McKinley expulsion: SACP leader responds

Hylton White hjwhite1 at SPAMmidway.uchicago.edu
Fri Aug 18 20:24:21 MDT 2000


As a gauge of the SACP leadership's take on Dale McKinley's writings and
his expulsion, here is a response by Jeremy Cronin to South African press
coverage of the affair. Cronin is the party's deputy secretary general, and
one of its key intellectuals. This article appeared today on the op-ed
section of the Daily Mail and Guardian website, at http://www.mg.co.za  .
For those who are not too familiar with SA political figures, Tony Leon is
the leader of the Democratic Party, an aggressively neoliberal group that
became the main opposition party after the 1999 elections, and has recently
formed an alliance with the former National Party of apartheid infamy.
Ebrahim Harvey, also mentioned here, is a leftist critic of the ANC whose
commentaries can also be found at the M&G website under "Insight and
Opinion".

August 18, 2000: Setting the 'free-thinker' free

The South African Communist Party was fully justified in expelling Dale
McKinley, Jeremy Cronin argues

Last Friday the Mail & Guardian ran an emotive banner headline, "SACP to
grill free-thinker". A long article by Khadija Magardie evoked the same
heretic burning imagery ("SACP to grill outspoken McKinley").
On April 12 there was, indeed, a disciplinary hearing; it considered
articles written in local and international newspapers by Dale McKinley.
The hearing had to assess whether the views in these articles were
compatible with South African Communist Party membership.
There was certainly no "grilling" of McKinley. He read, for almost an hour,
from an extensive prepared submission. He did this without any
interruption.
McKinley argued the charges against him were "completely unfounded". He
accused other SACP leaders of being the guilty ones. He characterised the
hearing itself as an act of "organisational hypocrisy". At the end, a few
questions of clarification were asked and answered. After careful
deliberation, the disciplinary committee recommended the termination of
McKinley's party membership. The central committee agreed.
We know there will now be accusations of an "authoritarian silencing of
dissent". Since we certainly have no intention of giving solace to those
who would like to see debate in the SACP or alliance suppressed, let's
explain exactly what we are doing.
In the first place, we are not silencing McKinley. If anything, the
"free-thinker" is now free. Unencumbered by party discipline, McKinley will
be even more journalistically hyperactive. That is his right. A range of
commercial media will certainly be liberal with their space.
McKinley is entitled to air his views. His views may even be right. But
they are not compatible with the principles of the SACP - that is the nub
of the disciplinary hearing's finding. Moving beyond the detail of the
hearing, let me explain what I think lies at the root of McKinley's
strained, seven-year sojourn within the SACP.
First, he believes passionately that the leadership of the African National
Congress will inevitably "sell out". He writes of "the predictable
evolution of the ANC", of the "ANC leadership's historic class agenda". He
asserts that the "concept of class power the majority of the leadership of
the ANC has always held is defined by the capitalist class they have
aspired to join".
If you take the trouble to read McKinley's writing (and he is very much
like his sparring partner, Ebrahim Harvey, in this regard) it is dominated
by what the literary critic Elleke Boehmer has neatly called the
"foreclosure of the frozen penultimate". Every policy pronouncement by the
ANC, every comma and hyphen, is a portent of the inevitable "sell out",
which, like the Second Coming, is imminent, always-already among us.
But if McKinley felt like this before joining the party, why did we let him
sign on in the first place? Because we try not to live, ourselves, in the
foreclosure of the frozen pen-ultimate. Individuals, like history, can be
influenced, can change and develop.
Sadly, McKinley's views have remained frozen.
Secondly, related to this, McKinley has never accepted longstanding SACP
practice in regard to fraternal organisations. Much to the regret of Tony
Leon, and despite real strains from time to time, our alliance with the ANC
has persisted and strengthened over 70 years.
One essential ingredient has been respect for each other's organisational
integrity. Some non-communist ANC members may not like the present, elected
SACP leadership. That is their right. But the SACP would expect the ANC to
discipline any of its members who launched persistent public attacks
against the leadership of an allied formation, not for this or that
mistake, but on the grounds of a pre-ordained flaw in our political
make-up.
But that is what McKinley has been saying of elected ANC leadership.
Likewise, he does not accept that communists working in fraternal
organisations should respect the integrity of these formations. A Cabinet
minister or a Congress of South African Trade Unions official, who happen
also to be SACP members, cannot be expected, when they act in their
government or trade union capacities, to flout the policies of those
structures. When McKinley calls for the disciplining of communists in the
Cabinet who are not publicly disagreeing with present macro-economic
policy, he breaks with a longstanding SACP approach.
The growth, employment and redistribution strategy is a policy of the
government. I regret that it is. The SACP can, and does, express strong
disagreement on this matter as a party, addressing itself not to
individuals, but to the government and the ANC. We hope to influence and
change what we think are wrong, but collectively mandated, policies.
McKinley does not accept this way of working within an alliance. For him
there is a higher communist calling, a superior morality; it is a total,
non-negotiable package, it must simply trump and displace all else. All
that is different or diverse must be expunged.
And this is the third underlying reality that has led to the parting of
ways - his zealot's, all-or-nothing mindset has made it very difficult to
work with McKinley in an organisational context.
This raises a much broader issue. Left intellectuals like McKinley and
Cronin need to be self-reflective. Are we going to learn anything from the
grave flaws exposed in certain left traditions in the course of the 20th
century? Do we really foster a culture of free discussion and fearless
debate; do we contribute to working class self-emancipation; do we enable
rural women comrades to feel comfortable in discussion forums - when our
own styles of intervention are abrasive, intolerant, bristling with
machismo and intellectually arrogant?
McKinley has the right to publish what he wants. The SACP has the right to
decide whether what he publishes is compatible with being a party member.








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