Volume 11, No. 10, 22 March 2012
The fundamental importance on the right to life and dignity: Communists celebrating Human Rights month
Blade Nzimande, General Secretary
The SACP this week joined millions of our people in celebrating Human Rights Day. For centuries millions of our people stood up and fought for the restoration of human dignity that colonialism and apartheid had denied them. Many of them gave up their lives in this struggle. Many, like the victims of the Sharpville massacre, were brutally attacked by the regime when all they did was to engage in peaceful protest.
The SACP warmly welcomes the President' message to the nation on this important day. In partiular we welcome the emphasis the President put on socio-economic rights, which was the major focus of his speech, outlining the many transformative interventions government has made on this score. The President's speech is a timely reminder that after all, for South Africans to enjoy full human rights we need to escalate the assault on the class, racial and gender inequalities underpinning our society.
In a hardly quoted judgement of the Constitutional Court in 1995, often deliberately and conveniently ignored by the liberals, concluded that
"The rights of life and dignity are the most important of all human rights, and the source of all other rights. By committing ourselves to a society founded on the recognition of human rights we are required to value these two rights above all others".
Whilst all the rights enshrined in the constitution are important, nevertheless our Constitutional Court has set the priorities right. The right to life and dignity are words with no meaning to our people when their daily experiences are that of grinding poverty, unemployment and a growing gap between the ordinary people and the rich. This is a violaton of the rights to life and dignity. When our health system is allowed to be driven by profit motives like the DA and the like minded organisations want, this constitutes a serious violation of human dignity and the right of life. Not only is the DA opposed to measures to translate the 'right to life and dignity' into a reality, but even support the genocidal violence and oppression directed at the Palestinian people by the Israeli Zionist government!
When our workers are in slave type relations with some labour brokers, working hard but with no benefits like pension and paid meagre wages, indeed there can be no dignity. The capitalists want to extract as much value as possible out of the workers and when they reach retirement age for instance, and thereafter it must be a burden on the state to look after them. It is in this context that the struggle against labour brokers must be understood, as a fundamental human rights issue. The decent work agenda, which most liberals oppose, is at the heart of the struggle for a right to life and dignity.
When one examines what is prioritised by the liberal agenda is that of checks and balances on government, and no such effort is put into ensuring decent work, the struggle against privatisation and labour brokers, provision of productive land to the majority of our people, and the complete eradication of all forms of racism and patriarchy. For the liberals these fundamental socio-economic rights are given much less emphasis as their agenda is to use our institutions of democracy to roll back whatever efforts the government is making to elevate the right of dignity and to life. Instead the liberals selectively use parts of the bill of rights, often to frustrate the realisation of some of the fundamental socio-economic rights contained in our Bill of Rights. That is why liberals, whilst claiming to be 'democrats' and 'constitutionalists', would oppose the National Health Insurance Scheme, affirmative action, skills development initiatives, and a decent wage – matters that are aimed at giving effect to the rights to life and dignity. Dignity includes fair remuneration for one's work, without a portion being stolen by labour brokers.
The liberals have in essence perverted and vulgarised our bill of rights, because they are capitalist bedfellows, and thus would not emphasise rights relating to life and dignity, especially if these stand on the way of capitalist profits. For them the rights that matter are those that can be used as platforms to attack and discredit government. Hence the DA is possibly spending millions of rands to try and overturn, through the courts, the decision of the NPA not to prosecute President Zuma. No such monies have been put to use to protect the abuse daily faced by domestic and farm-workers.
Government's efforts to improve the dignity of our people in the spheres of education and health for instance are continuously opposed by a new liberal onslaught on many other progressive governments programmes.
Dignity will have no meaning when a majority of our young people are unemployed and unskilled. This is the context that must underpin our engagements with the Green Paper on post-schooling education. Ours is to create a system that will restore the dignity of millions of young people who have effectively been told by the capitalist system that they are not any good. This message of doom and despair has its roots in the barbaric system of capitalism
As we celebrate Human Rights Day and month, the celebrations must act as a catalyst to our people to rise up, mobilise against the machinations of capitalism, a system that in the overall knows no human dignity and human rights. The nation must also stand up against the few who are corrupt and are prepared to take short-cuts to steal government tenders. Those who want to use their proximity to political office to accumulate are doing a great disservice to our people and to their dignity.
In commemoration of human rights week and month, the SACP commits to continue to mobilise our people in pursuance of their rights and giving meaning to the Freedom Charter and our Constitution. It is important for the SACP to take up the President's message by seeking to elevate the socio-economic rights as the core of our constitutional priorities of the 'right to life and dignity'. The liberals would never take up these issues as for them private capital accumulation is of a higher order than these rights.
We dare not allow the selectivity of the liberals to define the priorities in the struggle for human rights. As we have said, liberals are political hyprocrites whose mission is to protect the interests of the, often, white elite. The SACP should in addition take up matters relating to the necessity of expropriation of land, most ill-gotten through colonial and apartheid theft, as an important imperative contained in our constitution. In short, it is only intensified working class struggles that will give concrete meaning to the right of life and dignity and we must use our constitution to the full to realise socio-economic rights, and important requirement for the right to life and dignity.
Malesela Maleka, YCL SA NC and NWC member
Last year, one had the pleasure of being part of two important SACP cadreship development delegations to Cuba and China. The lessons and experiences from both these exchanges were indeed very informative and encouraging. Most of the discussions we had with the hosts are now having greater meaning and significance in the context of some of the developments taking place in our own country.
In Cuba, our three person delegation, after spending a week and half in Cuba was missing home and all three of us had succumbed to flu. In addition, our hosts had not given us documents we thought were necessary for our subsequent engagements. In one meeting at the Party School, one of the former Cuban ambassadors to South Africa arrived on time to mediate what had a potential to become one of the lowest points of our visit to Cuba.
Our last meeting after two weeks in Cuba was at the Communist Party of Cuba Head office with the African division of the CPC International Relations Department. We made it a point we will record our dissatisfaction with our comrades about our inability to go home with any documents to share with comrades at the SACP.
The Head of the African division asked us a question: what do you want to do with the documents? We replied, to show our comrades what Cuba is doing and to be able to reproduce such good interventions back at home. Then afterwards a discussion ensued at the end of which we arrived at the conclusion that we did not need documents from Cuba, for Cuba existed in different conditions and realities and thus it has shaped what it has shaped to suit the Cuban situation, guided by Marxist-Leninist principles. It would be a dangerous experiment for the South African revolution for the three of us to think we can simply reproduce what Cuba has done. We were embarrassed, but none of us said so.
The same three comrades were later on last year to form part of an SACP delegation to China, this time a bit more wiser from our Cuban experience, we took a rather well measured approach. Some members of our delegation went on a huge ideological exchange with the Chinese counterparts about the ideological correctness of certain things that the CPC was doing. Again, to cut a long story short, one answer emerged, the CPC had to undertake what it had to, guided by the Marxist Leninist principles, within the realities of conditions of China.
One line sums up our experiences, the dangers of dogma. More often than not we say this but act differently. For the success of our revolution and the struggle to build socialism we must be informed sufficiently about our own South African realities. We must not approach Marxist Leninist texts as a dogma. The dangers of dogma are such that we can have revolutionary sounding goals and objectives but pay little attention to concrete historical realities.
Now recently we have witnessed a rise in what one can call a dogmatic criticism of the SACP on two grounds. Firstly, the position of the SACP in relation to participation in government, often conflated with the state, and secondly the SACP’s attitude to refuse to approach matters to be simplistically and undialectically reduced to a YES or NO on critical policy debates. It cannot be correct that the left allows policy debates to be conducted in this fashion. Nationalisation (or what at least from the left ought to be a debate about what the SACP calls socialisation of the economy), you are either with us or with the imperialists. Toll- gates (or what at least ought to be a debate about public transport), you are either with us or with the sell outs. The New Growth Path – you are either with us or with the “new GEAR”.
This style of debate and approach to vex questions confronting society is not only dangerous but at best un-Marxist in the name of Marxsim and the struggle for Socialism. Whilst such “left” critics pretend as if they engage the SACP from a scientific perspectives, they are in fact informed by, often seriously flawed, if not opportunistic, ideological standpoint. There is however, an important issue being raised that we must all constantly be conscious of, the possibility of co-option of left leaders once they serve in parliament, cabinet and other organs of the state. But does this danger necessitate a principle of non-participation? I am certain this debate will not be resolved easily, but will have to be resolved by applying our dialectical materialism properly, not by shouting slogans.
In any case, in any capitalist society, people in leadership positions are always faced with the dangers of co-option. This does not only apply to government leaders, but trade union and other leaders (including in sports if the shenanigans at Cricket South Africa are anything to go by). To only pose this danger in relation to those in government is often a mask to hide accumulation tendencies by leaders in other spheres of society, either directly themselves or through spouses and family members. Therefore the issue of co-option and corruption cannot be associated only with those serving in government or the state. So do a number of so-called ‘civil society’ leaders have been found with their fingers on the till. The struggle against corruption or co-option must be waged on all fronts.
In relation to the issue of the state and participation of the left in government, it would be important that as we approach both the congresses of the SACP and COSATU, we start to debate much more forcefully the question of the balances of forces domestically and internationally. A collective understanding of these issues would help us approach the tasks and challenges facing the Zuma led government. This must be based on concrete analysis of the concrete situation, not merely on revolutionary sounding slogans. To simply imagine that this people we so loved have suddenly changed since Polokwane or since they got into government is to be over simplistic and blind to class forces in society and will not guide us to correctly resolve the crisis facing our country. Instead, what this will do is to entrench a leadership change culture simply because once we have taken decisions, progressive like we characterised the Polokwane ones, we leave it to the collective of the leaders we elected and we expect them to implement our wishes. The opponent is no longer our class enemy but our own product. Thus in such a situation opposing class interest are left in-tact whilst internally we are busy butchering each other. In addition, especially for the working class, we need to define our own roles and responsibilities, rather than to become professional critics; often in order to become media heroes.
The (twin and) flip side of the problem outlined above, was the attitude of those unseated in Polokwane, who adopted a conservative economic and political posture, on the grounds that the international balance of forces had changed and therefore unfavourable. Because of this, we were told, it was impossible to implement certain thorough-going measures. We consistently argued that this was incorrect. We must be careful not to relapse into that situation as well.
In his famous piece ‘Why Revolutionaries need Marxism’, Dialego had this to say: “Those who imagine that all revolutionaries need to do is act, forget that action on its own is not enough.”
So, without entering into a slogan throwing exercise, I would argue that the left in South Africa must properly debate the question of the situation existing when the Zuma administration assumed office and in that context what is it that the government could have possibly achieved. What is the goal of the Zuma led government in introducing measures like the National Health Insurance (NHI), the New Growth Path (NGP), the Industrial Policy action Plan and others. Is it just to give Capitalism a face lift or is the intention to build possibilities of being able to break away from the semi-colonial path on which our economy is locked?
Secondly, in relation to the institutional and political structures that we have inherited, is there commitment to break with the past or are we simply deploying cadres to run the state institutions to entrench the capitalist sway over society? It is commonly agreed, dogmatism aside, that we can use inherited state apparatus and transform that apparatus into a revolutionary tool in the hands of progressives. This is the crux and are we doing so? There are several other factors that have to be considered in assessing whether the socialist left continues to participate in parliament and cabinet. In a class divided society if we leave these important terrains of struggle, who do we really leave these to?
Thirdly in relation to the so called question of Nationalisation, what is the collective response of the left to the call by the political programme of the SACP; that of socialising the means of production? Lenin has provided several interventions that help us to differentiate between transferring ownership to the state and socialising ownership.
The challenge is not merely that of transferring legal ownership of the means of production to the hands of the state. The key issue is how do workers participate in the production process and how does that process meet social needs instead of a private motive. In other words we must give a socialist interpretation of the freedom charter clause that the people shall share in the country’s wealth and ownership being transferred to the people as a whole. How do we change relations of production over and above the ownership question. To raise this question is not to be anti-nationalisation, but is to approach the nationalisation issue from a correct left angle. State Capitalism is not our ultimate goal.
Similarly, merely deracialising the economic role players without breaking away from the semi-colonial growth path is not an option. Breaking away from the colonial character of the economy bequeathed on us by the colonial master and increasingly building worker control in an economic system that produces for the common need without depleting our natural resources are key tasks we must approach with elegant militancy.
In the end the critical question is how does the working class take responsibility for the very same government it elected and endorsed? Taking responsibility does not suggest there should be no criticism. At the same constructive criticism is very different from lamenting. This is where a proper debate should be located. Otherwise all we do is posturing, often at the expense of building on the advances made by government, on the many fronts the working class has fought. The lessons from China and Cuba is that we must answer these questions informed by, and informing, the concrete realities in our country, not through some abstract ideological blueprint.
by Emir Sader
Did you notice that there are people who say they are of the Left but who seem to only criticize people of the Left? Never against the Right, whatever it does. They specialize in pouring gasoline on any little fire within the Left.
They never recognize victories, conquests, advances. They only make predictions of defeats, treasons, turns to the Right, whose sin will be always denounced as responsibility of the Left. They revel in defeats, the bigger the better, for they are others' fault, no matter that common people are the ones who pay the price.
They are great at preparing balance sheets of defeats, but they never can propose alternatives and never succeed in leading any process. They are always critics. A species of vultures, feeding only on carrion. Ravens, who always foretell catastrophes.
That someone says he is of the Left doesn't mean he gets respect, unless he is up for the struggle against the Right. In this department they just lie low, lurking to attack the Left, for not being radical enough, not defeating the Right radically and definitively. They themselves are not capable of making a dent in the power of the Right, nor are they centrally preoccupied with this. What matters to them above all is all the "treasons" of the Left.
In serious situations like Bolivia today, for example, they ratchet up rancor at Evo Morales and his leadership, just as they took the same stance against Lula in Brazil. All of them "betrayed," including Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa, Pepe Mujica, the Kirchners, Fernando Lugo, Mauricio Funes -- only they are pure. Except that people don't believe it, so they never manage to organize popular movements with strong grassroots participation, they don't lead any process, they can't tell you a single case where their ideas led to victories and advances.
They don't appreciate the agrarian reform, the nationalization of mines, the Constituent Assembly put into practice by Evo. They don't support sovereign foreign policy measures of Brazil: recognition of Palestine, mediation with Iran, support for Cuba. Only denunciations, because their universe is not the general struggle of people, but the limited universe of the Left. They don't push forward mass struggles, only ideological struggles. They don't build political power to advance the Left, they try to always divide it.
Conflicts on the Left, in the popular camp, must be discussed and treated as conflicts among tendencies of the Left, be they more moderate or more radical, without issuing excommunications that throw others out of the camp of the Left. This attitude is the first step toward bundling other tendencies of the Left with the Right and taking equal distance from both.