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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 13, No. 46, 6 November 2014

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Did the beaver save his life?
Not a bit: Fascism emerged

By Alex Mashilo and Hlengiwe Nkonyane

In his Selections from Prison Notebooks,Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by the Italian fascist regime in 1926, philosophically poses the question:  

"(The beaver, pursued by trappers who want his testicles from which medicinal drugs can be extracted, to save his life tears off his own testicles.) Why was there no defence?"

Dangerous prison conditions forced Gramsci to resort to complex text. As the editors of his book observed, he wrote"with an extra caution", "fragmentary and elliptical" in "character", combined with "frequent recourse to tricks to deceive the prison censor".

Gramsci's question was actually concerned with an analysis of the suicidal passivity of Italian "maximalism" and "reformism" before fascism.

Conversely, in our developing situation, the African National Congress (ANC) led Alliance which is the leading force of the revolutionary national liberation movement that dislodged the apartheid regime to the lay the foundation for the development of democracy in South Africa and the transformation of the South African society towards a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society, is faced with the forces that, albeit divergent and contradictory in their way forward, converge and coalesce on opposition to the movement and consistent attacks against it. These forces constitute, as one whole, opposition to the ANC led Alliance inclusive of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco).

The forces of composite opposition are found across the political spectrum consisting of parties that seek to preserve white privilege, various populist and opportunist tendencies from the ultra-left to the extreme right. The two extremes are separated by a thin line between them. They are very close to one another.

The full opposition spectrum now consists of a version of South African maximalists and proto-fascists who, unlike in Italy where maximalism was fatalistically passive towards fascism before its rise, have a cordial understanding with each other.

The latest state of opposition towards the ANC led Alliance has been forged in the context where the ANC has ascended to power in the superstructure - which comprises, but is not limited to parliament and government, while, on the other hand, the base structure - which is the economy, remains overwhelmingly in the hands of the capitalist class forces that supported colonialism, apartheid and, with regards transnational corporations which have an enormous stake in the economy of our country, also the class forces that continue to support imperialism.

There's therefore, although not often written about or discussed in public discourse, the state of both mistrust and hostility between the superstructure and the base. But the two, with the balance of (economic) power hugely tilted in favour of the base, which is one of the root-causes why the problems of inequality, unemployment and poverty persist, seem as though they are united. What's going on between the superstructure and the base, which is the same phenomenon that's going on between workers and their employers (exploiters), trade unions and workers' exploiters, is actually a dialectic of unity and conflict of opposites.

Meanwhile, increasingly since 1994 there's a few from within the ranks of the historically oppressed and previously disadvantaged who are interested in private capital accumulation. To that end what they seek is accommodation in the private ownership and control structures of the exploitative (this is what we mean by ‘fundamentally untransformed') base. For them, the meaning and definition of transformation must be limited to "diversifying" (i.e. de-racialising) the complexion of those who privately own and control the means and proceeds of production in the ‘fundamentally untransformed' base through the inclusion of black faces and, as a "by-the-way" (although not presented as such), including women.

These forces of reform are also found within the ANC led Alliance and broader movement. Some of them, or rather some of the beneficiaries that have emerged as such, have established links (through private equity stakes or shares, although in many cases they are subordinates) with the capitalist class forces of the pre-1994 South Africa (i.e. the colonial and apartheid era or regime bourgeoisies) and dominant transnational corporations. As a result, they have become intermediaries standing between the masses (including those within Cosatu, Sanco and even the ANC), the vanguard (SACP) and other revolutionaries (including within the ANC) who want a revolution or fundamental transformation on the one hand and, on the other hand, the old-South African and dominant transnational class forces of exploitation.        

Therefore, within the ANC led Alliance itself there's a relationship of unity and conflict of opposites with the forces of reform (who attract the support of some of the old-South African and dominant transnational class forces of exploitation) on the one side and revolutionary forces on the other. How the conflict will be resolved both in the Alliance and society ultimately depends on the configuration and composition of the balance of forces - make no mistake not only between the national but also of the international forces that are at play. (The South African economy is not just a national economy. It's an economy with transnational players and foreign states with vested interests involved).  

The whole phenomenon constitutes a complex situation which to approach simplistically and recklessly will not only prove to be infantile but also disastrous. This is what some sections of maximalism are engaged in by among others taking a short-cut, ignoring history and the fundamental nature of the forces behind the effects our people are faced with. What they say is that the sufferings (low wages, inequality, unemployment and poverty) have been imposed by the ANC and its Alliance partners the SACP and Cosatu (This is, of course, NOT true). This fits in very well with the campaign by the liberals, conservatives and their sympathisers (to mention but only three ideological leanings) who argue that we must no longer blame colonialism and apartheid. In this sense, a historical approach to understanding phenomena, its origins and development - a root-cause-effect analysis is not abandoned but attacked.

What maximalism says is different from what the SACP says: post-1994 there are policies, for example Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear), which ushered in high-road liberalisation and deregulation, and never paid attention to fundamental economic transformation, and thus failed to help us resolve deep-rooted problems which continued to persist. By pushing for a second phase of our transition characterised by radical economic and social transformation the ANC too recognises either the absence or lack of such a transformation in the first two decades of our democracy.   

On the contrary, maximalism swaps between the point of departure and the destination and campaigns for immediate arrival without travelling. It's trying by all means to feed from the ANC-led Alliance and revolutionary movement. Now maximalism, which is expected, has the backing of entryists of all sorts. In their marketing campaign, maximalists project themselves as "more revolutionary than thou". They attack the Alliance and its partners consistently and then say it's the Alliance and its partners that are attacking them as such. They are trying to manufacture sympathy by projecting themselves as the "the victims" of the Alliance. They want to instil in everybody, especially the workers and poor, a feeling that "they, too", have been "victimised" by the Alliance and the ANC-led government (On 7 May 2014 in the 5th general election the people rejected this fallacy).

Instead of focusing on waging and intensifying the struggle against economic exploitation and imperialism (the main problems facing the working class) and directly confronting the class enemy, the maximalists project the Alliance and its partners as the enemy number one of the people. Consequently, they are engaged in creating new organisations not only in open opposition but also in open confrontation to the ANC led Alliance and revolutionary movement. They are just not prepared to be convinced otherwise through persuasion. As a result, they react negatively towards constructive engagements including constructive criticism. They rather prefer to engage the Alliance via the private monopoly media.  

One proto-fascist right-wing maximalist faction, which is being paraded "robust" by the same media, has already theatrically turned parliament into a circus in which they practice their hooliganisation in their red-clown outfits - used to cover expensive designer labels.

To take our cue from Gramsci, we ask whether the ANC led Alliance and revolutionary movement will act like the beaver in the face of consistent attacks from the South African version of maximalism and proto-fascism, which are but two new chapters of a counter-revolution?

Will the ANC led Alliance and revolutionary movement embark on voluntary ideological and political self-disarmament, become fatalistic and passive towards the attacks the movement is facing, and then commit suicide?

What are the likely consequences not only for the ANC led Alliance and revolutionary movement but also for South Africa should the movement behave like the beaver?

Alex Mashilo is SACP Spokesperson and Hlengiwe Nkonyane is BA graduate from Wits University and she's presently studying towards an Honours at UNISA, both writing in their personal capacity.   


Reflections on the character of the international context
No 2: From method to analysis

By Comrade Solly Mapaila

In Umsebenzi Online (Vol. 13, No. 44, 23 October 2014) we looked at the question of the analysis of the character of the international context methodologically. We did this by means of a review of the renowned communist scholar, Antonio Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks, focusing particularly on his contribution, 'Internationalism and National Policy'. Our intervention today takes the work further. We share an overview on how the leading members of the Chinese Communist Party looked at the question several decades ago.

In the late 1980s, they were asked how they viewed the changes in the international situation. At the time the Soviet Union was about to dissolve. In their answer they had to reflect on an interrelated question. This was whether the old world pattern had come to an end and a new one has taken shape. The answers were interesting from the standpoint of today's international situation. It is said there were various opinions, but a single thrust emerged.   

The old pattern is changing but hasn't come to an end, the new one is yet to take shape.

Two issues were considered, i.e. peace and development. The Chinese concluded that the issue of peace hasn't yet been resolved, and that the issue of development was even more pressing than ever before.

What was changing, in particular, was the situation in which the Soviet Union and the U.S dominated all international affairs. They believed that in future, i.e. in the next 10 years or so from that time, the world could become three-, four- or even five-polar. In this "multi-polar" world, they asserted, in one way or another China will be, and will be counted as, a pole. "No matter what changes may take place", they said, China "should do solid work to develop" its "economy without delay". In order to appreciate the significance of this point, let's briefly return back to Gramsci:

"To be sure, the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is 'national' - and it is from this point of departure that one must begin. Yet the perspective is international and cannot be otherwise."

In the context of the multi-polar world they envisaged, they saw China being a pole. To firm up this direction, they saw quadrupling China's Gross National Product four times as an achievement that would be "an extraordinary success".

Despite the changing international situation affecting the Soviet Union, "no matter weakened" or whatever will be left out of it, may still be a pole, "even if some of its republics" withdrew from it. Indeed the Soviet Union later dissolved.

But history does not move in a straight line. Neither does it move in a forward direction only nor sail exclusively in smooth waters.

The world regressed to a unipolar with the United States at the helm of one pole, supported, mainly, by its European allies which would gradually lose control over their own foreign policy - later to be virtually replaced by automatic kowtowing behind U.S foreign policy. But the regression to a unipolar was only to prove to be temporary.

Changes in the character of the international context did not end, and are still going on today in various fronts – economic, political and even in military affairs. In fact the many developments that take place internationally are as a result of Western imperialist forces "defending" their hegemony - which is now facing multiple challenges and a threat of decline as a result of the reconfigurations taking place in the international balance of power.

This has been worsened by the recent international capitalist crisis that hit the epicentre of the system, the U.S, and plunged Europe in multiple crises. Although economies such as the U.S have recorded some degree of "recovery" from the crisis, this has not been problems-free. Neither does it necessarily reverse the character of the international context back to a unipolar world. It is in this context that increasing imperialist aggression is used not only as a means to maintain hegemony but also to cement recovery from system crises.

China surpassed many and recently Japan and is now the world's second largest economy. Based on this it has also become a pole in world affairs. Russia, which was the centre of the Soviet Union, too is clearly proving to be a pole. It has played the role of a pole, for example, in recent world developments such as the wars in Syria and Ukraine where it directly acted against the actions, economic, military and political interests of the U.S and its European axis of imperialism.

Recently Russia responded to Western imperialist sanctions through sanctions. The Western imperialist axis imposed the sanctions with varying degrees of willingness as a measure to tilt the balance of forces and gain an upper hand in international contentions involving Russia as a player. This occurred in the backdrop of the Ukrainian war as the immediate battleground but as well as the ongoing Syrian war and Middle East crisis. The common thread in all of these context is that they were sponsored by imperialism.

The impact on both ends of the sanctions between the West and Russia is still early to estimate.

However, Europe's largest economy, Germany, Russia's exporter of note and the most exposed to the "sanctions-against-sanctions" war is already facing difficult challenges. Recently the German government cut down its own economic growth forecast for this and next year to 1.2% and 1.3% respectively, compared to the early 2014 forecast of 1.8% for this year. The German government blamed "geopolitical crises". It is interesting to note that its own revision of growth forecast is even gloomier than the corresponding International Monetary Fund's, of 1.4% from 1.5% for 2014.

Surely, Russia's actions and the unprecedented "sanctions-against-sanctions" are based on its economic strengths. This, although not at the same level as that of the U.S, has actually emboldened Russia in addition to the availability of alternative markets to it.

The U.S and its allies are not in a position, or at least they are not ready to disrupt those alternative markets at an instance if not at least one of them - China, which plays a critical role in many ways in the world economy. The Western imperialist axis is itself inextricably tied to the Chinese economy through various links in such a way and to such an extent that to disrupt it would be to initiate what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (1848) in the Manifesto of the Communist Party call "the common ruin of the contending classes". This would involve varying degrees of self-initiated injuries. So, there are limitations to imperialist aspirations as well.

Despite China becoming a pole, and with it the fact that it has therefore become a non-inconsiderable factor in the international context, its international actions exhibit greater sensitivity to the potential "common ruin of the contending classes". China, which appears to be avoiding this scenario, has extensive economic ties with many world economies, including those that are involved in an open conflict against each other - the U.S and the EU on the one hand and Russia on the other.

Despite the varying extents in the international balance of power in different spheres such as the economy, the military, and as a result of the two, also politics, and in terms of which the U.S and its axis of imperialism still retain certain strategic advantages if all the data available are credible, the changes that have taken place over the last three decades and several years suggest that the world is no longer a straight-forward unipolar to which it regressed in 1991.

However, unlike during the Cold War where there was a contention between the capitalist and socialist trajectories with the U.S imperialist axis on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other, what we see taking place in many open conflicts is a contention for monopoly in the capitalist system. In this, the U.S and its allies are clearly pursuing imperialist domination and exploitation of the rest of the world. Along similar lines the renowned revolutionary scholar Comrade Vladimir Shubin (Umsenenzi Online, 9 October 2014) characterised the conflict in Ukraine as involving "a fierce battle between two groups of" the exploitative class.

However, it's important to note the exceptions in Latin America in terms of which there are left governments that are directly leading the struggle for socialism. It is towards this end that Cuba has withstood the U.S's 60 years old economic embargo that was imposed in 1960. In addition, the international context is characterised by the Chinese route - China insists that it's building "socialism with Chinese characteristics" but that it's only at the primary phase which is many years away from the strategic goal.

What about Russia?

While it's clearly committed to the struggle against Western imperialism, Russia's governing party, United Russia, does so within the framework of capitalism.

The left and world peace

Our historic mission as the left is to overthrow imperialism in order to achieve world peace, complete national liberation and full social emancipation for the working class and the oppressed as a whole. In this process, solidarity, international relations and cooperation such as BRICS are necessary to build global multi-polarity.

The China alternative?

It appears that the rise of China has brought about relationships that are different compared to the history of Western colonisation and imperialism. Of course it would be naïve to think that China has no national interests to fulfil. On the contrary, this is the universal aspect of many, if not all, foreign policies.

To advance its own development, the West colonially and imperially exploited and left many affected countries undeveloped or at least under-developed.

The rise of China - whose role is a subject for extensive study save to say the Chinese, a point they stated in the interaction we have cited, are opposed to what they called "hegemonism" - appears with alternatives to which there are many countries turning for assistance and co-operation. We have seen the West responding to this through the policy and "interventions" of regime change, this mainly directed at national leaders who, or parties which, are:

De-linking from Western imperialism. 

In this and other ways, the fact is that imperialist forces are involved in manipulating the weaknesses (both nationally original and unique on the one hand and on their basis those historically imposed by colonialism and imperialism) that form part of the national contexts of each affected country to cause destabilisation and war. Imperialist forces pick national sides and sponsor them and create further problems. They also use sanctions to alter the balance of forces in favour of domestic imperialist blocs (is SA an exception?).

This is how terrorist organisations such as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is now like a "Frankenstein's monster" posing a threat to its own creators, has come to existence, amassed the strengths that it has and through which it's wreaking havoc as is the case with the siege facing Kobane today. 

The phenomenon of terrorist organisations and client states that have been supported by Western imperialist forces which they later turn against is reflected in almost all of the conflicts taking place in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South and Latin America. The U.S and its European allies, including France - which is a dominant external force in its so-called former colonies in Africa - are, in addition to some of the local forces that are at play, also directly responsible for destabilisation or war in pursuit of control over resources and the exploitation for surplus extraction for world power. This is also the reason why Africa is facing the challenge of lack of unity (in addition to problem of dictatorships and lack of democracy "post-political-independence" in particular countries) and is unable to march in one step against the twin dangers of neo-colonialism and imperialism.

It will in fact be naïve not to think that the recent announcement of the creation of the BRICS Bank (The New Development Bank) has not caused concern in the Western establishment including finance. The events that followed, of increased aggression targeting Russia, for example could have the effect of negatively affecting its capacity to live up to the commitments made in the BRICS group. This could in effect be one of the intentions by the West in its fight for a grip on world hegemony to which alternatives such as the BRICS Bank could eventually prove to be a "problem".   

What about us, as continent?

OUR continent, Africa, is not completely free. In many ways the process of decolonisation is not complete yet. By and large many countries in the continent have achieved "political independence", with the notable exception, for example, of Western Sahara. The country was occupied by Spain and is now occupied by Morocco.

Morocco (which does not behave like an African country in many respects) must be pressed to evacuate and withdraw its occupation of Western Sahara. Our ANC-led Alliance and all its partners have been vocal in support of this cause, and have been part of mobilisation to further it. In addition, we are part of the Western Sahara solidarity movement in our country. Our government has since 2009 increasingly become vocal in solidarity with the people of Western Sahara.

The struggle to achieve complete decolonisation must be intensified both through mass mobilisation and in international bodies such as the United Nations, despite their weaknesses. Therefore, at the same time, we must intensify the just cause to transform those bodies and make them both democratic and representative.

The struggle to achieve the complete decolonisation of our continent is, however, faced with many other challenges.

While many of our countries have achieved "political independence", they have, in contrast, not achieved economic independence - this makes the process of political independence incomplete. Former colonial and Western imperialist powers not only retain major economic stakes in virtually the rest of the continent, this mainly through transnational corporations. They have actually strengthened their grip on economic power in our continent. This is used to exercise colonialism on a new basis - neo-colonialism, coupled with open imperialist exploitation and domination which is aggressively being intensified. Unless Africa is completely free from neo-colonialism and imperialist exploitation and domination, there is no way we will succeed.

Not even in SA where, for example, the U.S, Britain, France and Germany, to mention but a few Western imperialist powers, and Japan, for instance, continue to enjoy an enormous stake in the economy of our country - characterised as it is on the negative side by crisis-levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty. There is a thin line between the so-called Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the colonial and imperialist history of these enormous stakes in our economy. In addition, the political influence of FDI needs a thorough scrutiny. It will be naïve to think that FDI doesn't bring about political influence in domestic affairs, including policy making, and that it doesn't tilt the balance of power between the host and destination countries. The main question is what must be done to do away with its negative aspect?

In SA, for instance, when we talk about inequality, unemployment and poverty, we are not just referring to a national phenomenon that was shaped by the internal dimensions of Colonialism of a Special Type and apartheid. We are referring, at the same time, to a significant international phenomenon which South Africans, especially the workers and poor, suffer amidst massive extraction of profit and surplus expatriated to enrich a few, mainly, but not exclusively, located in Western imperialist countries. This surplus also contributes to revenue generation through taxes in those countries, which is used to advance development in their shores. At least in this sense when we confront many of the challenges and problems (such as inequality, unemployment and poverty) that appear to be national whereas in fact they are simultaneously international in character, we must acknowledge that we not only have domestic, but also foreign and dominantly imperialist, causal and structural forces to overcome. The enormity of this task must not be underestimated or ignored. 

If a question was to be posed about what the position of South Africa will be in a future multi-polar world, what will an informed perspective be?

While we must work very hard to assert SA to its rightful place in the international community based on the principle of equality, our future lies in systematically developing Africa to become a pole.  SA has the capacity to lead this process, working together with other African states that have more or less similar capacity and in fact all others. African unity as envisaged by great scholars and leaders like W.E.B Du Bois, Kwame Nkruma and Gamal Abdel Nasser must be advanced and developed further. The economies of African countries must be progressively integrated. This must be coupled with a simultaneous process of political integration. Both of these must lead to Africa becoming pole. Regional integration must be seen as one of the key ingredients in this regard. But the whole programme will not be possible without de-linking from the imperialist bloc.

Presently Africa is doing more trade with its former colonisers and Western imperialism than it does with itself. Instruments such as the French Community and the Common Wealth (which remains under British imperial control despite dropping the prefix British) continue to divide the continent along the lines of its former colonial masters.

There's also foreign military occupation in our continent with significant presence by France in some of its so-called former colonies and the U.S through its Africom programme (Africa Command). This military occupation and foreign bases must come to end.

The African Union (AU) is faced with major funding problems which are an outgrowth of economic exploitation and domination mainly by the Western imperialist bloc. Such a serious body in a continent that is ironically awash with natural resources cannot operate successfully on the "mercy" of donor funding. This problem must be addressed.

The process of decolonisation and de-linking from the imperialist bloc will, however, not be easy. Above we point for example at one of the barriers - the problem of lack of continental unity (and in some countries also lack of democracy) and highlight but one of its underlying factors. What's to be done to overcome this is a subject for further examination and consideration on its own, perhaps elsewhere (our present focus is to present a general overview, hence 'Reflections on the character of the international context'). 

What about SA, internally?    

One of our strategic weaknesses lies in our crisis-levels of persisting triple challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty. Despite the major advances benefitting the working class and poor in the last 20 years of our democratic breakthrough, the hard fact is that we have not succeeded in addressing these interrelated challenges. This is a direct result of a failure to transform our economy and its external links. Internationally, in Gramscian terms this means that we have not taken a start - we have not developed an alternative economic model from which other revolutions can take their cue.  

What we need is a paradigm shift. This means embarking on a second, more radical phase of the transformation of SA. Based on the fundamental principle of solidarity, together with regional integration and continental unity, this must also inform and guide our international relations and cooperation perspective. While forming a national point of departure, this shift must be international in character. It must develop a significant contribution towards a new, qualitatively different, world order.

Without addressing the problems of crisis-levels inequality, unemployment, poverty, their root causes, transforming and developing our economy and productive forces as rapidly as possible, we will not succeed in altering the character of the international context. In fact, we will be susceptible to potentially negative changes and deliberate sabotage in the domestic balance of forces.  

The SACP discussion document 'GOING TO THE ROOT: A radical second phase of the National Democratic Revolution - its context, content, and our strategic tasks' provides a detailed class analysis of our major weakness and the elements of the way forward.

Let's advance, deepen, defend and take responsibility for the National Democratic Revolution, 'The SA Road to siclaism'!

Let's intensify the struggle for socialism, and thus guarantee a revolutionary logical conclusion to the National Democratic Revolution!

Let's engage; A re boleleng; Asikhulume!

Comrade Solly Mapaila is SACP Second Deputy General Secretary