Where is Lenin , now that we need him (Part II)

Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Tue Sep 25 08:13:55 MDT 2001


[ Part II ]

The Left Wing of the ANC Makes Its Case

Many in South Africa on the left are members of the SACP,
COSATU, and the ANC. For that reason, it is hard for U.S.
observers, such as myself, to convey static categories
within the institutional structures of South African
government, trade unions, political parties, and community
groups given so much overlap, dual, and often triple
memberships. In our delegation's meetings with national
spokespeople for the ANC, they gave the following
explanation of their strategic dilemmas, and implicitly, a
defense against their left critics, which is paraphrased
based on my careful note taking.

They explained the fundamental strategic framework that they
feel should shape any future debates about policy and
strategy. In this view, the ANC tripartite alliance was the
product of a negotiated settlement with the West in general,
and the South African Apartheid regime in particular.
Obviously, had there been a full scale seizure of power, the
product of an armed struggle by the black majority, there
would have been less compromise. But such a revolution, in
their view, was not historically possible at the time,
especially without the protection and countervailing power
of the Soviet Union. A fully armed civil war would have had
to overthrow the militarily advanced and brutal apartheid
state -- and most likely, the armed intervention of the U.S.
CIA and military as well. While many have criticized former
president Mandela and now his successor, president Mbeki,
for their focus on "sending positive signals to Western
markets" they emphasized, "we don't want another Chile
here," that is, a U.S. instigated military coup against the
democratic ANC government. (Henry Kissinger, who was U.S.
secretary of state at the time of the coup against Allende,
explained later, that if the people mistakenly vote for
socialism, the U.S. has the obligation to overturn it.) In
the context of that past history, in the wake of the World
Trade Center and Pentagon bombings and the threats of the
Bush administration to wage a "war without boundaries," we
must take seriously the fear of the ANC leadership that they
have restricted actual capacity for self-determination.
Michael Sachs, a researcher at the ANC's national office
explained, "Despite the difficult international balance of
forces, the ANC government is able to take international
positions independent of the United States because we don't
owe our soul to the World Bank, we have carefully avoided
international debt."

The strategic stakes are very high, and the recent rhetoric
has been escalating. Thabo Mbeki has accused his critics in
COSATU of being agents of the right wing and, increasingly,
ultra-left Trotskyists. Moreover, since my return from South
Africa, Mbeki has just written to Health Minister Manton
Tshabalala-Msimang ordering her to consider a cut in the
AIDS budget, accusing health advocates of exaggerating AIDS
deaths in South Africa, and arguing instead, for an increase
in police funding.

As left forces debate the relative merits and tactics of
their participation in the Tripartite Alliance, and struggle
among themselves as to how to move that alliance to the
Left, there are right-wing forces in the ANC led by a
growing and rapacious black bourgeoisie, who have threatened
the SACP and COSATU that they will move to push them out of
the alliance. One of the new leaders of the ANC Youth
League, historically a very powerful and often militant,
left force within the ANC, has declared that because of
COSATU's general strike and the growing public criticism of
the Mbeki government, "the alliance is dead." Whether or not
that is a spontaneous comment, or an orchestrated opening
from even higher sources in the ANC, is open to debate. But
it is a signal that for all the forces in the alliance, the
level of internal and public struggle is escalating.

Again, everyone I spoke with seems to feel that the 2002 ANC
party congress will be the sight of a major showdown, and a
way to count the relative strength of all the forces. Will
the right-wing continue to effectively berate and intimidate
the SACP and COSATU? Will there be an electoral insurgency
against Mbeki, not to remove him but to push a very hard
program in a socialist direction in a clear rebuke to the
neo-liberal policies? Even so, how can COSATU and SACP
enforce such policies -- in that the government has clearly
ignored past resolutions against privatization? Does the
SACP envision any life outside of the alliance and does it
have democratic mechanisms by which the rank and file cadre
on the ground can have influence over policy?

One ANC official told me that it really might be
historically necessary for COSATU and the SACP to try to
form a labor party and run independent candidates for
parliament. Perhaps in that context, Mbeki and the ANC would
feel pressure from the left as well as the right, especially
if the new labor party won enough seats to require the ANC
to form a "coalition government." Others have argued that
such a move would be disastrous, and asked, "Why should we
give up the ANC that we, as communists, have built for
decades? Why should we be forced out?" Instead, they have
talked about running candidates for the ANC party congress
in 2002.

For many leftists in South Africa, and, fortunately, at
every level of South African society there are many
leftists, the crisis in the alliance goes even beyond the
neo-liberal policies of the government. It extends to its
impact on any future grassroots capacity of the working
class to impact those policies. Despite every effort to
assuage, cajole, and further subsidize foreign and white
South African capital, there has been massive capital flight
from the country and an estimated 1 million jobs lost --
many from the decently paid and unionized industrial sector.
Moreover, while the government admits that in the "medium
term" there will be further loss of jobs, they are placing
their hopes on "the knowledge economy" and the high tech
sector, which most admit will only benefit the already
super-privileged white professional South Africans, among
the perpetrators and/or willing accomplices to apartheid.

In the seven years since the ANC came to power, the once
vital civic associations that courageously helped to lead
the anti-apartheid revolution have declined, and in some
areas virtually disintegrated, replaced by less mass based,
less confrontational "NGO's" -- (the analogies with the
post-1970s decline in the militancy and mass character of
the black liberation and civil rights movement in the U.S.
are painfully evident). COSATU and the SACP made the
decision to send many of their top cadre into government.
Given that one ideological pillar of white, Christian,
Western imperialism and apartheid was the myth that black
Africans cannot govern themselves, the ANC's development of
a conscientious, honest, and capable state bureaucracy was
essential. A social movement, a party like the ANC, cannot
fight for state power no matter how partial without giving
high priority to the actual running of the government,
unless one wants a coalition of the Afrikaners, the British,
and the Inkatha Freedom Party to retake power.

Still, this division of labor also created a major
contradiction. Every socialist and revolutionary agrees, at
least in theory, that equally essential to the protection
and advancement of the democratic revolution is the
organization of the working class and the oppressed classes
at the point of production and in the communities that were
so essential for the overthrow of apartheid. This is
especially true when the ANC spokespeople honestly and
correctly assessed that "we inherited a capitalist economy
and society and our job is to administer capitalism in the
best and most progressive way possible -- we are not a
socialist organization." That analysis is also consistent
with the SACP's theory of a "two stage revolution," the
first stage for national liberation, democracy, and black
majority rule (an amazing achievement in itself) and the
second stage to prevent capitalist counter-revolution
through the advancement towards a socialist transformation,
and eventually, a socialist revolution. In such a strategy,
there must be powerful, militant, socialist, and
revolutionary organizing from below -- and a complex policy
of both unity and struggle with the existing order.
Otherwise, the slogan of the SACP and many COSATU
supporters, "Socialism is the Future, Build it Now" will
regress to a hollow reformism "tipping its hat to
socialism."

Several SACP cadre shared with me their worry that the party
is becoming isolated from some of the most oppressed and
desperate sectors of the South African working class,
especially the rural proletariat and peasantry. They pointed
to the growing landless movement of people who had been
promised land by the ANC freedom charter and yet are
presently on the verge of starvation and homelessness.
Nonetheless, the movement led a mass protest against the ANC
government the day after the COSATU general strike. The
landless movement is being led by the Pan African Congress,
(PAC) a black nationalist organization outside of the ANC
alliance. Whatever criticisms and disagreements the SACP has
with PAC, and they are profound, SACP supporters saw the
rise of the PAC leadership and the absence of SACP
leadership in the landless movement as another sign of
danger.

Lenin feels the party and the government must take a more
aggressive policy on the redistribution of land to the black
masses. "We have to change the legacy of apartheid, not
adjust to the legacy of apartheid. We have to wage war to
get our land back, a careful war, a strategic war, but a war
nonetheless. The ANC Freedom Charter said 'the land shall
belong to those who work it.' This land was taken from us by
force, we have to find ways to go beyond the 'Land
Restitution Act' for a massive transfer of land to black
people who are hungry for the land that was once theirs."

If the forces of transnational capital are placing enormous
pressure on the ANC government, which they are, how can the
SACP counteract that pressure and "defend and extend the
anti-apartheid democratic revolution" without the leadership
of mass struggles? That is why the highly visible SACP
leadership in the COSATU strike was seen as encouraging and
necessary -- and why it was received with such antagonism by
the Mbeki government. In terms of greater unity between the
SACP leadership and rank and file, the SACP issued a very
strong statement on August 30, 2001, the day of the COSATU
general strike. "The success of the general strike is a
clear and strong message to the bosses and government that
privatization is not the route to go. Today's strike was
also a conscious offensive against capitalism itself and the
building of a people's economy that meets our peoples basic
needs, develops infrastructure, and creates new, quality,
and sustainable jobs. To those who attacked the SACP in the
run up to the strike, today's general strike sends them a
clear message that instead of the SACP being "caught between
a hammer and a sickle" as they alleged, the SACP is firmly
united in its struggle against privatization. In any case,
it is a thousand times better to be caught between a hammer
and a sickle than to hang our necks on the apron strings of
the bourgeoisie and its economic policies." Finally, both
the SACP and COSATU are now reaching out to the South
African National Civics Movement (SANCO) to broaden the
alliance to include a once powerful force in the liberation
movement.

As I leave South Africa, the primary threat to the South
African revolution is not the "correct" or "incorrect"
choices of its participants, but the ominous, ever-present,
and escalating world dictatorship exercised by the U.S.
government. The entire strategy of the IMF, the World Bank,
the G7, and NATO is to create a world in which there are no
alternatives, in which any form of national democratic and
socialist policies are politically, economically, and if
necessary, militarily prohibited. For the development of an
integrated world capitalist system is based on the
overdevelopment of the West and the perpetual and systematic
underdevelopment of the Third World. (See Lian Hurst Mann's
"Notes on Imperialism," www.thestrategycenter.org.)

As I write, the U.S. is maneuvering to launch a series of
retaliatory attacks on entire governments and peoples in
reaction to the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings. It
is declaring "war" on an enemy that has not yet been
identified, and is openly asking the U.S. public to support
the mass murder of civilian populations, the permanent
curtailment of civil rights and civil liberties, and the
creation of a permanent police state. Anyone who has studied
U.S. history knows that the U.S. government, often with the
overwhelming majority of the U.S. electorate, especially but
unfortunately not limited to the whites, has the power and
willingness to intervene in the internal affairs of every
nation in the world, especially the Third World. But, no
matter how ominous, and how truly powerful, the U.S.
government is not omnipotent, and a world wide democratic
front for peace and national liberation is even more
necessary under the present conditions. Just as it
was during the Vietnam war, the main contribution and
responsibility of the U.S. left is to challenge the policies
and institutions of our own government, and to demand a
"hands off South Africa" movement to allow self-determination
in South Africa no matter what direction its people choose.

I have had the honor of visiting a far more democratic South
Africa than anything we have experienced in our own country.
There black Africans are debating their own destiny -- and
trusting us enough to include us in a discussion that has
profound impact on the world left. For several of us,
inspired by the everyday intelligence and honesty of every
strata of black African leadership, and the powerful public
role of a socialist oriented black working class, there was
the romantic and strategic desire to see if we could move to
South Africa to help, in any way we could, with the
protection and advancement of the South African revolution.
But even before the epochal shift in world history provoked,
but not caused, by the World Trade Center and Pentagon
bombings, it became clear to me that my, and our role cannot
be evaded. We live in the belly of the beast and our
historical obligation is to do everything we can to stay the
hand of brutality that our government imposes on most of the
world's people -- including our new friends and comrades in
South Africa.

Just one specific example. While we were there, the United
States announced that it was accusing the South African
government and many others, e.g. Japan, with "dumping" steel
in the U.S. at prices below its costs, and was going to a
world trade body to ask for tariffs of 300% against South
African steel -- which would of course prevent any such
imports into the United States. Now, here is the world
superpower, that tries to shove its products, its ideology,
and its social system down the throats of every nation in
the world, breaking down tariffs barriers in nations it
wants to penetrate, but erecting them in the U.S., unable to
compete in the "free market" with South African steel. South
Africa needs those exports to gain foreign exchange, to
build up its infrastructure, and protect itself from the
"IMF loan shark," as a comrade from Zimbabwe so aptly called
it. For those who want to offer concrete material aid to the
South African revolution, we should organize to oppose the
U.S. attacks on South African imports, and take on the
chauvinist and reactionary United Steelworkers Union that
has tied itself completely to its own bosses with a
protectionist "stand up for steel" campaign. This concrete
reflection of "hands off South Africa" will challenge
progressives and leftists in the AFL-CIO.

In the midst of a sea of darkness, as the U.S. government
threatens to bomb the world, and ironically, drive its own
society back to the stone age, it is encouraging to see
grassroots leaders like Lenin in Alexandra, and the left
COSATU leadership throughout South Africa, working to
rebuild the national liberation and socialist struggle on
the ground. For whatever the resolution of the agonizing and
historically pivotal strategic debates in South Africa, it
is the Lenins of the world who are the ultimate drivers of
world history -- in South Africa and the U.S.

--

Eric Mann has been an anti-racist, civil rights,
environmental, and labor organizer for 35 years. He is a
veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a
Democratic Society, and spent ten years as a United Auto
Workers assembly line worker. He is presently a member of
the Planning Committee of the L.A. Bus Riders Union and the
director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center. The views
expressed in this article are his own.

Copyright (c) 2001 Eric Mann. All Rights Reserved.


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