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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 13, No. 45, 31 October 2014

In this Issue:

   

Red Alert

Second radical phase of SA's transition: Where is class analysis?
The SACP moves to give content to policy change

By Alex Mashilo

On Tuesday 30 October 2014, the South African Communist Party (SACP) launched the first discussion document on intensifying the National Democratic Revolution through advancing a 'second, more radical phase of transition'. The call for a second radical phase of South Africa's (SA's) democratic transition, dating back to 2012, was first put forward by South Africa's governing party, the African National Congress (ANC). It was adopted as a shared perspective by its alliance partners, the SACP, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and SA National Civics Organisation.

The ANC-led Alliance is at the forefront of an array of mass democratic movement formations, together with which it forms the national liberation movement that defeated the apartheid regime in 1994 to lay the foundation for the development of democracy in SA, and continues to enjoy an overwhelming support. The Alliance remains the best organised expression to move SA forward.

SACP General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande, and First Deputy General Secretary, Comrade Jeremy Cronin, addressed the launch, which took place in Cape Town. The 40 page document, titled 'GOING TO THE ROOT: A radical second phase of the National Democratic Revolution - its context, content, and our strategic tasks', presents extensive class analysis (which is what is missing in the National Development Plan's diagnostic) on the persisting triple crisis of high levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty in SA.

Class analysis is a complex process than simply commentating on surface-level happenings taking place between or within the working class and the capitalist class or other strata. Discussing 'historical materialism', Frederick Engels had this to say in his seminal work, 'Socialism: Utopian and Scientific': 

'The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.'

This is but only one aspect of the dimensions of the class analysis from the standpoint of which the SACP presents the context and develops the very first contribution on the basic content and our strategic tasks for the second, more radical phase of SA's democratic revolutionary transition.

As usual, the Party doesn't, however, make any siren announcement that the analysis it presents is a class analysis. The Party moves off from the surface and the effects - the triple crisis of inequality, unemployment and poverty - deeper into the essence, their causes and driving forces - these are all to be found in the economic base, the social and trade relationships and the politics that have therein historically developed. When (it is) deep there you might not find it if you look at the surface only. You might in fact as well start looking for a class analysis on class analysis. This is what happened at the launch when one of our colleagues asked: "Where is class analysis?" in the document.

The Party's approach is consistent with the great revolutionary theoretician, Karl Marx, who developed the most profound and fundamental critique of political economy, Capital, which was never overtaken by any since the first of its three volumes was published 147 years ago in 1867.

Marx applied the philosophy of materialism and its historical and dialectical pillars combined - the very method of class analysis employed by the SACP in its discussion document - without making any noise about this scientific enquiry into realty rather than in that philosophy itself (taking our cue from Engels, above). Like the SACP in its paper, Marx actually wrote less about the method, but applied it both extensively and consistently. He produced volumes of work many years ago but his analysis remains universally valid to the general movement of society.

Interestingly, he produced eleven 'Theses On Feuerbach'.

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it", reads the last Thesis!

Dear Umsebenzi Online readers, let us engage. But at the end of the day what we seek to achieve is revolutionary change - the second, more radical phase of SA's democratic transition. In line with the political theory of the SACP, this must complete with a culmination in the indispensable basis for an advance to socialism.

We are therefore pleased to present to you in the form of links, the 'SACP introductory statement at the public launch of a discussion document on the second radical phase of SA's democratic transition',

http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?ID=4540#sthash.yZT9XpBb.dpuf;

And the main paper, 'GOING TO THE ROOT: A radical second phase of the National Democratic Revolution -its context, content, and our strategic task' in a PDF format,

http://www.sacp.org.za/pubs/buakomanis/2014/vol8-2.pdf.

The SACP expects to produce the second edition of the paper by April 2015 for further discussion at its Special National Congress to be held during that month, taking into consideration all contributions to be received.

Alex Mashilo is SACP Spokesperson, writing in personal capacity.

 

Technological revolution and the communications industry

By Comrade Solly Mapaila

The communications industry has restructured almost fundamentally in the last 2-3 decades. This has occurred through a technological revolution, including the transcending of new technologies both in economic production and the household.

The evolution of computers through a robust process of product development and increased software applications used in end-user computers, for example desktops, laptops, tablets and the 'computerisation of cell phones' (i.e. the development of smart phones), have given impetus to the restructuring.

Increased flexibility to the ever growing software applications, the development of internet, and a robust growth in social networking and multi-media platforms, continue not only to restructure the avenues of information disbursement and exchange, but the structures of both production and employment.

All communications sectors are affected, including the print media.

As people shift their decisions on information sources and news, and increasingly find a reliable alternative and content in publishing what they like or find necessary to share using mobile phones, emails, online platforms, etc., newspapers and magazines are experiencing new challenges to circulation - a decline in demand and therefore volume (some are themselves shifting online from print). This is the direction we will intensify.

There are increasing questions about whether the figures that are being claimed on newspaper circulations to be still high in some respects are a true reflection of reality.

In addition, there are newspapers that survive, and not by a small measure, on public sector advertising. Without this they will definitely face major problems. The Sunday Times falls in this category. In fact it could as well be that it is public sector advertising that sells more than the news content being pushed. Multi-million of public resources in Rand value terms are monthly spent by the public sector through advertising. Surely this helps to keep such papers afloat.

Let alone their hostile content, this backs several questions.

Why is the state not establishing its own, or at least a public, print platform, or explore other alternatives to take advantage of its own advertising in the remaining print media space? Alternatively, why is the state not considering the demand for its and public sector advertising as a strategic lever of power to achieve transformation, this not only in terms of ownership and control, but also better conditions for workers in the media, and, of course, fair, accurate, balanced and objective reporting?

We must take these and other transformational, albeit vexing, questions seriously and press ahead with change to benefit the people as a whole, the workers and poor in majority. This is one of the important considerations for the second radical phase of our democratic transition.

Progressive trade unionism and restructuring

It is critical for the progressive union movement organising in the communication industry to constantly study restructuring as should be the case across all sectors. Restructuring has serious implications not only for employment, but deriving from it, trade union organising as well. With changes in employment structures, shifts and declining levels of the workforce, there simultaneously occurs serious organising and bargaining questions for consideration by the labour movement.

Let us go easy, for now. Who still remembers letter writing? Just think about what emails, instant messaging and social media platforms have done to it. What about the structure and levels of employment in postal services? And then the enormous efficiency with which interactive communication occurs?

Just in passing - there are implications for education as well especially among young people. Writing skills, spelling and grammar are all facing a decline in social interaction. With the rise of short message services (SMS) and instant messaging a new abbreviated language is rising.

Back to our track field.

As the old, traditional communication industry was and continues to be negated and the new one develops many workers were and continue to be retrenched from jobs in the traditional communication sector. The workforce that was previously employed both by the SA Post Office and Telkom, for instance, has been cut down "radically". A few months ago Telkom was contemplating further reductions in thousands of workers - all for profit maximisation linked with previous partial privatisation and full commercialisation.

In addition, what will happen in the postal services sector after the current strike at SA Post Office remains to be seen.

Letter writing between individuals is virtually extinct as we highlight above. Despite increasingly shifting to emails to replace letters, corporations still communicate to consumers through letters, for example in terms of monthly account statements based on the problematic financial retail and credit driven consumption - which among others we seek to confront through our Financial Sector Campaign.Municipalities? Likewise. Of course postal services also involve many other goods than letters only. UNISA for example is one of, if not the largest, client of the SA Post Office.

Unlike the SACP that supports workers in the struggle for better conditions, including pay, decision-makers in both the private and public sector who are interested in profit might be exploring a shift from the SA Post Office to the private postal services (which have by far deepened labour exploitation through labour brokers) in response to the strike and future strikes in future. Thanks the SA Post Office is comparatively affordable, the only main "barrier" perhaps still holding them back.

But there are also these other privately self-centred fellows, the tenderpreneurs. Who knows whether they are busy lobbying UNISA - which stopped students from directly collecting reading materials at the university in favour of postal services - to shift from the SA Post Office to feed their private accumulation interests?     

Traditional landline, mobile phones, and progressive trade unionism

The mobile phone sector has introduced new structures and relationships of employment compared to the traditional landline sector. Jobs that were, and remain, important in the landline sector have been cut off in the mobile phone sector due to the differences in the structure of production, including signal transmission, distribution and related maintenance.

As neoliberal restructuring entrenched, both at the SA Post Office and Telkom a phenomenon of labour brokers has taken root (worse in private postal services as we state above). The progressive trade union movement, with the full support of the SACP, has been fighting against this phenomenon which we want to abolish.

This just struggle against the 'proletarian slave traders' must be intensified in the communication industry as a whole as well. Private mobile phone and broadband service providers with large corporations being dominant (MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Virgin, Nashua, etc.) are using labour brokers too. They must not be left to run away with the blood of the workers on their hands.         

The progressive trade union movement will have to look at its own organising and collective bargaining strategies on a constant basis and keep pace with the times. The mobile phone sector for example has many small and outsourced outlets which are largely unorganised and not involved in collective bargaining. This needs greater attention.

There is a difference between organising small shops that are dispersed and big corporate entities with large centres of production, trade and retail. The articulation of collective bargaining towards the realisation and practical elaboration of centralised sectoral and industry bargaining to strengthen workers power will equally require an increased effort, new strategies and tactics.

Analogue to digital migration and terrestrial television

This process is both extensively and intensely contested to the extent that our country was held back from advancing. Analogue to digital migration will not only improve the quality of visuals and audio - at the heart of the contest are the forces of private capital accumulation competing for the billions in Rand value terms which will come with state subsidy to millions of households for the Set Top Boxes (STBs) required to decode the signal. Currently there is monopoly in the host of the digital platform which is used for pay television. The forces involved in this would not like to lose the monopoly. The digital space also provides increased capacity to host far more television stations than analogue.

All of these and the entire value chain which includes forward- and back-ward linkages, up- and down-stream activities, starting in the manufacture of electronic components, software and related "intellectual property" rights, assembly of the STBs, the logistics involved, installation and maintenance, the production of shows and studio equipment, etc., amount to billions and overtime trillions and more in Rand value terms. These are not only contested by the established sections of local capital in alliance with various factions of the tenderpreneuring strata, but transnational corporations as well, and, on their behalf, also through the trade and foreign policies of their "home" countries.

As the working class we need to intervene in this space urgently and dislodge the corporate capture of this process for the benefit of society as a whole!

Conclusion

In their analysis of class struggle, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)find that under capitalism the development of production technology makes workers' livelihood more and more precarious; improvement in production technology under capitalism, adds Marx in Capital, is not employed to ease the toil of the workers, but to deepen their exploitation and engage in price competition to feed private capital accumulation.

This leads to collisions between individual workers and employers, which, more and more assume the character of collisions between the two classes. Workers establish trade unions to engage in this struggle and keep up the rate of wages. But then while they do achieve victories, these become only for a time:

The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. But every class struggle is a political struggle. And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years." (Marx & Engels, 1848)

As we have showed above, modern industry has revolutionised the means of communication by adding more platforms, some of which we highlight above. This advantages the working class far more than at the time of Marx and Engels but in the direction they have pointed out.

Let us intensify unity and the struggle against exploitation. Let use the latest means of communication to be in touch with one another, directly, without relying on the intermediary mainstream media which generally exercises despotic censorship by large proportions against revolutionary working class content. At the same time, we must intensify the struggle against the very same suppression and the struggle against the exploitative logic of restructuring in the communication industry and across the entire sphere of economic activity.

Comrade Solly Mapaila is SACP Second Deputy General Secretary

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