Cosatu members have broken from the alliance with the ANC and SACP, even if the leadership has not; Prepare the way for a new vanguard, working class party

The Forum for Public Dialogue(FPD) and the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) conducted a survey of Cosatu shopstewards from April to Sept 2012. They compare results with a similar survey done in 1991. The change in workers’ views show that members of Cosatu have broken with the ANC and regard it as capitalist.  There is a strong view that a new workers’ party has to be built. We examine some of the results.

Strong support for a new workers’ party

65% of those shopstewards interviewed in 2012 said they would vote for a new labour party if Cosatu formed it. For another question, 44% of the shopstewards said they would vote for the SACP if it stood in elections. Both of these results show that most Cosatu members reject the ANC and they regard it as capitalist.

In 1991 workers saw the ANC and SACP as virtually the same, now more workers distance themselves from the ANC

In 1991 only 1.3% declared support for the SACP while 96% of Cosatu members supported the ANC. This did not mean that Cosatu members did not support the SACP but that they saw no difference between the ANC and SACP and what they stood for. In 2012, about 8% declared their membership of the SACP- this shows a growth in class consciousness as workers begin to distinguish themselves more from the ANC. It is a conscious policy of the SACP that all their members should join the ANC, yet, these 8% listed their primary allegiance to the SACP. In 2012 the 44% of the shopstewards said they would rather vote for the SACP than the ANC; this shows a growth of working class consciousness and a deeper growth in class independence from the ANC, much more than the 1.3% in 1991.

Many ANC and Cosatu members have lost faith in the ANC

In 2012 about 68% of the shopstewards declared their membership of the ANC. The fact that 65% of the shopstewards declared their willingness to support a new workers’ party, means that many ANC members have lost faith in the ANC to represent their interests in government. Only 28% of the shopstewards said they would not support a new workers’ party. This 28% includes those who would support the ANC, DA, IFP, PAC and those who would support the SACP if it stood on its own. Thus we can conclude that much less than 28% of Cosatu shopstewards would support the ANC in elections if Cosatu set up its own workers’ party. This confirms what we have been saying for years, namely that without the Cosatu support the ANC would be based on the black middle class only and would indeed be a very small party, smaller even than the DA. When Mandela came to the Cosatu Congress to shout at delegates to accept the imperialist plan GEAR, or the ANC would dump Cosatu, his challenge should have been accepted. The ANC is nothing without Cosatu, despite the ranting and raving of Mandela.

Many in the SACP have also lost faith in the ANC

Considering that only 28%  would not vote for a workers’ party, we can also conclude that many SACP supporters would rather support the workers’ party than the SACP. This shows that the SACP has also been largely exposed due to its policy of justifying and supporting every move of the ANC in government, even its openly capitalist policies such as Asgisa and NDP (National Development Plan). It also shows that the majority of workers do not see the SACP as an alternative to the ANC.

Workers are critical of the alliance

The rejection of the ANC and the SACP is also reflected in 35% of the shopstewards saying that the tripartite alliance was in a poor state. On the other hand the 53% that said the alliance was in good shape includes those who felt that Cosatu leaders stood up to the capitalist ANC.

Workers will not just move to any other party

On the other hand, 88% of the shopstewards say that they would still support the ANC in the next national elections. This is appears to be a contradiction but is not. Cosatu has not created another workers’ party and there is no mass alternative to the ANC that workers could place their faith in. In the absence of an alternative, workers are saying ‘better the devil that they know’ rather than the apartheid relic the DA or any other electoral party.

81% say that Cosatu should continue as a member of the tripartite alliance but this does not remove the fact that the workers have identified the ANC as a class enemy and thus they regard the alliance as the best way of disciplining the emerging black capitalists. But once Cosatu or a significant part of Cosatu  called for the formation of a new workers’ party, then the support for the alliance would change significantly, overnight.

The ANC has been increasingly identified as the class enemy

That 76% of the shopstewards believe that conditions have improved since 1994 does not mean that workers are happy with the few improvements that have been made. This is shown by 67% of the shopstewards who believe that service delivery is poor. Also 81% of shopstewards believe that too many people in government are corrupt. These reflect that improvements have come through workers’ struggles, and workers are increasingly realising that the improvements are coming through their struggles and indeed through struggles against the ANC government.

For example, the ANC government has criticised strikes, they have called for wage restraint, for wages to be within the 3-6% target range set by imperialism, while workers are fighting for double digit (10%+) increases; the ANC wants e-tolling, the workers oppose it; the workers want to ban labour brokers, the ANC wants to keep them.

71% of shopstewards want to have a say on who leads the ANC, but this is assuming that there is no other party that Cosatu creates to represent workers’ interest. It is logical that workers’ would want to influence the leadership of the ruling party. Zuma only received 43% support which was more reflective of an 80% support in Kwazulunatal-based shopstewards than general support among shopstewards. [in fact in 6 other provinces, Motlanthe was more popular]. If the survey was conducted today (after Marikana, Guptagate, Inkandlagate, the re-opened Arms Commission) support for Zuma would be considerably less. On the other hand the 6% support for Vavi to lead the ANC is not a vote of no confidence in him but reflects that workers do not regard workers’ interests as being best served in leadership in the ANC but outside of it and indeed against it.

That more than 52% supported a vote for party rather than directly for president or mayor or MP shows a relatively greater class consciousness, supporting collectivism rather than for individualism- this is also an indicator of growing class consciousness.

Declining support for Cosatu leaders

Only 2% of shopstewards trusted Cosatu leaders during periods of no strike, while only 13% of shopstewards trusted the Cosatu leaders during strikes. This great lack of trust of workers in the Cosatu leaders was also demonstrated in the mineworker strike revolt in Aug-Dec 2012 when Vavi was chased away from the strikes by workers and in other cases could not persuade workers to end their strikes. Importantly, the SACP leaders were even less able to impose their will on workers to end the strikes.

This means that the workers regard the Cosatu leaders as being too close to the ANC and the corruption in government is also reflected within the Cosatu leadership. Thus the workers’ break from the ANC and the formation of a workers’ party also means, for the workers a break from the current Cosatu leaders.

So when workers say they would support a workers’ party, they mean that the vanguard workers in Cosatu would need to organise and lead the formation of this party, against the current leadership, against the ANC government.

The crisis of regime

Imperialism has a crisis, as the very regime which has successfully controlled the masses for the past 19 years, is fast losing its ability to play this role. The ANC and SACP leaders are discredited and the Cosatu leaders prove unable to control from within. Imperialism cannot allow a political vacuum to arise anywhere on earth, they cannot allow workers to seek out their own destiny and take their future in their own hands. This is especially under current world conditions when every capitalist regime is under threat from the masses of the world. Even one place on earth where the workers took power by their own mass action methods, could spark a world revolt and point the way to a series of Socialist revolutions even in the imperialist centres. The situation cries out for a new International, a unity of the vanguard workers across the world, it cries out for the vanguard workers to unite in South Africa, Southern Africa, Africa and the world. The red flag of Socialism deserves to fly around the world, in every corner. This what imperialism will try to prevent at all costs. This is why they will try all their tactics and tricks to prevent a revolutionary leadership from developing and succeeding.

So do workers in Cosatu want a revolutionary working class party or an electoral party (a labour party)?

Well, the survey didn’t ask if workers preferred an electoral party (a labour party) or a revolutionary working class party. It only asked if workers’ wanted a labour party. This is not an accident as this is a limit of the view of the Foundation for Public Dialogue and CASE, which are both capitalist institutions and both have an interest in preventing a revolutionary working class party from developing. In fact, seeing that imperialism realizes that they now have a crisis of regime, they need another agency to control the masses. They are hoping to shape the future party by limiting it to an electoral one. So, if the masses have broken from the control of the alliance or indeed are rapidly breaking from it, imperialism needs to prepare a reserve force to once again bring the masses under control. This is why imperialism is promoting reserve forces like Agang, EFF and the Wasp to, from apparently different angles, to chain the masses to the capitalist parliament. [We will write more on the Wasp in due course].

74 % of shopstewards regard the police as corrupt; after the Marikana massacre it is likely that even more distrust the police. The guardians of the capitalists and their system is the police, so the great distrust that the masses have of them, is a great step forward to break from parliamentary illusions. If the masses do not trust the police, who do they trust? The next step for the masses is to self-organise and build their own self-defence committees, which opens up the way for an opposing power of the workers, against the capitalist state. This will open the path to revolution, but a Socialist revolution cannot succeed without a party.  

83% of shopstewards believe that all public representatives should subject themselves to lifestyle audits. Underlying this is a belief that capitalists should not be public representatives. This another great step forward towards Socialist consciousness of the masses.

65% of the shopstewards believe that not only should the government own the companies in key sectors, they should also control them. 84% of workers believe that workers should share in the profits of the companies. Taken together, this is already the basis for a strong Socialist consciousness.

Thus there is already a strong basis for the formation of a revolutionary working class party that organises itself outside of parliament and against it and would be based on using mass action methods to achieve working class power.

There are many challenges such as the indication that 81% of shopstewards regard the SABC as a reliable source of news, when it is a capitalist organ, despite the work of some sympathetic journalists within its ranks. There will never be ‘perfect’ conditions, but the indicators are of a strong basis for a Socialist consciousness from which to move forward from here.

So how do we build a revolutionary working class party and where do we begin?

In 1924 when workers revolutions were failing, Trotsky wrote The lessons of October as a contribution to what should be the class character and method of the working class party. He wrote:

‘But the events have proved that without a party capable of directing the proletarian revolution, the revolution is rendered impossible. The proletariat cannot seize power by a spontaneous uprising. Even in highly industrialized and highly cultured Germany the spontaneous uprising of the toilers- in November 1918- only succeeded in transferring power to the hands of the bourgeoisie. One propertied class is able to seize the power that has been wrested from another propertied class because it is able to base itself upon its riches, its cultural level, and its innumerable connections with the old state apparatus. But there is nothing else that can serve the proletariat as a substitute for its own party. ‘

Thus, even if the masses rise up in revolt, if there is not a vanguard party of the working class that represents its class interests, the revolt will peter out and the capitalist class will regain control. The capitalist class has massive resources and centuries of institutions and culture and training and a successful struggle against this can only be waged by a vanguard party of the working class, organized on a highly centralised basis, with iron discipline, studying and schooled in the art of conquest of power, capable of mobilising and leading the proletarian army against the capitalist forces, knowing when to organise a retreat and when to advance and when to seize the moment for the seizure of power by the working class.

Lenin writes in State and Revolution:

‘By educating a workers party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming and of leading the whole people to Socialism, of directing and organising the new order, of being the teacher, guide and leader of all the toiling and exploited in the task of building up their social life without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie.’

Thus, the working class party is not a ‘labour party’ which gathers all workers irrespective of their consciousness, but it is a party of the politically advanced workers, the vanguard. Take for example, the leading of a strike or community struggle, it is not led by everyone but by the most advanced fighters within the workplace or community. The workers party has support among the masses and it is with this support, with the masses learning from the vanguard and the vanguard learning from the masses, that the struggle for Socialism , for the working class to take power, advances. Thus while the party would be a vanguard party, it has mass support and has to build its support among the masses, something that is only gained over time and through hard battles against the capitalist class.

Trotsky writes further in Lessons of October:

‘ Had we failed to study the Great French Revolution, the revolution of 1848, and the Paris Commune, we should never have been able to achieve the October revolution, even though we passed through the experience of the year 1905.’ …. ‘yet no such work has been done with regard to the victorious revolution of 1917’.

Thus it is important to for us to study all revolutions, whether the working class was victorious or was defeated. We need to study the transition of 1994, the role of the SACP in holding back the masses from seizing power, we need to study the role of Stalinism in holding back revolutions across Africa and the rest of the world, we need to study the role of the left at the time and in its defeat, what were its shortcomings, what were the strengths, how can we learn from this and build a working class party that is capable of learning and of leading the masses to the seizure of power.

One of the first things we have to do is have a dialogue with the worker in the SACP and the members of the YCL (Young Communist League) about the role of the SACP and how it has played a pivotal role in chaining the masses to capitalism, building up the capitalist ANC when there was every possibility of uniting the working class, including the white worker, to overthrow capitalism through mass action methods. In 1991, 70% of workers thought that Cosatu represented their best interests and only 21% thought the ANC represented their best interests. Here was the opportunity for an independent revolutionary working class party to lead the fight against capitalist relations. Instead the SACP directed the workers to join and support the ANC, ie to put their faith in the black middle class to lead the fight for the democratic aspirations of the masses for housing, work, free education, free health care, etc; the past 19 years of continued suffering and exploitation was the result of burying an independent working class line and organization. The black middle class that is leading the ANC has become the main agency for sustaining tribalism, for sustaining apartheid group areas (through the house-build programme in the ghettoes and not integrating housing), and now collapsing public education and pouring in public funds for private education (such as Curro private schools), to rolling back gains in the Labour Relations Act to make it easier for bosses to dismiss workers, privatizing roads through e-tolling, for shooting down unarmed mineworker strikers at Marikana who were only standing up against the intolerable hardships on the mines. The black middle class leading the ANC are the very embodiment of counter-revolution. At the same time the SACP has become the tool of the monopoly capitalists, by justifying the leadership of the ANC through its theory of a National Democratic Revolution, ie another stage of capitalism under leadership of the black middle class, to its theory of a ‘second stage of the transition’, ie another phase of capitalism despite the history of the past 19 years where the ANC leaders have shown themselves to be in real alliance with the capitalist class, and not the masses.

The central task is to develop a programme for this workers party for the Socialist revolution. Thus there should be a process towards a conference of the left to develop and adopt the programme of the new party. There should be discussion groups in factory, mine, farm level, as well as industrial area and in each working class community on the programme. The key here is how is nationalization under workers’ control to be achieved. It is important for us to dialogue with the members of the Wasp, with all the activists fighting the capitalist system.

Honestly and forthright questions should be asked- is the ANC going to nationalise the commanding heights under workers control? The Marikana massacre of 16th Aug 2012 gave the answer- when the mining bosses had their wealth threatened, the ANC leadership organized their police to shoot down the workers. The ANC and DA agree on youth slavery, wage restraint, the NDP, labour brokers, in essence, despite superficial differences, they have the same programme.  Is the SACP capable of nationalizing under workers control? The SACP leadership are government ministers running the machinery under which the mining bosses steal hundreds of billions every year. The SACP leaders even have their own investment company that has shares on the mines, the very ones that are continuing to exploit workers. The EFF mouths ‘nationalization’ but its economic model is Singapore, which is a military dictatorship where unions are smashed- the EFF also stands for mining ‘entrepeneurs’, in other words, they stand for the development of a new class of mining capitalists. The WASP also calls for nationalization but under ‘democratic control’, but the mining rights are already under ‘democratic’ control of the ANC govt and this does not prevent Anglo American and BHP Billiton from continuing to rape and plunder the mineral wealth. Can nationalization of the commanding heights ever come through parliament, when the Constitution is based on preserving the private property rights of the existing capitalists???

After consideration of all these different arguments, only one reality remains, namely that nationalization under workers control will only come through mass action of the organised working class against the capitalist class and against the capitalist parliament. This should be the first principle of the new working class party. The fundamental question is which class has the interest to fight up to the end for all the democratic demands of the masses- it is only the working class.  This means that once a revolutionary programme has been adopted, which is based on the lessons of the past struggles in Southern Africa, Africa and the world, the vanguard workers need to form structures of the revolutionary working class party on this basis and to begin to develop concrete action programme steps to take the next step on the path for the working class to take power into its own hands so that nationalization under workers control will be achieved. This immediately raises the question of the unity of the masses in Southern Africa, all Africa, the masses in the imperialist centres and indeed the whole world. If possible, the Socialist conference should be held before the next Cosatu Congress, provided that there has been sufficient discussion among the vanguard workers and should include Socialist forces that are outside Cosatu as well.

4.10 2013 amended 12.10.2013

Workers International Vanguard Party ph or sms 0822020617 email website:

[We will be writing more on the Wasp, the EFF, and on the question of revolutionary vanguard party versus a reformist party, in the near future].