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The South African Communist Party is the ?living dead?

Rehad Desai

Gone are the days when we were able to have comradely debate with Jeremy Cronin and the leadership of the South African Communist Party. Cronin now follows the lead of Nzimande with a tirade of insults rather any meaningful engagement. Both graphically display what happens to a nominally socialist party that enters a parliament wedded to the programme of a party that is openly pro capitalist.

Cronin?s latest volley therefore cannot be viewed in isolation from the recent history and the present role of the South African Communist Party. So let us start there.

It was over twenty years ago that we began to see that the impending obsolescence of official Communism, this hung over our own struggle in no uncertain manner. The South African Communist Party glaringly failed to put up any meaningful opposition to neo-liberalism following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It singularly failed to challenge the African National Congress?s market driven policies with any state led reforms to tackle the legacy of apartheid induced poverty and inequality.

The introduction of GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme) saw some uncomfortable moments but once again it capitulated the moment it was forced to choose between allegiance to the African National Congress (ANC) and its commitment to neo liberalism, and its own stated pro working class economic policies. The major gripe of the South African Communist Party was that the policy was introduced without consensus across the alliance.

Thabo Mbeki aware of the South African Communist Party?s parasitic relationship to the ANC openly challenged them to be true to their stated cause and become independent. They rather chose the route of least resistance, stayed inside and muted their mild critique. He in turn ensured they remained firmly on the outside of the inside.

Eager to advance their own careers and committed to building their political influence through the state they opportunistically opted to side with Zuma against Mbeki. Zuma subsequently rewarded them handsomely with political office. They were able to build an alliance with numerous trade unions to join them in their support of Zuma.
The South African magazine the Socialist stated twenty years ago: the more entrenched the South African Communist Party becomes in the state the more conservative and authoritarian it will become. This has been borne out by its slavish adherence to the African National Congress?s continued embrace of neo-liberalism and their flippant use of the language of High Stalinism, counter- revolutionary etc, etc.

Jeremy Cronin?s talk of Irvin?s gymnastics is simply the kettle calling the pot black. The blatant use of sophistry, Stalinist rhetoric, and all sorts of verbal trickery is simply being used to justify the Communist Party?s continued alliance with the ANC. The party in short has become nothing less than a force for reaction.

Some Democratic Left Front members on the National Union of Metalworkers of South  Africa Strike and March for Jobs in Cape Town, 19th March 2014.
Some Democratic Left Front members on the National Union of Metalworkers of South
Africa Strike and March for Jobs in Cape Town, 19th March 2014.

Trade union leaders like Irvin Jim started to join the South African Communist Party over a decade ago in the mistaken believe that somehow this party could be turned into a party of the working class, a weapon for the working class. Any astute analyst, never mind committed socialist, can tell you that the South African Communist Party clearly lost the capacity to become this many years ago. This is primarily so because they chose to mediate the struggles between our formerly militant trade unions and the African National Congress rather than help lead a fight back. It was through this function that they sustained some leverage inside the African National Congress.

The ANC has ceased to become a force for social change, a historically progressive force. What Cronin calls the Marikana tragedy and we call the Marikana Massacre made it crystal clear where the African National Congress stood. It chose to stand very firmly on the side of big capital. It slowly become a pliant tool for capital – from liberation movement to an organisation utilized to temper workers? expectations. It then seemingly moved effortlessly to one that was prepared to crush workers struggles.

Cronin conveniently plays to the gallery regarding Marikana and trots out the party line: National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members had been killed; police and security guards had been killed. I cannot believe that he does not know by now that the violence began when NUM turned on its own members engaged in unofficial strike action. Or that the police have admitted that the incident which saw three strikers killed and two policemen would not have happened if the police had not opened fire on the cordon of strikers heading back to the mountain. Or that in this number most were NUM members. Cronin is at best ignorant of the facts or very dishonest.

He blatantly ignores the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers and its fiercely loyal self-proclaimed workers vanguard could not muster the energy to seek to defend the 15 NUM members who were killed on the 16th by police bullets. This speak volumes in itself . All we heard from the Communist Party and their likes were disparaging remarks about these ?uneducated, tribalist, barbaric? workers and the one trade union that sought to defend the workers from attack as a ?vigilante?, the only union willing to relate to the unofficial action in a more positive manner. The South African Communist Party can never be forgiven for this blatant betrayal.

Cronin in his lame attempts at class analysis wants to lay the blame at the feet of finance capital, of Lonmin (a platinum mines company ?ed) and then in an obscurantist fashion at the failures of the command structures of the police. Marikana occurred because African National Congress politicians saw a clear convergence of interest between state and capital. For the state, political power in the form of National Union of Mineworkers was at stake and they required Lonmin?s support. For capital, a defense against high wage demands and falling profitability required state support. The further erosion of the NUM following their routing at Impala meant they were prepared to conspire to crush the strike at Lonmin to stop the strike spreading further and their critical ally losing further ground. This much we now know.

Cronin ignores the first rule socialists adhere to – we defend workers who are attacked. These are the ABC?s of socialism that the party has conveniently sought to forget in its clamour to enter the corridors of state power. Workers were mowed down for demanding that their employers talk to them. For doing this they were criminalized by Lonmin executives and by Cyril Ramaphosa who led this campaign. The Black Economic Empowerment faction has now captured the African National Congress for its own purposes .The rot has gone so far that they even bankroll the costs of the South African Communist Party congress.

Cronin is right to state that the National Union of Metalworker?s declaration should not be under estimated. In no uncertain terms the United Front and the Movement of Socialism will go on to represent an abrupt rupture with 20 years of neo-liberalism by one of the most well organised sections of the working class. It is a game changer, regardless of the political leanings of the political analyst. Socialism in South Africa is set once again to become a force for political disruption and economic emancipation.

Hopefully it is clear to readers by now who are the real neo-liberals and political opportunists. Cronin ?s South African Communist Party with many other Communist Parties? slide into social democracy via euro-communism can no longer lay any claim to Lenin. Social democracy is now as bankrupt as Communism with a big C. This is where Cronin?s political contortionism far outstrips that of any of his former comrades.

Cronin knowingly mystifies the debate about trade unions and capitalism. Yes of course trade unions are reformist by nature. Does this mean that they cannot affiliate to a set of politics that seek to transcend capitalism? Does it mean that trade unions cannot be revolutionary? That trade unions cannot hold contradictory impulses within themselves . He chooses to ignore what he knows to score cheap points.

Cronin fully understands that the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) is humbly seeking to catalyze a workers? party and is not presenting itself consciously as a pseudo workers party. He also fully understands that all ruptures from the past, seek to justify such actions in terms of the past rather than the future. Many decades ago the South African Communist Party was a revolutionary force. Why should he not expect Jim to represent himself as the continuation of the finer traditions of the South African Communist Party NUMSA is part of an emancipation project that has deep socialist roots. These roots extend well beyond the South African Communist Party. Indeed many of the fighting organisations of the South African working class sprang from Marxist traditions that have spurned the Stalinism that the South African Communist Party has been associated with for over 80 years.

Cronin talks of Jim?s embrace of corporatist trade unionism, trade unions that work hand in hand with the capitalist class to smother the militant impulse of workers. The question Cronin needs to answer is what allowed for the rise of such trade union practice. It was the South African Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions that argued in the early 1980s that an allegiance to socialism now, and its corollary, militant abstentionism regarding the capitalist economy by taking no responsibility for the economic welfare of capitalism, was premature and ultra left. They argued that what was first required was the completion of the first stage of national liberation.

Once again the simplistic manner in which Cronin uses the National Democratic Revolution is dishonest. Slovo?s argument, in short, that there are no Chinese walls between the so called distinct stages of the National Democratic Revolution, gave ground to the argument that a mechanical approach to class and national struggles was not useful to the project of working class self emancipation. Marxists seek to historicize theory. It is now clear to many of us on the Left that the NDR theory no longer coincides with our history. That?s why Irvin Jim actions speak to socialists while Cronin?s glib and smug remarks on theory can no longer be treated with any seriousness.

The African National Congress has not been able to resolve the national question. This much seems clear, even if we simply understand it to be the de-racialisation of the capitalist economy. We should not underestimate its willingness to increasingly turn to authoritarian methods to secure this outcome.

I simply do not believe the SACP has any serious hold over the South African working class. Rather it has focused its efforts on capturing the machinery of the trade unions. Courting national and regional leaderships, its real power lies at the top among the elite of the trade unions. Its hold is fragile and that?s why it retreated from challenging Vavi at COSATU?s last congress whose political report advocated strengthening the base of the union movement. It retreated and opted instead for what it does best – back room maneuvers, bureaucratic tactics and character assassination. This is the stock and trade of the South African Communist Party.

The SACP leadership together with its counterparts in the African National Congress are as Jim correctly characterizes it, a right wing clique who are seeking desperately to hold workers and the youth from finding their own political expression. This comprador class will stop at nothing to ensure they retain the reigns of political power.
These leaders have become the prison warders of the capitalist system. Consequently their base of social support has been profoundly narrowed. Our task is not to preach to the working class why their brand of politics cannot take us forward but rather to show in practice that we are the real tribunes of the oppressed and exploited. And in doing so further erode their base of support.

They are running scared of the NUMSA inititaive and feel equally threatened by the radicalization of the youth, now being expressed by the Economic Freedom Fighters. Their biggest fear is that these two forces will merge and oust them from state power. That is why Cronin is so virulent in his attack on Irvin Jim. They have gone as far to split the Congress of South African Trade Unions to isolate independent-minded socialists.

It is clear from this latest salvo that they will not stop there. Our immediate task is to patiently explain to the support base of the SACP why their way forward will not take the socialist project forward. And to constantly expose their actions for what they are – anti working class. Only in this manner can we look forward to burying the ?living dead? carcass of the South African Communist Party.

by Rehad Desai
of the Democratic Left Front
P.S. The article above is a response to 
Jeremy Cronin's latest attack on 
Irvin Jim (General Secretary of the 
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa)

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