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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 14, No. 44, 5 November 2015

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Intra-party democracy, consistent leadership: Combat factionalism, corporate capture and corruption

By Cde Solly Mapaila

The recent developments in our broader movement have tempted this reflection, to add to the debate about intra- or inner-Party democracy and the abuses it does face.

What happened during the recent student mobilisation against fee increases by universities - fees are not increased by the government but by universities and colleges using their institutional autonomy - illustrates the point, in terms of what became the isolation of, and personalised attacks against ANC national executive and working committee member who is SACP General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande. The lowest level this stooped was when the ANC Youth League President called for a march to the house of Comrade Blade’s family. This indeed defines the new pettiness instead of being consistent.

We cannot close ranks, unite and defend when reactionaries organise a march to the house of one leader, only to call for a march to the house of another leader who belongs to the same leadership collective and movement and thus not only negate the spirit of revolutionary solidarity but slide towards a dangerous phenomenon. As leaders we cannot fold our arms and be silent when such harmful tendencies are advocated in public. We must openly call order for all in our country and the world to know that we disapprove of the degeneration and are prepared to take action to nip it in the bud.

In addition, the student mobilisation also saw many other factionally co-ordinated activities to isolate Comrade Blade but the communists and the workers as a class. This included attempts at trying to solve the problem in a manner that marginalised and exposed him to more attacks and, ultimately, liquidation.

There can also be no doubt that the issue of the leadership of our movement in the context of the forthcoming ANC National Conference of 2017, linked with the 2019 general election and beyond, has factionally been brought to the fore. The old agenda to marginalise not only the SACP and its leaders but also the other organisational components of the working class within our alliance, along with the whole of the alliance itself, and this supported by abuse of internal democratic processes and state organs, including, the intelligence and security services to fight internal political battles as well as smear campaigns and vilification of certain leaders - seems to be bouncing back. 

The evolution of a democratic discourse, under constitutional and democratic conditions in the movement is indeed a subject of continuous debate and should be kept as such.

Deepening the relationship between the ANC and the SACP

The relationship between the ANC and the SACP is characterised by both the shared interests in the struggle for national liberation and the distinct historical missions as represented by the struggle for socialism and ultimately communism as championed by the SACP. Hence the Freedom Charter was adopted by the ANC as its revolutionary programme for national liberation and by the SACP for the same purpose but as its short-term programme to socialism.

Vladimir Lenin argues the same when he says:

“Can a class-conscious worker forget the democratic struggle for the sake of the socialist struggle, or forget the latter for the sake of the former? No, a class conscious worker calls himself a social democrat (read communist) for the reason that he understands the relation between the two struggles. He knows that there is no other road to socialism save the road through democracy through political liberty. He therefore strives to achieve democracy completely and consistently in order to attain the ultimate goal - socialism”.

He goes further to explain that the conditions for the democratic struggle are not the same because the workers will have different allies in each of these two struggles. This is important to observe particularly in terms of our current situation and heightened anti-communism, including from what our Party’s Secretary for International Affairs, Comrade Chris Matlhako calls anti-communist “left”. In other words, in our revolution, at this conjecture:

  • The democratic struggle is waged by the workers together with a section of the bourgeoisie, especially the petty bourgeoisie, particularly given that we have not built a black capitalist class in its classical form, yet we have rich black people.
  • The socialist struggle on the other hand is waged by the workers together with the rural proletariat and poor landless peasants against the whole of the bourgeoisie. Such a situation is currently debatable whether it exists at all or only in part, given the recent explosions of mass protests including students’ struggles.

As one of the outstanding leaders of our struggle, Comrade Joe Slovo further argues in the ‘South African Working Class and the NDR’: “There is both distinction and a continuity between the national democratic and socialist revolution; they can neither be completely telescoped nor completely compartmentalised.”

In the same vein, as our Party veteran, Comrade George Mashamba always reminds us, the national struggle is also a class struggle. Depending on which class ultimately plays the leading role in the national struggle, the character, direction, content and outcome of the national struggle will differ.

The great O.R. Tambo, longest serving ANC President in the book OR Tambo Speaks, correctly states that “to struggle against imperialism and colonialism, against national oppression and exploitation, against apartheid and racism has both nationalist and socialist tendencies”.

What President Tambo observed was that in the alliance there will always be differences because the alliance is an inter-class alliance made up of different organisations with different class orientations. He warns that if there is haste and the legitimate constant alliance contradictions are not handled properly we can reap one of the following outcomes:

  • The defeat of the revolutionary democrats and the communists and entrenchment of bourgeois “democracy”.
  • The defeat of the petty bourgeois and other counter-revolutionary forces and the advance to socialism.
  • The mutual weakening of the contesting parties leading to a debilitating stalemate and the emergence populist demagogues and tyrants.

Intra-Party democracy

Progressive and revolutionary movements and organisations that are democratic first and foremost organise on the basis of the principle of internal party democracy, also known as intra- or inner-party democracy. Inner-party democracy gives effect to member participation, innovation and creativity in decision-making processes. In turn, it develops the capacity of members to participate in such processes meaningfully, and from an informed point of view.

In his Capital: A critique of Political Economy, particularly in the preface to the First German Edition of 1867, Karl Marx discusses writing the book in such a way that he presupposed, “of course, a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore to think for himself (herself)”. In the same vein, inner-party democracy mandates members to learn all the time, think independently and express their views within relevant structures and processes without any fear or favour.  

As a principle of party organisation and party life, intra-party democracy thus recognises that things are not always as they appear to be, and that in fact their very appearance needs to be understood in connection to its essence both in its historical context and the rest of the surrounding environment. Rather than simplistic, the problems that confront the masses of the people are the outcomes of complex processes and material forces - not any one individual for that matter. The development and application of science are, therefore, important to grasp the nature of the underlying causes and drivers of those problems and to develop both the way forward and clarity of tasks. Science is elaborated in its basic form as guided by its five pillars of observation, experimentation, measurement, quality and quantity.

It is therefore an inherent feature of internal party democracy to develop the capacity of members not only to exercise their freedom of discussion but to do so meaningfully in the broadest, enabling and freest internal party environment. As Marx has said, in all sciences every beginning is difficult, and sometimes not even clear.

In addition, and as we all know, there is no revolutionary science that is at the same time static. Revolutionary science is always in constant change. This is an indication of living contradictions within every phenomena in society, nature and thought, making contradictions a necessary element driving development. The issue is, however, particularly in social sphere, whether such contradictions are hostile and therefore detrimental to the cause being pursued or harmonious and constructive towards the constructive development of what a movement pursuing (as Mao Tse Tung would extol this theory of contradictions).

All revolutionary science is thus alive to, and therefore keeps pace with the changes that occur in the conditions from which it derives its existence. This places more emphasis on members to keep pace with the time, to keep learning and to maintain the course of independent thinking rather just become uncritical consumers of leadership rhetoric. Members must engage and interrogate constructively what the leadership puts forward, and if need be even initiate debates.

In this context, clarity of thought, proper information and knowledge are central to inner-party democracy. In contrast, factional propaganda and the use of money to manipulate members and suppress independent thinking are the enemies of internal organisational democracy. These harmful things, which members and true leaders must condemn in theory and combat in practice do at times produce - but only factional and therefore momentary victories.  What those harmful things and factional victories achieve, in the long run, is the destruction of the whole organisation such that even those factionalists will themselves eventually lose as everyone else.

Dialectics teach us that there is nothing permanent. As we all know, death is a process, not an event. But how long an organisation may travel to its grave once it has been captured by the process and is unable to withdraw from it no one can work out with accuracy by merely looking at it. It is worth observing, too, when an organisation is sliding in quality even though it may increase in quantity.

It is the duty of every member, therefore, to exert themselves against all forces of death - the factionalists. No inch must be left to factionalists, no matter what position they occupy, no matter how good they may sound. Such must be defeated!
Inner-party democracy is by the way not only concerned with freedom of discussion. At its highest level, it is about unity of action - this is referred to as centralism. Internal party democracy is therefore also about a proper articulation between freedom of discussion and unity of action. We cannot say one thing in theory, only to do something different in practice. Consistency is important. Just as all members must exercise their freedom of expression during decision-making processes, they all must unite behind action once decisions are made and during implementation. Factional tendencies, however, misconstrue this process of internal democracy - i.e. democratic centralism.

Such tendencies confuse the “centralism” in “democratic centralism” with the dictatorship of their factionalism. Wherever they rear their ugly heads, they impose their factional will upon members and thus corrode internal democracy. What they effectively do is legitimation of factional capture - or if you like hijacking - of the constitutional form of the organisation and its abuse to serve their selfish interests.

It is in this context that manipulations of membership systems, buying of delegates and their votes at conferences or congresses, corporate links and capture, as well as corruption, manipulation of meeting outcomes, have emerged as serious threats facing the unity, cohesion and life of our movement. The class basis of this process of destruction is, however, the pursuit of private accumulation of wealth. This is linked with ascendency to political positions and the state and the manipulation of its, i.e. public, resources. Which is why this entire phenomenon is inherently corrupt!

We must deal corruption a huge blow. It must be defeated at any cost if we are to preserve the inner-most values of our revolutionary struggle for complete national liberation, peoples’ power and socialism!

But, the class basis of this problem lies in the relationship between the state, on the one hand, and the production, procurement and delivery of public goods and services, on the other hand. As things stand, this relationship is based on private enterprise and competition between sections of business for associated tenders. The struggle against factionalism and corruption cannot bury its head in the sand and turn a blind eye on the important task of dealing with this as a problem on its own and not just the cause of other problems.

In a very real way, what appears on the surface in the form of factionalism is in its content competition for state tenders and opportunities, for which ascendancy to and influence on political office are taken as the first steps. This misguided posture must be equally defeated.

We must always remember that “the life and development of society are determined, not by the wishes and ideas of outstanding individuals, but by material conditions, by changes in the mode of social production, and that the people are the real makers of their history, although not under circumstances of their own choosing. As Marx teaches us, ideas become a material force only when they take hold of the minds of the masses. In other words, “the course of history is conditioned, not by the subjective desires of individuals, but by the objective laws of development of society”.

What are the immediate tasks to embark upon in the implementation of our programme? The first, and perhaps the most important for the SACP structures and leaders is to occupy, as always, but intensify, the frontline trenches of existing revolutionary working class struggles and discharge our obligations to the working class. This includes connecting the socialist theory and practice with the working class movement. For instance,

  • The student protests and the demands affecting workers against outsourcing and casualisation of labour.
  • Cementing a deeper alliance between students and workers.
  • Reclaiming the townships and villages in concrete forms around real programmes on the conditions facing the masses on the ground and build sustainable township and rural economies.

We must orientate our ideological campus and fully grasp with clarity the current revolutionary and counter-revolutionary moments as well as the conjecture in our revolution and how to engage with it. We should be in a position to distinguish ourselves as a working class, Marxist-Leninist Party, from the rest of the broader democratic movement that we are part of. But we must never seek make any theoretical concessions on any matter of principle and adapt the revolutionary working class movement to the neoliberal capitalist interests.

What is the approximate reading of the concrete domestic balance of forces, between the democratic movement and revolutionary state intervention, on the one hand, and, on the other hand capital, the crisis-ridden and floundering neoliberal capitalist economic agenda guided less by the electoral mandate but the fear of ratings agencies and related new class alliances?

Equally, we need to analyse the relationship between the revolution and the explosion of mass struggles that need to be turned into a formidable addition to the fighting forces against the bourgeoisie appropriators. We should effectively use the current mass struggles to further strengthen our revolutionary forces particularly amongst the youth, students and workers and build strong university and college based branches.

What has become clear, though, is that, whatever our posture, without entrenching the Party in mass struggles and building its leadership of mass power we are not going to succeed to defeat reactionary offensives both from within and without, attempts at corporate capture as well as those who live on their spoils.

Let us combat factionalism, but in all its manifestations, and to the root! Let us assert intra-party democracy both as a principle and a primary right of members as equally asserted by the recent ANC NGC and as correctly captured in the Presidential political report to that meeting!   Let us deal a blow to factionalism and defend the dignity of the movement as a whole and advance towards socialism, the system to end capitalist exploitation of the working class and construct a new society based on the absolute will of the people!

* Comrade Solly Mapaila is SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary


SACP says Hamba Kahle Comrade Saraha Carneson

By Cde Jeremy Cronin

Sarah Carneson was tiny. Deep into her nineties she still had an impish smile and a cheeky glint in her eye that told you she was no push-over. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind but never in an aggressive or bombastic manner. To friends she would raise critical concerns over the direction of today’s ANC-led alliance. But her criticism was not that of an outside observer, nor was it ever tinged with the bitterness of former members turned apostates. She simply believed in her practical, down-to-earth way that the Communist Party, to which she still belonged, could and should be doing better. She was right.

Born Sarah Rubin in Johannesburg in 1916, her parents were immigrants. Her father Zelic was from Lithuania and her mother Anna from Russia. Zelic worked as a tailor and, unusually for the time, he employed Coloured and Africans along with whites as apprentices in the workshop in the backyard of the family home at 297 Bree Street. In later years Sarah recounted how “the house was always open. Everyday there would be about fifteen of us at the dinner table, comrades of my parents, students, artists, and unemployed.” She would also recall how in her school years she wrestled with the ambivalence of two worlds, the world of her family home where, later, regular visitors included Moses Kotane, and a very different whites-only, often bigoted world of school friends and their families.

When the Communist Party of South Africa launched in 1921, Zelic and Anna were founder members. Aged 15, Sarah joined the Young Communist League and at 18 she became a member of the CPSA. Later she would insist that she had thought twice about this, determined to make up her own mind and not simply follow her parents. Once she had decided, however, it was to be a life-time commitment. Sarah was thrown directly into practical work, teaching adult literacy classes to workers at the party night school.

For the next three and a half decades Sarah was involved in a whirl of organisational activity. She worked full-time for the League Against Fascism and War in Johannesburg, and then full-time in the CPSA Johannesburg office. In the late 1930s she moved to Durban where she was involved with the National Union of Distributive Workers, she was secretary of the Tobacco Workers Union, helped organise the largely Indian Sugar Workers Union, and served on the Durban CPSA district committee. Then in 1940 it was back to Johannesburg with another full-time stint in the CPSA office, followed by work in the People’s Bookshop.

In 1943 she married Fred Carneson, a fellow communist party member with whom she had worked in Natal. At the time Fred was a serviceman on leave from the North African campaign. With the war over, Sarah and Fred moved to Cape Town in 1945 with their first-born, Lynn. Fred was secretary of the Communist Party in Cape Town and in 1946 he was elected as a Native Representative to the Cape Provincial Council. In 1949 Sarah became secretary of the South African Railways and Harbour Workers’ Union with a majority African membership. Activism for the Carnesons had never been without harassment, but things were about to get a whole lot worse.

In 1950 the recently elected National Party government enacted its first piece of repressive legislation – the Suppression of Communism Act. Sarah and Fred were both listed as communists and in 1953 Sarah was served with banning orders. She was forced to resign from the Railways and Harbour Workers’ Union. Indeed, the banning order, as she remembered “listed a large number of organisations that I couldn’t be an office bearer or member of.” The list included the Peace Council, the Federation of South Africa Women, the Congress of Democrats, and the Guardian Cooperative. Even the South African Institute of Race Relations and The Christmas Club were listed. In 1956 Fred was one of the 156 arrested in the Treason Trial, and Sarah put her energies into a fund-raising committee for the families affected. The Carnesons now had three children, with John and Ruth being born in 1950 and 1952.

Things became tougher and tougher. Fred was to be detained no fewer than 60 times over the years. In 1960 Sarah was detained for six months during the state of emergency and was forced, as she put it, to “foster the children out”. In 1965 Fred who had been on the run was arrested, badly tortured, held in isolation for 13 months and finally sentenced to five years nine months. Sarah was now under house-arrest in the family home in Oranjezicht. The family savings were frozen, the house was bugged and there were constant raids. Sarah tried to make a living by running the home as a guest house. The security branch bribed and threatened guests and staff to inform on Sarah. At one point shots were fired at the house, narrowly missing John’s head.

In 1967 Sarah was again arrested for a breach of her banning order. With the threat of a ten-year jail term if she breached the banning order again, and with the pressures of social isolation and the effects of stress on the children, Sarah finally went into exile in the UK in 1968. There she worked in the trade union movement and in the financial department of the Morning Star newspaper. On his release in 1972 from prison, Fred joined the family in London.

Sarah and Fred returned to South Africa and Cape Town in 1991 and remained active in their local ANC and SACP structures. Fred died in 2000.

Earlier this year at the ANC’s 103rd anniversary rally I was seated near to Sarah up in the stands of the Cape Town Stadium. Sarah must have known she was probably attending her last ever public rally. The venue was overflowing with some 50 000 ANC supporters from all over the country, most of whom, I imagine, would never have heard of Sarah Carneson. As I watched Sarah, I was thinking about the dominant version of the so-called South African rainbow miracle, the fable that South Africa’s breakthrough to a non-racial democracy in 1994 was the work of two or three individuals. Someone got a message down to the podium on the field. The loudspeakers announced that a 98-year old veteran of the struggle, a Sarah Carneson, was in attendance. “If not for her and people like her, we would not have a non-racial society”, the loudspeakers said. The live TV coverage cameras scanned the crowd but couldn’t find Sarah. It didn’t matter. She was content to be among generations and generations of South Africans, young and less young, black and white. Things might not be perfect in the new South Africa, but an amazing struggle journey had nonetheless been waged. And not in vain.

Sarah Carneson, born Rubin, died last Friday in Cape Town aged 99.

* Obituary and biography by Comrade Jeremy Cronin, SACP 1st Deputy General Secretary


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