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Volume 10, No. 24, 7 December 2011

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The SACP on the current global capitalist crisis and the state of the left and its tasks

Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin
General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary

This coming weekend the SACP will be joining scores of other communist and workers’ parties drawn from all the continents of the globe. The conference will be held in Athens, Greece, and will amongst other things, discuss and share views and perspectives on the current global capitalist crisis and the necessity for a decisive left response. Outlined below are some of the perspectives that we will be taking to this important international gathering.

The character of the current capitalist crisis

The SACP has, over the last few years, undertaken a fairly comprehensive analysis of the current global capitalist crisis - characterizing it essentially as a three-pronged crisis that is:

a. Cyclical - a typical but particularly grave boom-bust cycle in which capitalist over-accumulation is resulting in the (capitalist) imperative of a massive destruction of value (factory closures, job losses, company liquidations, financial defaults and the "requirement" of government cut-backs). An important question for us is who will carry the burden, which class, and within classes which sectors (eg. finance capital or industrial capital)? Will public resources be used to bail out banks (as in the US), or as Germany and France are seeking to compel Greece, Italy, etc. or will bad lenders be punished and public resources be used to implement (at least) counter-cyclical infrastructure and social spending measures? This is one key struggle that is (fundamentally) a class struggle that is being waged across Europe and North America - with varying degrees of coherence and militancy.

Structural - a crisis of capitalist hegemony, in which there is a decisive shift away from the 20th century centres of capitalist accumulation. It is basically a shift of dynamic capitalist activity from North America, Japan and Europe to South East Asia. Again, as hegemony shifts, the old core centres fight back to retain their powers and privileges, and their access to global natural resources (eg. oil) in the face of competition from new centres of dynamic production, especially China. Again, who will "win" and who will "lose" in this global shift? This opens up a whole series of struggles - military conflicts (Libya), trade wars, currency wars, the battle for control over the agenda of multinational institutions, etc.

In the current global reality, unlike the earlier period analysed by Lenin (in, for instance, "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism"), the tendencies towards intra-imperialist armed conflict (eg. the First World War) are somewhat (but not entirely) remote, because of the much greater integration of, for instance, the Chinese economy within the accumulation process of the major transnational corporations. In turn, there is increasing Chinese economy’s reliance on consumers in the US, Japan and the EU. The continued robustness of Chinese growth saw a relatively quick resolution of the so-called Asian contagion of 1997 - but China is now both unable (given the sheer scale of the current crisis) and unwilling to shoulder the principal burden of propping up the EU or US. Hence major contradictions between China and the EU and US, on the one hand, and major class contradictions within China (continued cheap labour/export dependency or a greater focus on decent work, higher wages and a greater focus on its local market).

Instead, imperialist wars are increasingly being directed to weaker countries that have enormous natural resources, as is the case with the invasion of Iraq, the wars on Libya and Syria, that are supported by some of the major imperialist countries.

Civilisational - capitalism relies on incessant growth, and it is systemically incapable of a "steady state" trajectory (i.e. a trajectory in which what is consumed is naturally renewable). The current growth trajectory is leading to the wholesale extinction of natural resources (water, fisheries, arable land), to the destruction of small scale peasant farming in the South (and resulting mass urbanization), and to climate change that will impact most severely on continents like Africa and low-lying island states. A system based on profit and not on social and environmental need is incapable of resolving the climate crisis - as is apparent from the stance of the major capitalist powers in the current COP17 process.

The state and tasks of the left globally

Broadly, the tasks of the left globally in the context of this all-round capitalist crisis, is to have an active presence in all sites of struggle (whether the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US; or the popular struggles in Europe around the deficit reduction and unemployment; or the struggle for climate justice). The task of the left, as the Communist Manifesto eloquently put it, is to be in the midst of these struggles and to always seek to build unity and a deepening awareness of the systemic and structural character of the crises - i.e. an absolute necessity of abolishing capitalism itself.

In carrying out these tasks the radical "old left" from the 20th century (Communist Parties and progressive national liberation movements in the South) face a number of challenges which we should acknowledge frankly - not in order to liquidate ourselves, but in order to sharpen our capacity in the new global circumstances. Many of the challenges we face are organically linked to, are the flip-side of, the trajectory of global capitalism noted above.

The communist movement obviously suffered a severe setback with the collapse of the former Soviet bloc. The collapse was partly the result of unceasing destabilization strategies from the side of imperialism. But it was also the result of grave internal weaknesses - increasing bureaucratization, economic stagnation, the inability to advance the social needs of an increasingly educated population, and the resultant dramatic loss of popular support and legitimacy.

In the global south, many radical national liberation movements fought heroic struggles - but, on attaining power, also succumbed to bureaucratization, parasitic state corruption, and growing authoritarianism (and also frequently anti-communism). Part of the present complexity of the Arab revolt in, for instance Syria, is that deepening bureaucratic authoritarianism in an otherwise scrupulously secular, and consistently anti-Zionist, and relatively anti-imperialist state, has created space for imperialist interests to provoke a popular (although probably minority-supported) civil war.

In the South, particularly in cases where former radical formations are in power, it is imperative that the left (whether in or outside of the state) reconnects with a working class and popular base. But herein lies another challenge, the class composition and social location of the popular forces has been changing dramatically. In much of the global South, anti-imperialist struggles were waged largely by a rural mass base, led by an urban petty bourgeois (or military) intelligentsia. In many cases, there was also a communist and trade union presence - but very often, after taking power, the left was marginalized (often literally liquidated - Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, etc.). Since the post-1945 wave of liberation struggles in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and (in a somewhat different form Latin America) - there have been dramatic social changes to the composition of the popular strata. In particular, there has been a "youth bulge" and there has been a dramatic process of urbanization.

The left needs to grasp these new realities and it needs to learn to work more effectively with them. We also need to pose the question - what organizational measures do we need to put in place in order to avoid the historic tendency towards bureaucratization and stagnation, of especially progressive parties in power? This was a debate that cde Slovo first opened up in 1990 with his "Has Socialism Failed?". Amongst other things, he advanced the need to retain popular mobilization and agency (even when in power), and the need to provide a radical, left defence of what is often wrongly regarded as an inherently liberal package (the rule of law, a bill of rights, electoral politics).

The Middle East and North Africa

The most recent mass explosions directly and indirectly arising out of the current capitalist crisis have been in North Africa and the Middle East. The situation varies from country to country - in some cases, the popular uprising is directed against conservative feudal oil-based oligopolies, in other cases it is directed at authoritarian nationalist regimes. The uprisings in the Middle East are also directly and indirectly linked to the crisis of the global capitalist system and its impact on the popular masses in these societies. However, in most cases the uprisings do not as yet challenge the capitalist system itself nor do they advance socialism as an alternative. This is generally the case globally as Samir Amin, writing the October 2011 edition of the New Monthly Review, observes:

"The decline of capitalism might open the way for a long transition toward socialism, but it might equally well put humanity on the road to generalized barbarism".

Whilst these uprisings in the Middle East are an expression of the democratic wishes of the majority of the people, they are nevertheless a mixed bag, not only along national lines, but in terms of their potential for ushering a left-ward shift in these countries. One glaring feature of these uprisings is that some of them are supported by imperialism (notably Libya and Syria), and yet others are being subverted by imperialism (eg Yemen and Bahrain). Of course for imperialism the principal goal is to secure their sources of oil and other energy and not determined by a principled commitment to the emergence of democratic regimes. Imperialism’s goals are also informed by the need to protect the Zionist Israeli regime, and not to upset the current balance of military and economic power in the region.

Another significant feature of these uprisings is that whilst the left is part of the explosions, but it remains relatively weak, and is not at the head of these struggles. Whilst these uprisings open an important bridgehead, there is no guarantee of success unless the left is able to hegemonies these struggles. Samir Amin again, writing on the Egyptian uprisings that seems to have the most potential for a genuine left advance, makes the following (class) analysis of that situation, elements of which may also be found in a number of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa:

"This gigantic movement of the Egyptian people links three active components: youth "repoliticized" by their own will in "modern" forms that they themselves have invented; the forces of the radical left; and the forces of the democratic middle classes.

"Youth (about one million activists) spearheaded the movement. They were immediately joined by the radical left and the democratic middle classes… The youth and the radical left sought in common three objectives: restoration of democracy (ending the police/military regime), the undertaking of a new economic and social policy favorable to the popular masses (breaking with the submission to demands of globalized liberalism), and an independent foreign policy (breaking with the submission to the requirements of U.S. hegemony and the extension of U.S. military control over the whole planet). The democratic revolution for which they call is a democratic social and anti-imperialist revolution.

Although the youth movement is diversified in its social composition and in its political and ideological expressions, it places itself as a whole "on the left." Its strong and spontaneous expressions of sympathy with the radical left testify to that.

"The middle classes as a whole rally around only the democratic objective, without necessarily objecting thoroughly to the "market" (such as it is) or to Egypt’s international alignment".

On the side of the reactionary forces, Samir further observes that

"In social terms, the reactionary bloc is led by the Egyptian bourgeoisie taken as a whole. The forms of dependent accumulation operative over the past forty years brought about the rise of a rich bourgeoisie, the sole beneficiary of the scandalous inequality accompanying that "globalized liberal" model. They are some tens of thousands - not of "innovating entrepreneurs" as the World Bank likes to call them but of millionaires and billionaires all owing their fortunes to collusion with the political apparatus (corruption being an organic part of their system). This is a comprador bourgeoisie (in the political language current in Egypt the people term them "corrupt parasites"). They make up the active support for Egypt’s placement in contemporary imperialist globalization as an unconditional ally of the United States. Within its ranks this bourgeoisie counts numerous military and police generals, "civilians" with connections to the state and to the dominant National Democratic party created by Sadat and Mubarak, and of religious personalities - the whole leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the leading sheikhs of the Al Azhar University are all of them "billionaires."

It is interesting to note the similarities here between the reactionary forces in Egypt and our analysis of the class foundations and political outlook of what we refer to as the New Tendency in our country!

One of the critical challenges of the left in the Middle East has been its attitude towards religion, and how to harness the very strong religious movement and sentiment towards a left agenda. Indeed there is a very serious danger of these uprisings being captured by right-wing religious movements, as may be the case with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

However, it is indeed important that international linkages and solidarity are forged with especially the left forces in these countries, and build upon the work that the SACP has started doing through the Africa Left Network Forum (ALNEF).

Europe and Asia

The epicenter of the international communist movement in the first half of the 20th century was Europe, parts of Asia, with a struggling communist movements in the Middle East and Latin America, and the weakest being the African continent as is the case today in relation to the latter. As from the second half of the 20th century the European communist movement experienced a serious decline in the West, with the social democratic movement being on the ascendancy through the building of a welfare state. The collapse of the East European socialist bloc as from 1990 further accelerated the decline of the communist left in Europe. The seriousness of this decline is even more manifest now where the crisis of capitalism seems to be bolstering the right wing and not the left. This crisis even affected the social democratic parties with the severe rolling back of the welfare state as from the 1980's.

The more significant Asian communist movement is in power in China and Vietnam, and their economic trajectory (especially China) has more or less become interdependent with the North economic powerhouses, albeit with the latter in steady economic decline. The Indian communist movement, though still relatively large and strong, has also suffered serious electoral setbacks in the last decade, losing all the states it had controlled before.

Africa and the Middle East

On our continent there has hardly been much changes in terms of the weaknesses of communist and other socialist left parties. For some decades since the 1960’s, a significant left presence, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa were the progressive national liberation movements. But there has also been a weakening and even defeat of some of the progressive liberation movements, and in other instances, the coption of former liberation movements now in power by an untransformed post-colonial state.

The only region of the world where there has been some decisive left advances is Latin America. These advances have happened through a combination of mass struggles and the ballot in multi-party democracies (albeit partial in some instances). Those advances have largely been led by an alliance of mass movements without any significant presence of communist or left political parties which were seriously rolled back, if not entirely smashed, through decades of brutal and ruthless rule by US-backed dictatorships. Of course the Latin American leftist advances started prior to the onset of the current global capitalist crisis but were a response to some of the most destructive neo-liberal experiments of the late 20th century.

The need for new strategy and tactics for the left?

Whilst all the objective conditions are maturing for an assault on capitalism in one of its worst crises, the subjective forces and the motive forces for an alternative socialist struggle are indeed extremely weak. Instead the right wing in places like Europe has turned the crisis into an offensive against the social democratic policies, and exploiting emotive issues such as immigration, as the main culprits for the current economic crisis and not the capitalist system

Some of the lessons to be learnt during this period is the necessity to explore a range of a combination of old and new strategies mainly involving the formation of broad alliances, mass mobilization and mass based electoral campaigning, combined with effective use of state power where the left forces are in, or have access to, government. It is a struggle that for some time to come will have to be waged on a terrain of multi-party electoral politics. It requires new and innovative Marxist strategies.

Whilst multi-party democratic elections have on the whole favoured elites and the rich - something that gave imperialism confidence to experiment with elite pacts and negotiated transitions away from dictatorships in the late 80's into the 90's in places like Latin America - there have now emerged new possibilities for the left to exploit the multi-party electoral terrain, especially if effectively combined with, and butressed by, sustained mass mobilization.

Another arena of struggle that the SACP, as well as the whole of the left, needs to take up in earnerst is that of ecological destruction caused by the rampant accumulation of capitalism. This is even more important in the wake of COP 17 in Durban which seems to be headed for another deadlock with serious implications for our planet. In fact failure to ratify and extend the Kyoto Protocol or coming out without another alternative binding agreement in Durban has got very serious implications for our planet and the future of humanity.

The challenge for the left on this front is well captured in a recent interview with John Bellamy Foster, one of the foremost Marxist ecologists from the US:

"I think it is important to recognise that Marxists and ecologists are not entirely different groups. Of course it is true that there have been Reds who have been anti-ecological and Greens who have been anti-Marxist. But it is not uncommon for the two to overlap, and increasingly to converge. Many socialists are environmentalists and many environmentalists are socialists. Indeed, there is a sense in which Marxism and ecology, both classically and today, lead to the same conclusion. For Marx, the goal was the creation of a society in which the metabolic relation between humanity and nature (i.e. production) was rationally regulated by the associated producers.

"I would argue that a critical Marxist approach, especially in our time, requires an ecological worldview, while a critical human ecology requires an anti-capitalist and ultimately socialist orientation (i.e., a Marxist one). In terms of united work that Marxists and ecologists can share, I would say social justice and environmental sustainability: saving humanity and saving the Earth. You can't expect to achieve one without the other, and neither is possible under the existing system.

"Climate change, and the planetary ecological crisis as a whole, which is much bigger, is the greatest material threat that civilisation, and indeed humanity, has ever confronted. We are facing, if we don't change course, the demise of the Earth as a habitable planet for most of today's living species. But, as you say, it seems abstract. People can't feel it because it is not reflected consistently in the short-term weather conditions they experience on a daily or even a seasonal basis. Moreover, it is not a problem that grows gradually and smoothly, but rather one that will accelerate with all sorts of tipping points, issuing in irreversible changes".

An immediate challenge for the SACP, and in the wake of COP 17 and its immediate aftermath, is that of engaging our cadreship on matters relating to the environment, climate change and generally ecological issues. This will also require that we forge links with both domestic and international progressive ecological movements, also as a crucial component of internationalist working class solidarity.

Indeed in taking up these issues, we will have to navigate a contradiction facing many developing countries like ours, the simultaneous necessities to grow our economies and the destruction to the environment brought about by ecologically unsustainable growth paths.

The current global capitalist crisis will also require that all left forces globally seriously explore the potential to revitalize the communist and workers’ parties, other left, anti-capitalist, forces, as well as the necessity to build an alternative global left bloc.