Fwd: [BLACK-LEFT] SACP Speech to COSATU Congress

Russell Grinker grinker at SPAMmweb.co.za
Sat Aug 21 12:37:51 MDT 1999

Lou Paulsen wrote:

... In any case, instead of just saying that
>I am a political idiot and leaving it at that

Certainly not my implication - I would however have assumed that the US left
had a slightly more realistic picture of the state of things here

>(a) The SACP is under the political control of the current ANC/government

By SACP I would mean their leadership.  Yes this is little more than the ANC
(as the saying goes here) wearing a different hat.  Nor is this something
new.  Membership has been inter-changeable and in terms of the politics of
those who count, indistinguishable, for years now.  In fact the whole
negotiations line of the ANC was crafted mainly by Party people and Thabo
Mbeki and many of his closest collaborators were once considered Party
people when they were in exile.  The link goes back a long way and an
important pretext for the original PAC split was "white" CP dominance of the
ANC apparatus.  Party people were, for example,  key in the writing of the
Freedom Charter.

And that all its criticisms of GEAR, support for the strikes,
>etc., are sham?

Rank and file supporters are certainly genuine in their criticism.  But
you'll find a similar attitude amongst many ANC supporters. I'm talking
about the CP leadership here. The leadership is either oppositional on a
rhetorical level when this is useful to give a left face to ANC politics, or
alternatively (in the case of a number who are now ANC MPs), they've made
their peace and wholly accepted ANC party  discipline which means never
publicly criticising the ANC line unless of course you happen to be Winnie
Mandela and well nigh untouchable.

And so were Mbeki's criticism of the CP's criticisms last
>year, and the ANC's criticisms of all its left critics within and outside
>the ANC in the last three weeks?

The annual ritual of Party (and Cosatu leadership) complaints and ANC
leadership response is becoming little more than that - a ritual (maybe even
a carefully choreographed one) with minimal consequences.  The rank and file
who are genuinely angry are given an opportunity to let off steam through
this process.  The ultimate result is their deepening demoralisation and
de-politicisation.  The movement now looks much like most conventional
western political parties which only come to life at election time.  Local
and ANC structures in many areas are largely empty shells.

By the way, do you also believe COSATU to
>be a 'branch office of the ANC'?
Cosatu is clearly not the same thing as the SACP.  As a union federation it
formally has a mass base in its affiliated unions.  There are however
significant problems stemming from the incorporation of important chunks of
labour into the state.  I'm not exaggerating here.  Most public sector union
leaders spend much of their time involved in institutionalised bargaining
councils which effectively distance them from both their regions and the
rank and file.  It's often hard for the superficial observer to distinguish
between unions and employer reps when it comes to loyalty to such
institutions.  This kind of incorporation has led to a situation where there
is a natural conveyor belt of senior union leaders into government.  This
used to cause major confusion for union members expecting that their
interests would be represented in government by their former leaders.  These
days the more cynical militants talk of giving ineffective leaders a kick
upstairs into government to get shot of them.  The unions have been
appreciably weakened by a combination of this kind of incorporation and
significant rises in unemployment this decade.  While the public sector
unions have (unlike the
big industrial and mining unions) been relatively protected from the ravages
of the recession up to now, it now seems that government is finally set for
a showdown with them.  The leadership's loyalty to
institutionalised bargaining processes and structures will probably render
them relatively ineffective in standing up to their regular negotiating
partners.  We'll soon know the outcome of the current process and see if the
leadership delivers on its strike threats.

>(b) The SACP is not under the political control of the Mbeki wing, and
>genuinely opposes GEAR etc. 'in their hearts', but it ought not (in your
>opinion) to have supported the ANC in the elections, and should have done -
>what?  Broken with the Alliance?  Run opposition candidates?  Called for
>insurrection? What ought they to have done, and what would have been the
>effect of it?

There was no prospect of this happening given their integration with the ANC
via the Alliance.

>Perhaps you can say a little more about your own/your organization's (if
>there is one) general outlook, to provide a theoretical and practical
>context for your recommendations.

My real problem with your "orthodox left" approach to the situation here is
mainly to do with its failure to get to grips with how much things have
really changed since the heady days of the early '90s.  While the turnout at
the recent elections was still respectable by European or American
standards, the same disenchantment with political life to be found in the
west is making itself felt here.  The rapid decline in popular participation
in political processes here is more shocking given where we were not very
long ago.  You might be surprised to discover how much the crisis of
traditional politics here (and the relative irrelevance of old
left/collective traditions) parallels what's happening elsewhere in the
World.  Of course the much more extreme problems of survival in a country
like South Africa result in a different form of response to
situations from what you would get elsewhere, but increasingly outside any
organised political framework.  The masses are now largely uninvolved in
political life.

So while 5 years ago the first election campaign centred on a fairly
conservative but at least relatively positive developmental approach to
changing the country (embodied in the now defunct Reconstruction and
Development Programme) today's popular political outlook centres on what
repressive or therapeutic measures to adopt next in the fight against
rampant crime, AIDS and various forms of abuse.  Trust in politicians has
declined rapidly: people are obsessed with issues of corruption, real or
imagined.  The struggle has truly lost
its soul.  I don't have many answers but we need to find new ways of putting
people's potential to change the world back at the centre of things.
Accepting that there is even a problem has, however, to be the first step
for the left here, whether it is working inside or outside the Alliance.


More information about the Marxism mailing list