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Friday, January 11, 2008

"Decisive time for the revolutionary left in SA"

Munyaradzi Gwisai

The debate that Brigg's intervention on the Zuma election has elicited is urgent and timely given the very important events unfolding in Africa's most important capitalist state.

The intervention's importance lies in its insistence that the overwhelming Zuma camp victory and the ongoing resurgence of the unions and the SACP show that South Africa is at crossroads. If correct this theses then raises the consequent urgency for the revolutionary left to fashion strategies that ensure its relevance in the unfolding struggles and opens up possibilities for the struggles to grow into social revolution against capitalism itself rather than their containment into another futile reformist Stalinist 'national democratic revolution' or worse still, a neo-liberal Trojan horse as happened with MDC and MMD in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

As other comrades have argued, Dale's rejection of Brigg's position is not sustainable. One cannot just dismiss the 4000 ANC delegates as he does.

The ANC enjoys overwhelming electoral dominance in SA. Its partners include the country's most important trade union federation and a still significant reformist left party, the SACP, in both of which are some of the most advanced sections of the working class. Polokwane must not be seen in isolation but as part of the broader social polarization taking place in SA over the last three or so years and reflected in escalating fights between reformist left sections and neo-liberal sections in not only the ANC but also COSATU and SACP themselves as the Madishe example and the push for a stand-alone SACP show. At one stage the neoliberals had the upper hand and even sought to elbow out the "ultra leftists" from the ANC, but Polokwane shows that the reverse now applies.

In a contest billed as the most fierce in 50 years, so many prominent leaders of the neoliberal camp were booted out. And this despite the overwhelming advantages that the Mbeki camp enjoyed including – huge use of state incumbency, media support and the subjective weaknesses of Zuma such as patriarchy, tribalism, primitive views on AIDS/HIV, strong linkages with crony capitalism and "passive neoliberalism."

The Zuma camp victory is best understood in the context of a general resurgence in working classes struggles and of an artificial anti-poor economic recovery that Claire and Bond have detailed. Briggs is thus correct to argue that the working classes have spoken through the Zuma victory -- 'spoken' mind you and not won!

Similarly there is a clear pattern of a return to serious working class struggle in SA, as shown by the wave of strikes, including the key June 2007 public sector strike and increase of strike days from 500 000 in 2003, to 2.9 million in 2006 and possibly over 11 million in 2007! The rise in workers struggles is mirrored in that of other struggles of the poor. Thus social service delivery demonstrations have jumped to over 20 000 in 2005 - 2007 from less than 6000 in 2004.

True a key factor behind the failure for convergence between the two streams of struggle has been the reluctance of the union elites to encourage such process, but there are other factors and this may be changing as the COSATU and SACP leaders reposition themselves leftward, in response to pressure from below and in order to survive pressure from above from the Mbekiists hence their growing willingness to confront the neoliberal wing as seen in the Mbeki - Vavi - Nzimande fights.

And most significantly for us, this re-positioning of the soft lefts or reformist leftist leaders is winning them big support in the rank and file of the ANC, if not the working class itself as shown in the significant growth in membership of both COSATU and SACP as revealed in their recent congresses. And if in further doubt, one just needs to look at the reception that Nzimande and Vavi received at Polokwane.

Zuma trial key in growing radicalisation

The above radicalization is likely to continue in the next two or so years critically centred on events around the Zuma trial and in the context of a worsening economic situation for the commons. Polarisation in the ANC is likely to worsen as the Mbeki camp seeks to use the trial to stem its decline and forestall a Zuma state presidency at all costs. Its determination has been shown by the new broader charges against Zuma. The Mbekiists will not be lame ducks, but on the contrary are likely to use the state as a bastion for their offensive and with the full support of the bourgeois opposition, business, the media, the judiciary and their regional and international neoliberal allies as they seek the appointment of an alternative and acceptable 'compromise' candidate for 2009.

The Zuma camp now emboldened by its current capture of the party machine is likely to fight back tenaciously and viciously, as Polokwane shows that neither side is taking prisoners. This is echoed in the DA's warning that the Zuma trial could see SA heading for the 'slippery slopes of anarchy' and the declaration of COSATU KZN secretary Zet Luzipho that -"This time there will be blood split in the courtroom" if the trial proceeds. Attitudes are certainly hardening. In their New Year messages COSATU, ANC Youth League and SACP, all insist the 14 August trial be cancelled and charges against Zuma be withdrawn because a fair trial is no longer possible.

COSATU has called upon "the membership of the ANC and its allies to rally around their newly elected ANC President" whilst the ANC YL declared that - "Any further attempt to prosecute cde Zuma will not be met by kindness by those who have showed confidence in his leadership. We will resort to the basics of the movement in ensuring that meet this injustice with people's power."

To succeed against the heavy odds, the Zuma camp and despite Zuma's own conciliatory tone, will indeed have to mobilize massively for people's power, going beyond the ANC and reach out to other sections of the poor including the social movements, and seek to portray the trial as a fight between the rich and the poor. This is why Bond is correct to argue that the fight will increasingly go beyond personalities into economic and social policy issues. The Alliance Summit meeting will be an important indicator.

The growing possibility of a significant economic slow down if not recession in the USA, will hit hard the raw material commodity and speculative based recent economic growth in South Africa, potentially sharply accelerating the social and political struggles in the country including in the ANC. Bond aptly summarises the vulnerable state of the economy as a "parasitical, high poverty, unemployment-ridden, capital -flight prone, elite-oriented economic machine plowing over poor people, whose gains appear only as temporarily restored profitability for big capital and a conspicuous consumption binge for a credit-saturated petite bourgeoisie."
Time for hard choices for the left

The political implications of the above likely polarization and radicalization could be dramatic and far-reaching for the ANC including - an outright split, if accommodation and compromise between the two wings fails; victory of the Zumaiists and resurrection of the reformist left's national democratic revolution agenda, now styled the 'development state'; or following a split or debilitating paralysis due to an inconclusive fight, the emergence of "a new people's party/workers' party", because of the resulting vacuum or as the ANC reformist left enters into alliance with other left of centre radicals and the revolutionary left outside the ANC whilst the neoliberal wing does a similar process with the bourgeois opposition and neoliberal forces.
Whichever way things go, the above opens up immense possibilities for the revolutionary left but only if the right choices are made now.

The two stark choices really are: a) to abstain from the ANC related processes, including the Zuma trial, seeing them as irrelevant or minor things in a bourgeois party and its reformist labour and communist allies; or b) engage with such processes and the reformist left in the ANC, COSATU and SACP on the basis that the crisis of neoliberal capitalism in SA and ANC succession question are opening up immense and unprecedented opportunities for a realignment and regroupment of left forces in South Africa to take on and defeat the neoliberal agenda in Africa's most important state, if not for full social revolution.

Drawing from the experiences of the ISO with MDC in 1999 - 2002 and radical workers in Zambia and Zimbabwe in the MDC and MMD, we think abstention would be a huge mistake. The commons are clearly radicalising in SA and the reformist left leaders are repositioning themselves at the head of this process, even if their ultimate objective is at best to limit such process to reform rather than uproot capitalism if not worse, as shown in how the commencing social revolts find crystallization in a detestable character like Zuma. But that is not unique to SA and indeed has happened many a time before. Thus the 1905 Russian Revolution first crystallized around the leadership of a religious police agent who led hundreds to their deaths in a march to present a petition to "Our Little Father."

In Zimbabwe, a neo-liberal supporting coterie of union leaders around Morgan Tsvangirai were able to position themselves at the head of the mass actions and strikes of 1997 – 98 and subsequently use the moral authority thereby gained to form an ostensibly working people based MDC but in reality one stacked with bourgeois farmers, business, NGO elites and taking instructions from the IMF, London and Washington. With the class on the move, even with misplaced illusions and hopes in the likes of Zuma, Vavi, Nzimande, Tsvangirai or Chiluba, the revolutionary left cannot isolate itself in some purist ideological revolutionary ivory tower or cocoon.

They have to engage with the reformist –led struggles so that they too can get in with the masses moreso to be in a position to expose the reactionary leaders, even if conditions are a pigsty as Lenin called it, when arguing for the reluctant Bolshevik committee men to join the reformist if not reactionary dominated 1905 revolutionary process, as the Mensheviks had earlier done.

To abstain is to surrender leadership of the struggle to the reformists if not reactionaries, with potentially devastating consequences. For us in the end, it was a painful and bitter pill to join and be part of such an MDC, but with some pressure and encouragement from cdes like Cliff and Callinicos of the SWP (UK) we did. I remember very well Cliff's advise that if you want to go fishing you might as well as get a licence from the bailiff if possible.

Despite a determined and very public fight we were ultimately unable to stop the total neoliberal take-over of the MDC and with it the paralysis of the democratic struggles in Zimbabwe, not because we engaged or did not try hard enough, but because our numbers and those of radical unionists were just too small to provide the necessary pole of attraction for radicalizing MDC rank and file activists and act as a counter to the neolibeal right-wingers.

Although today the ISO has survived and has good chances of rebuilding again as disillusionment with the MDC grows, the period of 1999 - 2003 was one of serious missed opportunities for the Zimbabwean working classes. But things could be worse, for the absence of a sizeable and effective revolutionary left pole in a period of economic and social crisis can result in surrender of leadership of the struggles to squabbling reformist or reactionary petite bourgeois leaders who may deliberately or inadvertently stalk communal, ethnic or class tensions to get power and trigger the kind of blood baths we have seen in Rwanda, Cote D'Ivore, Kenya, Pakistan and earlier on Ebert's SPD in the failed 1918 German Revolution.

Conclusion: What form of engagement

Only outlines of the forms of engagement can now be made. Probably most importantly is unconditional but critical support for Zuma in his trial in the mass mobilisation called for by the reformist left of the ANC/COSATU/ SACP. This will be a seminal event which will give the left and social movements plenty of room to work with and gain respect from the reformist left in the ANC Alliance, especially the militant rank and file.

This can subsequently be extended to joint work in other areas, in particular the social service delivery struggles currently being led by the social movements, thereby uniting the two streams of struggle into a mighty river that Trevor Ngwane likes to talk about. Already both COSATU and SACP have talked about the urgent need of building people power committees in the townships whilst COSATU is taking a lead in mobilizing for the WSF Global Day of Action on the 26 th January.

Joint actions in struggle must be accompanied by serious but fraternal ideological criticisms and discussions with the reformist left on key issues like alternatives to capitalism and appropriate organizational forms of the struggle.

In particular our contentions that the national democratic revolution - or developmental state agenda whilst welcome as a reform is inadequate and cannot succeed in isolation of a global socialist revolution besides the real danger of neutralisation by the neoliberal wing in the Zuma camp. Similarly our emphasis on the urgent need to establish both a democratic and anti-capitalist united front of the commons as the way forward as well as within it a mass revolutionary and democratic socialist party for the advanced sections of the commons and not the broad ANC church.

A determined political attack should constantly be made to expose the real dangers of Zuma himself and the neoliberals entrenched around him and the real likelihood of them betraying the masses in future. To argue that only mass action via the self-activity of the commons and a class conscious organ can defeat them.

The final point is the urgent need of the fragmented and small forces of the revolutionary left to urgently regroup into a bigger and sizeable entity that alone will give them the critical mass to effectively engage with the reformist left. Without this any intervention by it will be limited, ineffectual and incapable of stopping the Zumaist passive neoliberals or the Stalinist state capitalist project of the reformist left, if not worse. That is the bitter lesson of the Zimbabwean working class and earlier struggles in Zambia and Nigeria.

Yet more than many other place, the commons in SA have traditions and militancy forged by the mighty struggle against Apartheid, that gives their struggles, along with those of Latin America, the potency of igniting much larger regional and international struggles in a decisive all out fight with the forces of global neo-liberal capitalism.

The burden and challenge of the revolutionary left is therefore heavy but possible.


Munyaradzi Gwisai

Munyaradzi plays an active leadership role in the International Socialist Organisation and Zimbabwe Social Forum but writes here in a personal capacity

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