Joe Slovo, the late General Secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) provides a most apposite reposte to his successor, Blade Msimande.
In an ill-disguised attack on NUMSA, Msimande chose to chastise the union for placing its ‘anti government invective’ above a ‘serious and unifying class-based struggle against monopoly capital.’ This calls forth Slovo’s retort when hearing, in the early 1990’s, that The Pan African Congress (PAC) had announced the suspension of its armed struggle: ‘Suspended? I dint know they had begun!’ was Joe’s pithy comment when asked to respond to the news. When, one is bound to ask, has Blade’s SACP waged a struggle against monopoly capital?
This question is all the more pertinent in the light of Jeremy Cronin’s keynote address to the South African Clothing & Textile Workers Union’s (SACTWU) 12th National Congress on 22nd August 2013. Cronin spoke in his capacity of Deputy General Secretary of the SACP, rather than as the Deputy Minister of Public Works.
Comrade Jeremy is justly well known for his frankness and ability to recognise mistakes that remain blind to others. But this readiness to self-criticism, of the movements to which he has dedicated so much of his life, seems unable to follow through to the conclusion implicit in the logic of his own analysis.
Listening to Jeremy at his best is also to hear him at his worst. His Sactwu address is a perfect illustration of this. At his best, we hear him saying:
We are now nearly 20 years into our democracy. What has been achieved? What are the tasks that remain? We need to ask these questions honestly, collectively – as workers, trade-unionists, as the national democratic alliance, as South Africans – we need to take collective responsibility for our country, its people, and our democratic struggle. Where necessary, we must be prepared to be self-critical, not to lament, not to point factional fingers at comrades, but to draw collective lessons to take us forward. …
One…question I want to pose … is: Why has it taken us nearly 19 years to appreciate the need for a second, radical phase of our democratic transition?
His answer to this most relevant question takes us on the road to Comrade Cronin at his worst.
Inviting us ‘to travel back to 1994’, he continues:
There was…the belief that our own global status, underwritten by the iconic figure of cde Madiba … would inspire a major inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into our country, Marshall Aid, a “post-apartheid dividend” – as it was sometimes called.
Excuse me, Jeremy, but since when is major private investment inspired by anything other than the prospect of a major maximisation of profit; or when is official aid of any significant size given for anything other than promoting the strategic interests of the state providing the aid? One doesn’t have to be a communist to know this but it is decidedly odd for Marxists to expect anything different. Saying this is not the wisdom of hindsight but rather drawing attention to the special stupidity of Marxists, in 1994, thinking there could have been any other outcome.
Jeremy has had to switch off his communist understanding in order to get away with an appeal to hindsight in order to conclude, correctly:
Looking back now to the mid-1990s, we can see that these hopes and dreams [for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)] served to DISPLACE a different agenda – namely, a strategic agenda of immediately embarking upon a more radical, socio-economic Second Phase of the Democratic Transition.
Worse is to follow; he continues
In particular, we vastly over-estimated the patriotic credentials of South African monopoly capital (and its soon to emerge narrow BEE hangers-on).
It is hard to know what is more preposterous, for Marxists to have expected patriotism from South African monopoly capitalism or their expectation of black capitalists to be (in the language of the time) a ‘patriotic bourgeoisie’, as though capital is determined by colour – and that Franz Fanon’s devastating critique of the national bourgeoisie never existed.
The worst is reached, when, reflecting on the failure of either the expected foreign aid or FDI to arrive, he concludes
[T]o compensate for this, we were persuaded by South African monopoly capital, in particular, to liberalise, to de-regulate, to allow dual listings for Anglo, SA Breweries, SASOL, and others.
We were advised to open all our doors and windows to attract inward investment flows.
The mind boggles at the thought of a communist party being ‘persuaded’ and ‘advised’ to meet the needs of monopoly capital at the direct expense of the working class and the relatively radical social democratic expectations of the so-called National Development Revolution!
And, now, back to cde Jeremy at his best:
Unfortunately, almost the exact opposite [of the neo-liberal promises] has occurred. Surplus generated inside of SA, through the sweat and toil of South African workers, has flown out of the open windows and open doors. Between 20% and 25% of GDP has been dis-invested out of country since 1994. Trade liberalisation in the first decade of democracy blew a cold wind through our textile and clothing sector, through our agriculture and agro-processing sector, and by 2001 a million formal sector jobs had been lost, despite GDP growth of over 5%.
His answer to: ‘Why did this happen?’ takes us back to him at his worst. He expects us to believe that the first communist party in the whole of Africa and the first non-racial political party in South Africa and the party that gave political and strategic direction to the anti-apartheid struggle was ‘browbeaten’, duped by the media!
They used their vast media and ideological power to browbeat us into believing that reconstruction and development would be best served by implementing a macro-economic package that put a premium on fighting inflation, and on sweeping liberalisation and de-regulation measures.
No! No! Jeremy, this brings you no credit. Clearly, major mistakes were made that require a level of the deepest introspection and evaluation. Being ‘browbeaten’ by the media doesnt let you off the hook; on the contrary, it nails you to it even further because it is an explanation only the most blind of followers will accept.
But he clearly expects belief and with devoutness that brooks no doubt.
Thus, he thinks he can get away with
Privatisation has been swept off the table…. We now understand that it is not a question of growth first, trickle-down after – but that we have to place our economy onto an inclusive, a job-creating, developmental trajectory
Having listed the various policies and plans that give effect to this new ‘understanding’ – the NDP, New Growth Path, Industrial Policy Action Plan and the National Skills Accord are all named – he declares
Nor are these just policies on paper.
All the statistics point to the fact that it is precisely this wide array of state-led social and economic interventions, along with many others, that is providing impetus to what growth there is in the economy.
Yes, indeed, comrade: ‘What growth there is…’ Apart from an entirely uncritical acceptance of what passes for ‘growth’, what you don’t say is that the growth is in fact pathetic and considerably lower than what even the bourgeois economists accept is required to have any impact on reducing unemployment. You cant say this, of course. To do so would mean acknowledging that the current SACP has still to undertake a ‘serious and unifying class-based struggle against monopoly capital’.