Demanding a consensus
What will result from the SACP’s call for a ‘reconfigured alliance’ with the ANC? Peter Manson reports on the party’s continuing divisions
All is not well within the South African Communist Party, it seems. The SACP is the best organised component of the African National Congress, and before Jacob Zuma’s resignation as South African president at the beginning of the year, it had been openly campaigning for him to step down. But, far from Zuma’s departure allowing the SACP to build momentum, deep divisions remain about the road ahead.
In one sense, this is perhaps surprising, because, at the same time as ANC electoral performances have been getting worse and worse, support for the SACP is rapidly growing. At its 2017 congress the party announced that its membership had almost doubled to 284,000. Of course, most SACP comrades are also members of the ANC and some of them occupy very senior positions. In fact, ever since the first post-apartheid government was elected in 1994, SACP members have occupied important ministerial posts (there are six of them at present).
The reason the ANC’s electoral support is plummeting - to such an extent that there is a serious possibility it will lose its overall majority in next year’s general election - is that, far from seeing the eradication of poverty, everyone knows that South Africa is now a more unequal society than it was under apartheid. Unemployment now stands at 27% - 5.9 million people of working age out of a total population of 56 million are officially unemployed. Out of those 56 million, approximately 10 million live in shacks.
In these circumstances, the SACP - along with the likes of the left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters - has gained support. That has happened despite the fact that the party must take a good share of the responsibility for the rising inequality and increasing desperation. But the SACP’s radical, anti-capitalist rhetoric has seemed to count for more than its political practice. For example, it insists that what is now happening in South Africa is a “national democratic revolution” (NDR), leading to the abolition of “racialised inequality”, and that the NDR is the “shortest route to socialism”. You may think that SACP ministers have been helping to run (a particularly neoliberal form of) capitalism, but, no, they have been ensuring that the NDR remains on course.
Towards the end of Zuma’s presidency, the SACP had been pointing not only to the increased corruption, but also to what it labelled “state capture” - the fact that small groups of capitalists said to be very close to the president seemed to be able to dictate government appointments and hugely influence particular policies. In these circumstances, the party openly stated that it might no longer be possible to ‘save’ the ANC. But, in any case, what was now needed was a “reconfigured alliance” - one possibility was that SACP members would no longer stand in elections as part of the ANC, but that the party would contest under its own name and join the ANC in a coalition afterwards.
And now the leadership has circulated to members a document entitled ‘Reconfigure the alliance: drive the second, radical phase of the national democratic revolution’. Although every page of it is headed “Internal discussion - not for circulation”, it has nevertheless been forwarded by Dominic Tweedie, the party’s main internet hack, to all the pro-SACP email groups he runs - even though they do not consist exclusively of party members.
The reason he has done that is because he wanted also to circulate his own brief statement rejecting the leadership’s proposals for a “reconfigured alliance” - Tweedie’s statement is headed: “Rescue the party! Reject this document!” I will look at what he has to say below, but first let us deal with the leadership’s own document.
The SACP starts by reminding members that the July 2017 congress adopted “the objective of forging a popular left front, as well as a widest possible patriotic front”, and “the focal point of this paper is therefore on the reconfiguration of the alliance”. Congress had “decided that the SACP must actively contest state power through elections, and that this may or may not be within an umbrella of a reconfigured alliance”.
By way of reassurance to the doubters, the document goes to great lengths to explain that the ‘reconfiguration’ of this particular alliance - whose principal components are, of course, the ANC itself, the SACP and the largest union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions - has not exactly been an unusual occurrence. For example, there have been components that today no longer exist (such as the United Democratic Front under apartheid), while others now have different names.
But it claims, without giving anything resembling a convincing reason, that now “the modus operandi of the alliance is outdated”. It does not explain in what way the operational method used by the ANC for the past 30 years is no longer valid. Why should SACP members no longer stand for election as ANC candidates?
But things get worse when it comes to the theoretical justification for the ANC-led alliance - which is, after all, a cross-class popular front, consisting of components with aims that are (in theory at least) directly contradictory.
It is reasonable to state, as the SACP does, that from 1910, when South Africa became a dominion of the British empire, it was a “colony of a special type”, in that, although the country was independent, the former colonialists and their descendants continued to rule as a minority - and this situation continued, of course, under the apartheid system that was established after World War II.
It was therefore also correct to establish a cross-class alliance, in which communists played a major role, in order to defeat the imperialist-backed ex-colonial regime - the SACP leadership quotes the Second Congress of the Communist International, which recommended such alliances in order to drive out the colonialists. But it goes on to say that the Second Congress resolution should be “read in conjunction with our post-1994 alliance reality” - ie, after apartheid (and with it the “special type” of colonisation) was no more. It states:
The main question is whether the characterisation, ‘national-revolutionary’ (as outlined in Lenin’s presentation), that, since its adoption, guided the formation of most alliances by communists in various colonies had not become the victim of domination by bourgeois reformist tendencies after the respective liberation alliances dislodged colonial regimes - in our case the apartheid regime - and, headed by nationalist formations, ascended to government.
Is the SACP seriously suggesting that either Lenin or the Communist International was recommending that such anti-colonial alliances should continue indefinitely after the purpose for which they had been established had been achieved?
In fact within a couple of years of the defeat of apartheid it was clear that even the SACP’s social democratic aims - laid out in the ANC ‘Freedom Charter’ and partially carried into its first governmental programme, the short-lived Reconstruction and Development Programme - had been abandoned by the ANC. The RDP was replaced by the progressive-sounding, but thoroughly neoliberal, Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (Gear) in 1996 - the date which gave rise to what the SACP calls “the 1996 class project”. In fact,
The marginalisation of the alliance post-1994 dates back to the 1996 class project. This was coupled with an illusionary and mechanical separation of the NDR from socialism, underpinned by the rejection of the latter, but not capitalism as the strategic objective of the ANC.
Yet, incredibly, at the same time as stating this, the party wants us to believe that the NDR had still been on course and that the alliance had to continue - even though the SACP more or less admits that the ANC by this time was programmatically dominated by bourgeois aims. However,
What compounded our situation is that what we had been faced with, and which did indeed achieve dominance, is not merely a bourgeois reformist tendency ... As we said, it is a parasitic bourgeois tendency - and, it must be added, of a lumpen type.
So well before Zuma’s election the process of “state capture” was underway, it seems.
However, by ‘reconfiguring’ the alliance, that process can be halted, we are meant to believe:
It is very crucial to emphasise from the point of view of the historical background of our alliance that its reconfiguration is not merely about changing its modus operandi. Equally, if perhaps not more important, it is a matter of democratic policy substance, direction and collective leadership of the NDR to resolve the contradictions the South African society is faced with: the class, race and gender contradictions.
The document explains:
Key decisions affecting the NDR were and are in many respects still being made unilaterally at different levels. This is the context in which authoritarianism found its way and took root, and caused serious problems to the unity and cohesion of the alliance. While all alliance partners have their highest decision-making bodies - their congresses, conferences, national and central executive and central committees - it is the outcome only of one alliance partner, the ANC’s highest decision-making bodies, that is regarded as a mandate.
But wait a minute. Both the SACP and Cosatu were not, and are not, just in alliance with the ANC - their cadre were and are ANC members. So how can the SACP claim that these two junior partners, who generally enjoy the same rights within the ANC as all other members, should be given some kind of veto and treated as equal partners?
That power bordering on a veto is further spelled out when it states:
There must be restructuring of councils, provincial legislatures and parliamentary content to give play to the voice of the SACP, if not the alliance as a whole, on the basis of the principles of democratic, consensus-seeking consultation and collective leadership, with the alliance acting as the political centre of the NDR.
In other words, within the ANC majority decisions should be replaced by the “consensus” of the three main components. And this applies to the “selection process” for election candidates, “which should no longer be an ANC-only process”.
Interestingly, the document quotes the SACP constitution, which lays down the expected behaviour of party cadre:
Members active in fraternal organisations or in any sector of the mass movement have a duty to set an example of loyalty, hard work and zeal in the performance of their duties and shall be bound by the discipline and decisions of such organisations and movement. They shall not create or participate in SACP caucuses within such organisations and movements designed to influence either elections or policies. The advocacy of SACP policy on any question relating to the internal affairs of any such organisations or movements shall be by open public statements or at joint meetings between representatives of the SACP and such organisations or movements.
It adds: “From the above it follows that the party prohibits entryist methods of work in fraternal organisations.”
So is the party leadership seriously saying that its comrades should not, and do not, attempt to lay down the direction of travel of, say, Cosatu? Everyone knows that the federation effectively ‘belongs’ to the SACP. The party determines, and has always determined, Cosatu policy - just as it has always attempted to win those parts of the ANC where it exerts influence to the SACP line. But it wants us to believe that its comrades are not under discipline to carry out that party line. Presumably the leadership’s “open public statements” are for guidance only.
The document ends with a section entitled ‘Practical programme towards a reconfigured alliance’, but it is nothing of the sort. It merely repeats the conclusions it has already drawn - such as: “There can be no doubt ... that the manner in which the alliance functioned for the most part after 1994 is outdated and has to be reconfigured both organisationally and programmatically” - and comes out with generalities.
How about this? “The importance of building programmatic unity of organised workers through forging unity within Cosatu and labouring everywhere and at all times for wider trade union unity cannot be overemphasised.” Is this the same SACP which ensured that the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa was expelled from Cosatu in November 2014? Numsa’s crime? It agreed that it should end support for the ANC and try to form a genuine working class party (albeit one that implements the kind of social democratic policies outlined in the ‘Freedom Charter’) to replace the SACP.
At that time Numsa was already South Africa’s largest union, so I wonder how its expulsion helped the process of “forging unity within Cosatu”, let alone “labouring everywhere and at all times for wider trade union unity”. What actually resulted was the formation of a rival union centre: the South African Federation of Trade Unions with its 700,000 members, as opposed to Cosatu’s 1.8 million.
How does Dominic Tweedie respond to all this in his ‘Rescue the party, now!’ response (July 19)? First of all, let me explain that, at the time of writing, his very brief statement - like the SACP paper that provoked it - cannot be found on the internet. While he emailed his own response to those who subscribe to all the groups he runs,1 he has carefully ensured that neither document appears on their respective websites.
To begin with, he is completely dismissive of the notion that there is ever any need to ‘reconfigure’ any alliance:
Unity in action by allied class forces for national liberation has been the line of march advocated by the communist parties since the Communist manifesto was published, 170 years ago. This line of march has never been ‘reconfigured’ in all of that time, and it does not need to be reconfigured now.
So this particular alliance should continue as it always has? Apparently, yes, because “This alliance must have a common goal, which for the time being remains national liberation - as opposed to imperialism and its local allies and agents.”
Does that mean apartheid has still not been defeated? He does not say, but he seems to think that there is still the need for some kind of national liberation struggle:
This struggle for national sovereignty is a tangible necessity, understood as such by masses of South African people. It therefore continues to be the only viable basis for united class alliance in South Africa.
And in fact,
The achievement of national sovereignty, in a world still dominated by imperialism, demands external, as well as internal, alliances of power. It means another showdown with ‘the west’. This conflict is inevitable, whether we like it or not.
So exactly what form is this struggle supposed to take? Is there an occupying power to drive out? Or are the descendants of the colonisers (like himself) still running the country? How should imperialism be confronted, if Tweedie is not advocating immediate working class power (and he is not)?
Well, I am afraid it is all a mystery. While the leadership at least gives a reason why an alliance is needed - to complete the national democratic revolution, of course! - Tweedie does not even spell out his differences on the aims of such an alliance. Instead, like the SACP itself, he comes out with an unspecific, unsubstantiated conclusion:
The current draft discussion document of the SACP attempts to draw wrong historical conclusions from right historical documents. It attempts to sell reformism. It attempts to change the signposts on the correct, revolutionary road. It attempts to put ‘reform’ where there should be ‘revolution’.
He ends by appealing to the SACP rank and file: “Rescue the party! Reject this document!”
Readers may be surprised to hear that, despite this leftwing-sounding conclusion, Tweedie was outspoken in his opposition to the SACP leadership’s call for Zuma to resign. So is he seriously suggesting that this corrupt, pro-capitalist president was somehow leading South Africa along a revolutionary road? He does not explain why the previous form of alliance was ‘revolutionary’, whereas the proposed ‘reconfiguration’ would be ‘reformist’.
If anything, a decision that the SACP should stand candidates under its own name would be an advance, in that it could be a step towards the ditching of the ANC-led popular front and objectively a move towards recognising the need for working class independence.
Many comrades previously influenced by the SACP have already come to the conclusion that such a break is necessary. Numsa is not the only union to have (eventually) rejected the ANC-led alliance and many that used to belong to the SACP milieu are hoping that Numsa’s May Day call for the formation of a “Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party” will be realised very soon.2
At the British Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism school in London earlier this month, former SACP senior figure and ex-government minister Ronnie Kasrils stated that the new party would be launched in October, although Numsa itself is keeping quiet about it for the moment, it seems.
I am pretty sure that Tweedie will not be part of such a new party - and in fact there is still a major fight to be fought within the SACP itself. The creation of an SRWP would be a welcome development, but that would not negate the need for any remaining Marxists within the SACP to fight for working class independence within that party too. There needs to be a two-way fight for a single, genuinely Marxist party.
Father and son
I have made my doubts about Dominic Tweedie very clear, but readers may be interested to hear that he is not the only member of the Tweedie family to come out with very leftwing-sounding noises. His son, James, has been based in London for several years and until the end of last year was international editor of the Morning Star (it is not clear whether he jumped or was pushed from that post, which is now occupied by Steve Sweeney3). His articles on South Africa seemed to echo the line of Tweedie senior - in distancing themselves from the SACP’s opposition to Zuma, for instance.
But now Tweedie junior - the day after his father put out his own statement - has come out with a leftist-sounding critique of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. The CPB has recently published a new draft of its programme, Britain’s road to socialism, inviting comments and proposed amendments, and James Tweedie’s contribution takes the form of a short piece entitled ‘The BRS: revising revisionism’. This is something that Tweedie senior has published - it has found its way onto the Young Communist League of South Africa’s website.4
James Tweedie states:
Part 5 of the BRS, which has not been significantly altered in decades, envisions “the election of a leftwing government at Westminster, based on a socialist, Labour, communist and progressive majority at the polls” …
This is pure wishful thinking. The Labour Party has, and has only ever had, a handful of leftwing MPs who are willing to even associate with communists. Labour will never allow the CPB to affiliate to it, even if the party forswears standing in elections for a generation. The CPB is not, and should not be, an electoral party. Now approaching its centennial year, the Communist Party has only ever had three MPs.
It is more than stupid to write off the possibility of transforming Labour into a genuine party of the working class - a “united front of a special kind”, to use Trotsky’s phrase. Nonetheless, Tweedie is correct to state that no Communist Party worthy of the name should be a mere “electoral party”. However, he goes on:
… there is no parliamentary or constitutional road to a workers’ state. We communists must not delude ourselves or the working class that there is. Instead, we should be building parallel organs of popular democracy and raising class-consciousness among the masses …
The Communist manifesto characterises the state as “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. Yet many communist parties across the world have, in recent years, fallen into the error of contesting political power within the capitalist state - seeking to become the central committee of the capitalist class …
“The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims,” states the Communist manifesto. We must be honest with the people. We must be crystal-clear that the only road to working class emancipation is the revolutionary overthrow of the entire capitalist state. To do otherwise is to abdicate our historical role as the revolutionary vanguard and succumb to revisionism, reformism and liquidation.
It is, of course, totally principled for genuine communist parties to contest elections and attempt to use parliament as a platform, as Lenin advocated. Indeed we aim to win a clear majority ... but not with a view to tinkering with the existing constitution, state, bureaucracy, etc. No, the existing constitution, state, bureaucracy, etc, must be swept away and replaced with a working class semi-state. Whether that happens peacefully or violently depends on the balance of class forces, not least internationally.
Having been the loyal servants of a now deposed ‘national liberation’ kleptocrat, the Tweedies have become totally disorientated. Their flip to Stalinite revolutionism is facile, banal and hopeless. But maybe their call to confront imperialism and the ‘west’ will go down a treat in Beijing.
1. These include ‘Communist University’, ‘CU South Africa’, the Young Communist League and the ‘political education forum’ of the South African Democratic Teachers Union.
2. See www.politicsweb.co.za/documents/socialist-revolutionary-party-to-be-launched-his-y.