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We have up to now examined the context of the settlement that was reached at the World Trade Centre, and we also examined the meaning of this settlement as well as the dangers it poses for the struggles of the oppressed and exploited. We saw that the settlement represents a serious defeat or setback for the mass movement in general, and for the working class in particular. But the extent to which the grave dangers that now confront our movement actually become a reality, depends on how revolutionary
socialists and the vanguard of the working class take up the struggle against the sell-out settlement, and on what alternatives they put in front of the masses.
The most decisive and fundamental task that faces revolutionaries and militants is the need for a systematic response and struggle against the sell-out settlement.
The need for both general and specific tasks
We have already noted that one of the reasons why the ruling class was able to score such a decisive victory in the negotiations process is the political and ideological confusion within the militant layers — the vanguard — of the working class. On the other hand, this confusion is itself a product of the way the leadership of the mass movement (in all its important organisational formations namely the ANC, SACP and COSATU) has led the movement over the past three to four years. The implication of this is that when we formulate our responses to the settlement, it is necessary to map out a set of general tasks that will provide the overall framework within which the vanguard can reforge its ideological and political weapons as a basis for providing revolutionary leadership.
But our movement does not only suffer from ideological and political confusion. The lack of political compass in turn led to weak organisation and the decimation of the militant and revolutionary cadre. It follows therefore that the general tasks that we outline must also provide a general framework within which the working class can rebuild its organisations — our most important weapons.
In order to map out this general approach we must pose and answer the question: What are the major objectives of revolutionary work in the light of, or in the context of, the sell-out settlement?
The period that is going to unfold, however, will not be uniform or linear in the way the different forces are going to relate to each other, or in the way the dynamics of the struggle will unfold. The coming period will in general be characterised by the attempts of the ruling class to consolidate the settlement, and to take the process of transforming the ANC into a party of monopoly capital, much further. But the specific way in which the overall task of the ruling class will be executed will depend on the character of the different phases of the coming period of struggle.
Earlier on we argued that the coming period can be broadly understood as unfolding in three phases. We spoke of the pre-elections phase, that is the period up to April 27, 1994; the elections themselves, and the post-elections period. It is clear that the relationships between the ruling class and the working class, between the leadership and the ruling class, as well as that between the different parties of the ruling class, are likely to undergo changes as the coming period passes through its various phases.
So, although these phases — barring an outbreak of civil war, which is unlikely — will have as their broad context the sell-out settlement and the ruling class’s attempts to consolidate it, the specific way in which this consolidation is likely to take place will differ from phase to phase. Earlier on we showed how the different elements of the broad scenario are likely to come together to produce the different phases. What we therefore need in formulating our response is not only the general tasks that must guide our work as socialists, in the coming period viewed as a whole, but we also need to map out a set of tasks appropriate to each phase of the coming period. These immediate tasks have a two-fold role in the coming period. On the one level, they answer specific questions posed by each phase of the coming period. On another level, they must translate the overall tasks of the coming period into specific tactical tasks and slogans.
In order to map out tasks for socialists in each of the phases we must pose and answer the question: What specific questions of politics and strategy are raised by each different phase? How do we answer this question in a way that amplifies and gives concrete meaning to the general tasks facing socialists in the coming period?
Section 1: General tasks in the coming period
The deal that has been struck at the World Trade Centre promises to redefine— in a fundamental manner — the terrain of revolutionary politics in South Africa. Up to now the lines of division between the oppressor and the oppressed, between the exploiter and the exploited, have been fairly clear. This is notwithstanding the fact that these lines have become increasingly blurred over the past three to four years. Up to the beginning of 1990, it was also generally taken for granted that in order to transform the lives of the millions of ordinary people the existing state — its bureaucratic and military machine — has to be overthrown. Among the leading layers of our movement this view has now been abandoned, and among the masses there is a belief that transformation can take place without the overthrow of the bourgeois or capitalist state. This is not to deny the deep suspicions about the deal that prevails among the mass of the people — and particularly the vanguard. The fundamental fact, however, is that a profound change has occurred in the psychology of the masses about who their enemy is, and about the need to overthrow the enemy.
Our general tasks must be grounded on a clear understanding of this fundamental fact; and we must proceed to address it.
(i) A perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of the existing order must be defended and advanced.
We have seen that the constitution that has been agreed to at the World Trade Centre entrenches the privileges of the white minority in general, and the capitalist class in particular. But we also saw that an important feature of the new constitution is that it makes it virtually impossible for the majority — no matter how large — to change the constitution in a legal and constitutional manner. The old bourgeois democracies owe their continued survival (on a daily basis) to primarily, the power of bourgeois ideology; and secondarily, to the possibility of resorting to armed force. In other words, the daily reproduction of bourgeois or capitalist social relationships is a result of the consent the exploited and oppressed working class gives to the bourgeois order.
The South African bourgeoisie or ruling class has no faith in the power of bourgeois ideology even though the leadership of the mass movement is embracing the ideology. Instead of the use of ideology, the South African ruling class has used the constitution to ensure that the basic power relations of the years of Apartheid can be maintained. They made sure that the majority cannot use the constitution, and their numbers, to change their lives and the power relations in a significant manner.
The most important conclusion that has to be drawn from this fact is that the aspirations of the mass of the people — the demands enshrined in the Freedom Charter and in countless struggles over many decades — cannot be achieved without the revolutionary overthrow of the order that is emerging out of the World Trade Centre. This is a fundamental conclusion, on which all socialists must ground their politics and practice.
The essence of the reformism of the leadership lies in the promotion of, as well as practices based on, the view that the lives of ordinary workers can be improved within the capitalist framework. It lies in the belief that the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the policies that our leadership has agreed to in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) talks, in general, the policies of the neoliberal captains of banks and industry, can improve the lives of the people. The belief that the capitalist road can lead to improvement — or even to socialism — was first justified by the South African Communist Party (SACP) in its seventh congress in 1989. This view has been further advanced by the COSATU leadership.
A struggle against reformism in the mass movement requires a vigorous struggle against the view of a so-called “peaceful road to socialism”. Socialists need to show that the only peaceful thing about this road to slavery, is that the working class will be so disarmed, that it will capitulate peacefully: that is, without a fight. The single most important general task facing socialists is to defend the perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of the order that is emerging out of the World Trade Centre.
This perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of the state based on the deal cannot, however, be merely asserted. It must be developed and elaborated upon. One of the central weaknesses of the left in general, and socialists in particular over the past three to four years, has been the failure of elaborating a theory or a perspective of revolution under the conditions brought about by the changes of February 1990.
We refrain from evaluating the validity of the SACP’s two-stage theory of revolution as it was elaborated on before 1990. What has become quite clear is that theory has failed the test at the moment when it appeared to be triumphing. With the ANC on the verge of assuming office, the impending second stage of the struggle for socialism is being postponed. And it is now being declared that the first stage is a “process” and will therefore continue for much longer. The confusion this has generated among socialist cadre is enormous, and this accounts for the major organisational weaknesses that beset the SACP. Other left groups or currents have been equally unsuccessful in elaborating on a theory or perspective of revolution in the current context.
With all its weaknesses, the premature closure of the “strategic perspectives” debates robbed militants of an opportunity to engage in a process of elaborating a theory of revolution in the current context. The process of engagement that was promised by the debate must be continued. This task of elaborating on a theory of revolution in the current context is a necessary product of the need to defend a perspective of a revolutionary overthrow of the order that is being born: of this new order that bears the soul of the old order.
The weakness of the “strategic perspectives” debate was that it was, strictly speaking, not a debate about a theory of revolution. It was a debate on tactical questions. Questions about the character of the revolution, the class forces that must lead this revolution and the implications of these questions for practical politics and questions of organisation, all these questions and many more did not feature in that debate. What is necessary is therefore not a mere continuation of that debate. There is now another fundamental weakness with a mere continuation of that debate. This weakness derives from the fact that the World Trade Centre has opened up a fundamentally new terrain of politics.
The deal has posed a new question for South African revolutionaries. It is this: What should the attitude of socialists be to the utilisation of a bourgeois and moreover, a sham or puppet parliament? What are the implications of our answer for a range of crucial questions — trade union work, mass work, party organisation, strategy and tactics… and so on? Where do we place parliamentary politics in our general theory of revolution?
To sum up, our first fundamental tasks as socialists are to elaborate and defend a perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of the new order. Such a perspective must take account of, and engage the new terrain of politics opened up by the sell-out
(ii) It is necessary to expose the meaning of the settlement
Over the past three to four years we have seen different levels of resistance towards -strictly speaking, disgruntlement about -the policies of the leadership. This embryonic resistance was not only weakened by the absence of a theory of revolution within which a response to the leadership’s politics of capitulation could be formulated. It was also weakened by the fact that many militants -let alone the mass of the people, did not, and still do not, know about what was being negotiated at the World Trade Centre, and did not know about what was being agreed on. The majority of militants depended on the very leadership that was capitulating at the World Trade Centre to interpret the meaning of the settlement that was being agreed to.
It was of course not surprising that what was dished out by the leadership was a story of one great victory after the next, a denial that there was going to be power-sharing, a portrayal of capitulation as “strategic innovations”.
This ignorance about the specific character of the settlement in all its details, however, did not affect the mass of ordinary militants. Even many left socialists – including extreme left ones – have a very vague idea about what was agreed. Whereas the mass of militants lacked the tools to see through the settlement’s specific character (for it is not being implied that the mass of militants did not see that what was being agreed to was a sell-out), the left socialists failed to see through the settlement because they developed an argument that absolved them from the concrete character of the sell-out. Many left socialists argued that for some time now, even before 1990, it has been clear that the leadership of the mass movement was going to sell out; so it was, and is, not necessary to trouble oneself about the specific character of the sell-out. This argument is obviously wrong.
The fact that we know that our general understanding of historical materialism tells us that capitalism will be superseded by a higher system of social organisation – socialism – does not absolve us of the task of a concrete analysis of capitalism at each phase of capitulation; at each different phase of its evaluation. Without this concrete analysis, there can be no development of a programme as a guide to action. It is equally true that a programme of action for the coming period is impossible to formulate without a concrete understanding of the character of the settlement.
Furthermore, the fact that we characterise the World Trade Centre settlement as a sell-out, does not at all mean that it does not provide any space whatsoever for struggles to be taken forward.
In order to understand what spaces exist, the dangers and possibilities that they offer, we need a widespread concrete understanding of the specific character of the deal that has been agreed to. The task of exposing the concrete nature of the settlement is therefore an important one in the coming period.
There is however, another important reason why socialists must take the task of exposing the concrete nature of the settlement seriously. In order for the mass of the people to rise up against the new capitalist order they will need to feel the hammer blows of life in the “new South Africa”. But then when the masses feel these hammer blows they can interpret them in two ways. The one is to say that the fact that they are feeling these hammer blows in the new South Africa goes to show that it is impossible to change and improve the world. One must only accept what nature and history has ordained. Or, the masses can interpret these blows as a signal to launch into struggle to achieve an order that will eliminate their misery. As to which way the masses will go, depends on organisation, ideological and political struggle.
The exposure of the meaning of the settlement is an important moment in the political and ideological struggle that is needed in order to prepare the militants and the masses for the coming struggles.
It must of course be mentioned and emphasised that the task is not just to explain what exactly has been agreed to at the World Trade Centre. Equally important is that socialists must put squarely on their table the grave implications of the settlement.
(iii) The daily struggles of the working class need to be taken seriously
The task of exposing the meaning and implications of the settlement to the masses involves the heightening of the political conciousness of millions of people. The importance of this otherwise obvious fact is that when it comes to the task of heightening the consciousness of millions, propaganda alone is not enough. The most important lever or tool in the development of mass consciousness is struggle itself. Only through daily active struggles do the mass of the people acquire the consciousness which is a pre-condition to the overthrow of capitalism.
We have seen that one of the factors that made the sell-out deal possible was the weakness of the working class. We saw that this weakness found its reflection in the dramatic decline in the level of mass struggle across all sectors. A low level of struggle by the working class breeds demoralisation, and the demoralisation in its turn pushes the level of combativity even lower. We have also noted that in the context of the World Trade Centre deal a demoralised working class is just what those who promote the ethnic fragmentation of the working class – indeed its fragmentation along many other lines – need.
What stands between the victory of the ruling class at the negotiating table, and actual implementation of what it has won, is an active and struggling working class. The road to the heights of struggle that are needed to stop the realisation of the ruling class agenda is through the daily struggles that the working class will and has to wage. Socialists must view the strengthening of these struggles as one of the important tasks of the coming period.
In particular, these daily struggles of the working class are important in a number of ways. Firstly, it is through these struggles that the working class will rebuild the confidence in itself that it has lost over the past few years. The politics of the leadership – the politics of petty-bourgeois nationalism – have as an important element the inculcation of the view that the working class is incapable of being a leading class in society. Only to the extent that its problems of poverty and hunger need to be addressed is the working class mentioned. The working class is not viewed as the subject, the actors in history. It is viewed as an object, a passive mass in the historical process. Only when the working class begins to win victories in struggle will it shed the mentality that it has acquired over the past few years. For socialists this means that every struggle over no matter how small the issue, every victory, no matter how insignificant, must be approached with utmost seriousness and its role in the broader historical process be appreciated.
The overall balance of power between the working class and the ruling class is transformed through the accumulation of small victories. At a particular stage of development, quantitative accumulation of victories is transformed into a qualitative shift in the balance of power. This brings us to the second point concerning the importance of the daily struggles of the working class.
Since about 1986-7 there has been a consistent shift in the balance of power in favour of the ruling class and against the working class. As we write (the beginning of 1994), the ruling class is quite clearly the dominant class force in South African society. This is true at all levels. As socialists we acknowledge this reality without ceasing to be opposed to the reactionary way in which the leadership has used this fact. For the leadership, the response has been to use the unfavourable balance of power to justify capitulation -for socialists it is acknowledged in order to map out appropriate strategies to reverse this balance. One of the most important levers in changing this balance is the daily struggles of the working class.
The third important role which daily struggles will play in the coming period is that of being levers in the development of a revolutionary cadre. We have already argued that one of the key casualties of the defeats of the past three to four years has been the layers of militants (or vanguard elements) that were developed over two decades of mass struggles. Every militant knows a few militants that have dropped out of struggle either to join the capitalist ranks (this widespread in the unions), to concern themselves with political office in the most opportunistic manner, to join ruling class political organisations or to drop out and into a life of drunkenness and criminal activity. Those who escaped this fate have fallen to the assassin’s bullet. The militant layers of the 1970s and the 1980s have been bruised and betrayed.
As a result, one of the major challenges facing the working class movement is to rebuild its revolutionary cadre. The process of building a cadre -at the level of the class as a whole -is a major historical process comprising many elements. One of the important qualities of such a cadre, however, is its commitment, to defending the interests of the working class at all levels and under all conditions, as well as through all means at the disposal of the working class. The daily struggles of the working class provide a context within which some of the qualities needed by a revolutionary cadre can be nurtured and developed. This includes the development of courage; the development of an understanding of elementary principles of strategy; the development of a more concrete as well as more theoretical understanding of the working class as a class, its temperament and moods (being born into the working class at this stage means that these important elements of revolutionary strategy are understood!), among the other roles that daily struggles play in rebuilding of a revolutionary cadre.
Fourthly, the daily struggles of the working class are important in rebuilding working class organisations. It is well known that working class organisations across a whole spectrum are weak, and some have all but disintegrated. It is equally well known that organisations can only be rebuilt through struggle. But in order to rebuild organisations, struggles must be used consciously in this rebuilding process.
Many of us know that over the past four years, struggles that have erupted have not led to the rebuilding of organisations. That is why socialists must intervene in the daily struggles of the working class in order to ensure that stronger organisations emerge out of the struggles.
We have up to now spoken about the role that the daily struggles of the working masses will play in rearming the working class and increasing its capacity to change the world, and in particular to reverse and defeat the agenda of the ruling class that has been victorious at the World Trade Centre negotiations. It is clear that daily struggles can play this role only if there is brought to them, a revolutionary or class-struggle perspective. Only if ideological clarification accompanies daily struggle will the working class and its struggle for socialism be advanced.
It now remains to ask: from which quarter are the struggles that we have been talking about, most likely to break out? From whence the sparks that will rekindle the flame?
Earlier on we argued that the victory of the ruling class is as yet incomplete. At the World Trade Centre, the ruling class won the acceptance of its programme and vision. That vision must still be implemented. The implementation of this vision, however, requires the further weakening of the working class. The project of the ruling class needs lower wages for factories, less government intervention, relocation of plants abroad and so on.
On the other hand, the ruling class is hoping that the working class will be won to its project, will agree to the implementation of this project in a relatively peaceful manner. The key to this hope is of course the leadership of the mass movement. The medium-term political survival of the leadership and in particular its usefulness to the ruling class at this point in history, depends on whether the leadership can deliver some significant improvements in the daily lives of the masses.
The agenda of the ruling class, and the methods it has committed itself to -in the short term at least – in the implementation of its programme, constitute two sides of the basic contradiction of the coming period. In the major imperialist countries, ruling class representatives led and inspired by Thatcher and Reagan have declared, explicitly, that the neoliberal agenda required the defeat of the working class and its organisations. In South Africa, the neoliberal agenda is asking for the consent of the working class, and here and there it promotes – even though only verbally – the idea of the need for a vibrant “civil society”. The truth of the matter, however, is that a neoliberal programme is incompatible with a vibrant “civil society”.
This basic contradiction lies at the heart of the ruling class’s mistrust of its own victory. We have already shown how the continued outflow of capital, the heavy reliance on constitutional guarantees, the continuing investment strike and so on, we have shown how all these reflect a bourgeoisie that is still uncertain of its victory.
All this gives the coming period an uncertain and explosive character. But specific character of this contradiction also defines the kind of issues that are likely to be the spark. The nature of this contradiction suggests that the impending struggle will begin as expressions of the hopes and expectations that the working class has in the new order, and because the method chosen by the ruling class at this juncture is to try to gain the consent of the working class, the leadership of the mass movement will have to politicise the issues in its attempt to “manage” the expectations. In other words, the new government must invoke broader programmatic explanations in order to defuse these struggles born of expectations.
Whereas the programme and ideology of neoliberalism requires the disengagement of the state from the concerns of daily survival, in other words the de-politicisation of daily “bread and butter” questions, the instruments and methods of the neoliberal project in South Africa will increase this politicisation, although in a manner different from the 1980s. Let us take one concrete example of what we mean here.
For the majority of the people in South Africa the doctrine of separation of powers is a myth. The judiciary that hanged militants was not separate from the legislature that passed the law and from the executive that tracked down the militants. The new order is likely to see the increasing use of the courts as instruments of oppression. For the people this will be nothing but the politicisation of these issues -land reclamations, factory occupations by strikers, the right and duty of the government to impose price controls, the struggles to transform education and many others.
So although daily defensive struggles will arise, and although socialists must take these seriously, struggles in general will either begin as explicitly political – the land struggles, for example – or if they begin as defensive struggles, they are likely to become political fairly rapidly.
By way of concluding this element of our discussion, that is, the importance of daily struggles in the coming period, two notes of caution are needed.
Firstly, we have already argued that to say that the new order is not going to effect a fundamental transformation of South African society and of the lives of the masses is not to say that not one of the new houses or schools will be built. That is, we are not saying that the ruling class has no interest in some improvements in the lives of ordinary people. The ruling class knows that if nothing happens the whole settlement will fall apart. What we are arguing, however, is that the agenda of the ruling class – its neoliberal programme – is not compatible with a generalised improvement in the conditions of life of the people. The new-look capitalism will not resolve the problems of Apartheid capitalism. This is the contradiction of the entire historical period that is opening up.
The second point of caution is that when we speak of the role that daily struggles will play and have to be made to play in the coming period, we are not implying that all those struggles will be victorious. There will be some defeats. And there might even be many of them. In the struggle for socialism, however, defeats too have a role. If defeats are viewed and approached as opportunities for open and honest learning they too can play all the roles we spelt out for the daily struggles in the coming period. It was Rosa Luxembourg who also taught:
“From [the] contradiction between the sharpening of the problem, and the lack of pre-requisites to its solution in the initial stages of revolutionary development it follows that the individual skirmishes of the revolution may end in defeat. But revolution is the sole form of ‘war’ -and this is a special law of life -where the final victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats’!”
(iv) The regroupment of socialists is a central task of the coming period
Earlier on we spoke about the role that can be played by daily struggles and the self-activity of the working class in the rebuilding of the layers of the vanguard that have been lost over the past three to four years. We also noted that the process of development of a cadre is a many-sided process, and the role played by the daily struggles of the working class constitutes only one aspect of this process. The rebuilding of a cadre also requires an organisational context.
Without at all denying the fact that the working class movement has been on the retreat and has suffered defeats over the past period, it is also important to recognise some of the positive developments during this period. One of the positive developments of this period has been the search for alternative answers to the ones that are being provided by the leadership of the mass movement. As the realisation that the present path of the ANC leadership was an abandonment of what the movement had stood for over a long time, those layers of the militants that were not demoralised by this began a search for alternative answers. One index of this search for alternative answers was the interest that militants showed in the so-called Leipzig way and also their interests in the debates around power-sharing. This is not to say that militants emerged out of those debates with any clear sense of an alternative path to power.
There were a number of reasons why these debates did not yield any clarity on the issues facing the mass movement. The one reason is that the debates were “closed” prematurely. In the case of the debate on the so called “Leipzig way”, and the massacre at Bisho was used as an opportunity for a right offensive against the emergence of any militancy, and the debate on power-sharing was concluded even before the militants could participate in it. These debates opened and closed too quickly for any broad currents to emerge around the different positions. Another reason why the debates did not lead to the emergence of clear alternatives is due to the complexity of the issues under discussion. This is an important point for socialists to appreciate. The fact that the ruling class has won so decisively, and the fact that the leadership has capitulated so miserably, can easily cloud the fact that there are no easy answers to the strategical problems of the South African revolution.
The appreciation of the complexity of the strategical questions of the South African revolution leads us to an important point. This point is that as long as socialists act as isolated individuals they will not be able to develop answers to the questions that are posed by the South African revolution. In other words, the capitulation of the leadership of the mass movement and the search for alternative answers by militants has raised the question of an organisation of socialists very sharply. The outline of tasks facing socialists in the coming period is therefore incomplete until it addresses the question of how must socialists approach the task of organisational regroupment in the coming period.
A Mass Workers Party?
The sharpest public expression of how urgent and important the question of organisational regroupment has become in the current period is the debate over the Workers Party.
Despite initial attempts to portray the call for a workers party as a misinterpretation of the NUMSA resolution, to portray it as an idea of a few mavericks or even to portray it as an idea fit for unconscious spies, it is now clearly beyond doubt that the call has found resonance within the working class. It no accident that since the NUMSA congress every edition of every journal in the progressive movement has carried one or more articles on the topic of the worker’s party.
Socialists therefore need to approach the debate on the workers party with the utmost seriousness and they must base their participation in this debate on the recognition that the call represents a positive sentiment within the working class. Socialists must thus at all times defend the right of workers and militants to debate this question and to freely take positions on this issue without being labelled in any way. It is however necessary that the call for a workers’ party must be evaluated at the level of political strategy. Although the call for a workers’ party represents positive sentiments within the working class it has a number of weaknesses as a political strategy for the political and organisational regroupment of socialists and a militant working class movement in general.
Among the many weaknesses of the call for a workers party there are two central ones. The first one is that the past three to four years have not produced an alternative programmatic vision that enjoys, or is beginning to enjoy, a significant level of support within the mass movement. A fundamental requirement of the emergence of any organisation that has the potential to challenge the hegemony of the existing leadership of the mass movement is that the programmatic vision on which it is to be based must have began to take shape in the course of struggles against the dominant politics of reformism. But not only have socialists failed to present an alternative programmatic vision, not only has such a vision not began to become a serious contestant in the battle of ideas, this vision has not began to gain any significant support among militants. In the absence of even an embryonic programmatic vision the call for the launch of a workers party provides an organisational solution to what is essentially a political problem. The central problem facing the working class movement is the absence of an alternative politics.
It is instructive to note that in the course of the debate on the workers party it is difficult to get what such a party’s attitude is going to be to the big questions that are facing the working class – the elections, attitude to parliament, the path to socialism in South Africa and so on. This is not to argue that the programme of this party must emerge fully formed. This is clearly impossible. But the debate running up to the formation of such a party will at least give indications, even in outline, of the various currents of ideas that are going into the formation of such a party. Up to now the currents of ideas that have emerged in the course of the debates have had a “negative” quality to them – i.e. what is clear is what the currents disagree with, and not what they positively stand for.
The second weakness of the call is closely related to the first, but must be understood separately from the first one. This second weakness is that there has not emerged any current within the mass movement around which those seeking for answers to the problems facing the working class movement are beginning to gravitate. What in effect this means is that the new situation, facing the working class has not began to produce a corresponding leadership that is beginning to be seen as a bearer of the new alternative politics.
Without such a current and leadership beginning to emerge there is no single tendency which can act as a cement for the emerging workers’ party. The existence of a current that will define the terms of debate and organisation – a tendency that has enough respect among the left in general – is particularly important given the fact that the mass organisations of the working class are not on the ascendancy and are not presently in a position to act as a cement for the launch of a party. A serious danger facing the project for a workers’ party is that it is likely to represent an amalgamation of weak groups that fail to root themselves among the vanguard and the masses – and are therefore liable to break up at the first test that will be posed by the unfolding political situation.
The struggle for organised currents in the ANC
A fundamental task that flows out of the two weaknesses that we have identified above is that of accelerating the political and programmatic differentiation that has began to occur within the ANC.
We have argued that the leadership of the mass movement has crossed over to the side of the ruling class, and that the ANC is undergoing an important process of being transformed into a party of the ruling class, of monopoly capital. This process, however, is not complete, and the majority of militants and the masses still march under the banner of the ANC. The contest for the militants and the masses therefore still needs to be conducted within the ANC and the Congress tradition. It is no longer possible to struggle for the soul of the ANC if this is understood to mean a desire to change the leadership of the ANC. This leadership cannot be changed. The urgent task that faces socialists is however a struggle for the political soul of the militants and the masses, and in the immediate future this battle will continue to be waged within the Congress tradition.
We have on the other hand noted that one of the obstacles to the emergence of an alternative programmatic vision is that there is no organisational context within which militants can engage with each other and develop answers to the problems of the South African revolution. We thus need to resolve the question of how to accelerate the programmatic differentiation within the ANC and at the same time provide the organisational context that is necessary for the development of an alternative vision.
The resolution of this problem demands that socialists within the ANC must struggle for the right of organised tendencies, currents or factions in the ANC. This means that militants who share common views and perspectives must have the right to meet and to develop these perspectives. They must also have the right to propagate these views within the ANC, including through internal newspapers under the control of the tendencies themselves.
The struggle for organised tendencies in the ANC has become particularly important for another reason. In the context of the realisation that the ANC is crossing the class line there has been a call from even within the South African Communist Party that socialists must struggle for the soul of the ANC. What this call has not addressed is how will socialists struggle for this soul. The Communist Party consistently refuses to formulate socialist policies which would guide militants in their struggle for the soul of the ANC. Militants are thus asked to struggle for the soul of the ANC without the tools to wage such a struggle. On the other hand the bourgeoisie has waged a remarkably successful battle for the soul of the ANC. The bourgeoisie has at its disposal a large and powerful press, it has large and powerful research institutes, it employs on a permanent and full-time basis a whole army of propagandists and activists. Moreover, the bourgeoisie also has the resources to entertain entire layers of our leadership in suppers and breakfast – in other words draw the leadership into the social networks of the propertied classes, shower them with “gifts” and in general create a social distance between the leadership and the mass of militants.
Against this array of resources the working class only has its organisations, its right and ability to organise. To deny the working class or its sections the right to organise in the process of developing its perspectives -inside and outside of the ANC – is to condemn it to permanent domination by the dominant classes, who have free reign to lobby, to organise and to influence the policies of the ANC.
There is however a reluctance within militants and the masses to support a struggle for organised currents or tendencies in the ANC. There are both positive and negative sides to this attitude, and the socialists must appreciate both sides of this attitude. On the one hand militants are afraid that if organised currents or tendencies are allowed to exist this will lead to the break up of the organisations that they have built over the years. The sentiment that wants to preserve organisations of the working class is a positive one. On the other hand hostility to organised currents is a product of the legacy of Stalinist politics that were dominant in the mass movement for a long time. As a result of this factor militants were not only opposed to organised tendencies within the ANC, but were also hostile to alternative views on the South African revolution. This is the negative side of this attitude, which needs to be combated.
A task that socialists in the struggle for organised currents or tendencies in the ANC is to show to militants -at both a theoretical and practical level -that organised tendencies are not the same thing as disloyalty and the breaking up of organisations. Socialists need to demonstrate that a democratic approach to organisational questions cannot be consistent if it does not allow those with alternative views to collectively develop their views on the major questions facing our movement.
There is of course the hostility of the leadership to organised currents. What has happened over the past three to four years is that the NEC of the ANC and in particular the NWC of the ANC has constituted itself into an organised faction or tendency within the ANC. Major decisions have been made by these bodies which go against the policies of the ANC without bothering to call the highest decision making bodies – its congress. In the light of its undemocratic behaviour it is not surprising that the NEC should be rather strong in ensuring that no organised currents emerge within the ANC. The emergence of organised tendencies will therefore be in struggle not only against the politics of the leadership, but also against its undemocratic organisational methods.
The question that confronts us now is how will these organised tendencies emerge, how must the struggle for them be conducted?
The unity of the left and the need for a socialist platform
We have argued that the emergence of serious organisational alternatives to the ANC requires some degree of programmatic convergence as well as the emergence of an embryonic alternative leadership crystallised in organised currents. We also said that at the moment both these preconditions are not present. The elements that are necessary for the emergence of these preconditions are however already present.
Side by side the call for a party there has also been the call for the unity of the left. This call is based on the explicit recognition that socialists must come together to address the many challenges facing socialist in the current period. It is not however clear how this unity is to be achieved and what its purpose is. The groundswell for the need for some regroupment of socialists was however strong enough to get a resolution passed by the Special Congress of COSATU in September 1993 that a conference of the left should be called before the Fifth Congress of COSATU in 1994. There is a danger that the leadership can turn this into a once-off tea-party where socialists come together for a day and then disperse back into their isolated existence. In fact, the leadership of the mass movement, of COSATU and the SACP in particular, have no real interest in the unity of the left and in the emergence of a serious socialist alternative to the existing politics of compromise.
In order for socialists to avoid this initiative on the unity of the left being a farce the conference must be preceded by a countrywide formation of socialist fora whose main purpose would be to discuss and formulate a socialist platform. This platform would attempt to capture what the tasks of socialists are in the current period and what positions must socialists take on the major questions facing the working class movement. These fora will bring together socialists of different views and will provided a forum where socialists can exchange views and strive for a common understanding of tasks in the current period.
The formation of these fora will provide a momentum towards the conference of the left, and the conference must itself be seen as one step in the process of developing a socialist platform in the mass movement. A failure to tie the struggle for left unity to the development of a socialist platform long before the conference will mean that we have again substituted organisational solutions to what is essentially a political problem.
It is important to understand, however, that the task of socialist fora countrywide is not conditional on the convening of the conference. The primary aim, which remains valid whether there is a conference or not, is to set in motion a process of political and programmatic clarification by socialists of tasks facing socialists in the present period.
The class struggle and the regroupment: towards a front of mass organisations
We all know that the process of historical development is not linear. The rate at which the historical process develops and the phases through which it goes depend on the level of the class struggle, on its intensity. Likewise, the process of political regroupment also depends on the intensity of the class struggle at each phase of the coming period. But the level of the class struggle, the daily struggles of the working class that we discussed earlier on do not only act to accelerate the process of regroupment among socialists, but it also raises important organisational questions in its own right. The question that we need to ask and answer is the following: Given the fact that we anticipate a rise in the intensity of the class struggle – at least during some phases of the coming period -what should be the approach of socialists to the question of organisation at the level of the mass organisations of the working class?
We saw that one of the important tasks facing socialists in their approach to the daily struggles of the working class is to strive to coordinate and centralise these struggles. This centralisation of struggles is important in overcoming the fragmentation of the struggles and consciousness of the working class. In order to assist the process of unifying the struggles of the working class and in creating a common sense of identity as a class socialists should call for and struggle for the creation of a front of mass organisations on a national basis – in the tradition of the United Democratic Front.
The victory of the ruling class at the negotiations table must still be completed. What this implies is that the task of translating that formal victory into a real one, the task of implementing it, still lies ahead. To implement its programme, however, the ruling class has to smash the mass organisations of the working class. A united front of the mass organisations of the working class is a vital tool that the working class will need to defend itself against these imminent attacks on its lives and organisations.
The front of mass organisations is of course important not only because of the role it will play in the coordination and centralisation of struggles, it is important not only for its role in the defence of the living standards of the working class and its organisations -the formation of this front is also crucial in the process of the political revival of the working class. A number of successful defensive struggles by the working class are important in rebuilding the political confidence of the working class, in demonstrating to the working class that a different and meaningful road to freedom is indeed possible.
The attitude of socialists to the Tripartite Alliance
Not surprisingly, the debate around the workers party and in general over the organisational regroupment of socialists has also focused on the usefulness or otherwise of the Tripartite Alliance. In its most general sense the question of the Tripartite Alliance is about the relationship between the mass organisations and the ANC. The call for the formation of a front of mass organisations also raises the question of the relationship of such a front to the ANC.
The way socialists approach this question is fundamentally determined by their overall attitude to the ANC. We have argued that the leadership of the ANC has crossed the class line, they have gone over to the side, of the ruling class. On the other hand, despite the realisation that the leadership has sold out; the majority of militants and the masses in general still support the ANC. We have said that the key task of the moment is to accelerate the political differentiation in the ANC. Our attitude to the Tripartite Alliance must therefore be based on our answer to the question: Will the continuation of the Alliance facilitate the process of political classification of the militants and the masses?; will it assist or hinder the struggles that will face the working class in the coming period?
Throughout its existence the Alliance has always been an alliance of leaders. Despite a number of resolutions attempting to make the alliance into a mass based alliance the reality has been that it has remained an alliance of leaders. Secondly, the leadership of the ANC has always “consulted” the Alliance when it suited them, and has ignored Alliance positions when it suited the ANC leadership. For the workers in COSATU the experience of the Alliance has been one of being ignored by the leadership of the ANC. The Alliance has failed to act as a conduit for the demands of the working class into the ANC. If anything, the Alliance has acted as a mechanism for imposing the politics of the ANC and SACP leaderships onto the labour movement, and for tempering any possible resistance to the politics of compromise.
When we look at the role the Alliance has played in the light of the crossing over of the leadership into the camp of the ruling class it becomes clear that a continuation of the alliance will only serve to hinder the revival of the working class movement. Earlier on we showed that the ruling class is hoping to use the leadership of the mass movement to gain the consent of the working class in the implementation of its neoliberal programme. Given this strategy of the ruling class, and given the history of the alliance, the continuation of the alliance will be a powerful weapon in the hands of the ruling class.
From these considerations it is clear that the answer to the questions that we posed is that the continuation of the alliance will not help in the political clarification of the militants, and that it will hinder the struggles of the working class. It follows that socialists must call for the termination of the alliance. For the mass organisations of the working class to continue with the Alliance would be to take responsibility for the sellout settlement.
The fact that socialists should call for the breaking of the alliance does not mean that mass organisations should cease struggling to influence the ANC, or that in the run-up to elections the mass organisations of the working class should not campaign for an ANC victory in the elections. The mass organisations of the working class must continue to struggle to pressure the ANC and to call on it to deliver on its promises for two reasons.
The first reason is that struggles and calls on the ANC to deliver on its promises will provide a context for the further clarification of the masses and the vanguard about the character of the ANC leadership and about the nature of the “new South Africa” that has been negotiated at the World Trade Centre. The second reason is that any opportunity to improve the conditions of life of the working class or to improve the organisational space available to the mass organisations must be utilised. The fact that the leadership of the ANC will attempt to implement the agenda of the ruling class by gaining the consent of the working class means that unlike other ruling class parties in the past – e.g. the National Party – it is more susceptible to pressure from the organisations of the working class.
Before moving to discuss another general task facing socialists in the coming period let us briefly sum up what we are saying about the task of organisational and political regroupment that faces socialists in the coming period.
Firstly, we have argued that the task of developing alternative perspectives on the current situation facing the working class and its allies and that of building a revolutionary cadre requires an organisational context. In other words, it is impossible to develop perspectives on the difficult strategic and tactical problems of the South African revolution without these questions being addressed in a collective manner. It is therefore necessary to build an organisation that can take this task of formulating alternatives seriously and therefore provide the context that is needed to provide answers to the problems of the South African revolution.
Secondly, we have argued that it is important to see the task of struggling to build an organisation that can provide the context we are talking about as primarily a political task and only secondarily an organisational one. It was because of this approach that we argued that the call for the launch of a workers party had certain weaknesses. We said there is neither the programmatic convergence nor the existence of a current that can act as cement and hold together a workers’ party at this moment. We noted, however, that the call for a workers’ party reflects positive sentiments within the working class and the debate around this call represents an important step in the organisational regroupment of the working class.
Thirdly, we have argued that the struggle for the political and organisational regroupment of the working class movement cannot ignore the fact that although the ANC leadership has crossed over to the ruling class, the ANC remains the principal organisation of the working class. What this means is that in the struggle to resolve the political and organisational weaknesses of the working class, socialists must continue to orientate towards the ANC. On this basis we said that the key task facing socialists is to struggle for the building of an organised socialist current or tendency in the ANC, and related to this to struggle for the right for organised currents to exist in the ANC.
Fourthly, we argued that as a step towards programmatic convergence among socialists and towards the emergence of an organised socialist current in the ANC socialists should struggle for the formation of socialist fora in all parts of the country. These fora would work towards the development of a socialist platform – a set of perspectives and demands that would guide the work of socialists in the present period, and the fora should also be seen as laying the basis towards the conference of the left that will be convened by COSATU and the SACP.
Such are the tasks facing socialists with regards to facilitating the political and organisational regroupment of socialists and the working class in general in the coming period.
(v) The struggle for the new South African constitution
In terms of the deal struck at the World Trade Centre the Constitutional Assembly which will be convened after the April 1994 elections has the task of drawing up a new constitution for South Africa. This constitution will then govern South Africa for the years to come. We have already shown that as a result of the deal struck at the World Trade Centre the Constitutional Assembly will merely rubberstamp the agreements reached at the World Trade Centre. We showed how all the important content of the new constitution has already been agreed to and is spelt out in the Constitutional Principles. A constitution that will be drawn on the basis of the Constitutional Principles will be the same as the Interim Constitution that has been drawn up at the World Trade Centre, and we have seen that the Interim Constitution represents a decisive victory for the ruling class. We rejected and continue to reject this constitution as a sellout.
Given this situation, the question that confronts socialists is this: since the Constitutional Assembly is a sham and a fake, should socialists abandon the struggle and agitation for a constitution that reflects the interests of the working class?, if socialists continue such a struggle what would be the purpose of such a struggle and what should be the overall demands advanced by socialists in this struggle?
It would be a serious political error for socialists to abandon the struggle and agitation for a constitution that reflects the interests of the working class. Let us look at why this would be the case.
The deal that has been concluded at the World Trade Centre does not only represent a major retreat for the working class movement in South Africa, but it has also brought about a fundamental change in the terrain of revolutionary politics in South Africa. The terrain on which socialists conduct their revolutionary politics is in part determined by the way the ruling class organises its rule. In the pre-1990 period the organisation of the rule of the bourgeoisie was based on the legal and physical suppression of the organisations of the working class. This determined a specific relationship between the working class and bourgeois institutions like parliament and others. Whatever came out of those institutions had no legitimacy in the eyes of the working class and as a result the task of demonstrating that these institutions were nothing but forms of organisations of the ruling class -instruments of class rule -was much easier. As a result of the fact that parliament was never available as a rostrum from which to conduct revolutionary politics socialists did not always pay close attention to the developments in parliament -even those developments that did not have an immediate bearing on the working class.
The entry of the ANC into parliament represents a dramatic and important change in the pre-1990 situation. There can be no doubt that although the deal represents a victory for the ruling class the parliament that will emerge out of this deal will have legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. This does not mean that the working class will not be critical towards this parliament, neither does it mean that this parliament will maintain its legitimacy for ever.
Likewise, the constitution that will be drawn up by the Constitutional Assembly will be legitimate to the extent that the ANC maintains its legitimacy among the masses, and thus to the extent that the parliament continues to enjoy legitimacy. Because of this, it would be a serious political error to ignore the constitution that will be drawn up in the Constitutional Assembly.
Already socialists have shown that they do not really appreciate the change in the terrain of revolutionary politics. This is evident from the extent to which socialists have failed to follow the process at the World Trade Centre, from the extent to which they have failed to provide a constant criticism of the process as it unfolded. In fact, many socialists do not even really know what has been agreed to at the World Trade Centre, and their criticism is based on newspaper reports or sometimes on hearsay or on preconceived ideas.
But given the fact that the deal at the World Trade Centre makes the constitution writing process a rubberstamping of what has been agreed to at the World Trade Centre, what is the purpose and indeed the use of struggling around the Constitution? There are a number of reasons a struggle needs to be waged.
The first reason is that the process of struggling for a constitution that reflects the interests of the working class will at the same time be a process of exposing the class character of the constitution that is being agreed to by the leadership of the mass movement, and thus the interests that such a constitution will serve. We have already shown how the task of exposing the meaning of the agreement that has been arrived at is an important task facing socialists.
The second reason why this struggle is important is that the process of struggle around the constitution will provide socialists with the opportunity to take the work of programmatic clarification forward. The struggle around the constitution will for example provide socialists with the challenge and opportunity to clarify their ideas on questions like the form of state most appropriate to serving working class interests in the current world conjuncture, the question of socialist legality, the relationship of politics and economics under socialism, as well as many other difficult questions confronting socialists in the current world context. Socialists have already missed one opportunity provided by the negotiations process to begin clarifying these questions. We cannot afford to loose the coming opportunity.
The third reason why such a struggle needs to be waged is that for socialists there are never “absolutely hopeless situations”. What this means is that socialists must never miss an opportunity to improve the conditions under which the working class will wage its struggles, no matter how difficult and insurmountable the obstacles appear.
In the present situation, however, there exist objective conditions which the working class can use to its advantage. We have shown that what separates the form of bourgeois class rule in the pre-1990 period and in the coming period is that in the coming period the ruling class wants to rule with the consent of the classes. This means that the ruling class has to give some concessions -no matter how limited -to enhance the legitimacy of the new South Africa. This is why we have warned that the fact that the deal represents a resounding victory for the ruling class must not be read to mean that the ruling class does not see the necessity of some limited improvement in the lives of the ordinary people. Added to this is the fact that the leadership of the ANC, COSATU and SACP, for reasons of self interests (they must after all be elected to parliament), needs to maintain the support of the masses to some degree. These two factors taken together provide the working class with a tactical advantage that it can use to widen the space for organisation and struggle by wringing more concessions from the leadership and the ruling class. In fact, it was more the bungling and weakness of COSATU that has led to a situation where COSATU has been unable to get better concessions from the ANC leadership and the ruling class.
The concessions that might be got from the ANC leadership and the ruling class might be very small and might only affect the form of bourgeois class rule. But from the history of the communist movement we learn that a fatal error of German communism in the 1930s was to ignore precisely this -that the form of state (the right to have trade unions and to organise and many such small spaces) can sometimes decide whether a working class movement continues to exist or not.
Besides the concrete positions that socialists will advance on what the new constitution must contain, what overall demands must socialists put towards the leadership of the mass movement?
Socialists must demand that the ANC majority in parliament annul or cancel the Constitutional Principles that bind the Constitutional Assembly. Now, what is clear is that the cancellation of the Constitutional Principles by an ANC majority in parliament is bound up with, and is only possible to the extent that it reflects, a change in the balance of forces between the working class and the ruling class. What is clear therefore is that what is needed is a campaign that will act as a vehicle in the struggle to transform the balance of forces in favour of the working class. Such a vehicle is a referendum.
The ANC majority in parliament must call a referendum where the people will be asked to decide whether a Constitutional Assembly based on popular elections should be bound by Constitutional Principles, which were drawn up by an unrepresentative body -a circus as Joe Slovo called it. As long as these principles -in fact they represent the absence of principles on the part of the leadership of the mass movement -continue to bind the Assembly mass participation in the constitution making process is a lie, it will not and cannot exist. The referendum on the other hand will provide a context for mass participation and will also make it really possible for the constitution making process to reflect the will of the people, and not a deal behind the backs of the people.
We have up to now looked at the general tasks facing socialists in the coming period. We also said, however, that the specific way in which the overall tasks facing socialists will be executed will depend on the specific dynamics of each of the phases of the coming period that we identified earlier. On the other hand, the different phases that we identified throw up a number of important questions that socialists need to address. It is therefore necessary to spell out the specific questions and tasks that face socialists in the different phases of the coming period.
Let us recall that we argued that the coming period is likely to unfold in three different phases: the pre-election, the elections themselves, and the post-election phases. What is clear however is that the most fundamental political event of the coming period, one that will dominate and shape all political discussions and struggles, is the elections. In fact, the elections also cast their shadow over the general tasks of the coming period as well.
The general tasks of the coming period derive from the fundamental alignment of classes that is expressed in the World Trade Centre sellout, and not from the probable outcome of the election -except if the results of the elections trigger off a civil war. Notwithstanding this fact, the elections will nevertheless determine the specific tempo at which the ruling class implements its agenda, the level of expectations of the working class and how these are expressed, the specific concessions that the ruling class might feel compelled to make, (importantly) the response of the right, as well as a range of tactical possibilities on a range of questions that will face the working class in the coming few years. It is therefore appropriate that we begin our discussion of the specific tasks facing socialists in the coming period with a discussion of our attitude to the elections.
Section 2: Socialists’ attitude to the coming elections
The elections that will be held in April 1994 pose a number of important questions for socialists. The fundamental question that is posed by these elections is that given the fact that the National and Constitutional Assembly that will voted into being by these elections will rubberstamp decisions that have already been agreed to at the World Trade Centre, what attitude must socialists take towards a) participation in the election campaign, and b) participation in the National and Constitutional Assembly? Although these two aspects of this question are clearly very closely related, they are however separate, as will become clear later.
It is obvious that this question has a significance, which goes far beyond the tactical attitude of socialists to the coming elections. In other words, the importance of this question goes far beyond the impact that elections will have on the struggles of the working class in the coming period of struggle; it is an important question because it introduces new issues in the theory and practice of revolutionary politics in South Africa. This is the issue of the possibilities and limits of the utilisation of bourgeois institutions in the struggle for socialism.
Up to now this issue has been restricted to debate over the utilisation of institutions like the legal industrial relations system. In fact, whenever other bourgeois institutions have been utilised, such as the judiciary, this practice has not been located in any clear and firm way within the context of where the practice stands in a revolutionary perspective. On one level this dearth of theory on this question was a product of the way bourgeois class rule had been in South Africa, and on the other level it was a product of the dominance of a petty-bourgeois nationalist and Stalinist politics -politics whose hallmark is a doctrinaire and pragmatic approach to politics. The entry of the ANC into mainstream bourgeois politics will change the very basis on which this issue was approached in the past. We stand on the threshold on a much more complex terrain of revolutionary politics in South Africa.
(i) On what basis must socialists determine their attitude to participation in elections for bourgeois parliaments?
The overthrow of the capitalist state by the working class is the culmination of a more or less protracted period of struggle by the working class and its allies. In the course of these struggles the working class steels and sharpens its organisational and ideological weapons and it prepares itself not only for its showdown – its decisive battle – with the bourgeois state and its allied institutions, but it also prepares itself for its new role as a ruling class. We sometimes refer to this phase in the development of the revolution as the preparatory phase.
It is important to understand, however, that a victorious showdown or decisive battle between the working class and its allies on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie, its state and its allies on the other, becomes possible if in the course of the protracted struggles that precede this period the working class is able to win some significant partial victories. We say the partial victories make a victory in the decisive struggle possible because through these partial victories the working class gains confidence in itself, and it also increases the organisational space that will allow it to launch further struggles.
But the period preceding the direct struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeois state is also a period in which the working class is relatively weak – politically and organisationally – compared to the dominant bourgeois class. This is clear enough, for otherwise we would not be talking of a period of preparation. It is when we explore this seemingly obvious point, however, that we are able to understand the basis of socialists’ attitude to participation in elections for bourgeois parliaments.
The relative weakness of the working class when compared to the dominant capitalist class expresses itself on a number of levels. Let us consider some of the important levels at which this weakness expresses itself. Firstly, this weakness expresses itself at the level of organisation. We can see organisational weakness by the inability of the organisations to attract and keep large numbers of members in their ranks, by the failure of these organisations to function on a regular basis and by their inability to respond to the daily issues that face the working class. As a result, the working class suffers a number of defeats at the hands of the ruling class and a certain measure of demoralisation and lack of confidence in its strength sometimes sets in.
Secondly, the weakness expresses itself through lack of political clarity and lack of programme on the major political and strategical questions facing the working class. These two sides of the weakness of the working class taken together lead to a third and important weakness: the working class begins to believe that the capitalist order and its institutions can lead to an improvement of its conditions of life on a lasting basis, if only the working class can occupy these institutions and use them for its own ends. These “illusions” – for they are a real and material force – about capitalism and its institutions constitute the fundamental substance of reformism as a tendency within the working class. On the other hand, the extent to which the working class is seized of these “illusions” in turn determines the organisational strength of reformism within the working class.
A proper appreciation of this (third) weakness of the working class is central to understanding of the dynamics of proletarian revolution. This is so because the shattering of this “illusions” about the capitalist order and its institutions constitutes a key precondition for a determined struggle for power by the working class. As long as the working class believes that the existing bourgeois order can deliver improvements to its conditions of life on a lasting basis it has no reason to launch a determined and serious struggle for power, with all the sacrifices this struggle implies.
The generalised existence of this “illusions” or belief within the working class – and the organisational, political and programmatic weaknesses that it implies -dictates the terrain on which the preparatory struggles for the overthrow of the capitalist order will be waged. Socialists therefore adopt a serious attitude to bourgeois parliaments and to elections for such parliaments because of the attitude of the working class towards these institutions. There can therefore be no question of a so-called ‘principled’ rejection of participation in bourgeois parliaments and in elections for them. The attitude of the mass of the working class to bourgeois parliaments therefore constitutes a fundamental and necessary condition for socialists participation in bourgeois parliaments and in elections for them. On its own, however, this attitude does not constitute a sufficient condition for participation in such institutions.
The limitations of bourgeois democracy and dangers of opportunism
We have referred to the working class’s belief that capitalism and its institutions can bring a lasting improvement to their conditions of life as an ‘illusion’ – although one that is a real and material force. This is because capitalism cannot bring such a lasting improvement given the search for profits that drives this system. It is this search for profits that periodically results in large scale unemployment, in attempts by bosses to push the wages of the workers down, in attempts to avoid spending any money to improve the social conditions of the working class; that results in the poverty and misery of the working class all over the world.
The socio-economic structure and the distribution of wealth corresponding to the system of profit-seeking also puts serious limits on the ability of political democracy under this system to serve the interests of the majority of the people in general, and of the working class in particular, on a lasting and consistent basis. The fundamental content of a genuine democracy is that governments elected by the people must implement policies for which they were elected – i.e. policies that reflect the interests of the majority. Under capitalism, however, governments either willingly violate the interests of the masses and abandon policies for which they were elected, or they are under enormous pressure by the capitalist classes to violate and abandon such policies in favour of profit-seeking ones.
The current phase of the development of capitalism as a world system, more than any other phase in the history of capitalism, reflects this contradiction between the will of the people and the profit system. At a time when unemployment -brought about by the capitalist system itself – has reached new heights even in the most capitalist of capitalist countries, the capitalists have been able to force many governments to cut any benefits that might ameliorate the misery of unemployment. At a time when millions of peasants and small farmers deserve and demand fair prices for their products and government assistance to survive and thus ensure that millions of people continue to have a means of livelihood, the capitalists demand and have forced governments to accept the liberalisation of world trade, whose only effect will be to wipe out whole farming communities by flooding the world market with cheap grain – cheap because of the monopoly of technology and subsidies by governments in the advanced capitalist countries. Capitalism forces governments to choose between the interests of profits and the interests of the masses of voters. Capitalists use a range of methods, including “investment strikes” – i.e. refusal to invest in new factories and capital flight – i.e. moving capital to other countries which are prepared to accept profit-seeking policies no matter the consequences.
There exists, therefore, a fundamental contradiction between capitalism as a socio-economic system on the one hand, and democratic government in which governments carry out policies beneficial to the majority of the electorate, even if those policies are not in the interests of profit-seeking, on the other. This basic contradiction lies at the heart of the limitations of bourgeois democracy -by which we mean the practice and institutions of democratic or representative government in a society in which the capitalist class and its socio-economic system are dominant.
An important implication of this basic contradiction between the distribution of wealth in bourgeois society and the process of democratic representation is that the equality of votes in the process of choosing representatives to bourgeois institutions is a myth. The ability of capitalists to influence government because of their access to wealth means that there is no real equality between a vote cast by a capitalist and that cast by an ordinary worker. Behind the formal equality at the voting station is hidden the real inequality in the ability of workers and capitalists to influence government in capitalist society.
An appreciation of the limitations of bourgeois democracy as limitations rooted in the very nature of capitalism itself, constitutes an important fact that determines the attitude of socialists to bourgeois parliaments. Because of this fact socialists’ approach to bourgeois parliaments is informed by the understanding that since bourgeois parliaments cannot be consistently democratic, a struggle for and a commitment to a genuine democracy is at the same time a struggle for the overthrow of bourgeois parliaments. Capitalism cannot be overthrown by a gradual utilisation of bourgeois parliaments, but only by the revolutionary overthrow of these institutions of bourgeois democracy.
Earlier on we argued that socialists’ attitude to bourgeois parliaments is informed by the attitude of the mass of the working class to these institutions. We also said, however, that this attitude alone is not enough to form the basis of socialists’ approach to bourgeois parliaments. We now have a second element that must also inform socialists’ attitude to bourgeois parliaments. It is that the utilisation of bourgeois parliaments must at all times be informed by and subordinated to a perspective of smashing this institution, of a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and its institutions.
It is therefore necessary to combat the illusion or belief that bourgeois parliaments can bring about socialism. To the extent that this belief is held by the mass of the working class, it reflects its organisational, political and ideological weaknesses. To the extent that this idea is enshrined in the thinking and programme of a party of the working class, it represents reformism and political opportunism. To combat this opportunism at the level of ideas is necessary but not enough.
An appreciation of the limitations of bourgeois democracy does not, however, mean that socialists cannot utilise these institutions to advance the struggle for socialism. On the other hand, an understanding of the limitation of bourgeois democracy introduces a number of important considerations in the way socialists approach the utilisation of these institutions. Let us look at some of these considerations.
The basis of socialists’ participation in bourgeois parliaments
Firstly, socialists participate in bourgeois parliaments and elections to the extent that these provide the platform for socialists to educate the working class about the limitations of bourgeois democracy and about the need to overthrow capitalism and its institutions. On the one hand, therefore, socialists participate in bourgeois parliaments because the working class has illusions about this institution. On the other hand they participate in order to overcome, to smash these illusions.
Secondly, the parliamentary work of socialists must at all times be subordinated to the independent and militant mass action of the working class in the factories, schools, communities and in general in the streets. At all times the parliamentary representatives of the working class must participate and in fact be at the head of such struggles. Mass action constitutes the most basic instrument for the emancipation of the working class from capitalist oppression and exploitation. Under no circumstances can it be compromised.
Thirdly, the parliamentary representatives of the working class must at all times be under the discipline of the party organisation of the working class. This in turn implies that not only must the parliamentary caucus of the working class representatives be separate from the leading committees of the party, but they must be subordinated to and be directly accountable to these committees. This point is of major importance because one of the key features of bourgeois parties is that the parliamentary caucus becomes independent of the party and dominates the party. Major questions of policy are decided by the parliamentary representatives and not by party structures.
Fourthly, socialists need to ensure that the representatives of the working class in parliament are not drawn into the social network of the propertied classes, the capitalists. The sight of working class representatives spending night after night dining with the representatives of the capitalist classes is not only ideologically disarming to the mass of the working class, but also represents the victory of the moral values of the bourgeoisie over those of the working class. To prevent this potential moral and ideological degeneration of the representatives of the working class socialists must struggle for a “Code of Conduct” that will strictly be implemented and one that will ensure that the lines of division between the capitalist class and the working class continue to be firmly drawn even in parliament.
A related, and fifth, point is that socialists must ensure that parliamentary representatives of the working class practice an open and honest politics. One of the hallmarks of the bourgeois parliamentary system is that the representatives of bourgeois parties lie to the masses as a matter of course. This tendency to lie is of course a product of the fundamental contradiction between genuine democracy and the profit system. The tendency to major retreats as victories, a tendency that has become quite widespread in the course of the negotiations, is incompatible with a revolutionary approach to the utilisation of bourgeois parliaments.
Sixthly, in their struggle to utilise bourgeois parliaments socialists must strive for systems of representation, which enhance democratic accountability and also make it possible for struggles and the changing balance of class forces to be reflected in parliament. As we have noted earlier, the system of proportional representation that the leadership of the ANC has agreed to adopt in the Interim Constitution and to entrench in the constitution that will be drawn by the Assembly does not promote democratic accountability. The approach to the electoral system and to the way parliament should be structured shows that it has no revolutionary approach to the utilisation of bourgeois parliaments.
The fact that bourgeois parliaments cannot bring about socialism does not at all mean that they cannot pass laws that improve the conditions of life of the working class as well as the space within which the working class organises. We all know that even in periods when the working class does not have -or does have the right to send its own representatives to parliament, it was able through its struggles to force parliament to pass laws that allow it more space to organise. The seventh point we therefore want to make is that socialists must see parliament as an arena of struggle where (partial) victories can be won. It is of course important to keep in mind that when parliament is utilised for this purpose the struggles inside parliament must at all times be driven by mass mobilisation outside of parliament.
The preparatory period of struggle through which the working class goes on its path to power is not only about winning partial victories that lay the basis for further struggles with the ruling class. In the course of these struggles the working class also prepares itself for its role as a ruling class of the future. The working class undertakes this work of preparation by using the various struggles it engages in as an opportunity to formulate its own views of how a society based on social, economic and political justice would approach a given issue facing society. In its struggle against a housing policy based on the profit motive, the working class would use the occasion as an opportunity to elaborate perspectives on a socialist approach to the housing question. Participation in parliament would thus also provide the party of the working class with the need and space to elaborate its perspectives on a range of issues facing the nation -trade policy, relations with the international institutions of the bourgeoisie, participation in national and factory-based economic management, as well as on countless other issues. This is the point.
Besides these points, the presence of working class representatives in parliament means that the working class has a number of paid full-time organisers for its party and mass organisations. Representatives of the propertied classes spend their time playing golf and attending parties hosted by their class masters; representatives of the working class spend their time organising in the working class townships and factories.
Access to resources that comes from being in a parliament can also be used to the benefit of working class organisations. To begin with working class representatives struggle for Members of Parliament to be paid a living wage, and not the huge salaries whose main intention is to create social distance between parliamentary representatives and their working class constituencies. But in the event that the working class representatives fail to win this struggle, the huge salaries paid to MPs can be an important source of funds for the working class organisations.
Lastly, there is a consideration, which is of major tactical and strategic significance in socialists’ attitude to participation in bourgeois parliaments. This is the question of organisation. It is impossible to conduct a revolutionary parliamentarianism if socialists do not have an organisation that can give overall guidance to its representatives, that cannot discipline such representatives, that cannot provide a counterweight to the pressures that come with work in institutions such as the bourgeois parliament. The first for socialists is of course to have an organisation -rooted among the masses – that is committed to socialism send representatives to parliament. In situations where socialists are active within a broader non-socialist party, the right of organised currents to exist and propagate their views within such a party is a fundamental prerequisite for socialists participation in the bourgeois parliament. Without this socialists will only retard the working class’s clarification about the nature of the party through which they participate in parliament.
It is appropriate that we let Rosa Luxembourg sum up the basis of socialists’ participation in bourgeois parliaments:
“We are now in the midst of revolution, and the National Assembly is a counter-revolutionary fortress erected against the revolutionary proletariat. Our task is thus to take this fortress by storm and raze it to the ground. In order to mobilise the masses against the National Assembly and appeal to them to wage a very intensive struggle against it, we must utilise the elections and the platform of the National Assembly itself… to denounce mercilessly and loudly all the willy tricks of this worthy Assembly, to expose its counter-revolutionary work step by step to the masses, and to appeal to the masses to intervene and force a decision -these are the tasks of participation in the National Assembly.”
These, then, are some of the considerations that must guide the participation of socialists in bourgeois parliaments, and indeed in all institutions of the rule of the bourgeoisie.
Every tactical situation or conjuncture, however, is unique. These overall considerations to participation in bourgeois parliaments do not provide a readymade formula that makes an assessment of each concrete situation unnecessary. Each situation needs to be analysed on its own ground with due consideration to its specific features. From general consideration about participation in bourgeois parliaments, we need to move on to evaluating socialists attitude to the April elections and the sham Assembly that they will give birth to.
(ii) What attitude should socialists adopt to the April 1994 elections?
The first important question to settle is that of the attitude of the mass of workers to this election. What does this election represent for the majority of the oppressed and exploited?
It is a fact that the mass of the working class has high hopes and expectations about the ability of the new government that will emerge from the April elections to improve their conditions of life. So high are these expectations that the leadership of the ANC and the alliance is showing signs of worry about this and has, together with the ruling class, began a campaign to “manage” what some call a “crisis of expectations”. There is an apparent paradox here.
Over the years since February 1990 the masses experience of political life under the leadership of the ANC has been one of’ bitter disappointment. No sector of the mass movement has not at one point or another felt betrayed or abandoned by the ANC leadership. On almost every question and struggle that the working class has had to wage over this period the ANC leadership has had to be dragged into supporting the struggles. When at last -it did intervene -we consciously say (intervene) and do not support the leadership of the ANC in most cases acted to confuse the issues with its “spirit of reconciliation” or considerably weakened the fighting capacity of the working class through its vacillation. On the other hand, the working class has been at the receiving end of a vicious campaign of violence and a sustained attack on its living standards. On these vital questions too the leadership of the ANC has performed miserably. Why then, given this history, is there such high expectations about the regime that will be born on April 27?
The key to understanding these high expectations is to be found, ironically, in the political confusion and organisational weaknesses of the working class. It is necessary to understand the specific character and significance of these weaknesses. The important point to note about the weaknesses of the working class at this point is that they cannot be accounted for by the relentless assault that the bourgeoisie has waged on the working class. There is of course no doubt that the bourgeoisie’s sustained attack on the working class has played an important role in weakening the working class. The intensity and depth of the weaknesses is accounted for by the fact that the working class has been disarmed politically and ideologically by its own leadership.
In the absence of clear political and idealogical leadership the working class has no choice but to stake its hopes for improvements in its life on the coming regime and on the ANC. The weakness of the working class here translates into a belief that the institutions of the bourgeois order can improve its conditions of life. We have already seen a similar process operate. The same class that only a few years ago was irrevocably opposed to the SADF now sometimes calls for protection from the SADF. A sinking person will clutch at any straw to stay afloat. The working class has high expectations because it cannot but have high expectations about the regime of April 27. There is in fact no viable alternative immediately on the horizon.
For socialists much as it is important to understand the dynamics that are governing the working class’s support for the new regime, this is a secondary question. The primary fact is that the belief and expectations that the working class now has have now become a material force. That is, this belief now governs the working class’s political attitude to the elections. It is a fact that the working class will participate in large numbers in the coming elections. It would therefore be a serious mistake to dismiss the working class’s attitude to the elections as an illusion, and a boycott approach to the coming elections is seriously misguided. “Illusions” of this kind are products of a historical process. They can only be overcome through a real historical process, and not by propaganda alone.
This fact is so powerful that it forces itself into even the hardest of skulls. Even those socialists who would rather die before they can contemplate participating in elections for a sham Assembly have to acknowledge that the leadership will not be exposed in the eyes of the masses by debate over the nature of the deal. They too say -indeed have to say -that the ANC leadership will be exposed in the eyes of the masses to the extent that it fails to deliver on the expectations and needs of the masses. This is what we mean by overcoming the illusion through a real historical process.
We argued earlier on that a positive attitude on the part of the masses towards bourgeois institutions constitutes the necessary condition for considering participation in bourgeois parliaments. We need to emphasise that this question is decided irrespective of the source of this confidence in the bourgeois institutions. There can be no doubt that the working class believes in the ability of these institutions to deliver a better life.
We also said, however, that this belief in the bourgeois institutions is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for deciding on participation. This means that more factors need to be considered to justify participation in the elections.
This brings us to the second question that we need to settle as socialists. The question is the following: Do socialists have the political and organisational capacity to take part in the elections and in the Assembly under their own banner?
What is clear is that the only party of the left which is committed to socialism – at least formally – that can make an impact if it were to engage in the politics of using the bourgeois parliament is the SACP. The leadership of the SACP, however, is part of the leadership corps that is central to the WTC settlement. The weakness of the other left groups, like WOSA, is well known and it is clear that these groups have no roots within the working class to be able to make a serious impact in the elections. The organisational and political state of the left is such that it is not in a position to make a call to the working class on a distinct organisational platform.
The weakness of the left at the level of organisation is of course not the only consideration in addressing whether socialists must intervene in these elections on a distinct organisational platform. There are historical conditions under which socialists can participate in elections although they are weak at the level of organisation and they know that they do not stand a chance of capturing any seat in parliament. In other words, in conditions like these socialists would be participating in the elections for
propaganda and agitational purposes.
But then a decision to participate in elections for purposes of propaganda implies a particular attitude to the outcome of the elections, and also to other parties participating in the elections. In particular, this decision implies that socialists are indifferent to the outcome of the elections because all the participating parties that are likely to carry the support of the working class are so similar that not even a conjunctural or tactical advantage can be gained by supporting either of them. This brings us to our third important question.
Given the importance of this election from the vantage point of the working class, it is clear that this question boils down to the following: Are socialists indifferent to whether it is the ANC or the NP that wins the coming elections? [We feel that the support the ANC enjoys among the working class, and the fact that the PAC can in no way be said to represent a political current to the left of the ANC, means that we are being politically principled and consistent to pose this question in terms of the ANC.]
Earlier on we argued that the leadership of the ANC has crossed the class line, that it has sold out the interests of the working class. Moreover, the ANC as an organisation is undergoing a rapid process of transformation into a party of the ruling class -all this notwithstanding its electioneering rhetoric. On the other hand, the ANC is still the principal organisation of the working class, and the majority of the working class and the militants march under its banner. This latter point is important not because as socialists we should be into supporting any party just because the mass of the working class supports it. The point is important because the fact that the expectations of the working class are being refracted through the ANC, objectively puts the ANC in a
particular relationship to the bourgeoisie. Let us examine this question a little more closely.
We have shown that although the ruling capitalist class has been victorious at the WTC negotiations, its victory still has to be completed. By this we meant that although the settlement reached at the WTC reflects the political and economic interests of the ruling class this programme must still be implemented. The specific way in which the programme is implemented, in particular whether it is implemented in the way that the ruling class would like it to be implemented, it will depend on how the working class will read an ANC victory. Furthermore, it will depend on how the working class will respond to the imposition of the programme of the ruling class by the ANC, and quite importantly how the ANC responds to resistance on the part of the working class. Although the general drift of the politics of the ANC leadership indicates that it will not be fundamentally deflected from its present path, its response in particular immediate situations cannot be determined in advanced.
In fact what is most likely is that we are going to see quite a lot of zigzagging and vacillation on what will in general be a progressive absorption of the ANC leadership into the bourgeois camp. This vacillation is likely because even from the point of view of the bourgeoisie itself the usefulness of the ANC lies in the fact that it may be able to make it possible for the ruling class to rule with the consent of the working class. This means that the ANC must continue to enjoy some legitimacy within the working class. The need to “bring the working class on board” – as the ANC leadership would say – constitutes the peculiar role of the ANC in terms of the historical programme of the ruling class.
But from the point of view of the bourgeoisie this peculiar role of the ANC is at the same time what makes the ANC a liability, what makes the ANC a problem. Until the ANC has demonstrated its ability to consistently implement the programme of the bourgeoisies, the bourgeoisie will continue to rely on constitutional and other structural guarantees to ensure that its interests are protected. From the point of view of the elections, however, the bourgeoisie accepts the inevitability of an ANC victory, but it would like this victory to be tempered by a good showing by the traditional parties of the ruling class – in particular the NP. On the one hand this is because as ruling class parties the NP is more trustworthy than the ANC – which is as yet untested in practice, and on the other because for the structural and constitutional guarantees put in place at the WTC to play their role of protecting the bourgeois order the traditional party of the ruling class, the NP, has to get enough votes to act as a “check and balance” on the ANC.
The implication of this relationship of forces is that the coming election will constitute a real battle between the prospective party of the ruling class, the ANC, on the one hand, and the traditional party of the ruling class, the NP, on the other. In this battle the ruling class and all its traditional parties will come out on the one side, and the working class and its traditional organisations – in particular the ANC – will come out on the opposing side. It is for this reason that the leader of the misnamed Democratic Party, Zac de Beer has openly stated that the main aim of the coming campaign is to make sure that the ANC does not get an overall or 2/3 majority.
It is important to emphasise that the class forces are aligning in this particular manner in the coming election for objective reasons; that is not because of the policies of the ANC leadership, but because of the specific sets of relationships that are the product of the evolution of South African capitalism and struggle, as well as the peculiar character of the ruling class agenda in South Africa at this point in history.
The battle between the ANC and the NP in the coming election is therefore objectively becoming a battle between the working class and ruling class, although this battle is cast in terms of the struggle between the prospective party of the ruling class and its traditional party. In this battle socialists cannot and dare not be indifferent or neutral.
Furthermore, the peculiar role of the ANC in terms of its role in the preservation of capitalism in South Africa means that an ANC victory has certain tactical advantages for the working class. Expressed at the most general level this tactical advantage derives from the fact the ANC needs to maintain a certain measure of legitimacy, and is thus likely to vacillate when faced with pressure from below, is at times likely to be irresolute in its attacks on the working class. This vacillation and irresolution constitutes an important space that can be utilised by the working class and its mass organisations.
Taken together, the objective dimension of the battle around the coming election, the organisational and political weaknesses of socialists, as well as the tactical space that an ANC victory will present mean that socialists must support an ANC victory in the coming elections.
We have in general presented the case for socialist support for an ANC victory in a positive manner, so to speak. Let us for a moment look at this question “negatively”. In other words, what will be the implications of an NP victory or even a serious showing by the NP within the traditional constituency of the ANC?
One only has to pose the question to realise how grave the implications will be for the struggles of the working class in future.
To begin with, an NP victory will be greeted with widespread demoralisation within the working class, this demoralisation being a direct result of the high expectations that the working class had in an ANC victory. A class that is demoralised does not learn any lessons. It would take a very long time for the working class to recover from this demoralisation.
One of the important lessons that the working class would have been able to learn in the event of an ANC victory is the road that has been travelled by this leadership -the road of capitulation to the ruling class. A defeat of the ANC in the coming elections, that it prevents an overall majority, i.e. 2/3 majority, will make it much more difficult for the working class to learn these lessons, and would enable the leadership of the ANC to hide the true sources of its failure to address the interests and demands of the working class.
It goes without saying that the tactical space that would have been provided by an ANC victory will evaporate, because unlike the ANC, the NP does not have the kind of relation with the working class that would produce vacillation and irresolution when faced with resistance from the working class.
The most important implication of an NP victory or strong showing at the polls, one that holds the gravest dangers for the working class movement is that it would mean that a party of the ruling class that for decades was a mortal enemy of the working class has been able to get a foothold into the working class. This in turn implies a serious turn to the right by significant sections of the working class. On the other hand we know that the NP has not much choice but to align itself with a range of ethnic parties like Inkatha, and thus a strong NP showing at the polls would mean that the working class has become even more susceptible to ethnic mobilisation. The implications of such a right turn within the working class would be far reaching for the future of revolutionary politics in South Africa. Socialists have nothing to gain by a right turn among significant sections of the working class.
The call for an ANC victory and the struggle against the sellout settlement
The call for socialists to support an ANC victory in the coming elections does not at all mean that socialists must “suspend” their basic position on the settlement that has been reached at the WTC. This position, as we have shown, is based on our estimation of the tactical conjuncture that is going to unfold in the coming period, which is basically that the coming election objectively represents a battle between the working class and ruling class. It is important therefore that socialists are clear about the relationship between the struggle for an ANC victory in the elections and the struggle against the sellout settlement.
There is most likely going to emerge, within sections of the left, an argument or approach to this question that argues that it would be divisive to criticise the ANC leadership positions in the period leading to the election, and that such criticism would contribute to a poor showing at the elections by the ANC. Such an approach would, however, be a serious political error at the least, and would be a sign Of political opportunism at the worst.
Earlier on we outlined a set of tasks that face socialists in the coming period. We argued that one of the primary tasks that face socialists is to expose the nature of the settlement that has been hatched at the WTC. There are a number of reasons why this task of exposure is important. One of the key reasons is that in addition to the weak-nesses of mass organisations that form the broad background to the settlement, the settlement was also possible because of political confusion among the mass of militants. In turn, this confusion was partly a result of the fact that there was no consistent exposure by socialists of the nature of the settlement as it unfolded. A failure to seriously and energetically undertake this task of exposing the nature of the settlement would not only allow the political confusion within the mass of militants to continue, but it will also mean that the mass of militants will be unable to slow down the pace at which the ANC will further capitulate to the ruling class.
Furthermore, if the task of the coming period of struggle is to prepare the masses for a further period of struggle around the constitution and around a range of other issues, then it is clearly incorrect to allow the development of an impression that the current constitution is in the interests of the working class. This would make it impossible for socialists to turn around on April 28 and suddenly argue that the constitution is seriously flawed. One of the most important conditions for the success of the work of political and organisational regroupment that faces socialists in the coming period is consistency.
Lastly, a struggle against the settlement is not only important as preparation for future struggles for a new constitution. In fact, a struggle against the sellout settlement is a necessary part of a struggle to ensure not only that the elections are “free and fair” but that significant sections of the working class participate in the elections in the first place. If no struggle is waged against the politics of compromise of the ANC leadership significant sections of the working class in Bophutatswana and KwaZulu would not he able to vote at all. In order for the working class to ensure that it is able to exercise its vote it must begin with be clear that it is not beyond the ANC leadership to vacillate right up to April 27 in its attempt to find decent words behind which to capitulate to the extreme right. It thus turns out that a consistent exposure of the deal hatched at the WTC is an important condition for an overwhelming victory of the ANC in the April elections.
In the coming period our slogan should therefore be: “Down with the sellout settlement! Forward to an ANC victory!”
Should socialists stand as candidates for the sham Assembly?
The position calling on socialists to support and struggle for an ANC victory in the election raises an important related question. It is this: Should individual socialists be encouraged to stand on the ANC platform in the coming elections?
We have noted that one the important preconditions for socialists to successfully conduct of a revolutionary parliamentarianism is the existence of an organisation which is not only actively committed to socialism in its policies, but one which is also able to give overall guidance to its parliamentary representatives and is able to provide a counterweight to the pressures that come with operating in “enemy territory”, so to speak. On the other hand, the key aim of entering bourgeois parliaments is to use the platform of parliament for purposes of organising and raising the level-of ideological and combat preparedness of the working class.
Our analysis of the ANC shows clearly that it is not the kind of organisation that can engage in a revolutionary parliamentarianism as an organisation. If anything, the current direction of the ANC leadership does not only mean that the ability of the parliamentary representatives of the ANC to resist bourgeois pressures is considerably weakened, but in fact this direct is likely to add to the pressure to capitulate to the ruling class.
But is it possible for individual socialists to use parliament as a rostrum to conduct revolutionary agitation and propaganda? This too is precluded. The reason for this is that the system of proportional representation that has been adopted in the Interim Constitution – and has been entrenched for future constitutions -is a system in which the leadership has enormous power over the parliamentary representatives. Since in terms of this system parties and not individuals are elected to parliament, the party leaderships are able to remove any MP they do not like by simply expelling him/her from the party. If this proves to be difficult such an MP can easily be silenced by not being given an opportunity to speak in parliament. For it is the parliamentary leaders of the parties that will largely determine who would speak on behalf of the party. In terms of the constituency system this problem can to a certain extent be avoided by the militant MP resigning from the party, and so avoiding control by a reactionary party leadership.
What this all means is that given the current direction of the ANC leadership and the system of proportional representation socialists participating in the coming parliament on an ANC ticket will be hostages to a reactionary leadership, and will thus not be able to utilise parliament in a revolutionary manner. From this it follows that it would be an error for individual socialists to participate in the coming Assembly on an ANC ticket. The main task facing socialists is to prepare the ground for a strong organisational basis that would make possible a revolutionary utilisation of bourgeois parliaments. Such an organisational basis can be either a strong organised socialist current in the ANC, or a distinct organisation of socialists.
Should socialists continue to struggle to hold ANC MPs accountable?
We have argued that socialists must support and struggle for an ANC victory in the coming elections. We have also argued that such a position in no way means that socialists must cease to expose the nature of the sellout settlement, its dangers and the need to struggle against it. We further argued that because of the direction of the ANC leadership and the proportional representation system adopted in the Interim Constitution it would be an error for socialists to participate in the coming Assembly. Their task is to organise struggle from without. But does this mean that socialists must abandon the struggle to make ANC MPs accountable and to demand that they fulfil their electoral promises?
Although the deal that has been agreed to at the WTC and the other compromises that the ANC leadership has agreed to indicate that the leadership of the ANC crossed the class line that divides the working class and the ruling class, the struggle for the political soul of the masses and the militant will continue to be waged within the ANC in the immediate future. This struggle must be waged on all fronts -at the level of policy, at level of how the ANC takes up mass struggles and of course at the level of organisational methods within the ANC.
It follows therefore that not only must socialists demand that ANC MPs stick to their promises, but socialists must also formulate concrete proposals on how to ensure an organisation that will make its parliamentary representatives accountable to its members. This struggle for accountability will not only play an important role in the political clarification of the mass of militants, not only is it at the same time a struggle to create space for participation of socialists in parliament and its utilisation in a revolutionary manner, but this struggle will also provide socialists with an opportunity to sharpen their ideas about the organisational questions that are raised by an attempt to practice a revolutionary parliamentarianism.
Lastly, the struggle for accountability of ANC MPs is linked up with the struggle to change the system of representation and to change the sellout Interim Constitution.
We began our discussion of the specific tasks facing socialists in the coming period with a discussion of our attitude to the coming elections. The period running up to the elections in April poses its own tasks, however. It is to these that we now turn.
Section 3: The tasks of socialists in the pre-election phase
Before we proceed to look at the specific tasks that are posed by the period leading up to the April elections, it is important that we recall the general tasks that face socialists in the pre-election period and beyond.
In our discussion of the general tasks facing socialists in this period of struggle we began by noting that in the last three to four years there has been a systematic attack on the revolutionary perspectives concerning the transformation of South African society by propagandists of the ruling class, on the one hand, and a retreat from these revolutionary perspectives by the leadership of the mass movement, on the other. In this context we argued that one of the key tasks facing socialists in this period of struggle is to defend and elaborate a revolutionary perspective on the transformation of South African society.
Following this we argued that an equally important task facing socialists is to expose the meaning of the sellout settlement that has been agreed to by the leadership of the mass movement. We linked this task to another task, which was the facilitation of the political and organisational regroupment of revolutionaries, socialist and militants in the mass movement. We went on to argue that all these tasks must be located within a perspective that places at the centre of its approach the key role that is played by mass action in the emancipation of the working class.
These tasks must at all times be at the centre of the political practice of socialists in the current period of struggle. Beyond these general tasks that socialists must struggle to realise in the period running into the April elections there are other tasks, which are closely related to but are also distinct from these general tasks.
The struggle for free political activity
The coming election represents, objectively, an important battle in the class struggle between the ruling capitalist class and the working class. Within the context of the general tasks facing socialists in this period, and to the extent that this important class battle will be fought within the context of elections, clearly the most important task facing socialists is to ensure an ANC victory in the elections. In particular, the key task facing socialists is to ensure that the organisational space and political conditions that are necessary to ensure such a victory exists.
There has, of course, been much talk by all sections of the bourgeois parties and its press about the need for “free and fair political activity” as well as about the need to ensure “free and fair elections”. It is important that socialists be under no illusions that “free political activity” for the working class and “free and fair” elections are possible in a society dominated by the capitalist’s class. The very conditions that have enabled’ the bourgeoisie to win a dominant position within the ANC -at the level of ideology and perspective – are also the conditions that make “political activity” and “free and fair” elections impossible under a bourgeois regime.
These conditions are the ownership of the means of propaganda -the newspapers and radio stations by the capitalist, their ownership or at least privileged access to instruments necessary to conduct political activity -halls, sound equipment, money to flood the mass of voters with adverts. Beyond this there is the general persuasiveness of bourgeois ideology among the mass of the people, and in South Africa this expresses itself with the hostility and fear that has been generated between various sections of the working class. The struggle that will unfold over the votes of the coloured section of the working class is a case in point. In other words, in bourgeois society the “playing field” is never level, it is always tilted against the working class.
Part of the work of preparing the working class for its revolutionary tasks consists in shattering the illusions and lies that are perpetrated by the ruling class about equal opportunity in the political processes of bourgeois society. It is the tasks of socialists to consistently expose the fact that behind the formal equality between the ruling class and the working class lies the real inequality that derives from the unequal distribution of wealth in capitalist society. The task of exposing this lie is all important because it is not only being promoted by the bourgeoisie, but by the leadership of the mass movement as well.
The struggle against the myth of “free political activity” is important not only because of the importance of political and ideological clarity within the working class, but also because it has a direct impact on the kind of elections campaign that the working class and its organisations must wage in the coming period.
Mass action must be central to the elections campaign
One of the most serious dangers facing the working class in the current period is that the leadership of the mass movement is conducting the elections campaign in a way that atomises the working class, in a way that breaks it into isolated individuals. What is beginning to emerge is that the leadership of the ANC alliance, by emphasising so called “voter education” and “house-to-house canvassing” is adopting methods of campaigning that will break up the working class into isolated individuals, instead of emphasising methods of campaigning that emphasise the working class’s traditions of struggle.
The working class is able to be a class for itself – i.e. a class that struggles for its own interests – only in the process of self-organisation and struggle. The working class defines itself, therefore, in struggle against the capitalist class, and there can thus be no interests of the working class except in opposition to the interests of the capitalist class. Outside of organisation and struggle the working class ceases to be a class with a defined set of interests. This is an elementary principle of the class struggle and class analysis.
If on the one hand the working must engage in a process of self-organisation and struggle in order to be a class with a set of defined interests, in order for the ruling class to continue to dominate the working class it must break it into isolated individuals, on the other hand. The working class succeeds in its struggle against the ruling class if it is able to resist the attempts of the bourgeoisie to break it into isolated individuals. Every worker who has participated in a strike knows this basic truth.
The process of elections itself, by promoting the myth of the equality of the votes of workers and capitalist, also assists in the process of breaking up the working class into isolated individuals. This is because this myth of equality promotes the view within the working class that voting once in a while is what is needed to change society. A view of substituting voting for struggle is thus entrenched.
Therefore by adopting an approach that emphasises individual canvassing the leadership of the ANC alliance objectively assists in weakening the working class and in strengthening the ruling class. At some level this is to be expected, because the elections strategy of the ANC is after all being mapped out by bourgeois advertising firms.
One of the central tasks facing socialists in the pre-elections phase is therefore to struggle for a mass struggle approach to the elections campaign. Instead of the voter education programme which are supposedly neutral and on which millions of rands are being spent socialists must struggle for an elections campaign that mobilises the masses against capitalist oppression in all its forms. Every strike that is embarked upon by workers must be the centre of agitation and propaganda for an ANC victory, it must provide socialists with the opportunity to ensure that workers have identity documents, that they understand the reconstruction programme that must be carried out by an ANC in power, and that they draw direct linkages between their struggle on the factory floor for higher wages and the ANC victory.
Socialists must ensure that workers take initiative in ensuring that the bosses release, on full pay, leading shop stewards to conduct a campaign for an ANC victory. This must be done through strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations and other forms of industrial actions. The vacillation of the COSATU leadership on this question must be opposed and overcome through direct mass action by workers on the factory floor.
In the townships, struggles to force reactionary white local authorities that are resisting the advent of non-racial local government must continue to be waged and these struggles, together with struggles around the provision of services, must form the bedrock of the campaign for an ANC victory in the April elections.
Socialists need to struggle against the false class peace that has been declared by the ANC leadership in this period – and in fact for all time. The ANC leadership’s fear of struggles as a driving force of the elections is tied up with its preoccupation with “managing expectations”, i.e. it is afraid that a working class that marches to an elections victory through the vehicle of mass struggle will be difficult to convince that it must not expect improvements in its conditions of life after the elections.
We said that in bourgeois society the playing field is always tilted against the working class; only through mass struggle can the working class level the playing field.
The struggle against the bantustan dictatorships must be intensified – towards an armed popular uprising?
The Transitional Executive Council (TEC), like all the institutions that have been set up as a result of the deal agreed to at the WTC, reflects the extent to which the victory of the ruling class has been thoroughgoing. Nowhere is the uselessness of the TEC been more exposed than in its absolute inability to deal with the question of free political activity in Bophutatswana, Kwazulu and the Ciskei. Of course, the failure of the TEC to deal with these homelands reflects the nature of the deal that has been hatched at the negotiations.
At the WTC the ANC leadership has basically agreed to a deal that leaves the fate of the working masses of these homelands, the question of whether the masses in these homelands will vote or not, in the hands of Mangope, Buthelezi and Gqozo. The cynicism among the leadership goes so deep that some in the leadership have suggested that if Mangope does not allow the people the right to exercise their vote the people will then walk to the borders of Bophuthatswana to vote! Even in the case of the Ciskei the leadership of the ANC has dealt with Gqozo in a thoroughly unprincipled manner. On the one hand the leadership has gone to Gqozo to negotiate with him about free political activity, and on the other the leadership has used behind the scenes deals and pressures to get the Ciskei to participate in the TEC. At no stage did the leadership rely on the organised power of the masses to force Gqozo to concede to free political activity.
It is clear that a revolutionary approach to the struggle for free political activity in these homelands must put the masses and their organised action at the centre of attempts to achieve free political activity in these homelands. A struggle for free political activity in these homelands, however, raises important strategical questions for socialists and for the working class movement in general. This is particularly the case with the homelands of Bophutatswana and Ciskei. At a general level the issues that is raised is that of the relationship between (i) participation in elections for bourgeois parliaments – and all that this implies about the state of the working class movement at an ideological, political and organisational level – and (ii) the direct struggle for power, which implies the smashing of the institutions of the bourgeois state. Let us look at this question a little more closely.
Earlier on we argued that the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, its state and the smashing of its institutions of class rule is a moment that is a culmination of a more or less protracted period of struggle. We called this period the preparatory phase in the development of the revolution. We further argued that the working class will be unable to gain victory in its decisive struggle with the ruling class if in the course of the preparatory period it does not win important partial victories. In fact, these partial victories constitute the most important moments in the process of preparation by the working class.
At certain moments and at certain times the partial struggles that the working class engages in can and may lead to a partial insurrection and overthrow of sections of the states machinery. As a matter of fact, all insurrections unfold as a series of partial insurrections which progressively extend their radius to the whole country, to involve all sections of all social classes and thus confront the entire bourgeois state with a life and death battle. These partial uprisings are in general not products of plans or plots by revolutionaries, they are products of an objective sharpening of contradictions which lead to explosive battles between the ruling class and the working class.
It is important for socialists to recognise the fact that these partial uprisings are not guaranteed to succeed, and that they can and in fact tend to be bloody affairs. Socialists therefore generally do not choose to have a partial uprising whose prospects are not clear, especially when the working class has the kind of weaknesses that we have discussed. But then it is in the nature of partial uprisings that one does not choose to have them, they are imposed on organisations by the dynamics of the situation.
It follows therefore that although socialists cannot and should not lightly choose to have partial uprisings, they need to determine their attitude to historical situations of this kind. The attitude socialist need to adopt on this question is that in situations where the mass action of the working class is likely to lead to a battle for streets between the ruling class and the working class, socialists need to call for and undertake preparation for an uprising. Under conditions like this the best and in fact only way to minimise the bloody violence that is likely to result from this confrontation is to consistently and methodically prepare for an armed uprising by the people. There is no paradox in this statement. The only way that a bloodless revolution can occur is when the popular classes enjoy such an overwhelming superiority of forces that the ruling classes are either unable to resist or they can see that resistance is hopeless. In general this superiority of forces is achieved when the popular classes win over significant sections of the armed forces.
It is clear, therefore, that at a general level participation in elections for bourgeois parliaments does not necessarily preclude the possibility of conscious preparation for armed uprisings. In fact, the need for such conscious preparation can arise objectively as a result of contradictions that can be ignited by an election campaign. It is a dynamic of this kind that is posed by the need for a mass based elections campaign in the homelands of Boputhatswana and Ciskei.
The reason why the struggle for free political activity in these homelands raises the question of the attitude of socialists to partial uprisings is that especially in Bop the intensity of the contradictions is such that even a simple march demanding free political activity can easily lead to a violent struggle between the people and the Bop government. Given that the people in Bop will not allow themselves to be left out the elections, a continuation of the intransigence of the Bop government will inevitably lead to a battle for streets. A call for the masses not to struggle while the TEC vacillates is out of the question. Not only is such a call politically reactionary, but it abandons the masses on the eve of what will clearly be a crucial battle. This is so because the masses will demand their right to participate in the elections, and they will engage in struggle to secure this right. In this context the task of a leadership that is serious about democracy is to prepare for an armed uprising in Bop and the Ciskei.
A number of immediate tasks need to be taken up: i) mass pressure must be mounted on all companies operating in Bop. ii) a campaign of defiance of unjust laws in Bop must be mounted. iii) open and clandestine organisation must be undertaken among the civil service in Bop and especially among the police and the armed forces. iv) a Congress of the People of Bop must be convened; this will act as a focal point for mobilisation and struggle. v) the day of the COP of Bop must coincide with a regional stay away. vi) the chambers of business of Bop must be given a deadline by which to declare for democracy, after which all those within chains – i.e. big businesses – will be hit by a consumer boycott. What is clear is that once militant action to force free political activity in Bop is put on the agenda, activists will be able to come up with a variety of creative forms of struggle.
The forms of struggle that we have raised above address the question of political preparation for an uprising. Side by side with this political preparation there must be a technical preparation for the uprising. This involves the movement of arms into the area, the setting up of defence structures with a disciplined cadre and in general the working out of a plan of battle by structures of the leadership delegated with such a task. It goes without saying that such a structure must be clandestine.
In the case of Kwazulu the tasks are in most cases similar but they also differ in important respects. The difference is largely a formal one, but it is a formality with important tactical implications. This formality consists in the fact that Bop and Ciskei are supposedly “independent” countries, whereas Kwazulu is a self-governing territory. The one important difference that is introduced by this formality is that the TEC has no formal jurisdiction over Bop, whereas it has jurisdiction over Kwazulu. This in turn is linked to the probable role of the SADF in the two areas.
There are also -substantive differences between the other homelands and Kwazulu. In Natal the ANC and the IFP have in some senses divided Natal into spheres of influence. The patterns of violence and struggle have in some ways been established, and it will take a major change in the strategy of the IFP to precipitate open full-scale civil war. Despite the explosiveness of the situation in both areas, the key difference lies in the fact that in Bop the refusal of the Bop government to participate in the April election means that it also excludes the entire Bop population by administrative fiat, whereas in Natal the boycott is a boycott by IFP members. In Natal the South African state, the TEC and the IEC can set up polling booths even in Kwazulu and protect them, in Bop these bodies cannot setup polling booths without the consent of the Bop government. In Kwazulu even with the violence the masses can still vote, and hope to solve the violence question once at the helm of provincial government. In Bop the masses will not vote even without violence. This alone is likely to introduce a measure of desperation and determination into the Bop struggles. And it is this that makes Bop a likely area in which a partial uprising may occur.
The fundamental question that must guide socialists is that the struggle for free political activity must be based on the organised power and militancy of the masses. In the case of Bop -and maybe to a lesser extent -it would be irresponsible for socialists and indeed anyone to talk about mass struggles without anticipating the probability of popular uprisings against the Bop government. In the case of Kwazulu as well, the question of defence becomes an acute and important question in the coming election campaign.
The organisation of armed self-defence is a task in the coming period
It is generally accepted that the coming period of the election campaign will see a dramatic increase in the levels of violence against the masses. It is also generally accepted that the key source of this violence will be the parties and organisations of the right, principally the white right and the IFP. In particular, this violence is most likely to be pronounced in the township and rural areas of Natal, and in the townships of the PWV.
The leadership of the ANC, true to form, has again responded to this impending danger by resorting to collaboration with the ruling class instruments of repression -the police and the SADF. Despite more than three years of violence unleashed on working class communities, despite the proven anti-working class character of these institutions and their complicity in the violence, the leadership of the ANC continues to put its faith in these institutions.
This reliance on the ruling class instruments of repression is the other side of the leadership’s mistrust of any solutions based on mass participation by the people. Its own mistrust of mass bases solutions, and the pressure from the press and other institutions of the ruling class has led the leadership to abandon defence committees. Instead of taking leadership of committees that lack the political experience, the leadership proposes to disband the units and instead stake its hopes on a makeshift Peacekeeping Force – which will not be able to defend the people.
The tasks facing socialists and militants in the coming period is to ensure that those defence units that continue to exist are given political leadership and strengthened. The struggle for free political activity in the coming period is inseparable from the building of armed defence by the people.
Section 4: The tasks of socialists in the post-election phase
One of the important consequences of an overwhelming ANC victory is that it will dramatically increase the confidence of the working class in its own strength, and it will enhance the fighting mood and capacity of the working class. This increased confidence of the working class, however, will necessarily resolve all the problems that beset the working class and its organisation in this period.
Let us recall that we identified as the key problems facing the working class its ideological, political and organisational weakness. The important question facing socialists is how can the newly found confidence and fighting mood of the working class be utilised to resolve some of the problems that we have identified?
In our discussion of the general tasks facing socialists we identified four key tasks that must serve as an overall framework within which socialists must conduct their struggle for the revival of working class politics. We said these were: (i) the struggle for a revolutionary perspective and programme, (ii) the need to expose the meaning of the settlement reached at the WTC and its implications for the working class and the oppressed masses in general, (iii) the need to take up the daily struggles of the working class and (iv) the need to undertake a struggle for the political and programmatic regroupment of the militant vanguard. Although these tasks should guide the work of socialists in the phases of the coming period of struggle, it is clear that each phase of struggle will bring certain of these tasks to the fore more than others, and that each phase can also give a different emphasis to each of these tasks.
The most characteristic feature of the immediate post-election period will be the rise in the level of combativity and struggle within the working class. As is generally recognised, this new confidence and combativity will be a product of the expectations the working class has about what is due to it given an ANC victory. The working class will interpret an overwhelming victory as a defeat of the old ruling classes and as a signal that the dominated classes can now determine the development of the country. From our preceding discussions we know that this perception cannot be sustained because the working class will discover soon enough that the ANC they brought into power – or rather into office -is certainly not the ANC they have in their consciousness. What this means is that the initial mood of confidence within the working class is most likely going to be followed by a mood of disappointment. With the realisation that they are confronted with a different kind of ANC, there are a number of possible scenarios.
The one scenario is that the leadership of the Alliance succeeds in convincing significant sections of the mass of the working class that “things cannot be done overnight”, and that it is necessary to wait. The ability of the leadership to do this will of course be greatly enhanced if (a) the ANC does not get a two-thirds majority in the election, and/or (b) if there is a significant amount of resistance from the right against the Government of National Unity. The other scenario is that the mass of the working class is not convinced by the excuses of the leadership, and given the absence of alternatives, the working class slumps into a mood of demoralisation. Yet another scenario is that as it realises the true character of the ANC leadership the working class responds by struggling against this leadership and in the process accelerates the process of political and organisational regroupment of the working class.
In all these scenarios, including the one in which the working class accelerated its process of political and programmatic regroupment, we see that the post-election phase is likely to evolve in two stages: one stage will be dominated by heightened self-activity of the working class and confidence; the other by a more or less long period of political lull and drop in the level of combativity. The reason why we anticipate this period of political lull is because it is unlikely that the working class can overcome some of its political and organisational problems in the immediate post-election phase.
The reason why it is important for socialists to appreciate the fact that the initial combativity of the working class that is likely to follow the election is unlikely to be sustained is that this appreciation will determine the way socialists approach their political work in the immediate post-election phase. Let us look at how socialists should approach their tasks in the post-election phase of the coming period.
Earlier on in our discussion of the general tasks facing socialists we argued, “most important lever or tool in the development of mass consciousness is struggle itself”.Whereas in the pre-election phase of the coming period will be struggling against the tendency of the leadership of the Alliance to downplay and discourage struggle as a vehicle for the elections campaign, in the post-elections phase the struggles of the masses will be a product of an objective historical process. This means that socialists will be locking into a historical process which is not of their own making, and thus it is important to utilise this process to maximum effect given that it might not last forever. This impending upsurge puts a number of tasks in front of socialists:
Firstly, socialists must utilise the high level of combativity to resolve the organisational weaknesses of the working class. This needs to be done at two levels. On the one level socialists must utilise the struggles that will unfold to rebuild the sectoral organisations of the working class, its trade unions, civics, students and youth organisations and a range of working class organisations -including ANC branches. On the other hand, the struggles of the working class will need coordination and centralisation in order for them to be effective. In order to facilitate this process of coordination and centralisation of struggles socialists must call for and struggle for the formation of a Front of Mass Organisation – a militant and democratic front.
This front of mass organisations does not only constitute a weapon to make the struggles of the working class effective, but it will also constitute an important moment in the political -as well as organisational -regroupment of the working class. Side by side with the call for the formation of this mass organisations socialists must call for the Alliance between the ANC and COSATU to be broken. For given the politics of the leadership of the Alliance the continuation of the Alliance will act as a break on the development of the mass struggles of the working class. Does this call mean that the ANC cannot join such a front of mass organisation, and if the ANC does join, this means a mere extension of the Alliance to include student and other organisations?
It is important for socialists to understand that the call for the breaking of the Alliance is not a simply a call for a change in the formal organisational relationship between the ANC, SACP and COSATU. At the heart of the call for the breaking of the Alliance is the question of breaking the political relationship that has formed the basis of the Alliance. The way the Alliance was organised and worked reflected the view that the ANC was the leading organisation in the so-called first stage of the revolution, that the ANC was multiclass and those should not be seen to reflect the dominance of the working class in its ranks, and therefore that the politics of the Alliance must serve all classes. This “leading position” of the ANC in the Alliance translated itself into a position whereby the ANC ignored the decisions of the Alliance when it suited it, and failed to consult when it so felt. So although the ANC may be a part of the front of mass organisations, it cannot enjoy a so-called “leading position” in the front. The ANC must be like any other organisation in the front and must abide by the decision of the front if it joins. One of the key tasks of socialists in this regard is to elaborate the political and organisational basis of the front so as to ensure that it does not represent resurrection of the Alliance under another name.
Secondly, socialists must utilise the high level of combativity of the working class to further clarify the working class about the implications of the settlements that have been reached by the leadership of the Alliance at the negotiations table. Every struggle must be used as an occasion not only to expose the implication of the political settlement for the lives of the working class, but to also expose the capitulation of the ANC leadership to the economic programme of the ruling classes.
Thirdly, each of the struggles that will erupt will confront the working class and socialists in particular with important programmatic questions. For example, as we have already witnessed in the past few years, the depth of the crisis of capitalism in South Africa as well as capital’s attempt to restructure capitalism in ways that will lead to more profit are turning even questions over wages -in fact especially questions over into major questions concerning the path of growth of the South African economy. By implication the debate over the viability of capitalism or socialism as a system that can best address the needs of the people is also the subject of debate.
Up to now the debate over these questions has been dominated by the ideologues of capital, with a confused response on the socialists turned social democrats. The failure by socialists to intervene in this debate is a serious problem and it is crucial that socialists realise that there is no way socialism can become dominant as a political current within the working class if it fails to provide an alternative vision on the key programmatic questions facing the working class. A major task facing socialists is to be able to infuse the coming struggles with a programmatic content that is socialist and to thus make an important contribution to the political and ideological clarification of the working class.
Fourthly, the struggle for the new South African constitution will assume urgency in the post-election period. We have already discussed the importance of this struggle and its role in the political and organisational regroupment of the militants and the working class in general.
Such then are the tasks that are thrown up by the impending upsurge in the struggles of the working class. We must however not lull ourselves to sleep on the basis that these struggles and their high intensity are inevitable. It must be recalled that there is a possibility that the leadership of the Alliance might be able to deflect this mood by calling for patience on the part of workers, and that there might be conditions under which such calls might be acceptable to the working class. Over and above this we have argued that the initial period of struggle is likely to be followed by a lull in mass activity.
The extent of the depth of the lull will of course depend on the extent to which the working class has been able to use the period immediately following the elections to resolve some of its political and organisational weaknesses, and so lay a basis for the revival of the working class movement in the near future.
The period of the lull will pose important but entirely new tasks for the working class in general and for socialists in particular. The full extent of these tasks will only become clear as we move out of the immediate post-election period and thus able to draw a balance sheet of the advances and retreats of this period of struggle that we are now entering. We can however say that one of the fundamental tasks of that period will be to undertake a serious programme of reviving Marxism as world outlook that is hegemonic among the struggling masses, an outlook that is seen to offer the best hope for significant improvements in the lives of the masses.
Those of us who still believe in the superiority of socialism as a social system and the need to struggle for it here and now need to appreciate the serious crisis that is facing Marxism in South Africa. An entire generation of Marxist intellectuals has deserted to the camp of the ruling classes. The tasks that will face socialists in the post-election period will be no less than to rebuild the Marxist and socialists tradition from the very foundation. This does not mean that there is nothing to build on. As long as there is a working class there will always be something to build on.
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