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Part 1: Introduction
It is now more than four months since Comrade Joe Slovo published his paper advocating power sharing between the ruling class, or at least elements of it, and the liberation movement after the adoption of a new constitution. In the meantime the NEC of the ANC has adopted a similar, though vague, position on the question of the road to power for the liberation movement in South Africa. Despite the adoption of the “Strategic Perspectives ” position by the NEC of the ANC it is clear that the issues raised by the debate will remain important for a very long time to come. There are a number of reasons why the debate will remain important.
a) The importance of the debate
Firstly, the adoption of the position by the NEC took place before the issues in debate and the thoroughgoing nature of the implications of the “power sharing ” position had been assimilated by the broad activist layer in our movement. Secondly, the “power sharing position will most certainly require a revision of a whole range of positions which currently form the bedrock of the liberation movement’s perspective on a range of issues. For example, one of the issues which our movement has still to debate is the relationship between the power sharing perspective and the idea of a “Reconstruction Accord” between the ANC, COSATU and other mass organisations.
The debate also remains important in other respects. Besides the re-entry of the masses of the people into national politics, one of the important gains our movement has registered as a result of the programme of mass action between June and September 1992 has been the renewed debates on our strategy and tactics. Unlike the other “palpable” gains registered in the mass action programme, the debates over strategy and tactics now emerging will show their benefits in the medium to long term.
As we are all aware, a revolutionary Cadre is educated and steeled – and this is just one component – through thoroughgoing discussion of the most burning questions facing our movement. The broad activist layer forms the most important component of any movement, and as the “interpreters” of the perspectives and goals of our movement, their clarity on key strategic. turns of our movement constitutes, in the last instance, our movement’s capacity to maintain its leading role in the struggle of the people for freedom. The danger for our movement lies not so much in possible charges of a “sell-out” (and this appears to be Comrade Slovo’s concern), as it does in the failure of our activist layer to fulfill their role as “interpreters” of our movements goals and perspectives. A confused cadre is the death of any movement. The education of cadre constitutes, therefore, the first important reason why we need thoroughgoing debate on strategy and tactics in our movement.
Another reason why this debate needs to be nurtured, broadened and advanced, is that although thoroughgoing debate on strategy and tactics does not guarantee victory for any movement, at the least it can save our movement from certain defeat by allowing it to choose the best from what the collective cadre of our movement can offer. Lastly, the millions who constitute our movement have traditionally been excluded from power, and from politics. The politics of confidentiality are by their character the politics of excluding millions of our people from participating in shaping their own lives. A commitment to democracy means first and foremost a struggle to abandon the “politics of confidentiality” and to lay bare our strategic choices in front of the masses.
This contribution is therefore written in the spirit of laying bare the strategic choices facing our movement and advancing the debate on the road to power for the liberation movement in South Africa. I must state at the beginning that I share the view of those who see the perspective of “power sharing” as a very grave political and strategic error on the part of our movement.
In this contribution I will focus mainly on giving an outline of an alternative path to that suggested by the proponents of the “power sharing” approach. In this contribution I will argue that an insurrectionary perspective is not only possible but is historically necessary. Iwill also discuss the interrelationship between insurrection on the one hand, and egotiations and our daily struggles on the other.
b) The context of the debate and its sources
In order for us to appreciate the “power sharing proposals, their historical sources and significance, it is necessary that the context within which the debate is taking place be made explicit.
There are broadly two aspects that dominate the context within which Slovo and following him the NWC of the ANC presented the “power sharing” position. On the one hand there is the intransigence of the ruling class represented by the National Party. On the other hand there is the immediate weakness of the mass movement and therefore its inability to overthrow the ruling class by force.
The wide gap that exists between the aspirations of the majority and the interests of the ruling class has directly led to the deadlock that exists in the negotiations process. For what appears to be reasons of diplomacy the leading bodies of the ANC, and to a certain extent of the mass movement, have consistently attempted to deny the existence of a substantive, if not formal, deadlock. After the collapse of CODESA II it took the Boipatong massacre to force the recognition of the deadlock which had emerged at CODESA. So strong is the tendency to avoid admitting to the existence of a deadlock in the negotiations that in motivating the need for “power sharing” the motivation has been cast almost entirely in terms of pre-empting the counter-revolution.
The counter revolution is of course a serious danger that we need to deal with. It is however not fortuitous that the proposals for “power sharing” emerged towards the tail-end of the mass action campaign. As the mass action moved towards its peak the question of what the next step was going to be increasingly dominated the minds of activists. It was in the context of this search for a road to power that Comrade Jeremy Cronin made his contribution titled ” The Boat, the Tap and the Leipzig way” It is therefore necessary to make explicit the fact that the proposals for “power sharing” form part of an attempt to break the deadlock in the negotiations process. The proposal must therefore be seen in the light of the gap that exists between the aspirations of the mass of the people and the interests of the ruling class, as well as in the light of the intransigence of the regime.
The other key element of the current context is of course the weakness of the mass movement. The current organisational, and therefore political, weaknesses of the mass movement pose enormous strategical and tactical difficulties. The serious gap that exists between the aspirations of the masses and our capacity to realise them can be seen most graphically in the weaknesses evident in the contributions of those who oppose “power sharing”.For although the “power sharing” position has been correctly criticised for threatening to undermine the gains made by the liberation movement over (at least) the last twenty years, it has not been easy to come up with an alternative in the current situation. Despite its weaknesses the key strength of those who have opposed “power sharing It is that they have looked reality in the face and have admitted that not only are we not facing a defeated enemy (a fact which is easy enough to see), but it is also an enemy whose interests – both immediate and long term -are diametrically opposed to the interests of the masses. The problems encountered by those who have attempted to formulate a path to power that realistically takes into account the irreconciliable interests of the masses and those of the De Klerk regime can certainly not be dismissed as “a lazy left-wing opportunism”, as a tendency to tell people what they want to hear.”
The current debate in general, and the “power sharing” proposals in particular, are the product of the impasse in the negotiations process. Instead of taking a critical look at the way negotiations are being conducted, at the place of negotiations in our overall strategy, the proponents of the power sharing position have simply taken the mistakes of the past two to three years of negotiations to their logical conclusion.
Part 2: Elements Of A Road To Power -An Insurrectionary Perspective
The key question that lies at the heart of the current debate is how to break the power of the ruling class given its intransigence, its strength and the weakness of the mass movement. Although no one has systematically articulated the perspective of an insurrection as a road to power in the current conditions, the question of the viability of an insurrection has somehow consistently intruded in the debate. The ever-present ghost of insurrection is partly a legacy of our past. There are however other forces that are always rescuscitating the ghost of insurrection. These forces are non other than the intransigence of the regime and its refusal to meet even the most basic aspirations of the masses. The question of whether insurrection is historically necessary and whether it is viable in the present conditions must therefore be posed explicitly.
a) Is an insurrection (historically and objectively) necessary?
One of the most notable features of the proponents of the “power sharing” position is the extent to which their approach is based on wishful thinking or on a view of the world as they would like it to be. In order for the “power sharing” perspective to be consistent with the reality of the situation the proponents of this view have had to construct a convergence of aims or objectives between the liberation movement and the ruling class.
In Slovo’s contribution there was the argument that the regime “was genuinely seeking some break with the past”. In Cronin’s contribution the argument is presented as follows: There is, indeed, an extremely limited strategic convergence of interests between leading elements of the ruling bloc and the liberation movement. This attempt to construct a convergence of interests – no matter how limited – between the ruling class and the liberation movement collapses the minute it is tested out against the reality of the current positions of the ruling class and their political significance. The regime’s positions on constitutionally entrenched power sharing, its position on regionalism or federalism fits entire orientation on the economy and on social services have shown many times over that there exists a wide gulf between the most basic aspirations of the people and those of the ruling class.
The agenda of the ruling class in South Africa has been analysed by many within the liberation movement. As Blade Nzimande correctly argues the key idea that unites all the ruling class actions in the current phase of the struggle is an attempt to secure the conditions of capital accumulation under more stable condition. Under South African conditions this means that the ruling class cannot afford even the most basic of democratic Freedoms – the right of a people to choose a government of their choice. The evolution of South African capitalism has meant that basic bourgeios democracy stands in direct contradiction with the needs of capital accumulation. Any attempt to formulate a path to power for the liberation movement in the current conditions must begin by accepting the reality of this fact – the irreconcilability of the interests of the mass of the people and those of the ruling class. We cannot avoid this fact by constructing a hypothetical convergence of interests between the ruling class and the oppressed.
Our approach to the strategic choices facing our movement must therefore be determined by two related questions. The first question concerns the relationship of the major social forces or classes in our society and their contending interests. On this question the entire experience of our struggle and the position of the ruling class on the right of the people to choose a government of their choice leaves no room for ambiguity -no amount of desire on our part can change the fact that no convergence at all exists between the people and the ruling class.
The second question relates to the issue of the “transfer of power”. By power I mean not merely governmental office, but the capacity to carry out a fundamental transformation of the existing order. Can power be transferred peacefully? If yes, under what conditions can it be transferred peacefully? The first condition under which power can be transferred peacefully is if the ruling class voluntarily hands over power. It is generally recognized -even by the proponents of the power sharing perspective – that power cannot be transferred through the ruling class handing over power voluntarily. The second condition under which power can be transferred peacefully is if the liberation movement enjoys such an overwhelming superiority of forces that any resistance by the opposing side would be simply suicide. It is clear that neither condition exist in South Africa at the present moment. In simple terms what this means is that in South Africa at the current moment power cannot, and will not, be transferred peacefully.
The inevitable conclusion that faces the liberation movement is that in order to pose the question of the transfer of power to the people under the current conditions means to commit ourselves to the organisation of an armed uprising, in other words, an insurrection. The choice of an insurrection as a road to power under the current conditions has very little to do with whether it is desirable or not. It is the unavoidable result of the fact that the interests of the ruling class and those of the masses are separated by a wide gulf.
The fact that the protagonists of the power sharing approach have repeatedly had to return to the issue of insurrection goes to show the extent to which an insurrectionary perspective is almost objectively suggested by the current relationship of forces and by the obvious gap that exists between the opposing forces of South African society. What has also been notable about the current debate is the basis on which insurrection has been dismissed as an option. Almost without exception all the protagonists of the power sharing road have rejected insurrection for purely pragmatic reasons: and they have ruled out insurrection as an option by conflating commitment to an insurrectionary perspective to a boycott of negotiations, or an abstention from defending and utilising the space we enjoy at the moment.
The pragmatic approach has argued that since we do not have the capacity to stage an insurrection – presumably tomorrow – we cannot hold an insurrectionary perspective. The proponents of such an argument have very short memories indeed. Throughout the 70s and 80s our movement held an insurrectionary perspective without at all believing that the insurrectionary moment was going to be the next day. In any struggle the choice of path is not simply determined by whether the oppressed have the immediate possibilities of victory along a particular path. The choice of path springs fundamentally from the nature of the antagonisms between the contending social classes. In South Africa the entire evolution of capitalism and apartheid, as well as the social interests conditioned by this evolution, make any notion of a peaceful transfer of power a utopian dream. In South Africa the most basic democratic liberties, the most basic social democratic measures needed to begin to address the legacy of apartheid, these require that the power of the South African ruling class must be broken. To break the power of the ruling class means the organisation of an armed uprising.
b) Phases in the development of the revolution
The gap that exists between the necessity of an insurrection and the capacity of the liberation movement to immediately realise it stands as an apparently insuperable difficulty on the path to power. It is this difficulty that has stood in the way of an explicit elaboration of an insurrectionary path to power. For although the logic of those who have criticised the power sharing perspective drove them towards the inevitability of an insurrectionary perspective, the difficulties associated with such an option have prevented them from drawing the appropriate conclusions from their criticisms.
Part of the reason why the opponents of the power sharing approach have not drawn the logical conclusions from their criticisms is that they, at least implicitly, share a common error with their opponents: they conflate the need for an insurrection with the process of its realisation. In its turn this conflation reveals a failure to grasp the place of an insurrection in the development of a revolution. Viewed from another angle, this conflation leads to the reduction of the entire revolutionary process to a single moment – that of the insurrection.
As it were, the way insurrection has been treated by those who oppose an insurrectionary perspective is as if it is not a moment that develops over time. For them insurrectionary conditions either exist or they do not. It is this schematic way of thinking, this static way of viewing the world that leads the “power sharing” proponents to counterpose negotiations to insurrection: if it is not insurrection, then its negotiations, if its not negotiations, its not insurrection. What is however hardly ever spelt out is what constitutes insurrectionary conditions, and how do they come about.
i) Indices of an insurrectionary period
What, to begin with, constitutes insurrectionary conditions? The first critical index of an insurrectionary situation is the preparadness of the broad masses of the people to struggle and to sacrifice their lives in the struggle for freedom. The last twenty years of our history have seen a general preparedness to struggle on the part of the masses. But only at certain moments –n otably in 1984-86 -have we seen this propensity to struggle become broadly based and also revealing an equally broadly based spirit of sacrifice.
This profound change in the mood of the masses – not just activists – leads to important changes in the organisations of the oppressed and exploited. As the struggle intensifies there occurs an extraordinary growth in the extent of mass participation in organisations. A consequence of this is that new layers of leadership are forged rapidly and we also see a political, organisational, strategically and tactical creativity on the part of ordinary people. At a critical moment of this deepening and broadening of organisation and struggle, the masses begin to evolve revolutionary organs of self-administration or organs of dual power.
The changes that take place within the mass movement, however, constitute only one set of indices of an insurrectionary context. The other set of indices is to be found in the generalised degeneration and disintergration of the ruling class. The first thing is that the ruling class, as represented by its various parties, looses moral and political leadership over societ. A direct consequence of this collapse of capitalist hegemony; is the more or less rapid polarisation of society into two extremes -the working class and the ruling class. A fierce struggle ensues for the soul of the middle classes and other popular classes. This polarisation is of course not automatic, but is a product of the intensity of struggle and the ideological contestation that accompanies it.
The loss of hegemony in turn reflects itself in splits within the ruling class as its various representatives differ on how to respond to the challenge from the dominated classes. The instability of the bourgeois regime becomes pronounced, and we (sometimes) see changes in the leadership of the ruling class from those who are reformists to those who are on the extreme right or fascist. One of the most important indices of this degeneration is the instability and even splits within the security forces. Here too the splits in the security forces are not automatic. They are results of physical blows from without and – importantly ideological contestation. Side by side with these developments there occurs splits within the civil service as lower echelons begin to gravitate towards the people.
This creativity found its principal expression in the creation of incipient forms of dual power – the street committees.
In his contribution to the debate Cronin (If Dreaming of the final showdown…) has defended the struggle for the moral high ground against Nzimande’s (op. cit.) argument that this struggle is futile to the extent that it is directed at winning elements of the ruling class. Notwithstanding Cronin’s defence, it is clear that over the past three years this struggle has been conducted in a manner that has restored, rather than eroded, the political hegemony of the ruling class. Increasingly, on a number of fronts, the leadership of the mass movement is becoming indistinguishable from the leadership of the ruling class.
Its necessary to note that in South Africa the security forces encompass a range of institutions which include the SADF, SAP, the municipal police, private security firms, the equivalent of these institutions in the homelands, and the prison warders.
Briefly then, such are the indices that characterises an insurrectionary situation. The insurrectionary moment or situation, that much talked about If final show down, constitutes, however, one moment in the evolution of the revolutionary process. The changes that take place among the masses and the ruling class are a product of a whole series of developments which proceed the insurrectionary situation. This pre-insurrectionary, or preparatory phase of the revolution, is crucial in our understanding of strategy and tactics on the road to power.
ii) The re-insurrectionary phase
In general, the pre-insurrectionary phase is characterised by an uneven and relatively low combativity and weakness of the organisations of the masses. We also see the relative cohesion and strength of the ruling class, and its moral and political confidence. As the dominated classes assimilate a sense of their own weakness, there begins to develop within the dominated classes “constitutional illusion. ” This is a belief that the formal institutions of the bourgeois rule can deliver lasting improvements in their lives. This finds expression in the belief that numbers alone – i.e. through the vote – can guarantee a transfer of power. The dominated classes cease to belief that their power, through struggle and organisation, can transfer power through the overthrow of the ruling class.
iii) Overlaps between the re-insurrectionary and insurrectionary situations
This characterisation of the insurrectionary and pre-insurrectionary situations is true, but only in general or abstractly. Concretely, the process of the revolution is uneven. There is unevenness in the levels of combativity, including the preparedness to sacrifice; there is unevenness in the strength of organisations; there is unevenness in the levels of revolutionary consciousness; there is indeed an unevenness in the levels of political and organisation cohesion within the ruling class. The unevenness can be found between the various strata of the dominated and ruling classes, as well as between different parts of the country.
The question of the unevenness of the revolutionary process occupies an important place in our understanding of strategy and the possibilities that present themselves to our movement. Let us take, for instance, the current situation in South Africa. At a general level it is certainly true that we are not in an insurrectionary situation. On the other hand, the dominated classed have shown, albeit episodically, leaps in the development of their combativity and spirit of sacrifice. Despite conditions of recession and threats from the ruling class, we have seen a number of successful stayaways (on a local regional and national basis) in the past two to three years. 11 In the Ciskei the runup to Bisho in September contained all the elements of an insurrectionary situation, right from the mood of the masses to the confusion and fragility of the Gqozo regime. Within the ruling class the situation is not that stable either. The emergence of Popcru is an index of a deeper process that is taking place within the security forces.
In South Africa, the unevenness of the revolutionary process, the overlap between the indices that characterise the insurrectionary and the pre-insurrectionary periods derives its acuteness from two sources. The one is the intractable social contradictions that are deeply embedded in South Africa’s social formation. It is the intensity of these contradictions that defines the rapidity with which we can pass over from the pre-insurrectionary to the insurrectionary situation. The second source of the acuteness of this unevenness is to be found in the immediate prehistory of February 1990. For although the regime inflicted serious blows on our movement, we were not routed and most certainly we suffered nothing like the defeat of the 1960s.
An insurrection, therefore, forms one phase in the revolutionary process. There are other equally important phases – the pre-insurrectionary and the post-insurrectionary or consolidation phase. The fact of the unevenness, and the overlap between the various phases of the revolution leads us to an important concept in revolutionary strategy: that of partial breaks or ruptures.
iv) Partial ruptures
One of the ideas implicit in the way the strategic debate has been conducted is that an insurrection is a single event – one “big bang”. The continual reference to the “final showdown”, although used polemically, has conjured up the image of a cataclysmic conflagration on one appointed day. The history of most revolutions shows, however, that an insurrection develops as a series of partial uprisings which affect sections of the population or only parts of a country. It is these series of uprisings, which have the cumulative effect of breaking the so – called “weak links” in the chain that constitutes the ruling class’ power over society.
In the history of our own movement, we know that the movement that led to the insurrectionary highpoint of 1984-86 developed over time. This movement involved a series of struggles in various sectors (youth, workers, civics, etc.). It involved a range of partial victories from the recognition of a shop-steward committee to the legalisation of trade unions; from concessions to individual civics to the collapse of Black Local Authorities. But just as these struggles and victories (sometimes defeats) involve struggles for reforms, under certain conditions they involve partial uprisings.
It is crucial, however, to emphasise that these struggles are not the creation of individuals or parties. They arise out of the social contradictions that constitute the very foundation of the social formation. The role of a revolutionary movement is to intervene in these struggles, give them overall strategic direction (while allowing the self-initiative of the masses immediately involved in the struggle) and so link these struggles systematically into a chain that leads to the seizure of power.
In the recent past there was a general recognition, although it was not systematically articulated or theorised, that in the run up to Bisho the various homelands formed a weak link in the laager of the South African ruling class. The merits of this position can of course be debated, especially in the light of the fact that this view was sometimes associated with a blanket “domino” theory that with the fall of the Ciskei all the homeland will fall. What is however clear is that the fall of the Ciskei regime would have had a profound effect on the mood of the masses, first in the homelands and then more generally in the rest of the country.
In the context of the developing situation in the Ciskei our movement was hamstrung the two prevalent, but equally erroneous views which argue on the one hand, that an insurrection is a once off big bang event, and on the other which argue that in the current situation insurrestionary conditions do not exist. The failure to locate the developments in the Ciskei in a strategic perspective of partial breaks or ruptures basically accounts for the lack of clarity about the objectives of the march that Suttner refers to in his assessment of the Bisho march.
The concept of partial ruptures has of course surfaced in the debates on strategy. In one of his contributions Cronin argues: “I have tried to develop a perspective on the transfer of political (and of course other power) as a process (rather than an event). It is a process marked by a series of partial but significant breaks.” The point about Cronin’s conception of partial breaks is that it is essentially reformist. It is a conception that allows all kinds of ruptures except partial uprisings. Therefore, although Cronin has raised the importance of understanding the process of transferring power – i.e. the revolutionary process – as a process, he still somehow manages to cling to an “either /or” perspective of insurrection. Everything else is a process except an insurrection.
One other important point which needs to be made is that these partial breaks, like the insurrection viewed as a whole, do not fall from the sky. They require conscious intervention in, as well as provision of strategic direction to the spontaneous struggles that are waged by the dominated classes on a daily basis. The position held by the proponents of power sharing is such that it cannot but prove that an insurrectionary situation “does not exist.” For since they do not, or do not want to believe that an insurrection is both necessary and possible, they of course do not undertake to organise it. But since it cannot happen of its own accord, the fact that it does not happen becomes further proof that it is not possible. All the prophesies are self-fulfilling. And this is not all. Not only is insurrection not organised in all its partial manifestation, but strategies which continually weaken the organised power of the mass formations are persued. And so again the prophesies are self-fulfilling. Mass organisations grow weaker, and that is taken as proof that insurrection is not possible.
v) The insurrectionary perspective and the role of negotiations
Despite the existence, in the recent past, of insurrectionary conditions in certain parts of the country, it is clear that the situation in the rest of the country is pre-insurrectionary. The organisations of the masses are relatively weak, the ruling class is relatively intact and is ideologically on the ascendancy) and there are even elements of demoralisation in the mass movement. The task facing the mass movement is that of preparing for an insurrection.
It is necessary to immediately clarify what I mean by preparing for an insurrection. There is a generally held conception in the mass movement that preparation for an insurrection implies deployment of armed detachments, collection of arms supplies and so on. This of course is necessary if an insurrection is to have a chance of success. But this is a limited view of preparation for an insurrection, a view of preparation from a purely technical point of view. There is another, even more important side to preparation: it is political preparation. Political preparation for an insurrection involves building organisations, training a cadre and a leadership, engaging in partial struggles and so building the political confidence of the dominated classes as well as their combat experience, among many other tasks. Political preparation for an insurrection is not just one side of preparation for an insurrection. It is the fundamental basis on which the technical preparation is carried out. This is because any insurrection is victorious first and foremostly because of the political preparation that went into it and only secondarily because of the technical preparation. This of course does not mean that technical preparations are not important.
vi) Participation in negotiations in principle
The preparatory phase of any revolution is played out in conditions which are not determined by the revolutionary forces alone. In fact, this phase of the revolution is largely played out on the terrain of “bourgeois politics”. By this we mean that the bourgeoisie is generally hegemonic and as a result the oppressed the must continually be engaging the institutions of the ruling class (whether local government, the central government, the schools, the factories etc.) in struggle. For example, in an insurrectionary situation, the emergence of dual power means that the struggles of the oppressed now find an independent axis, although they continue to engage the ruling class in struggle.
The preparatory phase of the revolution implies therefore, not abstention from the struggles for reforms, not blanket boycott of the terrain of bourgeois politics, but in fact imply precisely the opposite: it implies that revolutionary forces must actively engage in this terrain of politics, engage in the partial struggles that are thrown up by this terrain. The criticism that an insurrectionary perspective implies abstention from partial struggles, from struggles for reforms, from the utilisation of terrain of bourgeois politics and its institutions is based on a failure to understand the revolutionary process as a whole – in particular its various phases.
The first important point to make, therefore, is that an insurrectionary perspective does not exclude, in principle, participation in negotiations. Moreover, the possibility of participation is not a trick -it arises out of the fact that the preparatory phase of any insurrection is played out on the terrain of bourgeois politics. Conversely, it is also important to state that this recognition does not at all imply participation in negotiation at all costs -the perspective also implies a withdrawal from (and not just suspension of) negotiations. This brings us to the second important point.
Although we believe that participation in negotiations is not excluded in principle, we do not at all believe that our movement can only impact on the political process from the negotiation table only. In fact one of the fallacies that have become prevalent is that the process of transformation can only be impacted upon from the vantage point of negotiations table. This view is most certainly false. Our impact on the political process underway does not hinge on our participation in negotiations; it hinges on the levels of mobilisation and struggle, on the strength of our organisations -i.e. on what we do in the streets whether we are in or outside negotiations. This does not need much validation: the entire history of our movement, especially the 1970s and 1980s, is living proof of this fact.
vii) The current conjuncture and participation in negotiations
Although we have argued that participation in negotiations is not the only way we can have an impact on the political process, we still need to pose the question: is it politically necessary to participate in negotiations at this current conjuncture? To this question we should answer: most certainly yes.
There are a number of angles from which we should approach our participation in negotiations. As we said earlier, the masses of the people, in condition of relative weakness of their organisations, tend to conflate power with numbers. As we know, numbers alone do not decide the question of power. But these constitutional illusions”, however, are not figments of the people’s imaginations, they are real, (historically) valid perceptions corresponding to the existing relations of forces. It follows, therefore, that these “illusions” cannot be dispelled by mere propaganda. The masses must discover the dead-end that is bourgeois, parliamentary politics through their own experiences.
On the one hand the masses harbour democratic aspirations and aspirations for the improvements of their lives. On the other hand, they harbour illusions about the road to power. The masses of the people do not like violent conflict. They therefore take the road of revolution when there is no other road. For them, revolution is a defensive act. Therefore, we participate in the terrain of negotiation to allow the masses, through their own experience, to see that the only road towards fundamental improvement in their lives, and to democracy, is through an armed uprising.
Our task on the terrain of negotiations is to put forward genuine democratic demands/proposals on a consistent basis, to struggle for improvement in people’s lives on a consistent basis. Throughout all this, we must be clear that to the extent that the “illusions” of the masses are real and valid, we are not involved in a “trick” or simple “manoeuvre” – we are involved in a real historical process. Participation in negotiations is thus taken seriously. This constitutes the first reason why we negotiate.
Secondly, we participate in negotiations as a means of gaining partial victories for our struggle. Earlier on we remarked that one of the important elements of the preparatory phase of the revolution is the partial struggles that are waged by the dominated classes. It is an important partial victory, for example, when – without compromising or undermining our overall struggle – we succeed to secure the release of political prisoners. Negotiations can also contribute in creating broader organisational space within which the masses can wage struggles.
The third reason why participation in negotiations is appropriate has to do with the changes that have taken place in the terrain of our politics since February 1990. In the 1980s, local struggles and demands had a central role (the UDF grew around them) and the momentum for national political struggle was largely determined by the dynamic of local politics. To this extent national demands were of a largely propagandistic character. Important though the slogan “The people shall govern!” was, even more immediate were slogans like: “There shall be houses, security and comfort!”; “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened!” and so on. The line of march in the 1980s was from the daily concrete issues to the major political questions. This is not to say that the major political questions were not important, in fact they provided the general background which gave the concrete daily issues their intensity and cutting edge.
The experience of the 1980s therefore tempts militants to want to retreat to local struggle. This of course would be a serious error. This is because the most overriding feature of the current terrain of politics is that the key political questions of the form of state and the specific nature of the new democracy dominate all aspects of mass activity, including local issues.
It is crucial that militants realise the powerful impact of these national political questions on local issues. In the period before February 2, local issues (including factory struggles) found their cutting edge from the fact that the masses of the people knew that in their local battle there was also the fight against apartheid. Largely because of the way negotiations were taken up after February 2, because of the “man of integrity” approach to negotiations, because of the settlement at all costs position, the putting edge that drove local issues in the townships and factories of South Africa was blunted. As our leadership became indistinguishable form the representatives of the ruling class, so our people’s capacity to fight at a local level became blunted.
It would therefore be incorrect to argue that we should abandon negotiations and struggle in our localities and factories exclusively or even predominantly. This view would be incorrect even if it were to be espoused as a form of preparation for insurrection. It would be incorrect primarily because it fails to see that a serious and sustained revival in local struggles can only be initiated, triggered, by a sustained and militant approach to politics at a national level. We do not have to look for the evidence of this: the period between Boipatong and Bisho stands as living proof before our won eyes. Negotiations therefore provide our movement with the opportunity (and indeed the duty) to focus the attention of the people on the key political questions of the form of state and the specific character of the democracy that we are fighting for.
Militants opposed to negotiations might argue that participation in negotiations is not the only way in which our movement can focus the masses attention on the key political questions of the day. This is true. As we have already indicated, we can certainly impact on the political process without participating in negotiations. What these militants would however be missing is that even when we are not taking part in negotiations we would still have to orientate towards the negotiations process. In other words, the prism or axis through which we would mobilise the masses attention on the major political issues would still have to be the negotiations process. For example fin the 1980s we did not participate in the Tricameral parliament but our mobilisation was focused around it. Our participation in negotiations is made necessary -though not inevitable -by the fact that since February 1990 the negotiations have defined the terrain of national politics.
viii) Negotiations and mass struggle
A revolutionary approach to negotiations means that negotiations must be seen as just one element of a series of partial struggles that constitute the preparatory phase of the revolution. The view of negotiations as one element in the preparatory phase of the revolution raises the question of the relationship between negotiations and other elements in this phase of the revolution. In particular, it raises the issue of the relationship between negotiations and mass struggle.
The involvement of the masses in the current political process is the only way in which our movement can guarantee that the results of the current phase of our struggle will yield gains for the people. The weakness in the way the involvement of the masses the negotiations has been posed is that it has focused almost exclusively on the process of consultation and symbolic or demonstrative actions. Although consultation and demonstrative actions are clearly important, an emphasis on these as a form of participation in negotiations is problematic on two related counts.
The first problem that confronts the proponents of consultation is that because of the weakness of organisations, attendance at meetings is low and thus there are no masses to consult. On the other hand, the weakness of organisations means that demonstrative actions cannot be sustained. It is clear that consultation and demonstrative actions cannot be the basis of a strategy that aims at a mass based approach to negotiation. The second problem – and the one that lies at the root of the current lack of participation of the masses in negotiations – is that the road through which the masses enter political life, and thus also participate in organisations and discussions, is through “rolling” or sustained mass action.
The validity of this observation is not difficult to see. Most of us know from our experience that whenever mass action campaigns are taken up there tends to occur an increase in mass participation in our organisations. As it became clear in the debates around “rolling” in the run-up to the August 1992 mass action does not only involve the struggles organised nationally on certain appointed days. In the course of its life the working class and its allies engage in a range of struggles in defence of its living standards and in order to improve its life in general. It is these struggles that must be harnessed and linked with the key national political issues. The role of our organisations is to give these struggles coherence, to organise solidarity between them and to reveal their connection to the wider processes of oppression and exploitation in South Africa. These struggles, their growing intensity and generalisation, provide the points of entry of the masses into national political life. Although mass action provides the gate through which the masses enter political life -and thus also makes possible a mass based approach to negotiations, it cannot and must not be seen as an appendage to negotiations. Mass action has a significance that goes far beyond negotiations.
The experience the masses undergo in the process of mass struggle is the key that enables the masses to shed their “constitutional illusions”. It is their engagement with the ruling class on all fronts that allows the masses to see, for themselves, that their interest and those of the ruling class are irreconciliable. Through facilitating the building of organisations, and facilitating the growth in the political confidence of the dominated classes mass action provides the key to the passing over from the preparatory to the insurrection phase of the revolution. In our recent past we have had occasion to witness how mass action, in a dialectical interconnection with the terrain of bourgeois politics, can open the road to a generalised uprising. Let us take an example.
The movement that evolved in the years 1982 (the year of the Koornhof Bills) to 1985 (the national uprising) developed from political questions posed constitutionally i.e. on the terrain of (bourgeois) parliamentary politics. Although there were no constitutional talks, the focus of political struggle was parliament. From these “constitutional” beginnings the movement connected up with the daily demands of the people -transport, rent, wages. The political questions were of course not abandoned; they reinforced, and were in turn reinforced, by the struggle around local issues. The movement, as it intensified, returned to the central political questions. But it returned to these questions via a different route, and the central political questions were now posed in an entirely different manner.
For whereas the process of mass mobilisation began on the terrain of constitutional politics i.e. the demands were directed at parliament, as it developed the mass of the people evolved “organs of people’s power”; the street committees that emerged in some of the most intensely fought battle grounds in our townships were transformed into organs of popular self-administration. For the first time the South African working class began evolving forms of “dual power”, although embryonic.
The role of negotiations, therefore, is to reinforce the mass, daily concrete struggles waged by the working class. It is to give these struggles greater scope and depth, and to connect them with the critical political issues of the day. Through this process, negotiations – being a ‘constitutional’ form of politics – would open the road for the raising bf our people’s political confidence, it would encourage the building of organisations, and it would lead to our passing over into an insurrectionary situation. It is clear therefore, that mass struggle does not supplement, augment the negotiations; on the contrary, negotiations supplement, augments the mass struggle.
Part 3: Conclusion
At the beginning of this contribution I stated that I will provide what I called an outline of an alternative perspective. It is clear that what has been argued above raises a range of questions which it was not the intention of this contribution to address. Some of these questions are continually thrown in the faces of those who are opposed to the current direction of negotiations. Among these issues are questions like how one plans to deal with the military and bureaucratic machine of the state. There are other questions which are not as frequently thrown around. For example, what are the organisational implications of an insurrectionary perspective?, how does this perspective impact of our work in various sectors and how would it impact on the range of negotiations taking place in just about all the sectors of our movement? The task of finding answers to these questions is clearly urgent and will obviously have to be a collective one.
What I have tried to do in this contribution is to show that an insurrectionary perspective is a necessity that arises out of the social contradictions that tear South African society apart. I have tried to counter the caricature of an insurrectionary perspective that has become prevalent in our movement. I have shown that an insurrectionary perspective does not imply a blanket disengagement from negotiations, that neither does it imply negotiations at all costs, and that it does not imply a disengagement from partial struggles. In fact, I showed that an insurrectionary perspective implies engagement in a variety of struggles in a variety of fronts. As part of this conclusion I would like to take a brief look at two issues, which have emerged in the course of the so- called strategic debate.
a) The international balance of forces
It is obvious that the collapse of Stalinism in most parts of the world has shifted the world balance of power in favour of imperialism. This fact alone, or in this general form, however, cannot constitute the basis on which one can decide for or against insurrection.
What is of course needed is a concrete analysis of the relationship of forces internationally. Although the international situation is always invoked to support negotiations at all costs, no one has bothered to actually examine the specificity of the world situation.
The treatment of the world situation has also fallen victim to an old problem of those who propagate “power sharing” – i.e. the world is treated in an “either – or” fashion. The world is not treated in its internal contradictions and unevenness. For although imperialism in generally on the ascendency, the so-called “unipolar world” (i.e. the dominance of a single superpower) that emerged after the fall of Stalinism is by no means stable. It is three/four years since the Eastern Europe exploded and the future of capitalism in those countries is far from clear. The “unipolar” world has given rise to a new inter-imperialist rivalry and we increasingly see struggles for economic spheres of influence. World capitalism is itself in deep crisis with no solution in sight. We are living in an era of “explosive material in world politics”.
What is also remarkable about the bland and blanket manner in which the world situation has been treated is that South Africa is spoken of as if it does not itself constitute an important element in the equation that makes up the “balance of forces”.
The protagonists of “power sharing” fail to recognise a simple fact: a victorious insurrection in South Africa will itself constitute a fundamental change in the balance of forces. Such a victory would provide a lifeline to Cuba and other similar countries; it would immediately get the overwhelming support of the people of Southern Africa; it would send powerful signals to all the oppressed masses of the world.
What the use of the international balance of forces has above all revealed is the deep pessimism that underlies the “power sharing” perspective. It is a pessimism about the capacity of our people to struggle for freedom; it is a lack of faith in the moral superiority of our cause.
b) How speedy a movement towards democracy?
In one of his contributions Cronin writes: “… (the) open-ended time frame approach to insurrection may well not be wrong. Its open-endedness… makes it hard to say quite when, if ever, it could be proved wrong.” But it is this open- endedness which makes it unhelpful in sharpening tactical and strategic choices in the present. Most people, and indeed any serious revolutionary, would like the sufferings and struggles of the oppressed to end quickly and victoriously. But as Cronin points out in the passage just cited, it is difficult to say exactly when an insurrection will take place. Behind this obvious truth, however, Cronin introduces a matter which is of important political and strategical significance. The question which is raised by Cronin’s remark can be formulated as follows: can history, or an insurrection, be made according to schedule?
At first glance it would appear that the answer to a question like this was obvious. It would appear that no one would want to set a “time-frame” to the historical process. But then since February 1990 the question of so-called time frames has been repeatedly invoked to justify or motivate strategic and tactical choices. As a matter of fact we all know – or should know – that the struggle for freedom, which is a process of transforming relations between social classes, cannot and never has been made according to schedule. Even the struggles for the Constituent Assembly, the Interim Government and so on, are only apparently being conducted according to “time frames”. What determines the tempo and rhythms of these struggles is the changing balance of class forces. All struggles are therefore “open-ended” to the extent that one cannot tell the moment of victory in advance.
Cronin’s remarks are of course related to his idea (or more precisely error) that an insurrectionary perspective means that one does “nothing” but waits for “the moment”. Starting from this incorrect conception of insurrection and its dynamics Cronin could of course only conclude that an insurrectionary perspective is “unhelpful in sharpening tactical and strategic choices”. On the contrary, it has been the current approach to negotiations, with its deep roots in reformism, that has provided little scope for the self-initiative of the masses, that has proved to be inconsistent with the concept of “rolling mass action”, that has stifled the spontaneous and creative energy of the masses. This after all is the crux of the question: without the self-initiative of the masses, there can be no sharpening of our strategical and tactical acumen as a movement.
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