From people’s hero to capitalist hero

SACP holds the line

Senior ANC officials implicated in corruption and gun-running

This week’s disclosure that ANC foreign ministry official Robert McBride has been arrested in Mozambique on suspicion of gun-running is the latest scandal to hit post-apartheid South Africa.

Last month the stench of corruption was in the air after it was revealed that an unregistered and potentially harmful anti-Aids ‘wonder’ drug, Virodene, was being mass-produced and widely circulated, despite being banned by the South African Medicine Control Council. It was alleged that senior ANC officials stood to gain from its production. The Aids Law Project, which helped expose the use and effects of Virodene, had its government funding cut off abruptly.

Meanwhile groups of workers continue to move into sporadic action for increased pay and improved working conditions. Last month’s strike of thousands of security guards, which led to pitched battles with the police, was just the latest. Security workers are lucky to pick up 800 rand (just under £100) a month in what is a major business in crime-ravaged South Africa. Yet they are relatively well paid in comparison to other groups, and certainly much better off than the millions of unemployed. The security workers carried placards on one demonstration warning the police to stay away - or “there will be civil war”.

Objectively, the combination of widespread poverty and spontaneous militancy, together with the heightened consciousness developed over the years of anti-apartheid struggle, is ripe for the development of a mass revolutionary movement. Yet the leadership of the South African Communist Party - whose cadre played an outstanding role against apartheid - is today determined to prevent and curtail any such development.

The SACP remains a loyal and very important component part of the African National Congress, including at the highest level of government. Despite all the obvious signs that the ANC is running a government typical of a medium-developed capitalist country - anti-working class and tending to corruption - the SACP continues to insist that Nelson Mandela’s administration is actually at the helm of “an ongoing national democratic revolution” (The African Communist 4th quarter, 1997).

The SACP likes to present the ANC as “a people’s parliament ... the home of the great majority who, historically, suffered from racial oppression” - in opposition to other groups and parties which “represent constituencies that benefited ... from the apartheid past”. As against “the old ruling class and its allied social forces”, the SACP argues that the ANC cannot be defined primarily according to class interests, except in terms of representing the historically oppressed. So the government it leads is defined by past social divisions, not the current class interests it serves. Indeed the aim of the national democratic revolution (NDR) is described in terms totally unrelated to class - “to build a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united South Africa” - what the SACP calls “patriotic unity”.

In the editorial notes of The African Communist we find the following passage: “The NDR should not be seen in narrow ideological terms. Nor should it be thought of as a mechanical ‘stage’. When approached in this way, two seemingly opposed, but mutually reinforcing conceptions of the NDR get propagated. The one argues that (since it is only in a ‘second stage’ that we shall be building ‘socialism’) the key strategic task of the present is ‘to construct a free-market capitalism’. The other position argues that (since the NDR is ‘capitalist’) we do not need to take this ‘stage’ too seriously: it is a necessary delay, but with no inherent value.”

The SACP concludes: “The NDR is not defined centrally by answering the question, ‘Is it socialist or capitalist?’” Rather it is defined by its “non-racial, non-sexist” aim. Yet this does not prevent the editorial from stating a few sentences later: “The ANC’s alliance partners believe that only under socialism will the NDR goals be fully realised.” So the NDR is not a stage on the road to socialism, yet logically ought to end in socialism nevertheless.

But of course the achievement of clarity is not the purpose of SACP ‘theoreticians’. Their aim is to provide a left-sounding cover for the ANC’s Thatcherite programme of privatisations and ‘fiscal discipline’.

After holding up the vision of socialism (to be obtained by some indeterminate means in the distant future), the editorial writer brings us back to earth with a bump: “While we might have our differences about socialism, what is undeniable is that we are struggling for an NDR in a country and in a world dominated by capitalism. None of us can run away from this reality.”

Therefore the NDR must content itself with struggling against the “gross class, national and global inequalities” which capitalism produces. “At the same time,” the editorial continues, “we have to find, through engagement, negotiation and inducement, points of convergence with the private sector ... We have to work both with and against the profit-seeking logic of private capitalism ... Of course finding the right balance between ‘with’ and ‘against’ in any particular situation is a difficult matter.”

But surely there must be a vital role for the masses in this ‘democratic revolution’? On the contrary, the SACP, while still paying lip service to mass action, sees it as totally subordinate to its abject parliamentarianism: “... parliament provides an institutional framework for the national liberation movement (represented by the ANC) to contest and negotiate with the political representatives of weakened but still powerful ruling elites from the past. The Cape Town parliament is an important reality. It is far better for these contests to be contained within democratic structures than for them to spill over into unconstitutional destabilisation.” I am sure readers will agree that the SACP’s NDR is certainly a remarkable form of ‘revolution’.

It is of course true that the defeat of apartheid was a huge victory. It is also true that the government is set on implementing continued social reforms based on its policy of ‘affirmative action’. But these changes do nothing to challenge the structures of exploitation. And, centrally, they are imposed from the top down, without the slightest working class input. For example legislation is currently under review in parliament which requires employers to analyse their workforce “by race, gender and disability”, and obliges them to draw up plans to rectify any under-representation. This is hailed by liberals and largely unopposed by international capital.

However, let us look at such measures in the context of the living conditions of the overwhelming mass of South Africans.

South Africa has rightly been described as a combination of the developed and third worlds, containing hundreds of thousands who enjoy a luxurious life style while the majority know only poverty. The ANC’s 1994 reconstruction and development programme (RDP) estimated that 17 million people eke out an existence below the official ‘minimum living level’. Twelve million people had no clean water supply and 21 million inadequate sanitation. Five million were homeless or squatting. “Attacking poverty and deprivation must therefore be the first priority of a democratic government,” the policy document announced (ANC The reconstruction and development programme Johannesburg 1994, p4).

The housing ‘backlog’ was put, conservatively, at 1.3 million units and was still rising at an annual rate of 200,000. The ANC’s equally conservative target was to construct one million low-cost households over five years: ie, in effect standing still. In reality the government will not come anywhere near its target and the housing situation continues to deteriorate.

Unemployment remains at about 35%, but for the vast majority there is no unemployment benefit. However, the RDP was clear that “a system of ‘handouts’ for the unemployed should be avoided” (p18).

It is against this backdrop that the government’s ‘affirmative action’ programme should be viewed. It is clear that it will have no impact whatsoever on the impoverished millions. What it will continue to do is open up career opportunities for middle class blacks - at the expense of middle class whites and, to a lesser extent, coloureds and Indians. Many companies have already adopted a policy of easing out long-serving white employees so as to meet government targets for black employment.

The Weekly Worker has been carrying an ongoing debate on the nature of the British state, in which some contributors have pointed out that its present official anti-racism can be just as divisive as racism has been in the past. There could be no clearer example of this than South African ‘affirmative action’. White poverty is now much more widespread than ever seemed possible during the apartheid era. Soup kitchens have even reached into some of the poorer white estates. But this has not produced a greater unity of white and black, let alone common action. On the contrary, if anything, polarisation amongst the masses has increased. “No one wants to employ a white man these days,” said one victim of ‘affirmative action’ (The Independent February 12).

So what solution does the SACP envisage for eliminating the huge social dislocation inherited from apartheid? Despite all its talk of “empowerment” it has no intention of mobilising the masses in order to force through change that is genuinely revolutionary. Instead it lies low within the ANC and tries to sell its capitalist policies to the masses - like the latest, much trumpeted “job creation scheme” of president-in-waiting Thabo Mbeki. This involves big companies helping their employees to set up new businesses which would then sell services back to them. Compared to the scale of the problem, to describe this ‘solution’ as inadequate would be a gross understatement.

There is of course much disquiet within the SACP about the organisation’s wholesale backing for the capitalist policies of the government, as well as opposition to the sinking of the party’s identity within the ANC-dominated alliance. “The SACP and Cosatu [the main trade union centre, part of the tripartite alliance] have incidentally systematically disowned those who have sought to be elected into local governments for instance on an ‘SACP ticket’,” according to an alliance discussion document of last year (The African Communist 4th quarter, 1997).

And the SACP and ANC have an answer for those who want it to pursue an independent, anti-capitalist policy in opposition to the ANC majority. They warn that it would be “dangerous” to “simply declare big capital ‘the enemy’, and pursue headlong our own agenda regardless of the consequences”. They go on to explain: “The realities of our global and national situation are such that big capital controls substantial resources without which we cannot carry forward our own national democratic transformation.”

As a statement of the current hegemonic power of capital, this is of course correct. But, far from attempting to develop a global strategy to end this through international revolution, the alliance partners recommend instead unstinted cooperation: “The more strategically intelligent sectors of big capital are able to recognise that only the ANC ... is able to create the levels of social and political cohesion within our country ... and can establish the platform for a return to sustainable profitability. This creates the possibilities for an effective engagement with big capital from our side.”

These tripartite discussion documents almost always originate with the SACP. While they can be safely ignored by government and capitalists alike, for the SACP membership and radical ANC elements their pseudo-Marxist terminology serves to provide a suitable left gloss for the government’s pro-capital, anti-worker policies.

The time for ‘loyalty’ to these opportunist misleaders is long past. When the next revolutionary upsurge occurs, no appeal for pragmatism will be able to hold it back. Such an upsurge will need the leadership of genuine communists if it is not to be crushed. Those who try to hold it back will be swept away.

Jim Blackstock