By Tim Dauth
JOHANNESBURG — "Consolidate and advance": these are the tasks, delegates to the South African Communist Party Gauteng regional congress here decided on March 18-19. The congress recognised that the immediate task is to address the crisis of perspective that is severely affecting the SACP and, more particularly, the African National Congress.
"From here, where to?", asked Gauteng (previously PWV province) Premier Tokyo Sexwale in his address to the congress (Sexwale says he is neither a member nor a supporter of the SACP but an ally). "We have the poor, but we have a new national flag ... we have democracy ... we have all types of symbols: parliaments, a new president, new premiers. The people cannot eat my office, they can't eat the new Constitution, they can't eat the new robes of our speaker ... the people cannot eat symbols."
It is clear that the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), with its ambitious housing, education, health and public works projects, has run into serious problems. The RDP is predicated on the assumption of private sector cooperation, but the ANC is finding that South Africa's capitalist class is not willing to come to the party.
"Without the delivery of the RDP's projects, and without a clear strategy", warned Sexwale, the movement risks succumbing to opportunism. "The people are not demanding all things immediately. Most of the time it is us comrades who want to deliver fast ... But what the people want now is serious demonstrations that we are attending to their problems."
Such demonstrations are, in many cases, inadequate or not forthcoming. With the lack of a clear strategic perspective, the ANC is at risk of losing the confidence and respect of its support base. The painfully slow rate of voter registrations for the October local government elections is just one sign of this.
The SACP regional congress strongly criticised the notion that the RDP was a consensus-driven reform program. The central problem, outlined by both SACP Central Committee member Jeremy Cronin and Tokyo Sexwale, is that capital will not cooperate. Cronin reminded delegates that the RDP would not succeed just by sending "the right signals to the right people. Those 'right' people out there are the IMF. They have got an agenda which is not an RDP agenda, it is a structural adjustment program agenda."
SACP Gauteng regional chairperson Trevor Fowler warned of the danger of cooption in the name of "engagement and cooperation".
Sexwale put the problem in a simpler way: "We are wined, we are dined, they take us to breakfast. We go because we say there is a need of a partnership between capital and labour and the community in South Africa ... But the democratic alliance must, when Tokyo comes back from that breakfast or that lunch, check properly the language [he uses] is still the same."
At its regional congresses and its National Congress, to be held April 6-8, the SACP is expected to discuss, adjust and ratify a draft strategy and tactics document to address the requirements of what it calls "our ongoing national democratic revolution". Introducing the document, Cronin stressed the problems facing the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance: "There are many signs of an ANC liberation movement with great strengths, with renewed powers after the April elections, but also a movement which shows signs of uncertainty, signs of confusion of what it is and where it is going".
Assessing the new global situation — the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the restructuring and globalisation of the capitalist world economy — the document acknowledges that "the new international environment, dominated by our class adversary, is difficult for us as socialists". However, it takes note of various "possibilities for effective engagement":
- "a growing range of forces internationally that are critical of the deregulation policies of the 1980s";
- increasing criticism of IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs based on their "manifest failure ... to promote growth in Africa";
- "important global movements mobilised around the preservation of the environment" and committed to development rather than simply economic growth;
- "a growing number of initiatives to revive South-South cooperation";
- "a wide range of initiatives among socialist, communist, new left and other forces to regroup internationally".
The document calls for the democratic breakthrough in South Africa to be deepened and defended: "The ending of formal racist minority rule, while not the final victory of the national democratic revolution, lays the basis for the rapid advance and consolidation of the national democratic transformation process". Carrying forward this process "corresponds to both the immediate and broader strategic interests of the South African working class, and of a wide range of popular forces. It is also the most direct route towards socialism in our country."
To advance the democratic breakthrough, the document argues, means:
- "holding the strategic initiative for change" and not losing opportunities through hesitation and indecisiveness" or through an "absorption by a new elite in the enjoyment of the spoils of office";
- "assuming full responsibility ... for our victory and, therefore, for governing". This means not allowing the "the limitations of the transition ... to become an excuse for delays and hesitation from our side";
- "developing clear strategies" for democratic advance in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, where the ANC-led alliance did not win electoral majorities;
- ensuring victory in the local government elections of October.
Deepening the democratic breakthrough means:
- ensuring a "thorough-going democratisation of all political institutions";
- "carrying the logic and assumptions of democracy ... into all other spheres of our society;
- "fostering active popular and specifically working class participation in the transformation struggle".
The SACP's interpretation of the RDP is under considerable threat. The party recognises this threat comes most obviously from local and international capital, through the World Bank and the IMF. The threat also comes from within the democratic movement because of the weak and uncoordinated grassroots structures of both the ANC and SACP and the increasing distance between these structures and those now in government.
As Gwede Mantashe, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, told the congress, "the balance of class forces [is] important within the movement itself". This needs to be further addressed by the party, particularly in its relations with the ANC and other allied structures.
Defending democracy means guarding against capital's attempts to coopt "a new black elite", and "attempts to transform the liberation movement by buying influence among the new political elite, through heavy lobbying, corruption and an unremitting ideological offensive". Continuing attempts to "isolate the left and working class forces within the liberation movement" need to be combated.
The struggle against the oppression of women "in the present phase of the National Democratic Revolution" is also dealt with in the document: "There can be no consolidation of democracy, still less an effective advance to socialism,, unless we overcome patriarchy and actively transform gender relations". "Patriarchy has to be consciously addressed and dismantled, it will not simply wither away because of changed patterns of economic ownership."
The document notes that for the condition of women to be rapidly improved, it is necessary to address land hunger and lack of basic infrastructure in rural areas, the concentration of women in the lowest paid and least organised sectors of the economy, capitalism's dependence on "the 'invisible' and unpaid labour of millions of women", the lack of a social security system and sexist prejudices "that deny women control over their own reproductive rights, including the right to choose abortion".
The document says the SACP must "speak out against tendencies to confine the struggle for women's emancipation to the rapid promotion of a new elite of (mainly black) women."
The document reaffirms the SACP's slogan, "Socialism is the Future, Build it Now!" and its "deep conviction that socialism is the only just, rational and sustainable future for the people of our country and humanity at large".
"There is no 'Chinese Wall' between the current phase of National Democratic Revolution and the consolidation of socialism. We are struggling here and now, for transformations that are both feasible and realisable, which have their own inherent value, and which lay the basis for a future socialist transformation."
In a departure from the view of socialism as "nationalisation plus state planning", the SACP is emphasising "worker control over the powers of possession" and "control over the powers of economic ownership".