NUMSA is correct on the need for a new political party with a working-class ideology in SA

NUMSA is correct on the need for a new political party with a working-class ideology in SA

By Thabang Bhili | Originally for Amandla | 20 July 2018

Our situation

The objective conditions of the working class have been so widely documented that it is no longer necessary to repeat. All that can be said is that the stark difference between Sandton and its neighbouring Alexandra is an indictment on the permanent short-comings of the liberation movement and its marriage with neoliberalism. Like many other post-colonial societies, South Africa presents itself as a revolving door of inequality, oppression and violence, that extends beyond our national borders.

South Africa is often revered as a success story of a thriving democracy in comparison to other African countries; but this ‘democracy’ has not been able to penetrate to the most marginalized sections of our society. A small section of the population continues to monopolize class mobility and social currency at the backdrop of a suffering people. It is an open secret that race and gender defined the type of worker one could be in the colonial past. This historical relationship continues to date. It continues, because power is still centralized with the bosses, as the means of exchange and production have not been transferred to their rightful owners: the working class. It continues, because the ANC and SACP national government has outlived its usefulness.

This reality is better captured by the University of Cape Town Workers Party pamphlet protesting the privatization of the public sector:

“They bring private bosses to make a profit at UCT. They bring private bosses to make a profit where the DA is in government. They bring private bosses to make a profit where the ANC/SACP is in government. Wherever there is a problem, they think the solution is to bring more bosses, to help bosses make a profit. It is a solution for those bosses – because they come to make more profits from the labour of workers. But it can never be a solution for workers. The public sector is not supposed to be about helping bosses. It is supposed to be about serving the needs of the millions. But this is not just the public sector – it is the public sector in a capitalist world. It is the capitalist economy. And for as long as that happens, workers will have to produce the wealth and be exploited, and bosses will be the ones to benefit.”

What about “Cupcake” and the ANC?

On the surface it may appear as if the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa is lost in the political wilderness. It appears as if they don’t have a concrete direction to tackle the challenges that we are facing. It appears as if they don’t know what they are doing. But it would be a great mistake to take appearance for truth and essence. All these summits and commissions are not just an indicator of political uncertainty from the elites, they are a delaying tactic ahead of the 2019 elections. The present administration is intent on providing a perception that they are doing something to engage popular demands; while at the same time squeezing and taking the bread out of the mouth of the working class. This reality is painfully evident in the VAT increase, the increase in prices of basic commodities, and other austerity measures. The crisis of capitalism is deepening within the ANC, who are constantly at the altar of imposition. So, there is nothing to be excited about other than to organize, oppose these attacks, and oppose capitalism itself.

What is to be done?

The Alternative: Party or movement?

The organizing strategies of a movement in struggle for political goals and that of a party in struggle for power have been made mutually exclusive, a movement is not an antithesis of the party or vice versa. The movement is the necessity of a living party – the party must be able to campaign and struggle, to mobilize and advance the immediate needs of the working class. This means that while the party must exist in a movement form, it must also struggle for power. This must not be understood to mean that a movement can be a substitute of the party. A party solves problems of structured organization, concrete proposals of transforming institutions, and sustainability in a way that movements have been struggling to grasp. These are key impediments to the prolonged lifespan of movements.

However, movements have an incredible dynamism, innovation, inclusiveness, on the ground militancy, and inquisitiveness. These factors make them an ideal supplement to the traditional understanding of the party. Any serious socialist political party must have a resourced and dedicated division within its ranks for movement building which will campaign, take up struggles, mobilize support, spread the ideas of emancipation and strengthen the links between itself and the working class. Examples of working prototypes is the relationship that exists between the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn and the movement called “momentum” in Britain, or the Landless Movement of Workers (MST) and the Workers Party (PT) of Brazil.

On the combination between the party and movement by Vivek Chibber:

“Our strategic perspective has to downplay the centrality of a revolutionary rupture and navigate a more gradualist approach. For the foreseeable future, left strategy has to revolve around building a movement to pressure the state, gain power within it, change the institutional structure of capitalism, and erode the structural power of capital — rather than vaulting over it. This entails a combination of electoral and mobilizational politics.

You build a party based in labor, you strengthen the organizational capacity of the class, you take on employers in the workplace and create rings of power in civil society, and you use this social power to push through policy reforms by participating in electoral politics. The reforms should have the dual effect of making future organizing easier, and also constraining the power of capital to undermine them down the road. There are many names for a strategy of this kind — non-reformist reforms, revolutionary reforms.”1

I think this is the transitional method that we should adopt to rid ourselves of the burdens that have been imposed by history. The 2013 decision of NUMSA to build a party for qualitative changes is an important moment in the history of South African politics and the working class of the world. All sections of society cannot wait for the birth of this party which promises to reshape how politics are done, and how to organize for power.

This Party must also understand that the working class are not just repositories which surplus value is extracted from – but carry diverse characteristics that affect our standing in this capitalist society. This means that the movement and the party must come up with strategies on how to translate the problem of identity, structural and systemic oppression, and exploitation into a program and praxis that can effectively tackle the realities of women, queer, black, differently abled persons, etc. We must equally challenge the contemporary Malcolm X with the economic policies of Ronald Reagan, or some of our beloved and strong comrades who subscribe to rainbow capitalism. They must realize that it is true that identity is not easily reducible into class, but it cannot be solved outside of it and vice versa.

Forward to socialism. Forward to the Workers Party.

Thabang Bhili spends most of his time on computer programming, thinking and doing revolution. Sometimes he is not a geek.

1. https://jacobinmag.com/2017/12/our-road-to-power

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