asked to forego some of their own economic growth and development to sustain a burgeoning US trade deficit, and to prop up unsustainable US consumption patterns.
Unilateralism isn’t what it used to be
Given the sheer power of the US, is it possible to stop the imperialist juggernaut? We should certainly not underrate the difficulties of mounting a coherent and sustainable challenge. The display of military might in Iraq, the strategy of “shock and awe” is directed not just at the long-suffering Iraqi people, but, in a certain sense, at all of us. It is intended to provoke speechless wonder across the globe, to stun us all into passive resignation. If this is the intention (and it is, indeed, part of the new imperial strategy) then it has not worked. In 2003, unilateralism, no matter how technically and militarily dominant, somehow isn’t what it used to be.
While there is no longer an alternative power bloc in the world system, there are countless challenges to aggressive US unilateralism, more now than just a few years ago.
In the first place, there are the obvious strains between key EU states (Germany and France) and the US, and between these states and their EU partners (the UK, Italy and Spain). NATO’s coherence has been badly dented. Governments supporting the war in the developed North find themselves challenged by a very large domestic groundswell of opposition. The British Labour Party is divided, and Tony Blair’s medium-term future uncertain. Even in the US there has been very wide mobilisation against the war.
Indeed, there are unprecedented levels of popular mobilisation around the world – Japan, Italy, France, the entire Arab world. Relatively vulnerable third world countries (Angola, Cameroon, Mexico, Chile) have stood their diplomatic ground in the face of US blandishments and threats.
For most of the 1990s, the struggle against US-dominated “globalisation” was led by disparate, social movement and NGO “anti-globalisation” forces, and by fundamentalist reaction in parts of the world. Over the last months a much wider “broad front” of global forces has emerged – including many governments, political parties, and social movements. While the unity and likely durability of this “front” should not be overstated, it IS indeed united behind very important basic principles – an opposition to US-imposed international unilateralism, a commitment to global peace, and (in however vague a manner) a call for development.
Another noteworthy reality, acknowledged by many commentators, is the fact that the global electronic media monopoly of CNN, so evident in the 1991 Gulf War, has been broken. Of particular note, has been the emergence of Al Jazeera and several other Arab language electronic media networks. The media coverage of the invasion in our country has generally been admirable, with both e-tv and SABC being prepared to be highly critical of the standard fare of US and British sources. But, in varying degrees, this has been a widespread international feature.
Underpinning all of this, as we have tried to underline above, is the systemic, parasitic and non-sustainable US consumption trajectory.
Continuity and discontinuity
Underrating the discontinuity between the immediate past and the current Bush administration, could lead to a failure to appreciate the medium-term possibilities of weakening and perhaps isolating the most extreme elements currently at the centre of US policy-making. Already there are tensions within the US administration, centred around Donald Rumsfeld and his arrogant and technicist assumptions of a “quick and clean” war. As the disastrous fall-out from the war becomes more apparent, it will become more possible, not least within the US itself, to campaign for a wiser, more multi-lateral approach.
However, underrating the continuity between the Clinton and Bush administrations will lead to a failure to understand the systemic realities underpinning US policy. It can also lead us back into a naïve dream about a benign US-led globalisaiton, with all of the domestic policy choices that flow from this.
The invasion of Iraq and the global fall-out it has provoked underline the relevance of the central principles advanced by the SACP, ANC, COSATU and a range of other forces in the context of the Stop the War campaign – Peace, Multilateralism, Development. Of course, the content of each of these core principles is, itself, of great importance. It cannot, for instance, simply be a question of uncritically going back to existing multi-lateral institutions, without asking transformational questions about them. We must certainly resist the attempt, by the US administration, to marginalize the UN into irrelevance. But, as our government has been arguing since 1994, the UN system, inherited from the post-World War 2, Cold War era, is certainly in need of revamping. Likewise with development, we cannot assume that with “peace restored” in Iraq, somehow the global third world crisis of underdevelopment (which has deepened over the past decade) will benefit from a “resurgent US economy”.
It is against this background that President Mbeki made an important observation on NEPAD. Addressing a gathering of international church groups in late March, he predicted the war in Iraq and post-war reconstruction would push NEPAD down the world agenda. While this would certainly draw away resources that might have gone into NEPAD, “in another sense it may be a good thing that others around the world put Africa on the backburner”, Mbeki said. “We will have to rely on ourselves, our own resources and efforts.”
We agree entirely. The “p” for partnership in the acronym NEPAD has tended to be largely about a partnership between Africa and the developed North. Neo-conservative forces have done their best to turn this partnership into a modern-day version of colonial indirect rule. The role of Africa, and particularly of South Africa, is to ensure “good behaviour”, to boss recalcitrant neighbours, in exchange we will receive “generous” international investment. Obviously, war or no war, we do need investment and technology from the North. It is a question of relative emphasis and strategic calculation. But we certainly need, as President Mbeki is suggesting, to put much greater emphasis on intra-African partnerships. We need also to be using our own, African resources, more purposively.
In this, as in many other respects, the tragedy unfolding in Iraq, may turn out to be a defining moment in which the challenges of a post-Cold War world come to be better appreciated.
American Empire, the Bush administration's strategic policy: as Will and Idea
By Professor Rainer Rilling. Originally published as a Policy Paper by the German-based Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
1. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, Washington September 2002 (NSS), Preface by George W. Bush, p. 1.
Confronting the empire
The present crisis has demonstrated the ambitions of the United States --nothing short of bringing the entire planet under its military control, writes Samir Amin
From the 1980s on, and with the collapse of the Soviet system, the ruling class in the United States, whether Democrat or Republican, began drawing up a hegemonic programme. Carried away by its military power, and without any competitor able to temper its fantasies, the US chose to reinforce its domination by deploying a military strategy aiming at "planetary control". An early series of interventions -- in the Gulf, Yugoslavia, Central Asia, Palestine and Iraq -- began this plan for endless wars that would be "made in the USA" and that would be planned and decided unilaterally by Washington.
The political strategy that accompanied this programme set up the pretexts for it, whether these had to do with terrorism, with the fight against drug trafficking, or with accusations of producing weapons of mass destruction. These are obvious pretexts when one recalls the CIA's invention of convenient terrorist adversaries, whether the Taliban or Bin Laden. Accusations of producing dangerous weapons, made today against Iraq and North Korea, but tomorrow against any convenient state, pale besides the actual use of these weapons by the United States. The US used nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and chemical weapons in Vietnam, and it is threatening the further use of nuclear weapons in future conflicts. Such pretexts are only propaganda tools, in the sense that Goebbels gave that term: they are useful perhaps to convince slow-witted US opinion but less and less credible elsewhere.
The idea of "preventive war", now claimed as a "right" by Washington, does away with any notion of international law. The United Nations Charter forbids the recourse to war except in cases of legitimate self-defence, and it allows military intervention only under strict conditions, any response having to be measured and provisional. All specialists in international law know that the wars undertaken since 1990 have been completely illegitimate, and therefore those who bear the responsibility for them are also war criminals. Indeed, the United States, with the cooperation of other countries, is already treating the United Nations as the fascist states treated the League of Nations.
The abolition of the common rights of all peoples, already underway, has substituted the distinction between a "Master Race" (Herrenvolk) -- the people of the United States, and, behind them, those of Israel -- and other peoples for the previous principle of the equality of peoples. The existence of those peoples that do not belong to the US Master Race can only be tolerated if they do not constitute a "threat" to the ambitions of those calling themselves the "masters of the planet". This Master Race reserves the right to conquer whatever "living space" it judges necessary for itself and for those peoples it supports.
What are the "national interests" that the US ruling class considers as giving it this right?
This is a class that recognises only one objective -- that of making money. The North American state is openly at the service of satisfying the demands of the dominant segment of capital made up of US multinationals.
We, therefore, have all become "Red Skins", the contemptuous name reserved for the Native Americans, in the eyes of the Washington establishment -- that is to say, peoples who have the right to exist only in so far as they do not frustrate the expansion of US-based multinational capital. We have been promised that resistance to the US will be crushed using any and every means, even extermination if necessary. If it is a question of making an additional 15 million dollars in profit for the American multinationals at the expense of 300 million victims, then there will be no hesitation. The "rogue state" par excellence, to borrow the language used by Presidents Bush Senior and Junior, as well as by Clinton, is none other than the United States itself.
The US programme is certainly imperialist in the most brutal sense of that word, but it is not "imperial" in the sense that Antonio Negri has given the term, since it does not aim to manage the societies of the planet in order better to integrate them into a coherent capitalist system. Instead, it aims only at looting their resources. All this is part and parcel of the reduction of social thought to the mantras of vulgar economics, the unilateral attention paid to maximising the financial profitability of dominant capital in the short term, supported by putting military means at the disposition of this capital, and the delinking of this capital from any system of human values. Such capital is behind the barbaric expansionism capitalism carries within itself, substituting an absolute demand of submission to the so-called laws of the market for human values.
Throughout its history, North American capitalism has shown itself to be readier than European varieties to take such steps. Politically, the American state is designed to serve the economy and nothing else, abolishing the contradictory and dialectical relationship between economy and politics. The genocide carried out against the North American Indians, the enslavement of the blacks, the successive waves of immigration into the US leading to the substitution of confrontation between groups sharing the same communal identity, as manipulated by the ruling class, for the maturation of class consciousness, have produced the political management of US society by the single party of capital. Both segments of this party share the same strategic global vision, though addressing their rhetoric to different "constituencies", themselves drawn from the less than half of US society that believes sufficiently in the system to bother going out to vote.
Not benefiting from the tradition by which the social democratic workers parties and the communists marked the formation of modern European political culture, American society does not have the ideological instruments at its disposal to allow it to resist the dictatorship of capital. On the contrary, capital shapes every aspect of this society's way of thinking, and reproduces itself by reinforcing the kind of deep-seated racism that allows US society to see itself as constituting a Master Race. "Playboy Clinton, Cowboy Bush same policy": this slogan from India rightly emphasises the nature of the single party that manages the so-called American democracy.
For this reason, the North American programme is not the kind of simple attempt to attain hegemony familiar from other hegemonic attempts in ancient and modern history, involving a vision of problems having coherent answers, whether based on economic exploitation or political inequality. Instead, it is infinitely more brutal in its simple and extreme unilateral conception, and it is close to the Nazi programme, which was also based on the principle of a Master Race. The US programme has nothing whatsoever to do with the beliefs of certain American liberal academics, who see US hegemony as "benign" ("painless").
If it should continue, this programme can only lead to growing chaos, which will call for successively more and more brutal management, with no strategic long-term vision. Finally, Washington will not even attempt to support its real allies, something which always means knowing how to make concessions. Fake governments, like that of Karzai in Afghanistan, will manage things better as long as military power supports a belief in the "invincibility" of the US. Hitler did not think any differently.
An examination of the connections between the US's criminal programme and the realities of dominant capitalism made up of the countries of the Triad (the United States, Europe and Japan) will allow the strengths and weaknesses of it to be understood.
General opinion, as promoted by the unreflective media, has it that US military power only constitutes the tip of the iceberg, and that it is the extension of American superiority in all areas, notably economic, but even political and cultural. Therefore, such opinion believes, submission to the hegemony that America pretends to is inevitable.
However, an examination of economic realities undermines this view. The US production system is far from being "the most efficient in the world". On the contrary, almost none of its sectors would be certain of beating competitors in the truly free market dreamt of by liberal economists. The US trade deficit, which increases year by year, went from 100 billion dollars in 1989 to 450 billion in 2000. Moreover, this deficit involved practically all areas of production: even the surplus once enjoyed by the US in the area of high-technology goods, which stood at 35 billion in 1990, has now turned into a deficit.
Competition between Ariane rockets and those of NASA, as well as between Airbus and Boeing, testifies to the vulnerability of present American advantages. Faced by European and Japanese competition in high-technology products, and by Chinese, Korean and other Asian and Latin American industrialised countries in competition for manufactured products, as well as by Europe and the southern cone of Latin America in agriculture, the United States probably would not be able to win were it not for the recourse to "extra-economic" means, violating the principles of liberalism imposed on its competitors.
In fact, the US only benefits from comparative advantages in the armaments sector, precisely because this sector largely operates outside the rules of the market and benefits from state support. This probably brings certain benefits for the civil sphere in its wake, the Internet being the best-known example, but it also causes serious distortions that handicap many production sectors. The North American economy lives parasitically to the detriment of its partners in the world system: "the United States depends for 10 per cent of its industrial consumption on goods whose import costs are not covered by the exports of its own products" (Emmanuel Todd, After Empire).
The economic growth of the Clinton years, vaunted as the result of a "liberalism" that Europe was unfortunately resisting, was in fact largely fake, and it was, in any case, non-generalisable, depending on capital transfers that meant the stagnation of partner economies. For all sectors of the real production system, US growth during this period was not better than that of Europe. The "American miracle" was fed exclusively by a growth in expenditure produced by growing social inequalities (financial and personal services: the legions of lawyers and private police forces, etc). In this sense, Clinton's liberalism prepared the conditions for the reactionary wave, and later victory, of Bush Jr. Moreover, as Todd writes, "blown up by fraud, American GNP begins to resemble, in terms of statistical accuracy, that of the Soviet Union".
The world produces, and the United States, which has practically no funds in reserve, consumes. The "advantage" of the US is that of a predator whose deficit is covered by loans from others, whether consenting or forced. The means put in place by Washington to compensate for deficiencies are of various kinds, including repeated unilateral violations of liberal principles, arms exports (60 per cent of the world market) largely imposed on subaltern allies, such as the Gulf countries that never use these weapons, search for greater profits from oil, which presupposes greater control over the producers -- the real reason for the wars in Central Asia and Iraq. Additionally, through the direct exclusive control of the US over major oil producing areas, Washington would succeed in its plan to subordinate Europe. Europeans start understanding that these wars are “anti-european”.
The essential part of the American deficit is covered by contributions of capital from Europe, Japan and the South -- from oil-rich countries and comprador classes of every country of the Third World, the poorest included -- to which are added the additional sums brought in from servicing the debt that has been forced on practically all the countries on the periphery of the world system. The reasons behind the continuing capital movements that feed the parasitism of American economy and society, and that allow this superpower to live from day to day, are certainly complex. But they have nothing to do with supposed "laws of the market" that are at once rational and unchangeable.
The solidarity between the dominant segments of transnational capital and the members of the Triad is real, and it explains their rallying to globalised neo-liberalism. The United States is seen as the defender, military if necessary, of "common interests", though Washington hardly intends to "share fairly" the profits of its leadership. On the contrary, it seeks to make its allies into vassals, and is only ready to make minor concessions to junior allies in the Triad. Will this conflict of interests within dominant capital lead to the break-up of the Atlantic alliance? Not impossible, but unlikely.
For the real conflict is situated on a different terrain, that of political culture. In Europe, a left alternative is still possible that would force a break with neo-liberalism, and with the vain hope of forcing the US to submit to its principles, thus allowing European capital to go into battle on terrain that has not been mined in advance. The capital surplus that Europe has until now been happy "to invest" in the US could then be used to finance economic and social take-off, which would be impossible without using at home this capital surplus. However, were Europe to give priority to its own economic and social growth in this way, the artificial health of the US economy would collapse, and the American ruling class would be confronted by its own social problems. That is what I mean by saying that "Europe will either be on the left or it will not be at all."
To get there, however, the illusion that the liberal card should, or could, be played "honestly" by all and then things would get better must be dispensed with. The US cannot give up the asymmetric practice of liberalism, since this is the only way that it can compensate for its deficiencies. American "prosperity" comes at the price of others' stagnation.
Why, therefore, do capital flows to the US's benefit continue? Probably because for many the US is "a country for the rich" and the safest refuge for them: this is the case for investments made by the comprador bourgeoisie of the Third World. But what explains European attitudes? The "liberal virus", together with a naïve belief that the US will end up accepting "market rules", has a certain power over public opinion. Yet, the principle of the "free circulation of capital", made sacred by the IMF, in fact simply enables the US to cover its deficit by pumping in financial surpluses generated elsewhere as a result of neo-liberal policies, to which the US itself only very selectively submits. However, for dominant capital the advantages of the system overcome its inconveniences: this is the price that it must pay to Washington in order to ensure the permanence of the system.
Countries described as "indebted poor countries" are forced to pay, but there is one "indebted powerful country" that will never pay its debts. The real price imposed by US political bargaining continues to be fragile for this reason. The militarist programme chosen by the US establishment should be seen in this perspective, being nothing other than an admission that the US has no other means at its disposal to impose its economic hegemony.
The causes of the weakening of the US production system are complex. They are certainly not conjunctural, and they cannot be corrected by the adoption of a correct rate of exchange, for example, or by putting in place a more favourable balance between salaries and productivity. On the contrary, they are structural. The poor quality of general education and training in the US, the product of a deep-rooted prejudice in favour of the "private" to the detriment of the public sector, is one of the main reasons for the profound crisis that US society is currently going through.
One should, therefore, be surprised that the Europeans, far from drawing the conclusions that observation of the deficiencies of the US economy forces upon one, are actively going about imitating it. Here, too, the liberal virus does not explain everything, even if it fulfills some useful functions for the system in paralysing the left. Widespread privatisation and the dismantling of public services will only reduce the comparative advantages that "Old Europe" still benefits from. However, whatever damage these things will cause in the long term, such measures offer dominant capital, which lives in the short term, the chance of making additional profits.
The militarist programme adopted by the United States now threatens all peoples. It is the expression of the logic adopted by Adolf Hitler -- to change social and economic relations by military force in favour of the "Master Race" of the day. This programme, now filling the foreground, over-determines all political circumstances, since the pursuit of such a programme weakens advances obtainable through social and democratic struggle. Moreover this programme aims at making impossible – through “preventive wars” – any other power (China in particular) upgrading and becoming a “competitor”, i.e. an equal partners. Halting the US militarist programme becomes, therefore, a major aim and responsibility for all.
Success in this struggle will depend on the capacity of people everywhere to rid themselves of liberal illusions, since there will never be an "authentically liberal" globalised economy. This is the case despite all the means used to make us believe in it: though World Bank discourse operates as a sort of Ministry of Propaganda for Washington concerning "democracy", "good governance" or the "reduction of poverty", it has no other function than that. Joseph Stiglitz, around whom considerable media noise was organised, discovering some elementary truths and asserting them with an air of authority, was nevertheless unable to draw the least conclusion calling the prejudices of vulgar economics into question.
The reconstruction of a Southern Front capable of giving the peoples of Asia and Africa, together with their solidarity across three continents, the capacity to make their voices heard will also come about by liberating ourselves from the illusions of a "non-asymmetric" globalised liberal system that will allow the nations of the Third World to make up their "backwardness". Is it not ridiculous to watch the countries of the South insist upon "putting liberal principles into practice without discrimination", thus gaining the applause of the World Bank? Since when was the World Bank concerned to defend the Third World against the United States?
The combat against the US’s imperialist aggressive project has to develop on all grounds : diplomatic (forcing the respect of international law), military (reinforcing the military capacities of all countries in the world to resist eventual US aggression – never forget that the USA did use the nuclear bomb when it enjoyed that monopoly and refrained only when they lost it), political and economic (putting an end to exporting capital to support the US deficit).
The combat against US imperialism and against the US militarist programme is a combat shared by all peoples, from its major victims in Asia, Africa and Latin America, to the peoples of Europe and the Japan who are condemned to subordinate positions, and also to the people of North America themselves. We should salute the courage of all those "in the belly of the beast" who have refused to submit, as their predecessors refused to submit to the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Like those who dared to resist Hitler, they have merited all the praise that history can heap upon them.
Will the dominant class in the United States be able to step back from the criminal programme behind which it has rallied? This is not an easy question to answer: little, or nothing, in the history of US society prepares it for it. The single party of capital, whose power in the US is not contested, has thus far not given up on military adventure, and therefore the responsibility of this class as a whole cannot be downplayed. The power of Bush Jr. is not that of a "clique" made up of the armaments and oil producers. In the entire modern history of the United States the dominant power has always been that of a coalition of the sectoral interests of capital, falsely described as "lobbies". However, this coalition can only govern if other segments of capital accept it. Clearly, political, diplomatic and even military setbacks could encourage the minority in the US establishment ready to renounce the military adventures the country is engaged in to do so. To hope for more than this seems to me to be as naïve as to have hoped, at the height of the Nazi regime, Adolf Hitler being convinced that his plans were bound to fail.
If the Europeans had reacted in 1935 or 1937, they could have stopped the Hitler regime. By reacting only in September 1939, tens of millions lost their lives. Let us act together in the hope that a response to the challenges posed by the present Washington neo-Nazis will come earlier.
The Political and Organisational Tasks of the SACP: Political Report to the 3rd Central Committee of 11th Congress
(This is a slightly abbreviated version of the Secretariat Political Report to the Central Committee meeting of 7-9th February 2003)
Reflections on the contemporary significance, relevance and meaning of Joe Slovo’s 1988 pamphlet “The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution”
Joe Slovo opens this famous 1988 pamphlet with the following important paragraphs:
In making some reflections on this pamphlet we might as well paraphrase Slovo, because his observations still ring so true for today. In the current phase we can say that the increased tempo of transformation over the last few years has stimulated a great deal of theoretical debate and political discussion among those in the very frontline of the upsurge. These discussions keep coming back to certain fundamentals - class, national and gender struggles; the character of our tripartite alliance given the democratic breakthrough of 1994; and the path to socialism. Many of these debates, as Slovo correctly observed about the situation then, are between people who share common starting points, though of course these debates are now not only among those who share the goal of a socialist South Africa. In some instances these debates today might increasingly be a reflection of a debate between and within those who share the goal of socialism, with those who either no longer share this vision or are doubtful of the viability of socialism in the foreseeable future.
Unity in action and debate, two sides of the same coin
What is significant throughout Slovo’s own contributions to strategic debates within our movement is that he took these as part of the very necessary process of elaborating our own theory, strategy and tactics, rather than as an opportunity to label and denounce one’s opponents or detractors. Internal debate is not to be treated as deviation from our positions but a strength that will enhance the refinement and implementation of our strategy and tactics. Internal debate, both quantitatively and qualitatively, has declined inside our movement and within the broad democratic camp. As a result, bourgeois media agendas have had a disproportionate influence on our debates.
The national and class questions in the national democratic revolution
Slovo’s 1988 pamphlet is the most brilliant elucidation of the interconnectedness between the national and class questions. It is the dialectical Slovo at his best. It is an elucidation evoked by the ideological and organisational offensive of ‘workerism’ in the 1980s around the ‘primacy’ of the class question in the South African revolution, at the expense of the national question.
It is in the distinctiveness of the national and class struggles that Slovo highlights the deep interconnectedness between the two. Whilst the two cannot be collapsed into each other, given the deep interconnectedness between national oppression and capitalism in our country, the two cannot also be separated. For instance, whilst the black working class is distinct from the black middle class and the aspirant black bourgeoisie, their common oppression forced them to unite to fight against racist tyranny. At the same time, whilst they were (and still are) united against the legacy of racism, their longer-term class interests are not the same. It is this analysis and contemporary articulation between the national and class questions that runs the danger of being lost in our current debates. The ultra-left will tend to emphasise the class question at the expense of the reality (or the legacy) of national oppression, whilst the right-wing opportunistic tendency will tend to emphasise the national question at the expense of the class realities among the formerly oppressed.
The different approaches and debates around black economic empowerment sharply express this reality. On the one hand, there is a deliberate conflation of broad-based empowerment directed at eradicating poverty amongst the majority of our people and the empowerment of a small black elite. Put another way there are two conceptions of black economic empowerment, what some have called ‘BEEE’ (black elite economic empowerment) and ‘BEE’ (broad-based empowerment of the majority of our people). The two are potentially in conflict with each other, though they need not necessarily be so. Given the economic and political muscle of the petty bourgeoisie and emergent black bourgeoisie there is a strong push to equate BEE with BEEE!
What the above also captures is the fact that the relationship between the national and class struggles is not fixed but is contingent on particular historical conditions and the balance of forces at each particular stage of our struggle. Whilst under apartheid the national question was an overwhelmingly dominant reality, in the current period, whilst it remains a dominant reality, the class question has come to the fore much more forcefully. This is a reflection of the fact that, while with the democratic breakthrough of 1994 there has been significant progress towards consolidating the hold of the liberation movement over political power and towards political democratisation of society, economic class power still remains essentially in the hands of the same forces as under apartheid. How to deal with this reality has sharpened the debates within the alliance.
There has been a tendency of placing more emphasis on changing the racial ownership of the economy at the expense of addressing redistributive economic measures. When comrades raise concerns about growing intra-racial inequality (for instance, growing inequality among blacks), others within our movement become impatient, as if concern at intra-racial inequality were a defence of wealth remaining in white hands. This impatience expresses itself by emphasising the importance of narrowing inter-racial inequalities, almost irrespective of the growing inter-class and intra-racial inequalities. To what extent does the state and its policies objectively reflect a bias towards a particular kind of black economic empowerment? Is it towards BEEE or BEE?
It is in the context of these debates and realities that Slovo’s 1988 pamphlet is even more relevant today. Slovo is critical of ‘workerism’ for its dismissal of the national question as a diversion from the class struggle. “Even if (workerism) admits the relevance of national domination in the exploitative processes, ‘workerism’ insists on a perspective of an immediate struggle for socialism”. However Slovo is even more scathing of those “views which tend to erect a Chinese wall between the struggle for national liberation and social emancipation. Our struggle is seen (by this tendency) as ‘bourgeois democratic’ in character so that the immediate agenda should not go beyond the objective of a kind of ‘de-raced capitalism’”.
In the midst of the overwhelming dominance of global capitalism and the strength of neo-liberal ideology, Slovo’s 1998 pamphlet is a refreshing reminder of what he called a proper understanding of the national content of the class struggle, and the class content of the national struggle. Emphasising one over the other is likely to lead to serious strategic and tactical mistakes. It is this conceptualisation of our revolution that will ensure that we are correctly anchored and best capable to carry forward our revolution in the interests of the workers and the poor. Is the current path of the national democratic revolution more preoccupied with (or objectively forced to focus on) the national question at the expense of the class question?
The Tripartite Alliance and independent working class organisation
There is growing evidence of a significant divergence within the Alliance on the understanding of how the Alliance and each of its components should function in the current period. This fundamentally relates to the related question of the extent of independence and interdependence of the different alliance components.
One very significant reminder in Slovo’s pamphlet about the Alliance is that this Alliance is not merely about three organisations coming together to fight a common struggle, but that it is actually, and fundamentally, an inter-class alliance. In many instances, placing the primacy of this front on the organisations that constitute it loses the ‘class character’ of the alliance. Whilst the organisations as such are very important, we should not lose sight of the fact that the alliance is an inter-class alliance, bringing together different class forces on the basis of a common, ‘minimum’ programme. Why is it important to highlight this?
Slovo captures something very critical when he writes:
How valid is this characterisation of an alliance in our conditions?
What Slovo was highlighting here is the fact that there is no contradiction between working class independence and alliances with other class forces. This is important in the light of a tendency within our party to equate independence with oppositionism. As Lenin would have consistently reminded us, it is only an independent working class that is capable of entering into and leading alliances. It is precisely a non-independent working class that is likely to be submerged within alliances. Again this is contrary to a problematic tendency within our party and movement which sometimes tends to regard independent working class organisation as inherently being in competition with the ANC. Perhaps the fundamental question that we all need to answer is whether the manner in which the alliance is currently structured is in line with the challenges of the period? Or are we faced with an outmoded alliance structure, not in line with the challenges and the roles to be played by each of the components?
This highlights one of the critical dilemmas that has always faced the SACP in its entire history in alliance with the ANC. If entering into an alliance requires, on the part of the working class and its organisations, both independence and compromise, what should be the balance between the two at different stages of the revolution? This is, of course, a question that cannot be answered mechanically, but it is about the tactics of the Party at different points in time. This is one of the most perennial challenges that have faced the SACP almost throughout its 82-year history. For instance, when the SACP constituted itself underground in 1953, after being banned by the apartheid regime in 1950, it never announced it reconstitution until after the banning of the ANC in 1960. This was because of the fact that, amongst other reasons, it did not want to upset relations with the then legal ANC by appearing to be an underground cabal “infiltrating” the legal, mass ANC and other formations. Again, it took the SACP a long time to rebuild its structures in exile – at least until the late 1960s. This was because of a concern that rebuilding the SACP might compromise the leading role of the ANC and create dual loyalties at a time when a single organisational focus was required to rebuild the liberation movement and fight the apartheid regime. It was interesting that during the latter period it was Slovo, amongst others, who, despite his intense loyalty to the ANC embarked on a patient struggle to convince the ANC leadership in exile of the necessity to rebuild Party structures underground. In this way he was carrying out his own belief that an independent Party was not a threat to the leading role of the ANC, but at the same time knowing that a South Africa without an independent SACP would not advance towards the defeat of the apartheid regime.
A similar challenge arose when both organisations had to rebuild themselves and reconnect with their constituencies after legalisation in 1990. This is an issue we never adequately debated. It can be argued that throughout the period of illegality the SACP sought to correctly project the ANC as the leading political force and the first line of contact with the mass of our people through underground activity and public projection. But the unintended consequences of this otherwise correct line were that the SACP did not develop, in the underground, extensive links with its own class constituency. Came 1990, the SACP had to rebuild its direct and independent link with its own class base, a task that also threw up the debate of whether we were rebuilding a mass or vanguard party. But it also raised the question of how should this be done without by any means compromising the leadership position of the NDR by the ANC. Could this be one reason why the question of the role of the Party and its conception of a path to socialism is constantly raised?
The second reason why it is important to highlight and surface the inter-class character of alliances is so that we can be able at all times to analyse, consciously, the changing class composition and orientation of the class forces within an alliance. An exclusive emphasis on the organisational composition of the alliance, without focusing on its class foundations, tends to freeze the alliance into its historical forms of interaction, without adequate attention being paid to the implications of changing class realities in our society for the Alliance and its strategic objectives.
A question that requires our honest and frank reflection is to what extent is there a change of attitude of our class allies (the petit bourgeoisie and emergent black bourgeois stratum) towards the working class and its leadership of the NDR? What are the implications for the alliance of current class formation and stratification underway in our country? What are the implications of class stratification within the working class itself for its capacity to be the leading motive force of the NDR? The significance of Slovo’s 1988 pamphlet is that, whilst the alliance cannot be understood outside of its organisational components, its nature goes beyond organisations and is an expression of different class interests brought together by a common, albeit, intermediate, political objective. It was for these reasons that Slovo gave very close attention to the class allies of the working class in the national democratic revolution.
The Black Middle Strata and the Emerging Black Bourgeoisie
Slovo, in line with our Party’s history, strategy and tactics, deeply understood the need for the working class in South Africa to forge alliances with all other classes from within the nationally oppressed. But he understood this simultaneously as he understood the need to understand the true nature of the class forces with which the working class enters into an alliance at every stage of our revolution.
Whilst he strongly argued for an alliance with the black middle, petit bourgeois and bourgeois elements, he at the same time never shied away from serious analyses of the potential dangers involved in this.
But he further argued that if the working class were to reject all alliances and go it alone it “would in fact be surrendering the leadership of the national struggle to the upper and middle strata”. This has been, continues to be, and will be one of the key challenges facing the working class in the national democratic revolution, and even in the struggle for socialism itself. The ultra-left tendency would simply run away from this reality by breaking away from such alliances and satisfy itself with the working class leading only itself. Whilst the right wing tendency within the Party would enter into such alliances without a proper grasp and analysis of the nature of our allies and the dangers inherent in that. The key challenge still remains that of an independent class party entering into alliances, but at the same time leading such alliances, precisely because of its independence and understanding of the true nature of its allies.
An example here may be made about how we, as the ANC, characterised our entering into co-operation with the IFP. Instead of characterising the IFP for what it was there was a temptation to say our co-operation was natural because we share the same constituency. It was as if sharing the same constituency in itself unproblematically translates into co-operation, thus underplaying an analysis of the true character of the IFP – as a narrow Zulu nationalist movement, catering in the main for the interests of the petty and bureaucratic bourgeoisie. Similarly, there was a similar temptation to justify co-operation with the NNP as necessitated by the fact that they were, “patriots committed to a united South Africa” and sharing the same vision with us. In this regard. Slovo’s works are an important reminder that we should never transform tactical choices into strategic commitments!
Socialism is the future, build it now!
Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, one can point to a number of weaknesses in this pamphlet, including the absence of a discussion on the gender content of the NDR. Another weakness is the fact that it never really discussed the global factor in all its arguments, a matter that Slovo later tried to deal with in “Has socialism failed?”. However Slovo was very insistent about the leadership role of the working class in the national democratic revolution, without at the same time compromising the leading role of the ANC. He insisted that:
Not only is Slovo emphasising the leading role of the working class in the NDR, but embodied throughout this 1988 pamphlet, is emphasis on a dialectical, rather than simply stageist conception of the relationship between the NDR and socialism. That socialist organisation and consciousness is an indispensable component in deepening the NDR, also in order to ensure that the NDR does indeed become the shortest and most direct route to socialism. It is this dialectical connection that we believe our programmatic slogan, “socialism is the future, build it now” is trying to capture.
We hope that this seminar will contribute towards fostering and nurturing intra-party and intra-alliance debates so necessary at this juncture of our revolution. But it is a debate we should seek to foster not only within the alliance, but also with the broader South African public, as part of building the hegemony of democratic forces.
The courage to search for the new
[Personal Reflections on “No Middle Road”, by Joel Netshitenzhe]
I should start off by indicating what a struggle it was to access Joe Slovo’s “No Middle Road” even from Party Headquarters. Perhaps this raises the challenge of preserving our culture in the broad sense as a liberation movement. It should be a matter of course that a pamphlet as historic and as instructive as “No Middle Road” (NMR) should enjoy pride of place on our library shelves, and it should be available in more than just one copy.
This presentation will seek to locate NMR within the broader context of the evolution of JS’ thoughts and their articulation during decisive moments of the struggle. The work was one such seminal contribution at a critical stage.
Firstly, it was published in the mid-1970s after the 1969 ANC Morogoro Conference. In many respects, it served as an elaboration of the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics document adopted in Morogoro, and further sought to relate the strategy and tactics of the NDR to the Party’s socialist objectives. In some instances NMR uses direct quotes from the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document without acknowledgement.
On the surface, this may appear to be plagiarism. But, for historical record, one can only assume that JS formed part of the team – which would have included such eminent leaders as then President OR Tambo and Joe Matthews who became Secretary of the Revolutionary Council after Morogoro – which drafted the ANC Strategy and Tactics document: thus the direct two-way osmosis between elements of the ANC Strategy and Tactics document and NMR.
Secondly, the book was published during a period when the National Liberation Movement in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia was showing an encouraging resurgence – characterised in Mozambique, Angola, Vietnam and other countries by a socialist bias. This was also a period in which the Socialist World was asserting itself impressively on the global stage.
Thirdly, within South Africa, stirrings of revolt were starting to manifest themselves for the first time since the setback of the early 1960s. Critically, such mass action was led by the working class as shown by the strikes around Durban; and the youth, particularly in the universities, were starting defiantly to organise and mobilise.
Lastly, at the level of the tactics of armed struggle, NMR came out in a period of continuing debate around the implications of the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns, when MK fought alongside ZIPRA in the then Rhodesia, en route to SA. As reflected in the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document, this experience had put into question earlier approaches to armed struggle, some of which were akin to the guerrilla foco approach, where armed combatants would create liberated zones in rural areas.
Given these conditions, there are many lessons that can be drawn from NMR, both in the context of “timeless” broad theses – which can apply under virtually all conditions – as well as strategic and tactical responses to objective conditions as they evolved.
MAIN PROPOSITIONS ON ARMED STRUGGLE
The first of these is about the tactics of armed struggle: the role of armed action in the broader array of weapons of struggle, the role that urban areas could play in this, and the relationship between armed actions and mass organisation and struggles.
NMR raises many interesting questions in this regard. But my own assessment is that it suffered from a weakness that armed struggle – and classical guerrilla warfare specifically – was seen as the central catalyst and main form of struggle. This is in contrast to what later emerged as a tactical shift, that while armed actions could be critical in reinforcing popular self-confidence and harming apartheid’s infrastructure, armed struggle per se would primarily rely on “the people in political motion”. The latter approach started to surface with the discussions within the Revolutionary Council on the so-called “Green Book” on the ANC’s tactical approaches in the late 1970s.
NMR also seeks to explain the historical background as to why armed struggle became necessary and the conditions that justified this approach in 1960/61. The book goes into detail on the central argument behind the adoption of armed struggle, and summarises the pre-conditions as follows:
The central argument here is the attitude and mood of the masses and a leadership capable of giving guidance, organising and carrying out armed actions. JS argues cogently that this is different from prerequisites for armed insurrection which would require stricter objective conditions and subjective factors.
However, a weakness in this regard, is that it did not sufficiently canvass the question whether even for the launch of armed actions there should be specific objective conditions considered, important not in themselves, but in relation to the question whether once launched, such armed struggle could be sustained. Incidentally, after a discussion that our group had at the Moscow Institute of Social Sciences (Party School) in the early 1980s on this issue, I (known then as MM) was requested to summarise the discussion and we sent our paper to Party HQ. When JS came to visit us a few months later, he wanted to find out: who is this MM! And he indicated that he agreed with our critique.
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION AND SOCIALISM
The central and most relevant theses in No Middle Road relate to the character of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and how this can create the foundation for uninterrupted advance to socialism. This section of the book is most incisive, and I believe profoundly correct given the balance of forces then, globally and in relation to the South African liberation movement.
In fact, what was not often said then, which was shared by many cadres, was that there was a possibility in SA for a short and sharp transition from the NDR to a Socialist Revolution. Alternatively, the ANC could go the route of Cuba’s July 26 Movement, which within a few years was transformed into a socialist organisation. JS articulates this view in a gripping manner: how a radical NDR can lay the basis for a workers’ political (socialist) revolution; and how this workers’ political revolution could at the same time continue addressing the national question.
Referring in part to an article in the 1963 First Quarter edition of the AC, JS argues:
One should say that this kind of thinking also informed debates within the liberation movement on whether the ANC should consider transforming itself into a Marxist-Leninist Party, a la FRELIMO in Mozambique and the MPLA in Angola. This is not the subject of today’s discussion, but for many reasons that have been stated in other fora, the answer to this question was a resounding, No!
What is of interest to our discussion, and to the SACP in particular under current conditions, are the arguments on the possibility of a quick succession to socialism after the attainment of power in the NDR. JS posits this possibility as inherently applicable to SA on account of the level of development of productive forces, the organisation and experience of the working class, the existence of a workers’ vanguard, the SACP, and so on.
The weakness in this thesis lies in the fact that, while it correctly identifies the objective and subjective issues within SA, it underplays the critical importance of the global balance of forces. Lenin and the World Communist Movement as a whole raised this issue in the early half of the past century when they came up with the possibility of a “non-capitalist” or “socialist-oriented” road of development on the part of national liberation struggles: that this phenomenon was made possible by the existence and assistance of the Socialist World.
The Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document strikes this balance between inherently South African conditions and the global situation quite well:
In relation to the above, NMR is also quite incisive in its approach to the issue of the relationship between the national and class questions in the NDR. It brooks no doubts on the immediacy of the national grievance as the critical driving force of the struggle for national liberation. This is even more clearly captured in JS’s reference to the role and place of the black middle strata:
But he poses a question that was then mostly academic, but which today assumes profound currency. If the working class is the leader of the NDR, would this be for all time and can it be assumed? His answer to this question reflects the concrete reality of that period:
Is this still applicable today – makes you think, doesn’t it?
BUILD SOCIALISM NOW?
The other critical question relevant to current debates within the Tripartite Alliance is whether you can “build socialism now”, or to be more specific and scientific, whether you can create socialist relations of production within the womb of capitalism.
This is important from the point of view of Marxist-Leninist social science, in its approach to socio-economic formations and how socialism and communism differ from all other previous formations: the fact that in each of the previous formations, production relations for new formations emerged within the previous one, and that none of these relations required, as a rule, to be consciously constructed by the emergent ruling class.
With a Socialist Revolution, Marx, Engels and Lenin argued, the first and most important act is the attainment of political power by the working class, on which basis it then constitutes itself into a ruling class by socialising the means of production. JS explains this in the following manner in NMR:
This is reiterated in the “The Path to Power”, the programme of the Party adopted in 1989 at the Seventh Congress:
This approach seems to have now been jettisoned by the Party; and, for a fundamental shift of this nature I would argue, without sufficient discussion at least among the broad left forces in the liberation movement as a whole.
THE MAIN WORKS IN CONTEXT
NMR should therefore stand out as one of the seminal works in revolutionary theory, at least in our conditions. Even the critique one has proffered on one or two issues derives from the fact that JS taught us to enquire and, unlike many, he was one of the most brutal in continually assessing and re-assessing his own ideas.
JS’ revolutionary and theoretical acumen stands out in his works and his life. One of his best qualities was the ability to discern a moment of revolutionary breakthrough and offer cogent theoretical and ideological arguments for qualitative movement forward. Yet at the same time, he would have been the first to admit that, at times, in our enthusiasm for the new, we might leave gaps in our arguments – even if we otherwise came to the right conclusions.
He was also able to use his authority and popularity within the liberation movement to bring to the fore correct, objective and sometimes unpopular insights and proposals.
In this respect, seminal among JS’ works are “Path to Power”, the 1989 programme of the Party, in the drafting of which he was the leader of the Central Committee Task Team; “Has Socialism Failed”, which introduced the beginnings of refining the definition of socialism in the current age; “Role of the Working Class in the NDR”, which dealt with both the issues of “workerism” and “ultra-leftism” and the challenge of building a vanguard workers’ party in a massive way under the NDR. And on the latter, the Party today is still faced with the challenge of how to address the balance between building a mass party which at the same time should be a vanguard of the working class!
However, a review of JS’ works would be incomplete if we did not examine his thinking at the point of the breakthrough of the early 1990s. JS’s courage to seize the moment and his decisive contribution to the trajectory of the NDR post-1994 is reflected in his synthesis of ideas that were quietly floating within the ANC into an article, “Negotiations: what room for compromise?” This was later improved and distilled into the ANC’s famous (or is it notorious), “Strategic Perspectives” document, which guided the movement’s negotiation tactics in the build-up to 1994. Some of the observations he made in that article are as relevant today as they were then.
He castigates approaches that are made on the hoof: “Some of our responses [to the challenge of negotiations] have been too ad hoc and have sometimes been influenced by a passing mood and a passion generated by an event or a particularly outrageous pronouncement by the other side”.
He candidly answers the question (why negotiations?) thus: “…because towards the end of the 80s we concluded that, as result of its escalating crisis, the apartheid power bloc was no longer able to continue ruling in the old way and was genuinely seeking some break with the past. At the same time, we were clearly not dealing with a defeated enemy and an early revolutionary seizure of power by the liberation movement could not be realistically posed”.
And what about the outcome of such negotiations? JS asserts: “…[the process of negotiations] holds out the possibility of bringing about a radically transformed political framework in which the struggle for the achievement of the main objectives of the national democratic revolution will be contested in conditions far more favourable to the liberation forces than they are now”.
As such, JS argues, “the immediate outcome of the negotiating process will inevitably be less than perfect when measured against our long-term liberation objectives”; and the compromises we make must not “permanently block a future advance to non-racial democratic rule in its full connotation”. As such, we needed to “weigh up the package as a whole and not get bogged down in its individual elements”. He then differentiates between quantitative (more form than substance) and qualitative (substantive) compromises, argues for the former and against the latter, with the proviso that, under certain conditions, qualitative compromises could be made if they helped take us onto a new trajectory in terms of advancing the struggle.
In this article JS also raises an issue about mandates to the negotiators: how flexible these should be and what issues should be considered non-negotiable. This is in many respects relevant to the question of the kind of guidance that political structures should give to those who are deployed in various institutions including government – the difference between agreement on what broad strategic things need to be done, and the detail of how they should be done. He says:
TOOLS AND QUESTIONS FOR TODAY
In conclusion, one should say that the greatest challenge to all of us, in honour of the memory of Joe Slovo, is to appreciate the tools of analysis that he bequeathed us, and to use them in understanding the current period and the possibilities it presents.
One of the questions that we should constantly examine is: if 1994 were a beach-head for qualitative movement forward, haven’t we today reached a confluence of qualitative possibilities as we approach the end of the First Decade of Freedom? Advances in macro-economic management have afforded us the possibility to increase real expenditure in social and economic services in a massive way; yet there are difficulties for instance in the area of investment and job-creation as well as efficiency of the public service specifically at the point of interface with the public. What solutions can be found, in terms of partnerships and the realisation of Batho Pele in actual practice?
Another of these questions relates to the understanding of the dynamics of class formation in the process of social change. For instance, in No Middle Road, JS refers to the possibility of neo-colonialism (of a special type?) in our country in terms of the emergence of the Bantustan system. But the post-1994 situation does raise many questions about issues such as Black Economic Empowerment which in some bad instances can include special purpose vehicles that only serve to tie the emergent black capitalist group to the apron strings of people who can dictate what they can do and not do. Further, a few instances of some of “the empowerees” seeking to use contacts within the state to gain advantages by hook or by crook – thereby encouraging corruption – have played themselves out. So again, we need to guard against the emergence of our own special type of compradore and bureaucratic bourgeoisie, our own special type of neo-colonialism.
With regard to the global situation, certain difficulties manifest themselves in a unipolar and globalising world. The extent to which developing countries can in a sovereign manner choose a path of development unencumbered by the dictates of rampant financial markets is a challenge that will remain with us for a long time to come. In this context, how do we interpret, for instance, the outcome of the recent elections in Brazil and South Korea? Is there a popular backlash against unregulated global political and economic relations? Is it a passing phenomenon, the mood swings of an electorate?
Lastly, and related to the above, how do socialists, revolutionary democrats and humanists across the world respond to the brazen arrogance of some global powers in this unipolar world: where the issue of war and peace confronts us each day, and yet where the challenge of poverty and disease seems to get scant attention!
These are some of the questions that come to mind; questions that Joe Slovo would have busied himself with today, rather than just immersing himself in the chores of day-to-day work. To answer these and other critical questions requires “Slovo-esque” inquiring minds; the inclination to search for that which would take our quest for a better life to new heights; and the courage among leaders to ensure that the popular masses understand the twist and turns of the long march – without pandering to populism.
Thus we shall be confident in the assurance that we are honouring Joe Slovo’s memory in real life.
(Jeremy Cronin, SACP deputy general secretary, presented a version of this paper to the Joe Slovo Seminar, January 2003)
Bertolt Brecht once quipped that he had never met anyone without a sense of humour who could understand the dialectic. Joe Slovo had a well-earned reputation for having one of the largest repertoires of jokes in our liberation movement. I want to suggest that his outstanding and enduring theoretical contribution to our liberation struggle lies, precisely, in the deeply, ingrained dialectical nature of his thinking, writing, and, yes, sense of humour.
here comes the “joke”
Slovo then goes on to illustrate how the very sophistication of the apartheid economy and the fact that the colonial metropole is located powerfully within the colony could, with protracted struggle, become apartheid’s core vulnerability. If the metropole is problematically and powerfully implanted within the colony, the colony is also inside the metropole.
Slovo always wrote out of and for a collective struggle. Many of his finest theoretical contributions are, in fact, embodied within collectively-authored ANC and SACP documents. But his outstanding individual theoretical contribution was to introduce a much more adequate (dialectical) conceptualisation of the actual organisational practice, of the strategies and tactics of our movement, all of which had evolved collectively and organically over many decades. It was not as though he invented everything, but he greatly enriched our ability to speak about, analyse and understand what it is we were and should be doing.
And this is the second main point I want to make. For Slovo, dialectical thinking is a means to inform conjunctural intervention – decisive activism. Although Lenin and Slovo are clearly two very different personalities, engaged in very different realities, these two qualities bring them together. Or, to put it more modestly, these two features are the hall-mark of Slovo’s Leninism – dialectical thinking, on the one hand, and the ability and willingness to seize the moment, on the other.
Against evolutionism – history as struggle
The recovery of this dual Slovo legacy is, I believe, very important in our present reality. It seems to me that we often run the danger of moving into a thoroughly undialectical, evolutionist approach to our strategic goals. This is the danger of a long-term voluntarism – “our continental plight is the worst in the world, our cause is just, therefore victory is guaranteed”. We assert in our 1997 (and now re-affirmed in 2002) ANC Strategy and Tactics document that “the basic framework of our democratic achievement in South Africa” is “irreversible” (although we add, somewhat confusingly – but perhaps dialectically? - that this framework can, nonetheless, “be derailed”.) Comrades assert that this is “Africa’s century”. I certainly hope that it will be. But will it be? And if so, why? Is it an assertion based on a scientific (and dialectical) analysis of imperialism’s global trajectory of combined and uneven development, and of the contradictory social motive forces at play within our continent, and within the global zone of the semi-periphery and periphery (making Africa’s chances more likely than, say, China or parts of Latin America)? Or is it a noble and positive affirmation based on a sense of what “ought to be” (“all other continents” – supposedly but not factually – “have had their turn”)?
Of course there is nothing wrong with a touch of aspiration in politics. But over-playing aspiration can land us in all manner of confusion. The hasty leap from what “ought to be” to what can be done in the present is the hall-mark of ultra-leftism. Ultra-leftism is overwhelmed by short-term aspiration.
But the leap from what “ought to be” to what is guaranteed to be the outcome in some distant future, by right, righteously, by the inexorable march of history, runs the danger of falling into strategic reformism, with its inevitable tactical danger - opportunism. There is always the danger of short-term voluntarism, but there is also the danger of long-term voluntarism, relying on the divine will of a deity, or of history, or of the hidden hand of the market. The former brand of voluntarism can result in reckless activism, the latter in fatalism:
This fatalism can either be passive in its stoicism, or active in its stoicism, the activism of compliance:
While we aspire to an African century, we are also told that:
Of course, Moleketi and Jele are not wrong to argue that a “general offensive” against global capitalism would be adventurist. But, as Slovo in a very different context back in 1976 argued, the alternatives before us are not: either a general offensive, or a passive and/or active stoicism. There is also the possibility of a protracted struggle designed to alter an unfavourable balance of forces. Our current perspectives have often tended to lose this perspective, justifying capitulation by promising us that notwithstanding imperialism’s dominance and ruthless determination to crush any strategic opposition, our economy WILL grow, we WILL create jobs, and Africa WILL have its century. Why? Well, because those would be righteous outcomes.
I think a reconsideration of Slovo’s NMR can help us to think more effectively about many of these challenges.
In parenthesis – a point of clarification and qualification
Asking testing, but hopefully comradely, questions about the vision of an “African century” should not be misunderstood. Our government and the ANC have played an outstanding role in seeking to place, on the national, continental and international agenda, the crisis of African under-development. More insistently than the other components of the Alliance (and the SACP and COSATU should readily acknowledge this) it is the ANC that has played this role. Our government and the ANC are also playing a leading, inspiring and often selfless role on many specific fronts, not least in the DRC process, the Burundi peace talks, and in many other initiatives.
One of the terrible (and self-serving) ideological realities of our epoch, especially among former colonial powers and among large sections of white South Africans, is “afro-pessimism”. “Afro-pessimism” is, in effect, neo-racialism. We need to combat “afro-pessimism” energetically. But a simple inversion of “afro-pessimism” – let’s call it “afro-optimism” – is never going to be an adequate, strategic basis for addressing the crisis of underdevelopment that besets our continent, and large parts of the South in general.
Against liberal gradualism
Who or what exactly is Slovo attacking when he evokes the metaphor of a “middle road”? There are, in fact, several targets in this relatively extensive and considered 1976 intervention.
In the first place, he begins by attacking what he describes as the “illusion of the liberal gradualists, that apartheid will die a natural (albeit slow) death by the operation of the economic processes” (p.107). This was (and still is) the argument that capitalism is intrinsically opposed to apartheid and that market-friendly reforms will over time dissolve apartheid (or its legacy). It was, in 1976, an argument put forward by South African and international forces arguing against the call for sanctions – “more capitalism – not less – will bring down apartheid”. It was also an argument advanced by so-called verligtes and their supporters. “What separates a Strijdom and a Botha is not a retreat from white supremacy,” Slovo justly retorts, “but rather a differing approach to securing that supremacy in two distinct periods…” (NMR, p.109).
We should add, of course, that the liberal gradualist argument is still with us, more powerfully than ever. It is (often unwittingly) taken up by all those in the present who simply conflate the struggle against apartheid’s legacy with a struggle to “catch-up”, “to modernise”, to apply “international best-practice”, to “bench-mark” ourselves against some supposedly neutral/technical (but inevitably capitalist) norm.
This argument “has been demonstrably shattered by the events of the last three decades”, Slovo argues in 1976.
As we shall see below, Slovo’s arguments against liberal gradualism are not rooted in a dogmatic rejection of capitalism, or merely in revolutionary impatience. They are based on his analysis of South African capitalism – its already advanced state, and its particular accumulation path within South Africa. The struggle against national oppression in South Africa has to be, he argues, an anti-capitalist struggle.
Against stage-ism – no middle road, no half-way house
If there is a brief but explicit polemic directed against liberal gradualists in NMR, a great deal more time is devoted to the related issue of dealing with our own Marxist variants of evolutionism.
In the past decade, in popular Party histories, we have tended to portray the 1928 “Black Republic” shift within the CPSA as marking a strategic shift whose trajectory we still uphold. Interestingly, Slovo in 1976 does not quite say this.
Slovo attributes the critical paradigm shift (to a more dialectical approach) to the 1962 Party programme. In 1981, in an AC article (“The Two Pillars of our Struggle. Reflections on the relationship between the ANC and SACP”, AC, no.87) Slovo comes back to this question:
This insistence on the inter-connectedness, the flowing into one another, of the national struggle and the socialist struggle, is not particularly the result of a more favourable international balance of forces (in 1976 or 1981) – as we might be tempted to argue now in the post-1990 period. Nor is it the result of revolutionary impatience or ultra-leftism on the part of Slovo. It is rooted, rather, in his analysis of the South African reality, and of the development of capitalism in South Africa.
South Africa’s capitalist economy has “all the features of an advanced capitalist state in its final stage of imperialism” (Slovo quotes, p133, from the SACP 1962 programme). Apart from the working class, the “land-starved peasants and landless unemployed”, find themselves “in direct political collision” with the capitalist ruling class. Their plight is the direct consequence of the particular path of capitalist development in South Africa, based on cheap migrant labour from the Reserves. National oppression is not a feudal, or pre-capitalist vestige in our society, it is the “modus operandi” of an advanced capitalism (in its highest stage of development).
Socialism as a “continuous process”
This is the context in which Slovo argues for a struggle for socialism that is a “continuous process” within the “first stage”. In many ex-colonies “the inchoate state of class formation led to a loose alliance at the top, of mainly petit bourgeois elements”, resulting in “planned advances towards socialism” being beset by difficulties and sudden reverses.
Things should be different in our case:
He approvingly quotes, in similar vein, an article by A. Zanzolo (‘The Theory of the South African Revolution’, AC 1st quarter, 1963):
And what of an emergent black bourgeoisie?
“At the moment, insofar as we can speak of an African bourgeoisie at all, it is pathetically small and has arrived too late on the historical scene to play a classic class role either as a leading element in the national struggle or as the main beneficiary of mass revolutionary sacrifice. Indeed, for a black bourgeoisie to gain ascendancy, the whole ‘normal’ process would have to be reversed, in the sense that its real class formation would have to follow and not precede political power…the question which remains is whether the role of the all-white bourgeoisie could conceivably be assumed by a black equivalent in the future which would act to stop the revolution in its tracks and subvert the social aims of real national emancipation. This possibility cannot, of course, be discounted altogether.” (NMR, p.143, JS’s emphases)
This is an unambivalent statement that emerging black bourgeois strata cannot be a motive force of the NDR in the conditions of South Africa, as a bourgeoisie. They might, of course, be part of a broader national motive force (blacks in general, Africans in particular), dominated by workers and rural poor. But as a bourgeoisie (identifying with their class interests) the only motive force they can be is as a motive force of counter-revolution.
Another point of clarification and qualification
I am, obviously, sympathetic not just to the way in which Slovo dialectically develops his perspectives, but also to the content of much of his argument. However, the fact that, in 1976, Slovo argued for the prospect of an advance to socialist solutions immediately beyond the democratic breakthrough; or that he argued against any progressive motive-force role for the black bourgeoisie, as bourgeoisie, are not the main issues in question here. We must avoid any kind of appeal to “Authority”, any kind of fundamentalism, including a Slovoist fundamentalism.
What I do, however, insist upon is the dialectical character of his approach to history, struggle, strategy and tactics. That, I believe, remains eminently relevant. The emerging black strata of the bourgeoisie may, or may not, have a key role to play in taking forward the national democratic revolution. However, such a role cannot be established on the basis of evolutionist metaphysics, cut-and-dry chronologies – “we have not yet de-racialised capitalism, therefore the capitalist stage is not yet completed, therefore talk of socialism is premature.”
Those who argue for a key role to be played in national democratic transformation by the black strata of the bourgeoisie (or by any other bourgeois strata for that matter) need to demonstrate how such strata are able to play a leading role in overcoming the deepening crisis of under-development, of enclave accumulation and simultaneous marginalisation of the majority.
Turning points, decisive moments
“No Middle Road” was published in 1976, it was written on the eve of the June 16 student uprisings. Typically, and this applied to several of Slovo’s key interventions (a knack that he seems to have had) it could not have appeared at a more propitious time. The intervention is filled with a conviction that the South African liberation struggle is at a pivotal moment. This was not pure guess-work, or individual good luck on Slovo’s part. Following the serious strategic defeat suffered by our movement in the mid-1960s, there had been significant external developments – including the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam, victory in the Portuguese colonies, and rapid advances by guerrilla forces in Zimbabwe (indeed Slovo’s article is published in a collection entitled, Southern Africa. The New Politics of Revolution). There had also been the 1973 Durban strikes, to which the article refers. Slovo also alludes to advances made in beginning to rebuild the underground within South Africa, without, of course providing any details.
Slovo was not alone in sensing that 1976 was a pivotal moment, but, not for the last time, he was pre-eminent within our own movement in articulating the full scope and resonance of the conjuncture and of mapping a decisive course of action forward. NMR was, typically, an entirely timely intervention. In fact, as we shall soon see, “timing” was an obsession of Slovo’s, and it is one of the key topics of NMR.
In order to analyse the South African conjuncture in 1976 accurately, Slovo had to reflect, amongst other key things, on the strategic defeat we had suffered in the mid-1960s. To go forward the right lessons had to be drawn.
In the first place, this required admitting, honestly, that there had been a failure. Now, the conceptualisation of “failure”, or, on a lesser note, of “mistakes” is not necessarily a simple matter.
An undialectical approach that understands history, or the struggle, as pre-determined, as righteous progress is unable to deal with failure, set-backs, or with the unpredictable or unpredicted. It tends to default either into denial, or into conspiracy theory. (The Hungarian Stalinist Rakosi famously described the sub-soil of Budapest, that had frustrated the building of an underground rail system, as “counter-revolutionary”. And he wasn’t joking.) Failures are corrected, in this framework, not by learning, not by discussion, self-correction, not by developmental empowerment, but through excommunication, banishment, liquidation. This results in fear of action, fear of debate, conformism.
This is how Slovo reflects on failures and mistakes:
In reflecting on the launch of the armed struggle in the 1960s, Slovo concedes a major strategic defeat:
What went wrong? He mentions several, by now commonly accepted factors – notably, the underestimation of the regime’s upgraded counter-insurgency capacity, and the over-estimation of the possibilities of effective support from within our continent. On the basis of the failure, there were left-leaning academic critics writing in the 1970s who argued that the launch of armed struggle was unwise, or at least “premature”, arguing that the masses were “not ready for it” (Fatima Meer, Heribert Adam). Others argued that the launch of armed struggle had been too long delayed for success to be achieved (Sheridan Johns).
While conceding strategic mistakes, Slovo rebuts these arguments in wonderfully dialectical ways.
Slovo is defending the decision to embark on the armed struggle, and the timing of that decision. But it is possible (I think necessary) to extrapolate the principles embodied here into other realities – our own contemporary reality, for instance. (Perhaps the relative lull in popular mobilisation is not so much that we have focused everything on institutional state power, but that we have still to adequately demonstrate to the masses our capacity and willingness to meet and sustain the struggle in a new way, using state power? Telling us that “states are impotent” is hardly likely to dynamise organised allegiance and support.)
Once more, effectively extrapolated from their specific context, Slovo’s arguments provide us with a way of thinking, an orientation to surpass the evolutionist paradigm. History does not march unilinearly, from its most advanced point. The “right” moment, is not necessarily the “best” moment.
No middle road – on whom is the Joke ?
Building on Brecht, I have suggested that Slovo’s dialectical frame of mind, his propensity to push for decisive action, and his sense of humour were deeply interconnected. But there is at least one joke that gets told against comrade Joe. After he had played a leading role in arguing for the power-sharing, sunset-clause formulation that enabled the strategic breakthrough at the multi-party negotiations, comrades have jested that Slovo shifted, between 1976 and 1992, from “NO middle road” to “THE middle road”.
Is the joke justified? Perhaps, partially, yes; but in fundamental ways, absolutely no. However, to consider this partial yes, and to clinch this fundamental no, closer attention to NMR is required. It is precisely such closer attention that also helps to re-affirm the key contribution the Slovo legacy can make to our present. Otherwise the legacy is liable to dismissal of being “out-of-date”, “no longer applicable”, irrelevant to “current reality” – in the sense that the Financial Mail gives to “reality” when it writes approvingly that South Africa’s economy is now being managed by “ANC politicians who have graduated from freedom fighters to the real new world.” (21 May 1999).
The Mother of all Decisive Moments
NMR is open to two readings, because there is, in my view, finally a hesitation between two different approaches to history, struggle, strategy and tactics.
On the one hand, Slovo breaks with metaphysical gradualism in its various guises. He understands (helps us to understand) history, the struggle as a thoroughly contradictory, somewhat unpredictable, uneven process in which different conjunctural moments require decisive intervention. There are decisive moments, many decisive moments of breakthrough, rupture, set-back, defeat. Some decisive moments are favourable, some unfavourable – all require decisive revolutionary action. There are partial failures and partial successes.
Nothing is guaranteed. Action cannot await the most favourable moment, or the ideal balance of forces. Organised action is required precisely in order to make the moment more favourable, the balance of forces more propitious. This is not to say that any action is appropriate at any time (which is ultra-leftism). But it opens up the perspective for continuous, decisive but protracted revolutionary struggle. Our strategic and tactical options are not exhausted by the simple alternative - all-out offensive (the insurrection) or passive/active compliance.
This is hugely empowering for our own present.
However, NMR is shadowed by a somewhat different perspective, or rather the above, empowering paradigm, is in danger of being encapsulated within a final, all-embracing, Mother of All Decisive Moments approach.
Continuing his reflection on “failure” (and not just failures in the armed struggle, but also in the key mass campaigns of the 1950s, the Defiance Campaign, the anti-removals campaigns, the attempt by the movement to provide alternative education to African children after the introduction of Bantu Education, pass law resistance, etc.), Slovo writes:
You can see just how empowering passages like this were in 1976 – admitting failures, but inspiring activism and a sense of confidence. They also talk very powerfully into the present, about the deep and persisting organic trust that the great majority of South Africans have in our movement. But where, actually, do passages like this locate us strategically, now?
As a corrective to the idea that a liberation struggle simply marches from success to success (“after all history is on our side”, “the revolution is on track”), these passages remain extremely helpful. But what precisely is the character of our present situation?
Have we had our Mother of all Decisive Moments? Are we now In Power? Have we climbed Calvary, going from one bitter station of the cross to the next, each one a “failure”, but each one taking us to a higher altitude, towards an ultimately re/insurrectionary culmination? Have we taken the summit, before which failure was guaranteed at each step, and beyond which, now, success is guaranteed at each step?
Or have we not Taken Power? In which case, should we still be marching from failure to failure in order to teach the masses, as NMR says in 1976, that violent revolution to seize power unambiguously is the only answer?
NMR is not free from this Mother of all Decisive Moments thinking, with all of the problems that it now gives us. Indeed, if we lock NMR into this problematic then the Joke is on comrade Joe – from 1976 (NO middle road) to 1992 (THE middle road). But then the Joke is also on us.
However, as I have tried to show, NMR potentially opens up an entirely different problematic and seeks to theorise a practice of protracted struggle that nonetheless renounces gradualism, that renounces mechanical stageism, and that calls for decisive intervention into a reality that is replete with decisive moments, some very significant, others less. Revolution as transformation.
Here comes the sun
This alternative reading of NMR helps to underline the continuity between NMR in 1976 and Slovo’s crucial 1992 “Negotiations: What room for compromises?” (AC 3rd quarter 1992) intervention. Slovo did not originate the “sunset clause”, power-sharing idea. There were others in our movement who first developed the idea. However, there was a hesitancy about how to “sell” it to the membership of the movement. There was a tendency to portray the sunset clause proposal (like the GEAR package later) as “not a compromise”. One senior ANC comrade at the time argued that De Klerk’s NP “now accepted all of our strategic perspectives as articulated in the Freedom Charter.” (Just as GEAR has sometimes been portrayed as a straight road running, unproblematically, from the Freedom Charter, through Ready To Govern and the RDP). We could negotiate, it was said back in the early 1990s, because there was “strategic convergence” between the liberation movement and the regime. Naturally, in the face of these (demobilising) perspectives, there was a powerful anti-negotiations, anti-sunset clause backlash within our movement.
It was Slovo who located the sunset clause proposal dialectically within a strategic perspective of a protracted struggle, of a permanent revolution. Yes, he argued, it WAS a compromise. But to move forward with this proposal was not prevarication. In fact, we had to seize the moment, decisively push forward with the proposal, before we were compelled to compromise on the enemy’s terms, or before the negotiations process unravelled entirely.
Slovo’s intervention helped to convince many activists, but the ambivalence still present within our movement was well captured by two contrasting headlines in the days following the NEC’s 25 November 1992 decision to accept the sunset clause package. The New Nation had a head-line: “ANC REJECTS COMPROMISE”. The Star had a head-line: “ANC ACCEPTS COMPROMISE”.
However, even in his “Negotiations: What room for compromises?” article (as in NMR), Slovo creates space for this ambivalence by not entirely renouncing the longing for a Mother of all Decisive Moments. He simply displaces the Moment from 1992 (as he did from 1976) into a more distant but impending future (Sunrise as a forthcoming “Moment”, and not a dialectical process). Instead of deferring the Mother of all Decisive Moments, we need to abolish it from our thinking.
That way, the Joke is not on comrade Joe. That way, even more relevant to our own purposes now, the Joke is not on us.
A Preliminary Response to “Here comes the sun”
By Thulas Nxesi, General Secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union
The strength of the paper is to remind us of the traditions of dialectical debate and analysis within our movement and to use this to start to ask questions about our present direction. The paper doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but suggests that unless we start asking questions, we won’t get any answers, and the quality of those answers will depend on the quality of collective and dialectical debate within the movement.
I believe the paper is provocative and suggestive, but at times whimsical and clouded by literary and religious allusions. We are still struggling with aspects of the paper, and what follows should be treated as preliminary comments.
Strategy and Tactics
The paper stresses a particular – dialectical – approach to political debate and analysis exemplified in the contributions of Cde Slovo in his NMR article. My understanding of the paper is that Slovo’s NMR operates at two levels:
Firstly, at the strategic level there can never by a middle road. Our strategic objectives are clear – national liberation and socialism. If we are not clear about our objectives, the paper suggests, we get tempted down the road of opportunism and fatalism. We delude ourselves that there is no alternative to the present world order – globalization, unemployment are seen as inevitable and unavoidable. Neither are we trying to construct some third way in the fashion of Blair’s Labour – without even the resources to sustain such a trajectory.
Secondly, at a tactical level, however, Slovo appears to be saying there is always a middle road. The paper argues that our options are not exhausted by the simple alternatives – “all-out offensive (insurrection) or passive/active compliance.” Hence, the sunset clauses. The point is that such compromises should not cloud our strategic direction and should open up the space for further struggle. This is at the heart of Slovo’s dialectical approach – we analyse the objective realities, the balance of forces, but we also mobilize and struggle to act upon and change those realities.
The vision which emerges in this paper’s analysis of Slovo’s NMR is the following:
The NDR and the struggle for socialism
One of the results of the recent debates around the NDR has been a growing awareness of the traditions and positions of our own movement – as powerfully presented in Bua Komanisi. Most important amongst these is that our movement has never subscribed to a simple two-stage theory – first complete liberation and then socialism. In the words of Cde Slovo, “… there is no Chinese Wall between these stages; they flow from and into one another…” The struggle is continuous. Indeed, the objectives of the NDR can only be fully realized in this way. To quote Slovo again:
The role of the black bourgeoisie – patriotic or parasitic
This led Slovo to theorise the role of the black bourgeoisie. The paper raises certain questions: Does the black bourgeoisie – as a class - have a progressive role to play in the current stage of the NDR? Trade unionists for one have to be convinced. We see them circling like vultures over the body of the public sector waiting to feed off privatisation, leaving unemployment, casualisation and out-sourcing in their wake.
Our knowledge of the post-colonial histories of African countries warns us to be on our guard against what has been described elsewhere as a bureaucratic bourgeoisie.
The paper also asks the question – do we have to go through a stage of deracialising capitalism – normalizing exploitation, before the struggle for socialism starts in earnest? This is at best special pleading for the interests of the new elite. Worse still, it fits with the project of capital itself to restabilise relations of capitalist exploitation on a ‘democratic’ and non-racial basis. Political repression may have gone and our government protects the legal rights of workers. But in the market place, mass unemployment (42%) – the oldest weapon used by capital to discipline the working class - and widespread casualisation, is undermining the gains of the labour movement.
Taking forward the culture of debate
Perhaps the most important result of Slovo’s contribution – and this very workshop in memory of Cde Slovo – is to stress the importance of debate and the culture of debate which has characterized our movement in the past. We are worried that this culture has been weakened in recent years. Issues such as GEAR, tactical alliances with Inkatha and the NNP were never fully debated within the movement. In all these cases members were expected to simply accept the decision that had been taken at a higher level, without question. It is ironic that this open debate in the movement – as exemplified by Cde Slovo – was perhaps more in evidence during the repressive conditions of the apartheid regime.
Such a culture of debate also ensures buy-in from comrades, even where they do not necessarily agree with the final decision taken. This was the case for many comrades with the so-called sunset clauses. The debate was led by Cde Slovo. Many comrades were not convinced of the arguments, but because the issue had been fully aired they were willing to go along with the decision.
When debate is suppressed we also lose valuable input and creativity that might contribute to a different and better outcome.
We should also be concerned when the tradition of collective debate is allowed to diminish and is replaced by labeling and name-calling. It weakens the movement as a whole; it prevents the emergence of new and creative ideas and strategies which can take forward our struggle.
We should however guard against the temptation to simply appeal to the writings of Slovo in the fashion of holy writ to support current political positions. His contribution was more lasting than that. What we need to retain is Slovo’s commitment to a dialectical method and to a process of collective and open debate within our movement.
3RD ALL-NIGERIA SOCIALIST CONFERENCE.
The 3rd All Nigeria Socialist Conference was held from 21-22 February 2003 at the Banquet Hall of the Students’ Cafeteria Complex, University of Benin. The conference was called to lay the basis for a more effective, ideologically rooted struggle for popular power in Nigeria; agree on the broad tenets of a renewed socialist vision for Nigeria and put in place a platform for renewed socialist struggle in Nigeria and a framework for continuous debate and enlightenment about socialism. Individual Marxists and socialists of various shades as well as representatives of the following socialist organizations in Nigeria attended the Conference: Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON), Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV), Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM), Campaign for Workers’ Alternative (CWA), Campaign for Workers and Farmers’ Democracy (CWFD), Society for Progress, and Mass Education Group.
The Conference discussed the state of the Nigerian nation and observed that Nigeria remains a neo-colonial state with a peripheral capitalist economy run by an unproductive ruling class that oppresses and exploits the productive classes – workers, peasants and artisans, including women and children. It lamented that the struggle for socialist Nigeria, which has been on since the 1950s and reached a very advanced stage in the 1980s, has suffered serious reverses due to a host of factors, including the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, defeat of the progressive trend in the Labour movement, collapse of the radical students movement; sectarianism, factionalism and opportunism in the Left, abandonment of class politics, events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, globalisation and the sucking in of many socialists into NGO work not linked strategically to class struggle.
Noting that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has been propagating liberal democracy as the best way in which to organise modern societies, the conference affirmed that liberal democracy, which rests on the economic foundation of capitalism, cannot resolve the problems of mass unemployment, poverty, homelessness, ignorance, disease and wars, which have remained the lot of the majority under the current capitalist global order. It held that only within socialist democracy is it possible for a neo-colonial society like Nigeria to attain sustainable human-centred growth and industrialisation in the context of a planned independent national economy that rests on social ownership of strategic sectors.
Formation of Socialist Alliance
Seeing therefore the need for concerted and renewed mobilisation for the socialist transformation of Nigeria and the world, the conference agreed to form an umbrella alliance of socialist organisations and individual socialists in Nigeria to be known as the Nigeria Socialist Alliance (NSA). The alliance is charged with the following tasks:
The conference adopted a Transitional Programme for renewed socialist struggle in Nigeria. Under the programme, Nigerian socialists and their organisations commit themselves to:
At the end of deliberations, the Conference passed the following resolutions concerning the state of the Nigerian nation, Africa and the world:
The Momentum of the Working Class Struggle against Neo-Liberalism, Globalisation and Privatisation in Swaziland.
By Buhle Vincent Dlamini (SNACS, Mbabane Branch Chairperson), a presentation to SWAYOCO Cadreship School held in Piet Retief, South Africa, January 2003.
Swaziland is officially on a voluntary Structural Adjustment programme. In any case, voluntary or imposed, the impact of the measures associated with programme are having devastating effects on the poor people of Swaziland. It is worth emphasizing that the basis of privatisation is not just the expansion private ownership but also the commodification of social services, which then become inaccessible to the poor.
Public Sector Restructuring as a Case in Point
The Public Sector Management Programme (PSMP) is the key vehicle used by the Swaziland government to deliver the devastating blow of privatisation within the public service. This programme was launched in 1995 to “raise the standard of performance and increase efficiency and cost effectiveness in service delivery by the public sector.” (Government of Swaziland, 1999)
One other key objective of the PSMP is to “identify areas where Government involvement needs to be reduced or is found to be inappropriate and to increase the participation of the private sector, non-governmental organisations and individuals in the provision of public services.” (Government of Swaziland, 1999)
The latter quote clearly indicates that the form and content of public sector restructuring in Swaziland is that which seeks to promote Government’s abdication of its responsibilities to the people and transfer them to the ruthless hands of the private sector. This position is also consistent with the government’s Economic and Social Reform Agenda (ESRA), which defines the primary role of government as “that of creating an enabling environment for economic, social and human development.” This position can be summarised, as “government has no business doing business.” The PSMP is, therefore, primarily a privatisation programme. Through the PSMP, the Swaziland government is squeezing itself into the “one size fits all” golden straight jacket of globalisation as imposed by the rich countries of the capitalist world.
A team of consultants from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) is supposed to have finished a study to “develop policy and regulatory frameworks for the alternative delivery of public services.” In essence, this is a study to initiate the process of depleting the public service in Swaziland.
The PWC study is expected to outline its findings and recommendations on the following:
(Source: Government of Swaziland Memo, September 2002)
Alternative Service Delivery (ASD)
Alternative Service Delivery is a mechanism- usually a contract- whereby a private sector entity or an NGO performs a public service previously performed by government, in terms of specific outputs, for a defined period of time, where the private sector entity or NGO assumes substantial performance risks, and for which the private sector entity or NGO receives a prescribed fee. (Source: PWC Questionnaire, 2002)
PWC listed the following components of the ASD approach as options to be considered in effectively lynching the public (civil) service:
Clearly this alternative service delivery (ASD) approach seeks to empower and enrich private business, and the national elites from the ruling class and then condemn the majority of public sector workers to poverty, joblessness, disease, violent crime, illiteracy and various other forms of socio-economic ills.
The Swazi Working Class Position on Privatisation
The Swazi working class should be fundamentally opposed to the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation of state-owned assets and the public services. The concrete reasons for such opposition are as follows:
According to the political scientist, Yaron Ezrahi:
(Thomas Friedman- The Lexus and the Olive Tree- Understanding Globalisation.)
The Way Forward
The way forward should be based on the understanding that the key features of the Swazi economy are as follows:
The report also noted that “the country’s current economic slowdown is exceptionally deep and broad, with no evidence that the downward spiral that began two years ago will see a recovery.”
The working class of Swaziland should struggle to establish a people-centred developmental state, which shall guarantee their rights and freedoms, paying particular attention to the majority poor people.
In his historic address to delegates at the EU-SADC Civic Society Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark (November 4-11, 2002), Pudemo President Cde Mario Masuku described the key elements of an interventionist developmental state as follows:
“PUDEMO should consistently work to forge the Swazi working class into a powerful force capable of playing the leading role in the struggle for national democracy and in carrying out its historic mission of abolishing all forms of exploitation, as reality has taught workers that it is impossible for trade unions to keep out of the broader political conflict.” (PUDEMO, Last Mile to Freedom- Ulibambe Lingashoni)
The struggle against neo-liberalism, globalisation, privatisation and job losses is at the same time a struggle for economic justice and ultimately, a struggle for a new economic system in Swaziland. This struggle therefore is, by definition, a struggle for the total transformation of Swaziland.
The momentum of the working class struggle against neo-liberalism, globalisation and privatisation in Swaziland is slowly gaining ground as manifested by the trade union movement’s anti-privatisation campaign.
At a broader national level, the elements of the anti-privatisation campaign have been identified as follows:
The People’s Manifesto includes the commitment “To promote job creation and high levels of employment”. It throws a beacon of light and hope to the working class of Swaziland in our quest to defend our rights and freedoms and to make our humble contribution towards fundamentally changing our country for the better. We also take solace from this quotation from a presentation by Jordi Martorell: “…we are confident in the ability of workers to transform the world and establish a society free of exploitation and violence, and where there is plenty for all.”
Reviewed by Suraya Dadoo – Researcher - Media Review Network
‘The Assassination of Lumumba’ by Ludo De Witte (translated by Ann Wright and Renee Fenby)
Few events in contemporary history have been the target of such a vicious campaign of disinformation as the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, and a pioneer of African nationalism and unity. Lumumba was murdered on 17 January 1961, less than six months after being elected prime minister of the former Belgian colony. The murder was portrayed primarily as an internal Congolese affair devoid of western influence.
The Assassination of Lumumba (2001) by Ludo De Witte turns this argument on its head and unravels the abysmal mass of lies, hypocrisy and deception that has surrounded accounts of the assassination of Lumumba since its perpetration. Through the use of official sources such as the archives of the United Nations (UN) and the Belgian Foreign Ministry, as well as personal testimonies from those directly involved in the murder, De Witte reveals a network of deception that stretches from the Belgian government to the American CIA and the UN leadership.
Congolese independence was primarily an expression of the anti-colonial revolution that pitted the colonialist North against the colonised South. In 1960, sixteen African states gained their independence, with the largest, and potentially wealthiest of them all, being Congo. To counter the obstacle that independence presented, former colonial powers were forced to substitute its policy of overt domination for one of indirect control, and new national leaders were to “respect” the neo-colonial order.
The author describes how Lumumba, a radical nationalist whose election to power had surprised Brussels, barred the way to this goal because he advocated a complete decolonisation that would benefit the population as a whole. Lumumba’s government intended to claim its rightful independence immediately, and hoped to persuade the Congolese people to build a unified nation in a democratic state within the rule of law.
In doing so, all vestiges of colonialism and all forms of neo-colonialism would be destroyed – an unfavourable situation that was detrimental to the interests of the colonial trusts, the missions and the colonial bureaucracy newly handed over to the infant state. These pillars of colonialism had expected to hold on to their privileged position in an independent Congo, albeit with an African façade.
De Witte brilliantly describes Lumumba’s stirring inaugural speech as prime minister on 30 June 1960 that reinforced the Congolese people’s sense of dignity and self-confidence, and sowed the seeds of discontent for the colonial powers. Brussels had reached a turning point in its relationship with its former colony, was suddenly facing the anti-colonial revolution it had feared. The “nigger upstart”, as Lumumba was described only a few weeks earlier in the Belgian press, was clearly not going to tow the neo-colonial line, and followed his inspiring words up with concrete actions, which ultimately lead to his death.
De Witte shows how the secessation of Katanga, the copper-producing province that delivered the sole success for Belgium in the elections, represented the beginning of the crisis in the Congo, and proved to be an important instrument used to destroy the Congolese government. He also describes the murder of Lumumba as well as the events leading up to the brutal assassination.
The book tells the story of Lumumba’s overthrow through the important international players who engineered intervention and dissent in the Congo from the outset. The Eyskens government of Belgium propped up the puppet “government” of Katanga and installed and supported Moise Tshombe and Joseph-Desire Mobutu as rogue leaders. American presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy supported interventions by the UN to stop Lumumba calling on sympathetic African armies or the Soviet Union to combat Belgian-Katangese aggression.
Senior UN officials headed by Dag Hammarskjold deployed an array of military force in Katanga and played a decisive role in helping to overthrow the Congolese government. Lumumba invited the UN into the Congo to help preserve law and order. The UN, however, declared itself “neutral” and refused to lend any assistance whatsoever to the legal government of the Congo.
De Witte show quite categorically that the UN leadership supported the war the Western powers were waging against Lumumba’s government and that, at certain times, the UN was a willing tool of Western interference – a situation that has hardly changed some 40 years later.
A secret CIA unit was assigned the task of eliminating Lumumba, in collaboration with Brussels which also sent out a commando operation, codenamed “Operation Barracuda”. In a telegram to Lawrence Devlin, the CIA station chief in the Congo, Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA at the time wrote:
“…it is the clear-cut conclusion that if [Lumumba] continues to hold high office, the inevitable result will at best be chaos and at worst pave the way for a Communist takeover of the Congo with disastrous consequences for the prestige of the UN and for the interests of the free world generally. Consequently we concluded that his removal must be an urgent and prime objective and that under existing conditions this should be a high priority of our covert action”.
Eventually, the CIA pulled out of the operation to kill Lumumba in December 1960, and Operation Barracuda reached a horrifically successful conclusion on 17 Janurary 1961.
De Witte, however, does not merely present a simple analysis of Western strategies, troop deployment or state visits. He also concentrates on the suffering during the last days and hours of Patrice Lumumba, who was then the world’s most famous prisoner, thus making this an essentially human story.
He describes how Lumumba and two aides were transferred to Katanga, delivering him onto the hands of his worst enemies. De Witte’s interviews with former police commissioner Gerard Soete are startling. They describe how Soete, who disposed of Lumumba’s body, showed journalists two of Lumumba’s teeth and a bullet taken from his skull. He is also reported to have kept one of Lumumba’s phalanx bones as a morbid souvenir. Lumumba’s hair and beard were ripped from his skin while he was still alive.
Lumumba’s blood is also on the hands of the many journalists who demonised him, and portrayed him as a blood-thirsty, power-hungry, “revolutionary demagogue”. The rhetoric of the media during the period discredited his political achievements, and he was described him as an “illiterate thief” in the press. In the days preceding the secessation of Katanga, fabricated stories of rape and pillage by the Congolese soldiers appeared in both Congolese and Belgian newspapers, thus prompting an exodus to Belgium. Belgian Prime Minister Eyskens used this exodus as an excuse to intervene in Congo. The media was also a key element in the cover-up of the Lumumba murder, and portrayed the murder as a defensive action by the Belgian authorities.
The ecclesiastical hierarchy also proved to be an important source of support for the coalition of western powers, and was therefore a willing accomplice to the murder. As with apartheid, the church must also answer for its role and assistance in such atrocities.
This book of 187 pages is written in a free-flowing style. The narrative is simple and easy to understand, and at times, the reader can be forgiven for thinking that this is an exciting political thriller describing treason and espionage. However, one is jolted into reality when you remember the chilling fact that De Witte’s work is not fiction, but grounded firmly in realism.
The Assassination of Lumumba has been pain-stakingly researched, and De Witte has been thorough in his analysis and discussion of the events and role-players in the murder of Patrice Lumumba. However, too little attention has been paid to aspects of Lumumba’s biography such as his education, political influences and family life. Lumumba’s political philosophy could have been expounded further, and is only dealt with in a few pages of the final chapter. Given the impact that Lumumba’s brief, yet successful, political career made on the West, his political and philosophical underpinnings could have been explored further.
The book also contains a detailed index, in-depth end-notes, and a selected bibliography that would be a useful research tool for students of African nationalism and history, international studies or politics.
I felt angry after reading this book, because the victim of this crime was a legally elected prime minister, whose only felony was his intention of liberating his people from the tyrannical control of the West. As De Witte points out, Lumumba was the leader of an embryonic nationalist movement, which had the West not shattered, could have positively influenced the course of history in Africa.
It seems to me that the aim was not merely to eliminate Lumumba physically, but to eradicate his legacy from the collective conscience of young African men and women who strived for similar ideals. Unlike other stalwarts of the African nationalism like Kwame Nkrumah or Julius Nyerere, so little is known about Lumumba, that people could be forgiven for saying: “Patrice who?”
In a farewell letter to his wife, Patrice Lumumba wrote: “history will one day have its say. It will not be the history taught in the United Nations, Washington, Paris, or Brussels, however, but the history taught in the countries that have rid themselves of colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history, and both north and south of the Sahara it will be a history full of glory and dignity.”
It is hoped that the exposure of Western deception and manipulation in the Congo and other parts of Africa will lead to the development of the dignified and glorious history that Lumumba speaks of. Ludo De Witte has already made a significant contribution to the creation of such a legacy through the publication of this book.