Flag and Symbol
Media & Artwork
Conferences, Congresses and Anniversaries
Leadership Structures
African Communist PDF Archive
African Communist Digital Archive
Bua Komanisi
Eastern Cape Bulletin
Umsebenzi Online
Umsebenzi Online Articles
Voice of the Proletariat - Northern Cape Publication
Feedback Form
Google Groups

Subscribe to

Umsebenzi Online

Alternatively visit this group.

Subscribe to

Communist University

Alternatively visit this group.

Contact us
Tel:  +27 11 3393621
Fax: +27 11 3394244
+27 11 3396880


PO Box 1027,
Johannesburg 2000,
South Africa

The latest Umsebenzi Click here to view the Latest Umsebenzi. [PDF]

The latest Umsebenzi Online

Why the assassin must not be granted parole
Read more

The latest African Communist Click here to view the Latest African Communist. [PDF]
Achead.gif (7919 bytes)

First Quarter 2003

Published quarterly as a forum for Marxist-Leninist thought by the South African Communist Party


Editorial notes:

1. Iraq and the end of the Benign Globalisation Myth

Implications of Iraqi war

2. American Empire, the Bush administration's strategic policy by Professor Rainer Rilling
3. Confronting the Empire by Samir Amin

SACP Debate

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
4. The courage to search for the new: Personal Reflections on "No Middle Road" by Joel Netshitenzhe
5. Here comes the sun: drawing lessons from Joe Slovo's "No Middle Road" by Jeremy Cronin
6. Reply to "Here Comes the Sun" by Thulas Nxesi

African Struggles

9. Communique from the Nigerian Socialist Conference
10. The Momentum of the Working Class Struggle against Neo-liberalism, Globalisation and Privatisation in Swaziland. By Buhle Vincent Dlamini

Book Reviews

11. ‘The Assassination of Lumumba’ – review by Suraya Dadoo


Editorial notes

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 new division of the world

    11 September 2001 was a transformative moment in strategic and conceptual thinking among the American political class. One initial outcome is the National Security Strategy of the United States of America published on 17 September 2002, which articulates the current American administration’s view of power politics and maps out the resulting grand strategy it has devised. This states that the great struggles of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a “decisive victory for the forces of freedom”. What has prevailed is “a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.” The position of the USA in this model is unequivocal: “Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence.”1 There is a qualitatively new disparity of power: “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“.2 In order to consolidate the United States’ lead over all the other powers in the world a new global doctrine was forged after 1989 that has become hegemonical under the second Bush administration. In April 2002, the National Security Adviser responsible for the National Security Strategy, Condoleeza Rice, compared this development with the elaboration of the strategy to contain the Soviet Union in the period after the Second World War.

  2. The players

    The process has been propelled by a group of neo-conservative intellectuals and military policy-makers that began to acquire a higher profile in the 1980s under Reagan, secured a minority position in the military executive in the first Bush administration and then finally achieved a hegemonic majority position in the second Bush Administration and subsequently in the Republican Party with the help of, and in an alliance with, the Catholic religious right, the radical market ideologues and the traditional, social conservative, mainstream right (“compassionate conservatism”). This group dominated the foreign policy debate in the USA in 2002. It outlined the key military policy aspects of the new grand strategy, incorporated them in an optimistic view of the state of the US economy and established itself in the course of 2002 as the avant-garde of the new cross-party movement for war. The powerful political core of this group is composed of an alliance of Reaganite military men and neo-conservatives. They include Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Zalmay Khalilzad, Douglas Feith, John R. Bolton and, above all, Richard Perle. A blueprint of the new policy is contained in the report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defense” published in 2000 by the neo-conservative, Reaganite “Project for the New American Century“, whose authors include Wolfowitz and Bolton as well as numerous other members of the later Bush Administration (including Eliot Cohen, I. Lewis Libby, Dov Zakheim and Stephen Cambone). Among the signatories of the founding declaration of the “Project for the New American Century”, which was launched “in the spirit of Reaganism” in 1997, were Jeb Bush, William J. Bennett, Dick Cheney, Midge Decter, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, Fred C. Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle, Stephen P. Rosen and Donald Rumsfeld. William Kristol was Chairman of the project in 2002. One of his directors, Robert Kagan, ranks among the most influential promoters of the journalistic use of the term “American Empire”, e.g. in the neo-conservative newspaper, “The Weekly Standard”, issued by Kristol and published by Rupert Murdoch. Other members of this group include speechwriters for Bush and Cheney (Joseph Shattan, Matthew Scully, John McConnell, Peter Wehner, Matthew Rees) and other members of the administration (Spencer Abraham, John Walters, Jay Lefkowitz, Elliott Abrams). Members of the network work for major national newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, National Review, New York Post, New Republic) and they enjoy the support of a number of major think-tanks (Hoover, Heritage, AEI, Hudson Institute) and foundations (Scaife, Olin). 3

  3. The strategy

    3.1. Assessments and targets

    Between September 2001 and the middle of 2002 the Bush Administration prepared an analysis of the global situation and the resulting military policy and strategic objectives, in particular, which are markedly different from those of previous U.S. administrations in recent decades. These assessments and strategies were not new, but they now found acceptance in government and in the drive for hegemony.

    1. Immediately after 11 September, the response of the U.S. Administration had focused on the struggle (“war”) against terrorist groups. However, the enemy image was very quickly extended to include states that support terrorism (“ending states”). Bush’s State of the Union address of 29 January 2002 then broadened the legitimacy of the use of military means to include states that threaten the USA with weapons of mass destruction(“axis of evil”), independent of any connection with terrorist groups.
    2. The official Quadrennial Defensive Review (QDR) published on 30 September 2001 formulated the variations of the objectives as "changing the regime of an adversary state" and the occupation of "foreign territory until U.S. strategic objectives are met."4 In April 2002, Bush referred to a “change of regime” in Iraq as a military objective.
    3. In his programmatic speech in June 2002 at West Point, Bush then declared that the previous doctrines of deterrence, containment and the balance of power were no longer adequate. He put the emphasis on prevention and intervention. From now on, he said, "we must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.“5 .
    4. Finally, a claim is asserted to the global military sovereignty of the USA, which is regarded as the key to the reconstruction of a new international regime. In the words of George W. Bush: “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge.”6

    The formulation of this political strategy and the elaboration of the details in 2001 and 2002 was paralleled by a steady growth in the arms budget, a devaluation of the status of multilateral and international agreements and the discrediting of arms control policy (chemical and biological weapons; land mines; International Court of Justice, etc.). The production of missile defence systems was stepped up and the emphasis placed on the capacity to wage war rather than on the task of guaranteeing stability. The regional focus switched clearly to Asia. These changes in strategy are understood as being responses to the changes in the world situation since 1989. The report on “Rebuilding America’s Defense” drawn up by the neo-conservative “Project for the New American Century” summed things up as follows in the year 2000: “Over the decade of the post-Cold War period, however, almost everything has changed. The Cold War world was a bipolar world; the 21st century world is – for the moment, at least – decidedly unipolar, with America as the world’s “sole superpower”. America’s strategic goal used to be containment of the Soviet Union; today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals. The military’s job during the Cold War was to deter Soviet expansionism. Today its task is to secure and expand the “zones of democratic peace;” to deter the rise of a new great power competitor; defend key regions of Europe, East Asia and the Middle East; and to preserve American pre-eminence through the coming transformation of war made possible by new technologies. From 1945 to 1990, U.S. forces prepared themselves for a single, global war that might be fought across many theaters; in the new century, the prospect is for a variety of theater wars around the world (…). During the Cold War, the main venue of superpower rivalry, the strategic “center of gravity,” was in Europe (…) the new strategic center of concern appears to be shifting to East Asia.”7 The predominant objective of this strategy is not the fight against terrorist groups or states, but the maintenance and extension of the disparity between America and the rest of the world and the worldwide enforcement of the model of American dominance.

    3.2. Military superiority

    The first method employed to achieve this objective is the consolidation of unrivalled U.S. military superiority. In domestic terms this requires the building up of a national potential that naturally extends far beyond America’s borders. In external terms the emergence of any military and political rivals must be thwarted by whatever means are necessary. As far back as February 1992, the Pentagon’s draft Defense Planning Guide 1994-1999 stated: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.”8 The National Security Strategy published over a decade later reinforces this goal: “Our forces will be strong enough," the NSS states, "to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."9 In an interview on the Public Broadcasting Network the National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, put it more bluntly: “But if it comes to allowing another adversary to reach military parity with the US in the way that the Soviet Union did, no, the US does not intend to allow that to happen, because if it happens, there will not be a balance of power that favours freedom“.10 The logical upshot is that a “threat-based” military doctrine, as it is called, is being replaced by a “capabilities-based approach”, which stipulates that armament and military dislocation should be geared to defeating any conceivable attack by any conceivable enemy at any conceivable time.11 To that extent deterrence remains in place as a policy objective and instrument. But the rationale of this policy has changed. It is now a question of consolidating the uniquely dominant position enjoyed by the USA.

    3.3. Preventive wars

    The second element of this policy is the doctrine of “pre-emption” and, above all, of “prevention”. A preventive war was an option that was seldom articulated in the past and kept largely on the back burner. Rare examples were the threat of the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and the justification of the cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan under Clinton. Both these options have been given enhanced status under Bush. There was a massive increase in the calls for pre-emptive action of this kind after the events of 11 September 2001. Speaking at West Point in mid-2002, Bush said: “For much of the last century, America’s defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence - the promise of massive retaliation against nations - means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.” Preventive acts of war are now explicitly allowed on an extensive scale. They are regarded as permissible in respect of military strikes against terrorist groups, against states that support them and against states that are already in possession of weapons of mass destruction, in the process of acquiring them or merely attempting to do so. The USA has the unique right to intervene anywhere in the world, which includes military action that is “pre-emptive”, “anticipatory” or geared to “anti-access denial”: “……our best defense is a good offense“12 .

    Action of this kind – irrespective of what action the enemy actually takes – makes it clear that the notion of self-defence has been buried. What was previously regarded as being the last resort now becomes the done thing. The high level of uncertainty in respect of information and decision-making and hence the threat of destabilisation that is bound up with a policy of prevention no longer form part of the debate. The guideline drawn up in January 2002 on the use of nuclear weapons allows the preventive use of nuclear weapons against “rogue states” that do not have any nuclear weapons but are merely suspected of attempting to develop or gain possession of them. A barely heeded declaration made by the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, on 21 February 2002 marked the ending by the Bush Administration of the old guarantee given by the USA that it would only employ nuclear weapons against countries that were in possession of nuclear weapons themselves or in an alliance with a nuclear power. This was underlined by the enhanced efforts to develop nuclear weapons capable of penetrating deep into the earth and destroying underground bunkers.

    3.4. Global sovereignty

    The strategy of preventive war (pre-emption), which is understood to mean a widening of the paradigms of deterrence and containment, is closely bound up with the new vitality of the “hegemonic international law nihilism” (Norman Paech) that is exhibited by the present U.S. Administration. It is rooted in the idea that only the USA will be entitled to global sovereignty in the future world order. The notion of global sovereignty means that the USA will lay down international rules (e.g. on alliances and the formation of blocs), determine what constitutes a crisis (“state of emergency”), distinguish between friend and foe and make the resulting decision on the use of force. Only the USA is capable of employing force anywhere in the world. This is the third pillar of the new grand strategy, which is exemplified above all else by the concept of an exclusive right to preventive military intervention all over the world. The startling erosion of the war limitation potential enshrined in international law thus continues unabated following the introduction in recent years of numerous exceptional circumstances. Commitments to international alliances and, in particular, to the United Nations are rejected as constituting a restriction of the USA’s freedom to act.13 The claim to global sovereignty includes

    • the devaluing of international commitments in the form of multilateral agreements, international institutions and alliances,
    • the maximum possible enforcement of American law on an international scale
    • and a kind of U.S. Brezhnev strategy of “limited sovereignty”.

    The traditional approach adopted to underpin US claims to hegemony was to exercise direct control only of the foreign-policy relations of countries plus their finances and the militarily relevant high-tech sector. Now the scope of direct intervention has been greatly extended. The indirect control of the past has been replaced by “the right to intervene”14 . As a result, the destabilisation of international security arrangements is not only accepted, but actively pursued. Multilateral arms control regulations have been weakened. The ABM Treaty was terminated in December 2001 and a strengthening of the Biological Weapons Convention at the Fifth Review Conference in late 2001 foundered on the resistance of the USA.

  4. Empire

    The Director of the neo-conservative Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, Stephen Peter Rose, who worked in the Department of Defense, the National Security Council of the USA and the Naval War College and was a founding member of the Project for a New American Century, summarised the basic assumptions of this new military view of the world in mid-2002 as follows: “The United States has no rival. We are militarily dominant around the world. (…) We use our military dominance to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries (…) our goal is not combating a rival, but maintaining our imperial position, and maintaining imperial order (…) Planning for imperial wars is different from planning for conventional international wars. In dealing with the Soviet Union, war had to be avoided (…) Imperial wars to restore order are not so constrained. The maximum amount of force can and should be used as quickly as possible for psychological impact—to demonstrate that the empire cannot be challenged with impunity. During the Cold War, we did not try very hard to bring down communist governments. Now we are in the business of bringing down hostile governments and creating governments favorable to us. (…) Imperial wars end, but imperial garrisons must be left in place for decades to ensure order and stability. This is, in fact, what we are beginning to see, first in the Balkans and now in Central Asia (…) Finally, imperial strategy focuses on preventing the emergence of powerful, hostile challengers to the empire: by war if necessary, but by imperial assimilation if possible.“ 15

    The “new unilateralism” (Charles Krauthammer) of the USA has been accompanied for the past 18 months and more by the use in politics and political science of terminology that includes the “American Empire”.16 Among those who have talked of the American Empire are Henry Kissinger, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Joseph Nye, Dinesh D’Souza, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Kaplan and Max Boot. The terminology employed by the ‘Empire scholars’ (Emily Eakin in the New York Times) has adherents not just in the neo-conservative journalistic and academic camp. Essentially, the use of the term American Empire is an attempt to give expression to the concept that America is no longer merely an exceptional super, hyper or hegemonic power. What is needed is a “gorilla of geo-political designations” – the empire, in other words. The shift in terminology from “dominance” to “hegemony” to “empire” is significant, above all, because it highlights the classical concept of direct political control by an imperial centre. The emphasis is on hegemony through coercion as opposed to hegemony through leadership. It is a question of indefinite dominance. The rhetoric, concept, strategy and policy of the empire camp are not new. The difference is that they are now in power.

    Prof. Dr. Rainer Rilling, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (FRG), Franz-Mehring-Platz 1, 10243 Berlin. Mail: rilling@rosalux.de; Web: www.rainer-rilling.de.


1. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, Washington September 2002 (NSS), Preface by George W. Bush, p. 1.
2. Tony Judt: Review Its Own Worst Enemy, in: The New York Review of Books of 15 August 2002.
3. S. www.newamericancentury.org. J. Bookman: The president’s real goal in Iraq, in: The Atlanta Hournal-Constitution of 29 September 2002. Robert Kagan: Power and Weakness, in: Policy Review 113 (2002). The project called from the outset for Saddam Hussein’s removal from office, see Washington Post of 19 March 2002, The Guardian of 19 August 2002
4. QDR 01, p. 13.
5. West Point speech in mid-2002, quoted from Nicholas Lemann: The War on What? In: The New Yorker of 16 September 2002.
6. Quoted from Michael Lind: Is America the New Empire? In: The Globalist 19 June 2002. Cf. also New York Times of 22 September 2002
7. p. 2 f.; Robert Kagan, William Kristol: The Bush Doctrine Unfolds, in: Weekly Standard of 4 March 2002
8. Dick Cheney was then Secretary of State for Defense. The draft bears the hand of Wolfowitz and Libby. The report on “Rebuilding America’s Defense” of 2000 expressly picks up on this draft (p. 11). See Michael T. Klare: Endless Military Superiority, in: The Nation of 15 July 2002, Nicholas Lemann: The Next World Order, in: The New Yorker of 1 April 2002 and Frances FitzGerald: George Bush & the World, in: The New York Review of Books of 26 September 2002.
9. NSS, p. 30.
10. The Times of India of 26 September 2002. The sentence "The President has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the U.S. has opened up since the fall of the Soviet Union" was included in the NSS version issued on the morning of 20 September 2002, but it had been deleted by the afternoon, see the press briefing of the press spokesman, Ari Fleischer, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/20020920-2.
11. S. Michael T. Klare: Endless Military Superiority, in: The Nation of 15 July 2002.
12. NSS, p. 6: "We must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed” (NSS, p. 14). “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.” (Bush’s preface to the NSS, p. 2).
13. See New York Times of 22 September 2002.
14. See the remarks of the Director of Policy Planning of the US State Department, Richard Haass, in Nicholas Lemann: The Next World Order, in: The New Yorker of 1 April 2002.
15. Stephen Peter Rosen: The Future of War and the American Military, in: Harvard Magazine 5/2002.
S. H. J . Krysmanski`s website on the subject of the “New World Order” (2002); Jürgen Wagner, the Eternal Empire, Hamburg 2002; Philip S. Golub: The Imperium Americanum as a Historical Concept, in: Le monde diplomatique September 2002; Emily Eakin: “It takes an empire”, say several U.S. thinkers, in: New York Times of 2 April 2002; Thomas E. Ricks
16. Empire or Not? A Quiet Debate Over U.S. Role, in: Washington Post of 21 August 2001, p. A01.


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)

  1. Introduction

    This is the first Central Committee of 2003 and its major task is to emerge with a comprehensive implementation strategy for our 2003 PoA, within the overall context of our five-year PoA adopted at the 11th Congress. We spent the first two central committee meetings of the 11th Congress finalising tasks, resolutions and the political programme adopted at Congress. Our CC lekgotla embarked on a comprehensive discussion to finalise outstanding matters from Congress, and adopted the 2003 PoA. At that lekgotla we took a decision that this CC must be an ‘implementation CC’. This CC must develop an implementation strategy and undertake a detailed assessment of our state of organisation and capacity to implement our programme. We must also discuss and adopt provincial programmes of action and assess capacity to implement our 2003 PoA. To this end we expect a frank, self-critical, but focused discussion on a comprehensive implementation strategy.

    It is also important to highlight the fact that one of the key strengths of the implementation of the 10th Congress PoA was its focus on programme based activities and campaigns, including focus days, or weeks or months to galvanise our Party into action. We need to build on this and the PBC emphasised the importance of a programme-driven and programme centred communist activism. Our annual programme and campaign based approach have proven to be very important in the harmonisation of our activities.

    As we discuss our implementation strategy we should bear in mind that what we will be doing is an earnest implementation of our 11th Congress five year PoA, though we had already started with the implementation of our five year PoA last year already, notably our Red October campaign. We therefore need to sequence our annual PoAs such that they build on, and articulate with, each other within the overall objectives of our 5 year programme of action.

    One major weakness in our programmes of action and campaigns is that there has been uneven impact of these campaigns on sustained organisation. We have undertaken impressive mobilisation around our campaigns, but have not succeeded in creating sustained organisation of the masses around taking forward those campaigns, with the partial exception of the financial sector campaign. This was a point, underlined by the last PBC, as one of the key challenges of the Party. For instance over the last two years we have joined the letsema campaign around the opening of schools, but this has not translated into the building of strong school governing bodies, and education forums or structures capable of following through problems and challenges unearthed during these visits. With regards to our Red October campaign last year, there is an important lesson to be learnt out of the KZN experiences, which was the most advanced province in terms of the implementation of our Red October 2002 campaign. Out of that campaign have emerged Red October Brigades – a permanent communist volunteer corps – which have also been very active in the ‘right to learn’ campaign undertaken by KZN last month around the opening of schools. These Red October brigades were very active in assisting with the registration process, dealing with problems of exclusion of poor children from school, etc. This is the kind of product we need after every campaign in order to build sustained organisation.

  2. A Brief Political Mapping of the Political Terrain in the year ahead

    This section highlights the key challenges of the year 2003 domestically. In a later section we deal with international perspectives and challenges – obviously we should consciously seek to connect both the domestic and global terrain.

    The 2004 National Elections

    The year 2003 is an important year for our movement, our Alliance, and for our Party and the working class as a whole. Firstly, it is a year before the general elections. We must seek to approach our PoA and its major events as an important platform to seek to position our movement for a huge electoral victory with an increased majority. The challenge for our Party is that we should start now to identify some of the essential political and organisational tasks in this regard. This should include the question of intense mobilisation of our structures, increased contact and work amongst the masses, and the question of fundraising so that we are able to effectively participate in the election campaign next year. We should soon also begin to discuss what issues we want to see in an election manifesto.

    Directly related to this general challenge is the need to properly analyse and understand the political terrain within which the election is likely to take place and issues for the elections. In particular we need to conduct a proper analysis of the shifting class terrain and processes of class formation underway, progress made in seeking to address the interrelated national, class and gender contradictions, and the forces aligned to, and arraigned, against our movement and our revolution.

    Much more critically, for the Party and the working class as a whole, is the need to begin to discuss the kinds of issues we would like to prioritise in an election manifesto. But unlike in the past we should not just satisfy ourselves with the development and adoption of a progressive election manifesto – important as this is – we should also develop, as part of the manifesto, an Alliance implementation strategy. Such a strategy should principally rest on building and maintaining the mobilisation momentum created by the election campaign into post-election mobilisation for its implementation. In particular, we will have to agree on mechanisms and the correct positioning of the Alliance to act as a cohesive unit in the implementation of such electoral commitments. This would overcome one of the major weaknesses of the past two election campaigns, where high levels of mobilisation prior to the elections are not translated into mobilisation for implementing the manifesto.

    The State of the Opposition Parties and Formations

    The Democratic Alliance - The opposition in South Africa is weak and without a credible, alternative vision or programme that can address the needs of the overwhelming majority of our people. The official opposition in parliament – the DA – has been strategically off-balance since the break away of the NNP in the course of last year. It is caught in a series of strategic and tactical contradictions. Leon successfully propelled the DP from a 2% party in 1994 to a 17% DA by 2000. However, the 17% more or less represents a ceiling for any political agenda based on mobilizing minorities on the basis of fears about majority rule. Leon had, all along, realized this, his objective was to build momentum by first emerging as the official opposition by mopping up other opposition parties and their constituencies, and then, from this 20% (plus/minus) base, begin to position the DA as a credible “alternative” government. The next step was then to focus on breaking into the African constituency, visiting townships, rural communities, etc. However, the strains and the then split between the DP and the next largest component (the NNP) has badly dented this agenda, before the broadening out into townships agenda could really get moving. The 17% “secure” electoral foothold (phase one of the agenda) is itself no longer secure, and the oppositionist style that holds it together is being queried, including from within. The NNP, but also big business backers and the media circles that have supported Leon in the recent past have begun to query the wisdom of his obsessive oppositionism. Each, for their own reasons, worries about excluding themselves entirely from any access to the ANC government. However, it is precisely this explicitly and/or subliminally racist oppositionism that appeals to Leon’s core electoral constituency. The Middle East situation is adding to Leon’s tactical and strategic uncertainty. There is very wide national sympathy (far beyond our own core constituency) for the perspectives that the ANC-led alliance has adopted on Iraq and Palestine. Leon’s own natural constituency is thoroughly divided on these issues. We can expect the DA to try to shift the focus to Zimbabwe, and to try to imply that we are supporters (not of peace, Palestinian rights, and transformation in Zimbabwe) but of venal regimes. Clearly, we must guard against clumsy mistakes that simply play into this caricature of our positions.

    Whatever its weaknesses, we should not, however, too easily write off the DA. It has considerable resources, an energetic and often skilled cadreship, and its core ideology (neo-liberalism) is globally hegemonic, and supported by much of the media. The DA will focus on practical issues, related to bureaucratic inertia, lack of delivery, corruption etc. (HIV/Aids treatment, arms spending, corruption, road fatalities, BIG) are among the obvious themes. On these issues they hope to unite minority constituencies (“you see what a big mess ‘they’ are making”) and marginalized, disgruntled African communities. It is critical that ANC and SACP cadres do not fall into the lazy habit of simply defending everything government is or isn’t doing. Support, but critical support is absolutely key.

    Social Movement Oppositionism

    There is a significant social movement ground-swell in our country, and some (not all) of its mobilization and campaigning has assumed an anti-ANC/government character. Some of the more sectarian left forces within this process harbour electoral ambitions (notably the Anti-Privatisation Forum). Our task in regard to the broad social movements is to engage them constructively and seriously, while isolating and exposing the most sectarian elements.

    The space that this sectarian left oppositionist tendency is seeking to occupy is often space abandoned by the ANC itself. This left oppositionist tendency poses a potential long-term danger if we, as the movement, do not address ourselves to the issues taken up by progressive social movements. For instance, of late the ANC tends to dismiss all legitimate grievances against government as inherently “ultra-left” or “counter-revolutionary” and inherently oppositionist. In this way, the ANC runs the danger of driving itself into a laager, and of leaving mobilisation and political space to these sectarian forces. That is why it is important for the SACP, and indeed the ANC itself, to develop independent linkages and influence with these formations, indeed many of these social movements have our own members in both grass-roots and leadership positions.

    IFP and NNP and Co-operation Agreements

    We are also, as a movement, in co-operation agreements with two of the opposition parties, the IFP and NNP. We need to assess these agreements in an ongoing way, within both the SACP and in the Alliance. We need to be much clearer as to what our strategic and tactical objectives are - both in the short, medium and longer term - in entering into co-operation agreements. We also need to analyse what these parties want to gain out of a co-operation agreement with the ANC.

    In relation to the IFP, it is apparent that it remains a narrow provincial and Zulu nationalist party, whose future is tied to its control of the KwaZulu-Natal government. Earlier attempts to characterise the IFP as a potential ally by virtue of sharing the same constituency as the ANC have proven to be largely misplaced. The SACP had always insisted that whilst, in principle, there is nothing wrong in entering into a co-operation agreement with the IFP for the sake of promoting peace in KZN, it is important that we do not, in seeking co-operation, construct a version of the IFP that opportunistically sweeps aside its history and contradictory current reality. The IFP obviously has, as its mass constituency, a largely poor, largely rural (and/or migrant) constituency, but that does not mean that the IFP represents the interests of this constituency, or that the way in which it represents these interests is progressive and transformatory. Given this mass base it does mean, however, that we have some potential leverage over the IFP, and that we can pressure and/or embarrass its leadership into more effective cooperation on issues of transformation. However, we should have no excessive illusions about all of this. To understand the IFP requires a class (and gender) analysis (sometimes lacking in the more opportunist ideological reconstructions of the “IFP”), and an appreciation of the contradictory class dynamics at work within it. It has a majority rural poor and worker mass base, but the party’s leadership, structures and ideology are dominated by a Zulu bureaucratic bourgeoisie whose reproduction is closely tied to the maintenance of feudal-type structures in rural KZN. Understanding this reality frankly is the basis from which to handle any co-operation with the necessary strategic clarity and tactical finesse.

    The recent behaviour of the IFP – threatening to dissolve the KZN legislature – is a necessary reminder of what we are actually dealing with, a party whose fortunes are tied to being the ruling party in KZN. It is also a reminder that in order to defend its class interests, the IFP will always tend to rely on those who hanker for the past, whose interests are fundamentally opposed to the goals of transforming our country.

    There have also sometimes been illusions about the character of our cooperation with the NNP. Some within our movement set out to redefine the NNP as “Afrikaner patriots committed to the same ideals of national unity as ourselves”. The NNP is a center-right, conservative, opposition party. With a diminishing base amongst certain sectors of the white minority, its core base is among conservative strata of the Coloured minority. Our immediate strategic objectives in agreeing to a cooperation agreement with the NNP were:

    • to break the unity of the DP/NNP, delivering a major blow to a particular style of opposition politics (see above);
    • taking joint control of the Western Cape and key municipalities, including the Cape Town Metro, thereby also ending the stagnation that had taken hold in many local governments (non-delivery was blamed on the “ANC government” in many cases, even when we were not in power in local situations);
    • ending the dangerous alliance of white suburbs and Coloured townships against the African minority in the Western Cape (effectively what the DA in the WC represented).

    Without harbouring any illusions, and understanding perfectly clearly that the NNP is a conservative and oppositional party, we need to set ourselves the longer-term objectives of: helping to shape the character of opposition politics in general within our multi-party democratic dispensation. We must not present to the nation (or to ourselves) a world-view that holds that other political formations have one of two options – either to be counter-revolutionary (the “enemy”), or “essentially one of us”. It is precisely this kind of orientation that results in opportunistic swings within our own movement in the conceptualization of the IFP or the NNP – or even left-leaning social movements - (they swing from being presented as the “enemy” to “our closest friends” and back again, according to the tactical terrain). This kind of orientation also creates space for the fundamentalist oppositionism of Leon, if we treat opposition forces and their constituencies as the “enemy”, then it is easy to present us as “undemocratic”, “intolerant”, “dangerously authoritarian”, etc.

    This relates to a broader nation-building strategic task. We sometimes speak as though cooperation with the IFP or NNP will “deliver” their mass constituencies (insofar as the latter has one) to us, on a plate. They will, of course, never voluntarily do any such thing. However, an honest and principled preparedness to work co-operatively with all social and political forces is, precisely, the way in which we build and extend the broadest hegemony of our movement.

    This CC needs to frankly discuss these issues as part of assessing the political terrain likely to characterise the next election.

    The Class, Gender and National Interests of the Workers and the Poor as the Principal Platform to Advance, Deepen and Consolidate the NDR

    From the brief assessment above, it is therefore clear that the political trajectory of our NDR – at least in the short-to-medium term - will be determined by developments within the Alliance itself. With the Alliance acting as a united force - with internal collective debates on all key strategic and tactical questions, and a common programme of action - the better we stand a chance of deepening an NDR which places the interests of the workers and the poor at its centre.

    The significance of the Alliance for the direction that our revolution takes in the short to medium term is best illustrated by the latest round of attacks on the “ultra-left” by a small but not insignificant section of our movement – as classically illustrated by the Moleketi and Jele document. Opportunistically using the language of the socialist left - Marxism-Leninism – this attack on the “ultra-left” is nothing but an attempt to initially dislodge the dominance of the ideology of the socialist left within our movement. This is an attempt to redefine – in some fundamental ways - the strategic objectives of our movement away from a working-class bias, towards capitalist solutions to the contradictions confronting the national democratic revolution. We must understand this attack for what it is, and our challenge is not to concede even an inch to this offensive, we must expose and combat it in all its manifestations. We will do this, of course, in a firm but disciplined way. Failure to confront this agenda may result in the actual political dislocation of the working class and the socialist left within our movement, which is the ultimate aim of this offensive.

    An ideological offensive to place the class interests of the workers and the poor as the “centre of gravity” of the politics of the NDR and the Alliance should be one of our major objectives for the year 2003. Underpinning the above tasks should be an increased focus on strengthening independent working class organisation in all spheres of society. Related to this must be a conscious effort to deepen socialist propaganda in all spheres of our society, with a particular focus on deepening the socialist outlook of the working class. (In the section below dealing with the international situation we will underline how these class and ideological tasks now have important possibilities and challenges.)

    Some Important Events in 2003

    There are also a number of important events this year, which we should approach in a systematic and consciously strategic manner, as part of the struggle for the battle of ideas and for the strengthening of left perspectives in our country. These events are important for not only the SACP and the working class but also for our movement as a whole. In the year before the elections, we should also seek to use these events as important platforms for the election campaign.

    Firstly, 2003 marks the tenth anniversary of the assassination of our late General Secretary and popular leader of the ANC, Cde Chris Hani. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the death of Cde Oliver Tambo. Secondly, COSATU’s largest affiliate, the NUM is holding its national congress. Thirdly, there is the Growth and Development Summit, which provides a unique moment to address the disagreements within the Alliance over economic policy. Much as one event cannot address all our socio-economic problems, but it is an important moment to lay the basis for taking our country out of its current accumulation path.

    The year 2003 will also be marked by the holding of the 7th National Congress of our ally, COSATU. This congress is very important, coming immediately after the growth and development summit, and less than a year before the national elections. In itself, it is an important platform to consolidate Congress-aligned left perspectives and the socialist outlook of the working class.

    One of the most important developments for our country this year will be the Launch Congress of the Young Communist League. The YCL is going to be an important home for young communists and socialist youth. It is an important occasion – including the build up to its Congress – for our Party to send a message to the youth of our country, that capitalism is no solution to the problems facing them, and also as an opportunity to mobilise the youth, particularly first time voters to go and vote for the ANC in 2004. Much more critically, the launch of the YCL is an important moment to intensify propaganda around socialist ideology, and the relevance of socialist ideas and organisation for the deepening of the NDR.

    We therefore need to see all the above developments not as isolated events but as interconnected platforms for strengthening the left voice in our country. The concrete way, to link all these events into a single chain of strengthening the left, is to develop a common platform and message in all of them. But even more critical is for us to ask the question of what concessions can we win for the working class from the current conjuncture, taking into account all the events above? Most critically what kind of concessions do we want out of the growth and development summit?

  3. The ANC Conference, January 8 Statement and Programme of Action

    The ANC Conference, held in Stellenbosch in Decemeber 2002, was a major success. The 51st Conference enriched and adopted the very many progressive policy positions adopted earlier by the National Policy Conference in September 2002. The ANC Conference also sent a very powerful message of the need for unity within our movement and the Alliance. In this way, the ANC Conference also laid an important foundation for taking forward and deepening Alliance unity. The climate created by the 51st Conference for taking forward Alliance unity and a common programme of action calls upon all of us to seize this moment in order to consolidate Alliance unity.

    The ANC NEC 2003, January 8 statement (“Push back the frontiers of poverty!”) is an important addition in placing the Alliance on a sounder footing. We should welcome the January 8 statement, particularly the programme of action outlined therein, as an important basis for developing and implementing a collective Alliance programme of action. In essence, the statement is substantially congruent with our 2002 Red October Campaign as well as most of the elements of our 2003 PoA. Its programme of action focuses on united people’s action to push back the frontiers of poverty. Its thrust is on the need for a comprehensive social protection system, building of co-operatives, sustainable livelihoods, and mobilisation of our people for radical socio-economic transformation, with a particular focus on local economic development and transformation.

    The coincidence between the programme of action outlined in the January 8 statement and our own programme lays a very firm basis for a common Alliance programme of action. It is therefore incumbent upon us to take an active role in ensuring comprehensive implementation of this programme. Communists need to be in the forefront in implementing this programme.

    Of particular importance in the programme of action outlined in the January 8 statement is a commitment to creating a community development cadreship - a new kind of civil servant located in the midst of communities rather than solely behind desks in the civil service. The idea of community development workers is also fundamentally in line with our own Red October Brigades – a communist volunteer corps located and drawn from communities, committed to the service of those communities. This is how the January 8 statement defines and anticipates the nature and functioning of these new cadres:

    We hope that our government will take up the challenge of establishing within the public service a cadre of community development workers who will work directly with the people. These special public servants will have to be trained so that they are able to assist the people to tackle the immediate problems they face. Thus they should be able to assist the people to tackle a whole variety of questions, including those relating to health, welfare, agricultural development, economic activity, education and training and safety and security. Like our movement, our government will also have to communicate its programme of action to the country as a whole, to create the possibility for all our people and their organised formations to enter into partnership with their government, for the implementation of this programme of action (p.8)

    This is a completely new and welcome conception of civil service and community cadreship. Given our own experiences from our mass campaigns over the last few years, many communists are strategically placed to play an important role in the creation of these new kind of civil servants. This Central Committee also needs to discuss its own conception of what these civil servants should be doing and how. We need to ensure that this cadreship is able to effectively relate to and articulate with the mass organisations and struggles of our people. They should not be seen solely as civil servants, but servants of the people, working with already existing organs of people’s power. These cadres should act in concert with and build upon the experiences of our people in their daily struggles to transform their own lives. These new cadres should not operate above these formations and their experiences, otherwise they run the risk of being no different from the very civil servants they are trying to complement. They should seek to strengthen, and be strengthened by, organs of people’s power. As the SACP we should firmly locate the role of these cadres within our programmatic slogan of building people’s power where we live, work and study… with and for the workers and the poor!

  4. Building a Working Class-led Civic Movement and Independent Linkages with Progressive Mass Formations

    A critical challenge that the SACP needs to take up this year, and over the next few years, is that of taking a leading role in the building of a democratic, working class led civic movement. This should be our contribution to the building of a strong SANCO rooted amongst the mass of our people, with the working class at the head of such a civic movement. In particular we should seek to build a civic movement and residents associations which, whilst accepting every resident as a member, must also seek to orientate that movement towards a working class bias and socialism. The everyday struggles of residents should be used to link their experiences, not only with the gender and national contradictions, but fundamentally with the class contradiction in society.

    We should consciously seek to build on our financial sector campaign to progressively take up issues relating to access to finance for housing and investment in infrastructural development in historically oppressed communities. It is with this in mind that we should also seek to drive public works programmes, the building of co-operatives, the mobilisation of workers’ stokvels, burial societies, pension and provident funds for infrastructural investment in working class and poor communities.

    The immediate political and organisational task therefore is to link up with all those communists (not least communist councilors) working in various communities to focus their attention on this all-important task. This should be related to the task of building party discussion forums in all municipalities and the strategic deployment of communist councillors in building a civic movement and residents’ associations. Our focus on local governance as the “centre of gravity” of our programme over the next few years should manifest itself in the building of a strong, working class led civic and residents’ movement.

    At our 11th Congress we also took a resolution to build the rural motive forces for transformation. This programme of building a working class led civic movement must be the platform for organising rural communities into the main motive forces for transforming the countryside.

    Our CC lekgotla also discussed and adopted a resolution that as the SACP we need to deepen our own independent linkages with mass formations, particularly at local level. Our own deployment strategy for our leadership at all levels should also prioritise this task.

    The above tasks are not extra additions to our programme, but critical components of our strategy to make local governance the centre of gravity of our activities over the next few years. In other words we cannot realise our objectives of prioritising and doing work at local level without at the same time building capacity by building and linking up with mass formations at this level. Conversely, we will not effectively build and link up with mass formations unless we take up issues closer to the people at local level. Our entry point to this should be the platforms we have managed to build around the financial sector campaign and the registration campaign around social security grants. Effective linking with ANC structures at this level should be treated as a priority. We should consciously seek to make the ANC understand our perspectives and programmes at this level.

    We expect all these activities to be incorporated into the provincial programmes of action over the next few years, but we must begin in earnest this year to have an effective and qualitative presence of the SACP in mass formations and mass struggles, particularly at local level. As we pointed out above this is part of translating our campaigns into sustained organisation – both the SACP and progressive mass formations.

  5. The Alliance and the Changing Class Formation and Terrain of the NDR

    It is imperative that we build on the positive climate created by the ANC Conference and the January 8 statement to strengthen our Alliance. But it is necessary that as the SACP we also take a step back and look critically at our Alliance and the class context within which it operates. It is indeed possible that we are correctly, but mechanically, asserting the need for Alliance unity, without a simultaneous and on-going analysis of the changing subjective and objective terrain within which the Alliance is operating today.

    We need to remind ourselves, as it emerged very strongly at the Joe Slovo Memorial Seminar, that our alliance is fundamentally a class alliance. We have tended to regard the alliance principally and almost exclusively as an alliance of organisations, somewhat losing sight of the class basis of that alliance and those organisations coming together. For instance one of the complaints of the ANC against the SACP is that the Party “never used to criticise or differ with the ANC in the past”. From this there is an implied suggestion that this position should always be so, as a basis of deepening the unity of the Alliance. Whilst it is legitimate to learn from our history and do all to strengthen our alliance, we need to simultaneously ask the question as to what are the correlation of class forces in the current period, and where is the working class in relation to these. An exclusive emphasis on the organisational composition of the alliance, without focusing on its class foundations, tends to freeze the alliance into its (past) historical forms without adequate attention being paid to the implications of changing class realities in our society. Is it not possible for instance that some of the differences in the Alliance might be an expression of changing class realities both within the Alliance and in broader South African society? For instance to what extent are some of the government’s policies favouring certain class interests at the expense of others?

    Our alliance is fundamentally a class alliance of the black, mainly African, working class and the broader mass of urban and rural poor and marginalised, a black petty bourgeoisie, progressive nationalists, the black middle class and an emergent black bourgeoisie. Clearly our government policies have benefited, in one way or the other, all these class forces and strata. But at the same time, some of the government policies may be a threat to the working class or even to the sections of the middle strata and the emergent bourgeoisie. Given a hostile global terrain and the impact of imperialist and neo-liberal policies, as well as the emergence of new class interests within the ranks of the Alliance and society in general, there are bound to be new contradictions, albeit secondary, that emerge. For instance the current growth path and accumulation regime is on the whole against the consolidation of the interests of the working class, and arguably sections of the black petit and middle strata. We need to constantly analyse the class trajectory of the accumulation regime underway, and the manner in which it is impacting on the nature of the alliance, and how we should seek to respond collectively to it.

  6. Key strategic features of the current global reality – new possibilities for a progressive global politics

    In our political overview of the international situation at our CC lekgotla (November), we advanced the proposal that we were beginning to witness a new phase in global imperialism. We advanced the following general thesis:

    “Over the past year there has been a significant shift within the global reality. In particular, the posture and stance of the US has become more aggressive, more militarised, more unilateralist, more protectionist, less nuanced in its imperialist ambitions. This shift is NOT a rupture with the underlying and persisting realities of a century-and-a-quarter of imperialism, but it does mark the end of a particular phase within imperialism. The previous phase, lasting just over a decade, began around 1990, with the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. It was dominated by the illusion of “benign globalisation” and two major ideological discourses – an economic discourse of limitless growth through neo-liberal alignment (the Washington consensus); and a political discourse of “transitions to democracy”. These discourses shared a common set of assumptions – they were essentially about ‘convergence’…”

    We believe that with every passing day the correctness of this general thesis is confirmed. There is no need to repeat all of the points made in November. At our lekgotla, we largely concerned ourselves with analysing the main features of the post-Clinton US imperialist agenda, and the ways in which this new agenda was likely to expose the reality of imperialism and make possible an adjustment of ideological orientation, including within our own movement.

    It is necessary to now take this analysis further, and begin to advance perspectives on new prospects and possibilities for a progressive global politics. To do this, it is useful to briefly review what happened to the variety of progressive political currents in the 1990s.

    The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the general (but not complete) fragmentation of progressive, left-wing, working class, radical third-world, socialist and communist forces. Of course we should not exaggerate the unity of these forces prior to 1990, but the left project (in its various forms) was seriously and further fractured globally in this period. In the Party we have sought to analyse and understand the main features of this fragmentation. We have argued that it is both the consequence and cause of a series of inter-related factors:

    • The (almost entirely peaceful) collapse of the Soviet-aligned state system;
    • The hollowing out of the post-1945 social democratic project that had spearheaded post-war recovery in many developed capitalist economies;
    • The post-independence weaknesses of many (formerly) radical, progressive third-world movements/governments.
    • The global assault by transnational corporations and neo-liberal governments on the working class, particularly its most unionised sections – retrenchments, casualisation, disinvestment, etc.

    To generalise in a somewhat sweeping way, the above resulted in:

    • Disappearance of, turmoil in, or painful, defensive re-building of many Communist parties. Obviously there are very important exceptions (China, India, Cuba, and, on a lesser but significant note, SA), but generally CPs, where they continued to exist, found themselves on the back-foot for most of the 1990s, defending a working class politics on the basis of a numerically diminishing traditional working class constituency. The ability to advance a pro-active, forward-looking global strategic perspective was severely limited;
    • Many of the major social democratic parties adopted neo-liberal policies – with varying degrees of enthusiasm (UK, Australia) – others defended, but in a largely reactive way, an eroding welfare state. With the exception of some interesting, perhaps temporary, experiments (France), social democracy has been unable to develop any effective fresh global strategic perspectives. The shallowness of the “third way” of Schroder and Blair stands exposed by the rigours of the post-Clinton phase. The major social democratic parties have also contributed to and suffered from electoral shifts and negative currents among the populations of the developed world – xenophobia, short-termism, political apathy.
    • The continued degeneration of many (most?) radical national liberation movements in the South – Zimbabwe being one of many emblematic examples.
    • The international trade union movement – positively surpassing much of its Cold War divisions, but largely fighting defensive battles.

    Again to generalise, in the above conditions, the baton of global popular mobilisation and of anti-systemic politics has swung powerfully (and one-sidedly) towards social movement and NGO politics – what is sometimes called the “new left” (but which properly belongs to an old tradition – anarcho-syndicalism, cooperative socialism, etc.), as opposed to the so-called “old left” (communism, social democracy, trade unions, and third world national liberation movements). Some of the main tendencies (found in varying measures) of this social movement/NGO current include:

    • An inclination towards anti-politics politics – a mistrust of institutionalised politics (parliament, the state, multi-lateral inter-state formations)
    • A focus on single-issue campaigns
    • The use of informal networking, rather than more formalised institutional structures
    • A preference for direct action tactics, or oppositionist lobbying
    • An imaginative and creative use of media, and also the new internet possibilities

    We need to understand and appreciate the many positive features of this significant global current. Often better than other political/left traditions, this global wave of social movement mobilisation has punctured the myth of “benign globalisation” (with Seattle, Genoa, etc. being key moments).

    Its strength is, in many ways, a symptom of the 1990s crisis and strategic uncertainty of the other major left traditions. Much of the activism it has mobilised has often been around areas where there are institutional failures, prevarication, inertia by otherwise progressive governments (eg. HIV/AIDS treatment in SA)

    But it also has characteristic negative tendencies:

    • While its diffuse pluralism has enabled it to emerge organically and spontaneously in the midst of the complex 1990s, its diffuseness is also a strategic weakness. What unites many of these forces is often a negative single-issue (“anti-globalisation”, or, to apply this kind of politics to a regional reality, “anti-Mugabism”), and its ability to advance a positive, strategic programme of transformation is often very limited. Anti-globalisation forces might include workers from the developed north wanting more protectionism for ageing, non-competitive industrial sectors and third-world rural movements struggling for more equitable global trade and the dismantling of protectionism in the North. They might all march at Seattle, but their shared strategic objectives, beyond protesting against current realities, is often very limited, or non-existent. (Similar contradictions would apply to the forces making up the largely social movement originated MDC in Zimbabwe).
    • The tendency to renounce formal politics often means that bourgeois state power is left largely uncontested – (Marx’s old complaint against anarchism). Relatively vibrant and progressive, but dispersed, social movement politics have long been a feature of US politics, while corporation driven politics occupies the commanding heights of institutional politics, largely unchallenged (in the US the pluralistic social movement traditions are more a symptom than a cause of this capitalist monopoly of the formal institutions.)
    • The social movement/NGO popular movements are, by and large, left-leaning and progressive. However, their orientation and political agendas are contested, including by imperialist circles, and also by an “old”, i.e. sometimes very sectarian, ultra-left. There are many examples where their overall strategic role has been reactionary or negatively divisive.

    New emerging realities

    There are now very important new factors that are making a broader and more strategic global left agenda both more essential and more possible, surpassing the one-sided dominance of social movement/NGO popular mobilisation, without undermining the many positive features of this movement.

    Prime among these new factors is the militaristic, aggressive, unilateralist posture of the Bush Administration and the impending war on Iraq. The Bush agenda has

    • Sharpened intra-imperialist contradictions, on a scale perhaps unprecedented since 1945;
    • opened up contradictions between the US administration and the major social democratic formations (in continental Europe) and within social democratic parties (Blair versus his own Party) - these contradictions are partly related to the intra-imperialist contradictions, and partly about a struggle over the kind of human civilisation we are trying to build
    • sharpened anti-imperialist sentiments rallying a range of formations spread across third-world liberation movements/ states, social movements in the North and South, and the communist left

    Bush and the most reactionary international elements have attempted to use the tragedy of September 11th to shape a new global agenda (which was up their sleeves all along). This agenda is opening very significant space for an alternative agenda of global solidarity with the following principal points of focus:

    • peace – in the Middle East, but also internationally (including, therefore, DRC, Burundi, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire)
    • international multi-lateralism and against unilateralism
    • war on poverty, on the crisis of under-development.

    Our role as the ANC-led alliance

    All of the above underlines the many possibilities and responsibilities of our ANC-led alliance in galvanizing forces nationally, but also internationally, to strengthen a progressive global agenda. Two points need emphasising:

    • The core themes (peace, multi-lateralism, war on poverty) are precisely the core themes of our own post-1994 strategic agenda.
    • The ANC-led movement has within its traditions and resources a collective experience of all of the principal progressive traditions (communist, social democratic, labour, social movement, NGO, and, of course, radical third world nationalism) upon which we need to draw in order to advance a unifying left global agenda. In SA we now combine both broad movement and state power experience and resources. (Alongside of newly elected Brazilian president, Lula da Silva and the left alliance he heads, we have unique resources, and a strategic capacity and responsibility in helping to define and rally a progressive left global agenda.)

    The role of the SACP

    The SACP, for its part, has a responsibility to contribute to ensure that, collectively, we rise to the challenges of these emerging realities. In fact, the new situation is creating conditions in which, precisely, we are able to confidently affirm and follow (without any inferiority complex) the leadership of the ANC.

    One of the important contributions we can make as the SACP is to highlight the need for a thoroughly dialectical approach to the challenges confronting the world at this time. One-sided emphases, partial truths that are exaggerated (all of which have been a feature of the recent past), will hobble the possibilities for boldly advancing a progressive global agenda :

    • We need to assert the need for both North-South “partnerships” (an important social democratic theme, dating back to at least Willie Brandt and Olaf Palme – and taken up in NEPAD) AND consistent anti-imperialism (a centre-piece of Leninism). The global integration of economies, the disappearance of an alternative political/military/trading bloc makes engagement with the North inevitable and therefore imperative. The deepening intra-imperialist contradictions, the groundswell of progressive social movements in the North, and the struggle for multi-lateralism (including balanced and equitable multi-lateralism in the global economic institutions) all create favourable factors in the struggle for more progressive North-South partnerships. However, the advocacy of North-South partnership based on the illusions of a “benign globalisation”, or on Gorbachevian (i.e. anti-Leninist) notions of class-free human values will lead (have already led) to confusion and misplaced investment of energies.
    • We need to assert a consistent and strategic anti-imperialism – one that is not demagogic, chauvinistic, or backward. Our condemnation of an impending US war on Iraq is not a vote of confidence in Saddam Hussein, for instance.
    • We need to assert the need for unity between progressive governments (our own in the first place) and progressive social movements. As we have noted over the last several years, we (particularly government) have often mishandled or neglected our engagement and interaction with a range of (potentially) progressive social movements, treating them as the “enemy”, abandoning them to sectarian take-overs, etc. More than ever, we must close ranks as much as possible, offering dynamic (not bureaucratic command) leadership, and we must rapidly address needless areas of prevarication (HIV/AIDS treatment, for example).
    • We need to assert the importance of a basic macro-economic stability and sustainability in a country like our own as a critical measure for ensuring relative national self-determination in the conditions of our new epoch. Macro stability for this strategic objective, but, critically and fundamentally, ONLY for this objective. Macro stabilisation must be supported (in South Africa, as in Brazil), but its objectives must never be confused with a neo-liberal agenda.

    Mass mobilisation in the coming weeks against war in the Middle East offers a major opportunity to take forward in practice the agenda sketched out above. This requires heightened SACP activity to ensure that the ANC-led mobilisation is a major success.


Reflections on the contemporary significance, relevance and meaning of Joe Slovo’s 1988 pamphlet “The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution”

Blade Nzimande

Joe Slovo opens this famous 1988 pamphlet with the following important paragraphs:

“The increased tempo of struggle in our country in the last few years has stimulated a great deal of theoretical debate and political discussion among those in the very front line of the upsurge. Workers in the factories, youth in the townships, mass and underground activists, radical intellectuals, cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe, militants at all levels are seeking answers to the pressing strategic, tactical and organisational questions of the day. Increasing numbers of our people understand the essence of Lenin's political maxim: Without revolutionary theory, there can be no real revolutionary movement.

These discussions and debates keep coming back, in one way or another, to certain fundamentals: class struggle and national struggle, the question of stages of struggle, inter-class alliances, and the role of our working class in the liberation front. Many of these debates are between people who share common starting points; a belief that national domination is linked to capitalism and an acceptance of the goal of a socialist South Africa. But there is not always clarity on the most effective tactical road towards this goal.”

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:

“The classes and strata which come together in a front of struggle usually have different long-term interests and, often, even contradictory expectations from the immediate phase. The search for agreement usually leads to a minimum platform, which excludes some of the positions of the participating classes or strata. It follows that an alliance can only be created if these diverse forces are prepared to enter into a compromise. And it can only survive and flourish if it is governed by a democratic relationship between the groupings, which have come together. But when a front is created the working class does not just melt into it. It does not abandon its independent class objectives or independent class organisation. On the contrary, the strengthening of workers’ independent mass and vanguard structures is even more imperative in periods demanding organised relations with other class forces”

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.

“It is obvious that the black capitalist class favours capitalism and that it will do its best to influence the post-apartheid society in this direction. It is obvious that the black middle and upper classes who take part in a broad liberation alliance will jostle for hegemony and attempt to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans. It is obvious that (like their counterparts in every part of the world) the black middle and upper strata, who find themselves on the side of the people’s struggle, are often inconsistent and vacillating. They are usually the enemy’s softest targets for achieving a reformist, rather than a revolutionary, outcome”.

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:

“To eventually win the majority of our people for a socialist South Africa, we must spread socialist awareness and socialist consciousness now, mainly among the workers but also among the rural poor and the middle strata. We must also ensure that the working class emerges as the politically dominant social class in the post-apartheid state. But, it is not only to ensure a post-apartheid advance towards socialism that the role of the working class is crucial. The immediate objectives of real national liberation as envisaged by the ANC and SACP and whose goals are embodied in the Freedom Charter cannot be effectively fulfilled without the organised strength of the working class”.

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.


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:

“First, disillusionment (based on hard experience), amongst the majority of the people, with the prospect of achieving liberation by traditional and non-violent processes. Second, the readiness of the people to respond to the call for armed confrontation, at the beginning in the form of sympathy and later with practical support. Third, the existence of a leadership capable not only of gaining the people’s organised allegiance for armed struggle, but of carrying out the immensely difficult task of planning, preparing and directing the conduct of the whole struggle.”

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.


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:

“There is objective ground for the belief that ‘under South African conditions the national democratic revolution has great prospects of proceeding at once to socialist solutions’. This follows from the undoubted reality that no significant national demand can be successfully won without the destruction of the existing capitalist structure.”

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:

“The national character of the struggle must therefore dominate our approach. But it is a national struggle which is taking place in a different era and in a different context from those which characterised the early struggles against colonialism. It is happening in a new kind of world – a world which is no longer monopolised by the imperialist world system; a world in which the existence of the powerful socialist system and a significant sector of newly liberated areas has altered the balance of forces; a world in which the horizons liberated from foreign oppression extend beyond mere formal political control and encompass the elements which make such control meaningful – economic emancipation. It is also happening in a new kind of South Africa, in which there is a large and well-developed working class whose class consciousness and independent expressions of the working people – their political organs and trade unions – are very much part of the liberation front.”

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:

“In the case of the black middle strata, however, class mobility cannot proceed beyond a certain point; and again, this point is defined in race rather than in economic terms. Objectively speaking, therefore, the immediate fate of the black middle sections is linked much more with that of the black workers and peasants than with their equivalents across the colour line.”

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:

“The contrast between the large and experienced black working class (which, together with the rural landless, forms the overwhelming base for the national struggle) and the relatively undeveloped state of the black bourgeoisie is an obvious obstacle to the importation of bourgeois ideology into the national movement.”

Is this still applicable today – makes you think, doesn’t it?


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:

“When [the working class] gains political ascendancy as a result of a revolutionary breakthrough, it has no ready-made socialist economic structures which grow within the womb of the old society, in the way that capitalist property and capitalist relations of production evolved over a long period of time within feudalism. The advanced levels of division of labour and of social organisation of production under capitalism provide a foundation for socialisation but do not, in themselves, constitute socialist property. Laying the basis for the construction of a socialistic economic order is only possible after the achievement of political power.”

This is reiterated in the “The Path to Power”, the programme of the Party adopted in 1989 at the Seventh Congress:

“A socialist revolution differs from all the other revolutions in world history. It sets out to abolish private ownership of the means of production and all forms of oppression. The system of slavery, feudalism and capitalism are all based on the private ownership of the means of production and oppression of one class by another. Thus, capitalist relations of production developed even before the bourgeoisie had achieved political power. But the development of socialist relations, which will bring an end to the system of economic exploitation, cannot begin until the working class and its allies have won state power. While the material basis for socialism is created by capitalism itself, socialist relations of production are realised only after the political revolution.”

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.


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:

“…we have experienced tendencies to confuse detail with substance and to demand mechanical adherence to a mandate through thick and thin. Our negotiators should, for example, have flexible space to decide in the hurly-burly of negotiations whether (as part of a bargaining package) to concede 9 months in place of 6 months as a time-scale for the holding of elections to the CMB [Constitution-making Body]. “


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.


HERE COMES THE SUN – drawing lessons from Joe Slovo’s “No Middle Road”

(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.

“it would be idle to dispute that for a long time the enemy has considerable military advantages from his high level of industrialisation, his ready-to-hand reserves of manpower and his excellent roads, railways and air transport which facilitate swift manoeuvre, and speedy concentration of personnel. But…

here comes the “joke”

“over a period of time, many of these factors could begin to operate in favour of the liberation force…” (“South Africa - No Middle Road” in Southern Africa. The New Politics of Revolution, B.Davidson, J.Slovo, and AR Wilkinson, Penguin, 1976),

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:

“I want someone to tell me how the government is going to create jobs. It’s a terrible admission, but governments around the world are impotent when it comes to creating jobs.” (Trevor Manuel, The Sunday Independent, 9 January 2000)

This fatalism can either be passive in its stoicism, or active in its stoicism, the activism of compliance:

“A country such as South Africa, which started its economic reform in the 1990s, was prevented from using … interventionist methods by World Trade Organisation rules. Accordingly, we therefore tend to implement policy packages that are similar to those of the other advanced developing countries.” (Alec Erwin, Global Dialogue, 1999,

While we aspire to an African century, we are also told that:

“Capital is stronger than it has ever been, globally. It is in search of and hopes for a challenger who will have the temerity to launch a general offensive against it. In crushing such a challenger, as it would, it would not only send the message that the age of revolutions is over, but would also get the matter fixed firmly in the minds of the international proletariat that capital, exclusively, has the right to determine the destiny of the world.” (Jabu Moleketi and Josiah Jele, “Two strategies of the national liberation movement in the struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution”, pamphlet, November 2002, p.15)

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.

“This most dramatic period of economic advance, during which more and more Africans have been sucked into the modern industrial sector, has in fact been accompanied by a widening of the gulf between the races, by greater and not less repression, and by a growing gap between white and black incomes.” (NMR, p.107)

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.

“although the slogan of a Black Republic was, by and large, a move in the right direction, there were deficiencies in the exposition which, not for the first time in the experience of revolutionary movements, mechanically divided the phases of social change into rigid chronological categories. In the early period the perspective had been one purely of class struggle, led by the organised whites and leading to a workers’ and peasants’ republic which would then set about solving the national problems. In the later period the emphasis was in an exactly opposite direction; on the achievement of full equality and democratic rights as a distinct phase, after which the search for socialist solutions of South Africa’s other ills could begin.” (NMR, p.161)

“the pendulum had swung to an opposite position and the correct balance of revolutionary strategy was still lacking.” (ibid. p.160)

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:

“Our formulations do, of course, refer to `stages of struggle’, `stages of the revolution’, etc. What do these phases signify? They signify what every revolutionary practitioner experiences, which is that every political struggle has specific phases and stages… But there is no Chinese Wall between these stages; they flow from and into one another…” (ibid. p.36)

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.

“If every racist statute were to be repealed tomorrow, leaving the economic status quo undisturbed, ‘white domination’ in its most essential aspects would remain. National liberation, in its true sense, must therefore imply the expropriation of the owners of the means of production…There can be no half-way house unless the national struggle is stopped in its tracks and is satisfied with the co-option of a small black elite into the presently forbidden areas of economic and political power.” (NMR, p.141)

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).

“Here, there is no intermediate stage of a poor peasants’ struggle against landlords and kulaks (as was the case, say, in China or Russia), with localised economic confrontations paving the way towards a wider political consciousness.” (NMR, p.125)

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:

“If, on the other hand, the liberation struggle should bring to power a revolutionary democratic alliance dominated by the proletariat and the peasantry (which is on the agenda in South Africa), the post-revolutionary phase can surely become the first stage in a continuous process along the road to socialism, a road which ultimately can only be charted by the proletariat and its natural allies.” (NMR, p.148, JS’s emphases)

He approvingly quotes, in similar vein, an article by A. Zanzolo (‘The Theory of the South African Revolution’, AC 1st quarter, 1963):

“under South African conditions the national democratic revolution has great prospects of proceeding at once to socialist solutions.” (cited in NMR, p.140)

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:

“To engage in struggle is to invite enemy counter-action. To make certain no blows are ever inflicted means not to engage in struggle. This is not advanced as an apologia for some of the failings cited…but it emphasises the need to see these failings in the context of real social struggles and not just as drawing-board miscalculations.” (NMR, p.195)

In reflecting on the launch of the armed struggle in the 1960s, Slovo concedes a major strategic defeat:

“Although some aspects of the strategy contained in Operation Mayibuye were implemented… it is now a matter of history that its main purpose was completely frustrated; and the enemy’s reprisals rendered the whole movement abysmally weak in the years that followed.” (NMR, p.188)

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.

“Untimely inaction can often be as politically damaging as untimely action.” (p.181)

“the dilemma of timing…Experience of South Africa and other highly organised police states has shown that , until the new type of action is started, it is doubtful whether political mobilisation and organisation can be developed beyond a certain point…a demonstration of the liberation movement’s capacity to meet and sustain the struggle in a new way is in itself a vital way of attracting organised allegiance and support.” (p.194)

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.

“The exact moment when actual armed action takes place, therefore, does not always coincide with the most favourable local or national situation.” (p.195)

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:

“Measured by the yardstick of immediate achievement, each of these campaigns against specific measures failed…But ‘failure’ measured in such narrow terms has been the universal experience of every revolutionary movement. Until the moment of successful revolutionary take-over, each individual act of resistance usually fails, and is often crushed; and the radical demands of political action remain unsatisfied. In this sense ‘failure’ is the constant companion of all political endeavour by a dominated group which is not yet capable of winning power. The rare moment in history which makes possible the final victorious revolutionary assault is a compound of many elements. Amongst the most important of these is a people and a movement with an accumulated heritage of resistance, which, through all the immediate ‘failures’, perpetuates and reinforces the tradition of struggle. It is often only through the experience of these so-called ‘failures’ that the masses begin to understand the need for conquering state power and thus for revolution. And when the moment of revolution arrives, only a political organisation which has been with the people through all their earlier experiences can hope to command their allegiances.” (NMR, p.167)

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:

“… 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 so. Revolution as transformation.”

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:

“There can be no half-way house unless the national struggle is stopped in its tracks and is satisfied with the co-option of a small black elite into the presently forbidden areas of economic and political power.”

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.





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:

  1. Establish an inclusive, non-sectarian organ for continuous debate and public enlightenment about socialism and work towards creating a united platform for genuine socialists throughout Nigeria.
  2. Build alliances with the progressive strata of the society, including peasant farmers and their organisations, workers and their unions, the artisans and small-scale entrepreneurs, students, oppressed women and the progressive intellectuals.
  3. Coordinate the building of all other structures necessary for a renewed conduct of the struggle for socialism in Nigeria, given that the material conditions in the country already favour such fundamental change.
  4. Coordinate an open renewed struggle against imperialism in all its current forms including, globalisation and imperialist wars.

Transitional Programme

The conference adopted a Transitional Programme for renewed socialist struggle in Nigeria. Under the programme, Nigerian socialists and their organisations commit themselves to:

  1. Pose more vigorously the socialist alternative as the only viable option for eradicating underdevelopment, mass unemployment, poverty, disease, ignorance, wars, oppression and other symptoms of the decadent, corrupt and discredited capitalist system.
  2. Make the struggles for human rights and democracy more strategic by imbuing them with class content.
  3. Engage in electoral contest for political power under the banner of socialism.
  4. Struggle to change the character of the Nigerian state and its role in society. The transformed state must control the strategic sectors of the economy under the democratic leadership of the working people, provide social and welfare services and respect and promote human rights in the economic, social, cultural, environmental, gender as well as civil and political dimensions.
  5. Struggle for an Independent National Economy
  6. Create opportunities for the training of cadres through the establishment of education programmes, cadres’ schools, outreach centres and cells.
  7. Work towards a new Socialist International to co-ordinate the global struggle against capitalism


At the end of deliberations, the Conference passed the following resolutions concerning the state of the Nigerian nation, Africa and the world:

  1. Conference deplored the control and domination of Nigeria’s economy by international finance capital through the IMF and the World Bank and condemned the rapid transfer of the people’s property to rich individuals and foreign interests through the policy of privatisation and economic liberalisation. Conference rejected the model of national development based on global capitalism and the ideology of globalisation and therefore called for a renewal of struggles for a productive socialist economy on only which genuine public welfare can be erected.
  2. Conference congratulated ASUU, PENGASAN, NUPENG and NPA workers for their clear, patriotic and courageous stand against the auctioning of their industries which belong to all Nigerians to a few private rogues, foreign and local. In the same vein, it congratulated the Labour movement on all the struggles it has waged throughout the period of military dictatorships and the present regime treasury-looting gangsters.
  3. Conference expressed solidarity with the down trodden, oppressed and long suffering peasantry of our country and called on them to join the Nigeria Socialist Alliance so as to take power into their hands and end their suffering for all time.
  4. Conference condemned the reckless and mindless exploitation, denudation, abuse and expropriation of the Nigerian environment by transnational oil corporations and other traders in mineral and other natural resources with the complicity of the State. It furthered deplored the inequitable distribution of revenue from such resources.
  5. Conference expressed solidarity with the masses of oppressed, exploited and dehumanised women and resolved to work towards the abolition of all forms of oppression of women through the revolutionary abolition of class and gender oppression.
  6. Conference viewed with disdain the incapacity of the Nigerian state to solve the country’s nationality question and called on the country’s component nationalities to seek a democratic resolution based on dialogue, equality, social justice and harmonious co-e-existence. Conference supported the right of nationalities to self-determination, which can be achieved fully only within the context of a socialist federation.
  7. Conference condemned the promotion of wars in Africa through the use of Private Military Companies (PMCs) from Europe and America and condemned the imperialist interventions in Venezuela, Korean Peninsula, Iraq, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and various parts of the developing world.

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
Mass Education Group


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:

  1. An appropriate policy and the defined regulatory framework for the different options, including the criteria for selection of public services that will be subject to review under the alternative service delivery (ASD) approach;
  2. An assessment of the existing capacity of the private sector, in particular Swazi-owned businesses and NGOs, to provide public services;
  3. A list of specific public services identified as candidates for alternative service delivery (ASD) across the civil service;
  4. Measures to be taken to facilitate the participation of Swazi-owned businesses in the provision of public services;
  5. Criteria and the required legal and institutional framework for divestiture of selected public services to the private sector, in particular Swazi-owned businesses and NGOs.

(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:

  • Service contract;
  • Management contract;
  • Lease contract;
  • Concession;
  • Public-Private-Partnership;
  • Corporatisation

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:

  1. Privatisation leads to massive job losses. As a result of the current wave of commercialisation and privatisation in state-owned enterprises and the public sector, thousands of jobs will be lost. This is because “the government will not only be cutting jobs directly, but the commercialisation and or privatisation processes might themselves also lead to further job losses. This has been the experience of trade unions world over.” (PSI Research Report, 2002)
  2. Outsourcing and Casualization move workers outside their bargaining unit and thus expose them to:
  • Reduced pay;
  • Reduced benefits;
  • Job insecurity
  1. The majority of workers who face retrenchment are low-skilled Swazis who will not easily find new jobs. It must be remembered that for every worker who loses a job between six to ten people lose their livelihood.
  2. Job losses lead to poverty, which in turn results in an increase in crime, disease, illiteracy, hunger, etc.
  3. Privatisation hinders strategic intervention by the state into the economy. Since development requires fundamental progressive restructuring of the economy, state control of assets provides an important lever to achieve this aim.

    “Like all revolutions, globalisation involves a shift in power from one group to another. In most countries it involves a power shift from the state and its bureaucrats to the private sector and entrepreneurs.” ( Thomas Friedman: “The Lexus and the Olive Tree-Understanding Globalisation.”)

  4. Privatisation removes subsidies on basic goods and services, which then become unaffordable to the poor who constitute the majority of the Swazi population. Subsidies to small/micro enterprises and the similar sectors are also removed thus stifling economic growth.
  5. Due to massive poverty resulting from the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, most people cannot afford basic goods and services sold at exorbitant prices by private business. According to the Swazi Federation of Trade Unions basic food prices have increased as follows in the last 12 months:
  • Mealie-meal: 70%
  • Bread: 22%
  • Milk: 13.7%
  • Vegetables: 15%
  • Sugar: 7%
  1. Swaziland is amongst the most economically unequal and poverty stricken countries of the world as indicated by the following statistics:
  • 66% (2/3) of the population lives below the poverty line. Privatisation increases poverty and widens the gap between the rich and the poor;
  • Unemployment is estimated at around 40%;
  • About 300 000 people are starving and can hardly afford one meal per day;
  • HIV/AIDS prevalence is estimated at around 40% of the population;
  • There is no social security scheme to provide grants for the elderly, orphans, the unemployed, children, widows, etc.;
  1. Health service prices will skyrocket and become unaffordable due to the proposed privatisation of the pharmacy, laboratory and radiography departments in public hospitals. Poor people will not be able to afford treatment.
  2. Privatisation and casualization within the education and health sectors ultimately reduces quality service delivery due to its demoralizing effect on qualified professionals.
  3. Efficiency and competence within the public sector can be improved through proper management and not necessarily privatisation.
  4. Duplication and overlapping of duties and alleged overstaffing within the public sector can be addressed through the redeployment of workers within the public sector.
  5. Globalisation seeks to demobilise the people, turning politics into a spectator sport and transforming the citizen from an actor to a spectator.

According to the political scientist, Yaron Ezrahi:

“Many will see globalisation as little more than a mask used by certain economic elites for taking away the voice of the individual citizen. That is why some argue that globalisers in each society want to buy the media first, because they want to turn potentially aggrieved and assertive citizens into conforming consumers. Turning politics into a spectator sport is one of the subtle processes, which supports globalisation. It converts or transforms the citizen from an actor to a spectator, with illusions of participation.”

(Thomas Friedman- The Lexus and the Olive Tree- Understanding Globalisation.)

The Way Forward

“ The economic struggle of workers is doomed to frustration unless it is linked to the revolutionary struggle for national liberation and democracy, because every gain made by the workers in the economic struggle is immediately placed in danger and sooner or later stolen back again by the bourgeoisie and their Tinkhundla state.” - PUDEMO, Last Mile to Freedom- Ulibambe Lingashoni

The way forward should be based on the understanding that the key features of the Swazi economy are as follows:

  • High levels of poverty
  • Agro-based economy
  • Land remains in the hands of a few
  • The economy is no longer expanding, thus it is destroying jobs and not creating new ones, which also make it fail to absorb new job seekers.
    The Central Bank Report for 2002 revealed that in 1999, the Swazi economy was growing at an average rate of 3.7%; in 2000 it declined to 2.5%, and in 2002 it reached an alarming low of 1.5%.

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:

  • A state that will provide an adequate social wage for all people. This means a democratic and developmental government that provides basic services such as health, education, water, housing, welfare grants, electricity, roads, etc.
  • A state that formulates a new growth path for the economy. This means a state that intervenes in the economy in defence of the interests of its citizens particularly, the poor.
  • A state that ensures more equitable distribution of the country’s resources. This means more investments in programmes to alleviate poverty and reverse the legacy of unequal development and skewed distribution of resources.
  • A state that ensures greater democracy in the economy and state itself. Privatisation marginalizes the poor majority who cannot afford to buy services and thus participation in public and economic life becomes the preserve of the minority who can afford to buy.


“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:

  1. The Development of quality forces for the campaign
  • A trade union cadreship school on globalisation, neo-liberalism, privatisation, theory of the state, gender and class oppression, the role of trade unions in the national liberation struggle, etc.
  • Developing a dedicated programme of political education;
  1. Building Mass consciousness for action
  • A popular education programme on the effects of privatisation to communities and the poor through: community forums, public debates, seminars and workshops, workplace forums, media articles, forums in educational institutions, pamphlets and brochures, etc.
  • The co-ordination, intensification, strengthening and deepening of the anti-privatisation struggles by the various groupings;
  • Bridging the gap between community and the workplace;
  • Strengthening and building the various organisations under “lombutho”
  1. Rolling Mass Action
  • Mass action and stay-aways (general strikes) against privatisation. This action shall target all the progressive forces such as students, churches, the unemployed, workers, peasants, etc.
  • Building a sustainable movement to resist neo-liberalism, globalisation and privatisation;
  • Drawing lessons from struggles all over the world.
  1. Developing an alternative for Swaziland
  • A national forum for the future: towards a democratic and developmental state. This forum shall develop a programme to fight the evils of privatisation and linking them with the general socio-economic as well as political crisis in the country.
  • An aggressive land and agrarian reform programme is essential to stimulate economic growth and ensure food security for our people.

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.”


Book Review

Reviewed by Suraya Dadoo – Researcher - Media Review Network

‘The Assassination of Lumumba’ by Ludo De Witte (translated by Ann Wright and Renee Fenby)
(Published by Jacana, South Africa, 2001 (http://www.jacana.co.za). pp 226 including photographs, index, bibliography and endnotes. ISBN 1-919931-15-5)

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.