Sharpening class contradictions - Reflections on the Cosatu September 2006 Congress

The international balance of class forces

In 1990 the imperialists (the captains of giant monopoly capitalism) were riding the crest of a wave. They proclaimed: a new world order had dawned; the collapse of the Soviet bloc meant that capitalism had not only triumphed but was the only solution for humanity.

Not only has the past 16 years seen the continuous rise of inequality but working class resistance have taken new forms: spontaneous worker resistance has led to toppling of regimes in Argentina, has helped bring the Workers Party in Brazil to power, has forced regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia to nationalize sections of the economy, has forced the cancellation of the law in France to make it easier to fire young workers; the maturing of the working class in Africa has led to bourgeois democratic elections in a number of countries from South Africa to Nigeria. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is still being resisted and indeed the Iraqi invasion of 2003 led to an international mass working class resistance that is still reverberating in the heartland of imperialism- the anti-war movement in the USA is led mainly by families of soldiers who have been sent to Iraq. The defeat in Lebanon of the main imperialist force in the Middle East, the Israeli regime, and their forced withdrawal shows that a united, armed working class can defeat imperialism. In short, the international tide is turning. Workers are increasingly asking themselves: if the Venezuelan government can nationalize, why can’t the SA government do the same? 

The decisive absence of a world revolutionary international is being sorely felt.

Shifts in the masses in South Africa

What lies at the base of the decisions and resolutions emerging from the September 2006 Cosatu Congress? To some extent the Naledi survey on workers, prepared for the September Cosatu Congress offers some answers. This survey is limited in that it does not take into account adequately the views of mineworkers (the survey was not conducted in mining towns); furthermore, domestic, farm and unemployed workers were completely excluded from the survey. It, nevertheless, does offer an insight into the views of the working class.

The deepening economic crisis and the absence of fundamental improvement in the lives of workers is reflected in that only 17% of the survey felt that the ANC had delivered while 33% felt that the ANC had not, with only 20% saying that the ANC had only partly delivered on their needs. The major demand of 70% of those surveyed was for better wages and 60% of all workers were not happy with their union performance.  Less than 48% of Cosatu members believe that if they are patient, the government will end poverty while just over 40% of them disagreed. 87% of all workers nevertheless believed that the government must create jobs to end poverty. Using the terms of the survey: 60% of all ‘African’ workers believe that eventually the ANC government policies will work. If extended to the millions of unemployed, it is safe to assume that this figure would be significantly less. Still, this means that at least 40% of ‘African’ workers believe that the government policies will not work.

Thus a huge section of the working class has come to the realization that the policies of the government will never meet their needs. This marks the beginning of a new crisis for the capitalist system in South Africa. This loss of faith in the capitalist system was reflected in the proceedings of the Congress.

The call for nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy

One of the expressions of the loss of faith in the system was reflected in the call for nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy. This call will now form the main basis of the Jobs and Poverty Campaign; it was reflected in the Mineworkers calling for the government to take over the mines to set up a SA mining company; the changing of the property clause in the Constitution to allow for expropriation of ‘national assets’; the call for a campaign for 100% control by workers of their pension funds; BEE was rejected as capitalist and the alternative posed [implying real empowerment] as nationalization of the commanding heights, in the debate on the subject. The initial call for indefinite general strikes on workers demands to end unemployment and poverty shows a growing determination of the working class to take their struggles to a decisive conclusion. (the resolution adopted in this regard calls for 2 day instead of 1 day strikes).

The call for nationalization was contested indirectly, mainly by the Secretariat report which led the way for many contradictory resolutions emerging: An economic policy document was adopted which poses watered down demands which fall far short of nationalization- the effect of these demands being proposals to manage capitalism while appearing to challenge it. Thus the use of a UN guideline to halve poverty by 2015 was adopted. Implied in this is that those workers who earn above $2 per day [R16 per day] will not be regarded as poor. In many other areas, the Secretariat report moderated the scope of the demands of the workers.

Shifts away from the ANC

If an election were held tomorrow, 60% of workers would still vote for the ANC while 12% would not vote at all in the elections. While on the surface this may appear to show overwhelming support for the ANC, further investigation showed a contrary trend. The main reason that workers said they would vote for the ANC was that their family had always supported the ANC, while only 19% of workers said they support the policies of the ANC. The electoral support for the ANC thus appears to be more because there is no other credible alternative. This is also supported by the fact that only 23% of Cosatu members participate in ANC structures. The ANC was labeled as a multiclass organization and came under severe criticism from the workers. Sydney Mufamadi felt compelled to get up and defend the ANC- was booed off the stage by the workers who sang “ we are communists”, implying that he is capitalist and should sit down. The only ANC Minister who was well received was Mphahla, the Trade minister , who was promoted by the Cosatu leadership as one who listened to workers. The claim was that, through the 27 month agreement with China that thousands of jobs would be created.

This is false in that the first step by the government was to postpone the agreement to January 2007 when the major production for the year is over. Secondly it is doubtful whether the claimed 55 000 new jobs will be created in the textile sector. The China deal was thus a massive exercise in saving the face of the ANC, to continue to chain workers to capitalism.

Shifts away from the SACP

If workers are moving away from the ANC, the question could be asked: are they moving to the SACP? The survey gives some indication of the trends: While 31% of workers still regard Mandela as their most important leader, not a single SACP leader registers support of significance. (By contrast Zuma and Mbeki each only carry just over 10% support among workers). What this shows is that the SACP lack a credible leadership in the eyes of the working class. This is further supported by the fact that about only 3% of Cosatu members (less if we consider the broader union movement, and even less if we consider the broader working class), feel that Cosatu should form an alliance with the SACP alone. About 47% of Cosatu members feel that the SACP should not run on its own for elections while only 25% believe in varying degrees that the SACP should contest elections on their own.

While only 14% of Cosatu members believe that there should be no changes to the way the Alliance is working at the moment, 14% believe that Cosatu should leave the alliance. Of those who believe that Cosatu should break the alliance only 3% believe that an alliance must be built with an existing party (which implies support for the SACP) while 32% support the formation of a new workers party (implying a distrust in the SACP to carry forward working class interests). A worrying 54% of these workers prefer Cosatu to be independent of party politics. Implied in this is a healthy distrust of all existing parties, while elements of syndicalism and/or apathy could be rearing its head: In other words a shift away from participation in politics.

That the support of the SACP is challenged by Cosatu members was also reflected in the defeat of the proposal to make workers from Cosatu make a compulsory contribution to the SACP. Workers sentiment against the SACP is also reflected in the Cosatu political discussion document for the Congress that openly describes the SACP as being at times directionless, pointing out that they even initially supported the anti-working class GEAR policy of the government.

Zuma for President?
The role of SACP leaders in ministries such as trade, public enterprises, police, intelligence, and the ongoing state brutality against working class struggles, shows that the SACP is playing a key role of maintaining capitalism, rather than a leadership role in advancing working class interests. Thus we can see why the Cosatu and SACP leadership promote a Zuma because he will serve for the next while as a new means to control the masses. [Zuma supported the GEAR policy and has openly declared that he is an ‘ANC man’, in other words he will implement ANC policy, even against the working class]. Despite the campaign of a section of the Cosatu leadership, the survey points to Zuma and Mbeki having each only about 10% support among union members. In other words workers know that their path to achieving even their democratic demands will not be via a Zuma-led ANC.

No real internationalism or anti-imperialism

There was no debate on any international resolution and the only discussion on the matter was confined to the final Congress declaration. Even so, the only ‘solidarity’ decided upon were pickets at embassies and a boycott of Israeli goods. This shows that a national perspective on the path to Socialism as promoted by the SACP is still deep rooted among workers.

The interconnection of the world economy, that continues to become more interconnected, points to the way forward for Socialism, namely that it cannot survive in one country, not even through a ‘South-South’ solidarity. Confining the struggle for Socialism to be outside of the imperialist heartlands means that the world capitalist system remains intact and only the worst excesses of capitalism are challenged.

At the beginning of 1922 Lenin writes: “…we have always taught and repeated this ABC truth of Marxism, that for the victory of socialism the combined efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are necessary.”

Also, at the third anniversary of the October revolution Lenin confirmed: “ We always staked our play upon an international revolution and this was unconditionally right….We always emphasized the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution.”

The road ahead

The debates on the alliance concluded that the ANC and the Freedom Charter was not Socialist. The debate has reached the point of realization that the alliance is for the national democratic revolution, the ‘NDR’, ie for democratic demands, and not for the struggle for Socialism. Implied in this is that for the struggle for Socialism to succeed the alliance with the ANC is not the vehicle. This marks the start of a shift away from the alliance. It is significant that this historic rupture from the ANC was driven by pressure from workers and their experience of the past 12 years, and not by the SACP leadership. The Congress also adopted a position that “rejects the separation of the NDR from socialism and asserts that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only guarantee that there will be a transition from NDR to socialism”.  Thus the Congress ends with beginning to questioning the role of the ANC in the struggle for democratic demands – the workers are moving towards going over to the struggle for Socialism. Let us take the debate a step further:

In the neo-colonial countries, in the epoch of world domination of capitalist monopolies, the question is WHO IS GOING TO COMPLETE THE NDR [THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRATIC DEMANDS SUCH AS HOUSING FOR ALL, JOBS FOR ALL, ETC]?

Lenin, in his STATE AND REVOLUTION, written in August 1917, while in hiding from the bourgeois democratic forces in Russia, says: “Only the proletariat – by virtue of its economic role in large scale production – is capable of leading all the toiling and exploited masses, who are exploited, oppressed, crushed by the bourgeoisie not less, and often more, than the proletariat, but who are incapable of carrying on the struggle for their freedom independently. …(leading to) the political rule of the proletariat, of its dictatorship, ie, of a power shared with none and relying directly upon the armed forces of the masses. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie is realizable only by the transformation of the proletariat into the ruling class, able to crush the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and to organize, for the new economic order, all the toiling and exploited masses.”

Lenin also clarified in 1905, that “… the winning of a democratic republic, will be the complete end of the revolutionism of the bourgeoisie, and even of the petty bourgeoisie”.

Thus the struggle for the very achievement of full democratic demands, can only be led by the independently organized working class, free from alliances with the ANC and SACP. For this, the working class needs to take power and not share it with any other class. 

The struggle for houses, for example, must lead to workers taking on the banks and the monopolies that own the land; the struggle for jobs must mean a clash with Anglo American and other monopolies, etc, etc. The ANC and SACP will be incapable of fighting for these demands to the very end. In other words, for the completion of the NDR what is required is precisely the dictatorship of the working class, ie for the working class to take power. For this workers need their own working class party, based on a programme of democratic demands and extending to Socialist demands, on a national and international scale (if we are to learn from other isolated attempts to build socialism). We should also remember that the working class took power in Russia in October 1917, while large sections of the union movement were still under the leadership of a conservative bureaucracy.

These are the debates that should be carried forward within the entire ranks of the working class, to the conference of the Left and beyond it.

Forward to the building of an independent, revolutionary working class party, as part of the rebuilding of the Fourth International-  ‘we have nothing to lose but our chains’

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