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Volume 14, No. 6, 20 February 2015

In this Issue:


Red Alert

BID TO Paralyse Parliament: No different to Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party in the Reichstag, and just look how all that ended up

The New Age

SACP Deputy General Secretary, Jeremy Cronin
Comrade Jeremy Cronin, SACP Deputy General Secretary: PIC by SACP Media & Communications

What is going on in South Africa's Parliament?

Let me begin with a detour into history, perhaps it will help to provide some perspective. In 1928, a year after its banning had been lifted, the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) contested elections for the German parliament, the Reichstag. This was during the period of the democratic Weimar Republic. The NSDAP (better known as the Nazis) received less than 3 percent of the vote, winning just 12 seats out of a total of 491. The Social Democrats were the largest party with 153 seats. The Communists won 54 seats. A range of centrist and centre-right parties held the balance of power.

The Nazis were undeterred by their low vote. Having members in the Reichstag was an important bridge-head for their ruthless agenda. They declined to behave like a regular parliamentary party. Their MPs wore boots and uniforms in the house and, according to one account, "conducted themselves as a storm troop unity."

The same source records that: "Whenever representatives of the government or the other democratic parties spoke, the Nazi members marched out in a body in studied contempt of the speaker, or entered in a body to interrupt the speaker, thus making it physically impossible for the Reichstag President to maintain order. In the case of speakers of other parties, the Nazi members constantly interrupted, often resorting to lengthy and spurious parliamentary manoeuvres, with the result the schedule of the session was thrown out of order."

Out on the streets, Nazi storm troopers conducted a reign of terror directed against left-wingers, Jews, gays, and even against recalcitrant members from within their own ranks. The thuggish conduct in parliament was not merely an overflow from the streets and beer-halls. It was a calculated strategy. A leading Nazi writer on constitutional law, Ernst Rudolf Huber, wrote of this period: "The parliamentary battle of the NSDAP had the single purpose of destroying the parliamentary system from within through its own methods. It was necessary above all to make formal use of the party-state system but to refuse real cooperation and thereby render the parliamentary system, which is by nature dependent upon the responsible cooperation of the opposition, incapable of action."

By 1933 Hitler had seized power, butchering opponents and turning parliament into a toothless non-entity. The rest, as they say, is (tragic) history. But let's not be overly pessimistic. I am not saying the anarchistic behaviour of the EFF in (and out of) Parliament is an indication that within five years South Africa will also be under a fascist dictatorship.

But let's also not be complacent. Remember many Germans in 1928 dismissed a paltry, less than 3 percent party as irrelevant. There are troubling additional historical echoes in our present – the cult of a megalomaniac personality with an oratorical gift; militaristic pretensions; a demagogic populism that mobilises on the basis of grievance and victimhood. There is also the shared backdrop of extraordinarily high levels of unemployment.

Perhaps we can draw consolation from the fact that, as another saying goes, when history repeats itself, first time it's tragedy, second time farce. What has been happening in parliament is still closer to farce than tragedy. But history warns us to be vigilant. What is particularly concerning is the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend inclination to collaborate with hooliganism by the DA and much of the main-stream media.

This collaboration consists essentially in a narrative that seeks to shift blame for the disgrace in parliament from the storm-troopers to the president or the Speaker. Could the ANC have handled the Nkandla matter better from outset? Most ANC MPs would agree. Could the Speaker have dealt with disrupters more effectively? Possibly, but even the gentle-hearted St Francis of Assisi himself would have battled to control delinquents without borders.

The Weimar Republic parliament was caught flat-footed by the onslaught of a dozen rowdy Nazi MPs back in 1928. Our own internationally hailed post-apartheid parliament was forged out of a common understanding that we were wresting a democratic, multi-party space out of civil war and social division. Compared to other parliaments I have visited, our National Assembly has had a security light touch. Our dignified, black female sergeant-at-arms has been a symbol of a changing society, and not of blunt physical power. Like the dozen Nazi MPs back in 1928, the EFF cohort has deftly exploited this reality. They are faithfully, if unwittingly, following Huber's script of attempting to destroy "the parliamentary system from within through its own methods" – spurious points of order, provoking evictions and perhaps over-reaction and then claiming victimhood.

On Tuesday in the debate on the State of Nation address, Julius Malema concluded his speech with the following words: "President, we will remove you. No matter by what means. Nothing will stop us. We will be taking over this country." EFF members (those still left in the party) rose in adulation. Members of the DA applauded. Don't say we haven't been warned.

Comrade Jeremy Cronin is SACP Second Deputy General Secretary, ANC MP and Deputy Minister of Public Works. This piece was first published by The New Age, The Think Section, 20 February 2015.