Bayanda Mzoneli for ANC Deputy President 2022
South Africa

I choose the demagogues, for now

I read with interest, the speech by Cde Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary, to the Central Committee of COSATU. As always, I was interested in how the vanguard of the working class will inspire hope among millions of unemployed youth and casualised workers. I had also read the text of the Political Report to the 2nd Special National Congress of the SACP held in December 2009 for the same reasons a few years ago.

I do not have paid membership of the SACP and my Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) membership expired about 4 years ago, but I remain committed to the struggle for socialism because I believe capitalism is a crime which is a source of all problems in society.

Among other things, the SACP 2nd Special National Congress Political Report did two things.

First it was to critically analyse the ANCYL or at least a grouping with the ANCYL. The conclusion of that analysis was that;

None of this means that we should simply abandon those involved in this tentative class-axis – the buffoonery is a source of increasing embarrassment to their current or erstwhile patrons and we should work to win over those BEE elements who have been tempted to explore this dangerous and ultimately self-defeating project. Likewise, the great majority of young militants who have flirted with this style of long nights of long knives in bottom-baring conferences, with symbolic coffins for rivals, are not beyond constructive engagement. However, it is only a principled and broad-based worker hegemony that can reconfigure these forces into a progressive project.

At the time of the 2nd Special National Congress, I had noticed that the ANCYL pronouncements were taking from some of the earlier positions of the YCLSA, particularly what had earlier came to be known as the 10 Youth Demands around which the YCLSA mobilised in the aftermath of its re-establishment. The 10 Youth Demands were re-affirmed by the YCLSA at the Mokopane National Policy Conference as the”10 Youth Demands for 2015” that are consistent with the Freedom Charter. They include;

  • Decent jobs and a living wage for all workers including young workers and learners;
  • Extension of child support grants to cover young people up to the age of 18 years;
  • Nationalisation of all land for productive economic use by landless communities targeting jobless young people;
  • Public ownership of all mineral wealth;
  • Free education for all from pre – school to tertiary education level and
  • The extension of school feeding scheme to high schools

In realising the convergence, the YCLSA, went as far as explicitly welcoming the support of their ally, the ANCYL, in the campaign for distribution of sanitary towels to the working-class women. The welcoming message was expressed in the media statement on 29 February 2009, 10 months before the SACP 2nd Special National Congress.

Let me hasten to add that, as a united force, the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA), which includes SASCO, YCLSA and ANCYL, has scored a lot of successes regarding some of their demands. The successes include what is now government policy including that;

  • child support grants be extended to cover young people up to the age of 18 years;
  • provision of free education for the poor from pre – school to Grade 12 plus free education for the poor but academically deserving at tertiary education level;
  • school feeding scheme be extended to high schools and
  • the provision of sanitary towels to poor women.

Even though I was not sure about the accuracy of the characterisation of the ANCYL or a grouping within it by the Political Report, I was pleased that the Report concluded that, “it is only a principled and broad-based worker hegemony that can reconfigure these forces into a progressive project” which meant the vanguard of the working-class intended to continue leading the left struggle against the violence of poverty and mobilise all the left forces behind it.

However, the SACP Message to the COSATU CC at the end of June 2011 does not communicate the message that the “buffoonery” is “not beyond constructive engagement” as suggested in the December 2009 Political Report. One can conclude that the “buffoonery” was engaged and the engagement was unfruitful or that the Political Report was wrong as the “buffoonery” may have been beyond engagement anyway.

Instead the SACP Message to the COSATU CC makes a more or less the same analysis of the ANCYL or a grouping within it as the SACP 2nd Special National Congress Political Report had done. However, the Message to COSATU CC concludes with that, “… the SACP has identified and characterized both the broader ‘new tendency’ and its demagogic, shock-trooper ‘vanguard’ as the most immediate threat to the national democratic revolution.” The Message to COSATU CC does not suggest what needs to be done about this “demagogy” that represents “the most immediate threat to the national democratic revolution.”

Both the December 2009 Political Report and the June 2011 Message to the COSATU CC use the same theme to analyse the ANCYL or at least a grouping within the ANCYL. The analysis includes labels such as ultra-left, new tendency, proto-fascist, buffoonery, demagogues, tenderprenuership and so on.

The second thing the SACP 2nd Special National Congress Political Report did was to critically analyse what is now called the Democratic Left Front (DLF) or at least its variant. In the conclusion of the assessment of this grouping, the report said;

Even more disturbing is that some within our own ranks treat this tendency as if it is part of a healthy and democratic debate within the SACP, thus unwittingly strengthening its destructive behaviour inside the SACP. Building the unity of the SACP does not mean toleration of entryists, but instead requires that we isolate and defeat this anti-SACP tendency!

The DLF had been earlier known as Congress or Coalition of the Democratic Left. It is constituted, among others, by some of the people who had been expelled from the SACP or YCLSA in the recent years. But it also consists of small issue based NGOs and civil society organisations. What brings them together is their intention to set the left agenda for South Africa, meaning that some of them do not see the SACP inspiring hope with regard to issues that they believe should be contained in that agenda. Some of their views can be read in a Bi-monthly publication called Amandla, as some of them contribute regularly to it.

Both the December 2009 Political Report and the June 2011 Message to the COSATU CC close the debate on the SACP relationship to state power, which is one of the issues that make some in the DLF to gravitate away from the SACP. In this regard the December 2009 Political Report associated continuing the debate with the elements in the Democratic Left Front and suggested they should be isolated. Having isolated those elements from SACP, the June 2011 Message to COSATU CC explicitly says, “Therefore, we wish to state categorically that the decisions of the SACP on the deployment of its cadres, is a now a CLOSED matter. None of us dare raise this matter in public, as this can only play into the agenda of the bourgeois media.

I still believe the SACP is the only viable vanguard of the working-class that will lead us to a socialist South Africa. However, I doubt this can be achieved, among others, by alienating certain sections of society, particularly those among the working class and the poor.

Indeed, it may serve some purpose, in the short-term, to dismiss the Democratic Left Front as ultra-leftists who may have had a hard time with the discipline in the SACP. However, in a long term, various leftist issue-based organisations are finding warmth in the coalition that the Democratic Left Front is sewing together. If you call a gathering of civil society organisations today, more than half of them are likely to be part of the DLF.

On the other hand, the 24th National Congress of the ANCYL was attended by more than 5000 delegates from branches across the country. It is neither helpful nor unitary to label their resolutions as “populism” or “demagogy.

The SACP needs to do more than label groupings to the left of itself (ultra-left) to build hegemony among the youth and society in general. By labelling and isolating the groupings to its left, it runs the risk of isolating and alienating itself. This approach seems inconsistent with the Party that has a “relatively mass character” with a “vanguard role.” This should mean the SACP wins over these section of society and guides them in the socialists struggle.

Indeed the SACP Medium-Term Vision (MTV) adopted at the 1st Special National Congress in April 2005 at Durban directed that by the end of the 2nd decade of freedom the SACP should have influence it all key sites of power, including the state. But the same Special National Congress noted in its Declaration that,

“… our society continues to be dominated by a brutal and inhumane capitalist accumulation regime. It is an accumulation path that has remained fundamentally untransformed, notwithstanding our democratic breakthrough. Indeed this accumulation regime has seen a significant and ongoing growth in the relative share of GDP going to the (capitalist) bosses, and a declining share going to the working class.

The SACP should be careful not to embed itself in the state politics to the extent that its vision becomes indistinguishable to that of the ANC or government. That the NDR is the most direct route to socialism does not mean the vision of the ANC or that of government is socialism. The MTV does not end with the influence in the state as a key site of power, it is expected that the “capitalist accumulation regime” that the Special Congress Declaration spoke of, changes especially in the aftermath of global economic recession.

I still have faith in the SACP that it will not assist in rebuilding capitalism in South Africa following its collapse internationally during the global economic recession. In the meantime, I will support expropriation without compensation for industrialisation and agrarian reform. I will support free education both in terms of costs and its contents which currently remains unfree, held hostage by capitalist ideology. If demagogues unsettle white monopoly capital in the mining and agriculture sector, then they must be doing something right. I will be with them for now, until the SACP sets an accumulation Path that differs from “this accumulation regime [that] has seen a significant and ongoing growth in the relative share of GDP going to the (capitalist) bosses, and a declining share going to the working class.”

Bayanda Mzoneli is a member of the ANCYL at Ward 23, North Coast Region, KwaZulu-Natal

NB: This article first appeared on Hlomelang, the ANCYL bi-weekly Newsletter, on 14 July 2011

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