John Smithee rightly notes that the revolutionary (Trotskyist?) left has very little presence in the African continent, and he mentions groups in just four countries: Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe (Letters, October 31). In fact one of the largest African Trotskyist groups is the Workers Party in Algeria, whose leader, Louisa Hanoune, was recently jailed. The Workers Party is part of the Lambertist Fourth International, which is currently in the throes of a major split, following a rupture in its French section. And, on the topic of splits, it is worth noting that Trotskyism in South Africa comprises no less than 11 organizations, attached to nine separate ‘Fourth Internationals’.
Author of Contemporary Trotskyism: parties, sects and social movements in Britain (Routledge, 2018)
According to a statement from the African National Congress’s ‘Alliance Political Council’, consisting of the ANC itself, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and others, it “held a plenary session” in Johannesburg earlier this week.
The council says that it “reaffirmed the continuing strategic relevance of the national democratic revolution” (NDR), with the Freedom Charter as its “lodestar”. Of course, in its original form the Freedom Charter was supposed to mark the first, short-lived stage of the two-stage revolution, after which, under SACP leadership the working class would quickly overthrow capitalism and start to introduce USSR-style ‘socialism’. But now it seems the “motive forces of the national democratic revolution remain essential for the realisation of our national vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society, underpinned by systematic elimination of inequality”. All very vague.
But not to worry: after a quarter of a century the aim is “to move our democratic transition on to a second, radical phase” of the NDR, in order to “radically reduce the persisting high levels of inequality, unemployment, poverty and rising social insecurity”.
Now apparently South Africa is going to see a “broader social transformation” in order to “achieve structural economic transformation, development and national prosperity”. Personally I can’t see the difference between that and what was supposed to happen before. In fact, far from such a course taking place, we have seen the above-quoted “rising social insecurity” - in other words, a huge increase in poverty and inequality.
Yes, “The official unemployment figure of 29.1% or 6.73 million unemployed South Africans actively looking for work is a cause for concern for the alliance”. But the alliance is now going to adopt “a holistic approach that involves all stakeholders and seeks to unify a widest possible range of South Africans to address this crisis”. Not much working class-based advance envisaged there then.
No, instead there will be large-scale “investment for increasing the levels of national production” under capitalism. But rest assured: “the Alliance Political Council reiterated common perspectives against privatisation of state assets and retrenchments in our economy”. Well, that will make a change from the full-scale neoliberal programme of privatisation that has been ongoing for the last couple of decades.
And, for those who might think that the corruption and ‘state capture’ that flourished under president Jacob Zuma might still be a problem, “The meeting reiterated the alliance’s unwavering commitment to fighting corruption … across the entire state, economy and society at large”.
What about the workers? Well, certain (unnamed) “alliance components appreciate the historic leadership role of the working class as the main and most reliable motive force of our revolution”. So, in view of that, “the meeting also reiterated the absolute necessity for the implementation and therefore compliance with the national minimum wage” (my emphasis). In other words, in several sectors of the economy the (pitifully inadequate) minimum wage legal requirement has simply been ignored. But the Political Council “reaffirmed the firm commitment” made in the ANC’s election manifesto to advance “towards a living wage”.
You might have heard that the SACP at its 2017 congress agreed to go for a “reconfigured alliance”, whereby the Communist Party would contest elections under its own name and then take part in a subsequent governing coalition - what some hoped would be the first stage of the SACP breaking with the ANC in order to genuinely champion the cause of the working class. Well, this statement has a whole section entitled “Alliance reconfiguration, organisational renewal and unity”, but the “reconfiguration” seems to consist initially of measures like “a targeted common programme to unify and strengthen the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco)” and “unifying the South African Student Congress (Cosas) and the Congress of South African Students (Sasco)”, since these comparative nonentities are “part of the organisational motive forces of the national democratic revolution”.
More vaguely, “the alliance must move with the times and thus take into account the continuously changing strategic challenges facing our democratic transition”. There will be “further discussions” about a possible new framework “in the various alliance components” and the Political Council will then “consider consolidated outcomes” and recommend a position for adoption some time next year.
The ANC as a whole says it is for “building a widest possible worker unity in general” - so long as it doesn’t go too far, of course. And the Political Council “reaffirmed its commitment towards the common cause of the struggle of the millions of the people of the world against oppression and exploitation. Our struggle is about the unity and cohesion of our people for an achievement of a better world for humanity.” Not just “worker unity” then, but one that encompasses all classes.
In line with SACP wishes, in the international field the Political Council “expressed support for the people of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua against imperialist aggression”, not to mention its “solidarity with the people of Palestine, the Kurds, Saharawi and Vietnam”. And, to aid this process, it called for “the reform of the United Nations security council” so as to include “the African continent on a permanent basis”.
Finally, the Political Council “congratulated our national rugby team, the Springboks, on the World Cup victory and our national netball team, the Proteas, on winning the African championship”. But, of course, it also wants to see the “transformation of sports” - to bring together people of all ethnicities, so that “social cohesion and national building” can be “deepened”.
Well, obviously the SACP is really doing a good job in the alliance, isn’t it? Not long to go before we see the “socialism in South Africa”, towards which the NDR provides “the shortest route”.
Keep it up
I can well understand Jim Cook’s trajectory from revolutionary politics in the form of membership of the Workers Revolutionary Party to his exit (Letters, October 31). I had a similar experience, starting with my joining the Peterborough branch of the Revolutionary Socialist League (better known as the Militant Tendency) in 1981 to my exit from the Socialist Party of England and Wales in 2001.
I left SPEW after they spiked an article I’d written, where I called for the legalisation of prostitution (SPEW opposes prostitution from a rightwing, small ‘c’-conservative, point of view). As the ‘What we fight for’ column of the Weekly Worker clearly states: “There exists no real Communist Party today. There are many so-called ‘parties’ on the left. In reality they are confessional sects. Members who disagree with the prescribed ‘line’ are expected to gag themselves in public. Either that or face expulsion.” The legalisation of prostitution was then, and still is, a very important issue for me. Hence my disagreement with SPEW over the issue led to me resigning my membership.
It was only in 2003 that I came across the CPGB/Weekly Worker website. In 2004 I plucked up the courage to travel to London to attend its annual Communist University, attending again in 2005. The openness to debate - following years of keeping my mouth shut as a member of SPEW - was a revelation. Since then I’ve become a supporter of the CPGB’s Marxist unity project.
I have recently started selling the Weekly Worker at the monthly meetings of Fenland, Peterborough and King’s Lynn Unite Community branch and Wisbech, March and District Trades Union Council. I would sell the Weekly Worker at Labour Party meetings, but the Corbynistas who control North East Cambridgeshire CLP rejected my application to rejoin the party.
Over the last 27 years I’d upset the Old Guard too many times, starting with my support for Militant Labour, followed by SPEW, and ending with the Socialist Alliance. The Corbynistas want me to cease all my writing of letters to the Fenland Citizen and the Wisbech Standard/Cambs Times - something I’ve been successfully doing on a regular basis for the last 25 years. Ceasing to write letters was something I couldn’t agree to. Hence the rejection by the Corbynistas of my application.
However, as Lenin famously wrote, “An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.” Lenin was also very fond of the Russian proverb, “Life teaches.” I’ve learned my lesson. I know when I’m not wanted. So the Labour Party and I have parted company for good, even though I joined the party aged 18 in 1978 and was a member until Tony Blair became leader in 1994.
Whilst I support the CPGB/Weekly Worker’s Marxist unity project and agree wholeheartedly with its call for the legalisation of all drugs, I disagree with the Provisional Central Committee’s current emphasis on Labour Party work. The PCC should be building the CPGB, not the Labour left. This has not stopped me from selling the Weekly Worker to Labour Party members in Fenland, whom I meet at Unite Community branch and trades council meetings. So far, my limited experience of selling the Weekly Worker at these meetings has been overwhelmingly positive.
Whilst the failure of SPEW and the Socialist Workers Party is a failure of theory, when it comes to the Labour Party and trade union movement, it is more a lack of theory, rather than a failure of theory. As the late James Callaghan, when he was prime minister in the 1974-79 Labour government, famously remarked in 1978 at his Constituency Labour Party meeting, it was only the Militant which took political education seriously. The applies today. The Weekly Worker can play a major role in rearming the labour and trade union movement with a correct revolutionary theory.
The Weekly Worker continues to get better with every new issue. However, there are a few suggestions I would like to make:
- I would like the Weekly Worker to have more, shorter book reviews. The Leninist (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) usually had three or four short book reviews in each edition. I’m sure Gerry Downing, Tony Greenstein, and Steve Freeman would be happy to help out here?
- I would like to see a series of articles on Antonio Gramsci, giving a genuine Marxist analysis of his writings. I’m currently reading An introduction to Antonio Gramsci by George Hoare and Nathan Sperber. Unfortunately, it’s written from the perspective of a Eurocommunist - the late Stuart Hall.
- I would like to see some articles about how robots, lasers, artificial intelligence and automation will affect future society and the world of work. I’m currently also reading Fully automated luxury communism by Aaron Bastani. Unfortunately, it’s written from the perspective of Paul Mason and Owen Jones.
The Weekly Worker is an excellent paper. So I say to the production team: keep up the good work.
Proudly self-declared anti-imperialist president Evo Morales now has been ousted in Bolivia - also the first ‘indigenous’ occupant of that role. This follows a well-rehearsed pattern, as enacted by oligarchical/reactionary forces within other Latin American countries, in varying formulations or degree always with the direct, but hidden, involvement of the USA gangster state.
Leftists of the world should learn, absorb, remain furious, weep! Then immediately we must remember how Bernie Sanders calls for “political revolution”, whilst leaving the fundamentals of a capitalist economy in place. Equally so, we must remember what’s coming Corbynism’s way - that’s to say, if either of those notionally socialist developments on offer actually stick to their guns; if either of them continue along any truly liberating pathways for the “many” with real reductions for the “few”.
Meanwhile, Julian Assange languishes in Belmarsh prison at the whim of US imperialism, de facto tortured whilst awaiting extradition. “It’s a messy world!” - as first black American president Barack Obama said to some of his critics very recently, doing so with undiluted perniciousness.
The UK today has more religious diversity than ever before and, for the first time, a non-religious majority. Yet the formal relationship between religion and the state has remained more or less unchanged in the past century.
Reform is long overdue. The 11 policy proposals below would promote a freer, fairer society, where everyone has common rights and responsibilities regardless of religion or belief.
1. No more faith schools. Faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion, foster segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and undermine choice and equality. Children from all faith and belief backgrounds should be educated together and allowed to develop their own beliefs independently. A pledge not to open any more state-funded faith schools would be a tangible first step towards building a more inclusive and cohesive society.
2. End religious discrimination against pupils in school admissions. No child should be discriminated against because of their parents’ religious beliefs. Faith schools should be stripped of their ability to discriminate against pupils in admissions - and against teachers in employment, too.
3. Abolish the collective worship requirement. The law requiring children at all maintained schools “on each school day take part in an act of collective worship” is as ridiculous as it is outdated and unjust. Even in schools with no religious designation, the worship must be “wholly or mainly of a Christian character”. There should be a duty on schools to ensure that assemblies are respectful and inclusive of all pupils, regardless of their religion or belief, including non-belief. The same should apply to religious education, which should be suitably reformed to ensure it is never used to indoctrinate or promote a particular worldview.
4. Promote free speech as a positive value. A healthy democracy is underpinned by the fundamental human right to free speech. The conflation of criticism or mockery of religion with ‘hate speech’ is threatening everyone’s right to speak freely.
5. End non-stun slaughter. Stop allowing religious considerations to compromise animal welfare. The religious exemption that permits certain religious groups to slaughter animals without prior stunning should be repealed. Ending unnecessary pain, suffering and distress to animals is a reasonable justification for restricting religious freedom.
6. Review laws on assisted dying. The law banning the terminally ill and people facing intolerable and incurable suffering from being helped to end their lives must be reviewed. The debate over assisted dying in the UK is still unduly influenced by religious dogma. A full review needs to cut through this and reach conclusions based on evidence, compassion, ethical principles and respect for patient autonomy.
7. End all forms of non-consensual genital cutting. No-one, regardless of age, sex or religious or cultural background, should undergo non-therapeutic surgery without their express consent. Religious freedom isn’t a licence to violate the rights of others.
8. Outlaw caste discrimination. The next government should ensure there is appropriate and proportionate legal protection against unlawful discrimination because of a person’s perceived ‘caste’.
9. End “the advancement of religion” as a charitable purpose. Unlike the relief of poverty, the promotion of good health, saving lives and protecting the environment, the public benefit of “the advancement of religion” is highly contestable. Removing it as a charitable purpose would require religious organisations to demonstrate a tangible public benefit under another charitable purpose heading.
10. Guarantee secular public services. Public services should be provided in a secular context, open to all, without discriminating against anyone on grounds of religion or belief. Where religious organisations join others in delivering public services, they should be obliged to do so without discriminating against their employees; withholding services from users on the grounds of religion or sexuality; or proselytising when delivering that service.
11. Separate church and state. The next government should disestablish the Church of England and abolish the automatic right of Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords. A national religion which retains archaic and unjust privileges is iniquitous to the rest of the population. Removing all symbolic and institutional ties between government and religion is the only way to ensure equal treatment to citizens of all religions and none.
National Secular Society