Socialist Party: On a publicity high
In an interesting session on events in South Africa and the local CWI body the Democratic Socialist Movement, Peter Manson thinks that a more serious approach to the SACP is needed
Alec Thraves’ session - ‘South Africa erupts: what does the miners’ struggle represent?’ - was more than useful, since it was largely a report-back from his recent visit. He had attended several mass meetings organised by the South African affiliate of SPEW’s Committee for a Workers’ International, the Democratic Socialist Movement.
The DSM has recently been thrown into the limelight, thanks to a fortuitous series of events, combined with the group’s engagement with miners in and around Rustenberg, following the Marikana massacre by police of striking platinum miners in August. Looking for scapegoats, sections of the official union leadership linked to the South African Communist Party seized upon the presence of DSM comrades at a rally, where calls had been made to “kill the scabs” - meaning members of the SACP-dominated National Union of Mineworkers. In fact several NUM shop stewards had been amongst those killed before the August 16 massacre.
One SACP-linked website posted personal details, including names and photographs, of DSM comrades, who were dubbed “counterrevolutionaries”. As a result, with the bitter miners’ disputes continuing, hardly a day goes by without the DSM being mentioned - and often quoted - in the South African media, and this had the opposite effect to that intended by the SACP. The DSM was now able to call meetings and rallies attended by hundreds of militants and its membership had “trebled”, said comrade Thraves. SPEW is on a high over this CWI success story.
Comrade Thraves reported how at one DSM rally, strikers in Rustenberg had seriously proposed that the following morning, when the NUM would be attempting to hold a counter-rally in opposition to the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), strikers should aim to “kill 50 scabs”. Comrade Thraves - often the first speaker at miners’ rallies - had urged the strikers not to go down that road: “Yes, we want to stop the scabs. But we need to win them over.” Nevertheless, it is no wonder that comrade Thraves’ car had been stopped and searched several times in the Rustenberg area.
From my own visits to South Africa, where I have had discussions with comrades on the socialist and revolutionary left, I knew that the DSM was a tiny organisation of a couple of dozen members, at most. In other words, similar to other far-left grouplets, all of them dwarfed by the SACP, which now claims well over 150,000 members. In response to my question, comrade Thraves said the DSM was now around 100-strong.
However, the group was “patiently building a party”, he said - in fact it is to launch a “new mass party” next month. In other words, the aim was not a revolutionary party, but, just as in Britain, a Labourite formation, to which the masses would be drawn. Many members, including new recruits, had said, “Why not make the DSM the new party?” he reported. But comrade Thraves’ response had been: “I don’t want to pour cold water on that idea, but we need a broad mass party.”
I put it to him that this was an attempt to fit South Africa into the CWI ‘one size fits all’ template. In the dying days of apartheid its comrades had entered the African National Congress - viewed as the nearest thing to a social democratic party in South Africa. But, when Militant was purged from Labour and subsequently abandoned the entryist tactic, this was replicated around the world. The ANC, like Labour, was now a “bourgeois party” - as if it had ever been anything else.
Comrade Thraves confirmed that, just as in Britain, its comrades should aim to provide the putative new party with its “revolutionary spine”. But, I asked, if militant workers really are flocking to join a revolutionary grouping, why not dispense with the halfway house? His answer was that, yes, the DSM is “the answer”, but in South Africa there is “no mass workers’ party” and in that country a “broader socialist programme” than in Britain is possible. Ironically he meant something more leftwing.
In my contribution I stressed the key role of the SACP - a contradictory party whose government ministers implement neoliberal policies, while its union leaders lead militant strikes and its leadership spouts Marxist jargon. I said that the SACP was the ruling class’s biggest weapon to neutralise the working class, and revolutionaries should adopt a serious approach towards it. It is indeed a “mass workers’ party”.
Comrade Thraves had talked about the annual “protest season”, of which the miners’ strikes are a part. But the yearly bout of industrial action is led by SACP-dominated unions, which the CWI is in danger of writing off as working class bodies and sites for struggle, just as it has long since written off the SACP. Comrades from the floor wondered about the possibility of other Amcu-type breakaways being created. To be fair, comrade Thraves pointed out that Amcu could just as easily be dominated by bureaucrats, but he did not insist that as a principle revolutionaries must aim to work within existing working class bodies.
How likely is a DSM-led “mass workers’ party”? Not very. Take a look at the DSM website (www.socialistsouthafrica.co.za) - last updated the day after Marikana. Or its publication, Izwi Labasebenzi - last edition dated May-July. But its recent high profile leaves its comrades in the firing line - from both the state and SACP provocations. We must defend the DSM, while at the same time urging it to orientate towards existing mass working class bodies.