Voice of the South African Working Class
Umsebenzi Online, Volume, Number 4, 7 February 2020
In this Issue
Jeremy Cronin | Red Alert
Jockeys without horses: Let’s all learn to be constructive
Revolutionaries should focus on unity for socialism
A response to Fogel’s vitriol against the SACP
By Dr Sithembiso Bhengu
Thursday last week I noticed with glee a Mail & Guardian notification on my phone: “South Africa could use a Communist Party”. I immediately traced the link and began reading, in anticipation of substantive analysis and propositions for advancing a socialist alternative for South Africa. Unfortunately, I realised that the article is wrongly categorised as an analysis, while in fact it is an opinion piece. The piece offers no analysis on the challenges facing South Africa. Neither does it offer any alternatives for socialism. By the end of the introductory paragraph, it was clear that this was yet another regurgitation of vitriol against the SACP, rehashing dated claims and assertions as gospel truth, without even substantiating them.
We can surmise the attack advanced by Fogel against the SACP, as an attack on the strategic alliance of the SACP with Cosatu and the ANC. Fogel would want us to believe that his disdain with the strategic alliance is new, a feature of post-apartheid dispensation. But the truth is that this is a repetition of the old workerist and Trotskyite tendencies that have played themselves out during certain periods in the course of the liberation struggle against colonial rule and apartheid.
Following the Sixth Communist International Congress, the Communist Party of South Africa, now the SACP, adopted the Black-cum-Workers’-and-Peasants’ Republic Thesis in 1929 – “with full equal rights for all races”. The Party was the first in South Africa to develop the principle of non-racialism and organise on the basis of the vision. It included in its programme a focus on building maximum unity of progressive and revolutionary forces, among others by forging the alliance with the ANC and the progressive trade union movement. Back then ultra-left forces opposed this strategic alliance formation.
The reaction also played itself out during the surging growth of militant black trade unions from the late 1970s. The workerist tendencies lost out in the debates leading to the formation of Cosatu in 1985. Again, this tendency played out in the aftermath of the unbanning of the liberation movements in 1990. The ultra-left tendencies opposed the strategic alignment of United Democratic Front (UDF) with ANC and SACP. Not unrelated, Fogel’s perceptions of the weakness of the SACP, or even Cosatu, can be traced to negative reaction against ‘maximum unity and consequently strategic alliance formation’.
Moreover, he degenerates into mere slander against the SACP, arguing that it has not made any impact in our body politics except lining its leaders as beneficiaries of government positions and patronage networks. His baseless allegations ignore the vanguard role of the SACP, for example, in the struggle for financial sector transformation. The Party’s campaign culminated in the adoption of the National Credit Act, the establishment of the National Credit Regulator and the financial sector charter. It produced victories such as the recent court victory protecting homeowners from unscrupulous lending practices and evictions or foreclosures. Were it not of the role played by the SACP, South Africa would have been worst affected by the 2008 global financial crisis.
Fogel reduces the role of the SACP in the fight against corruption and state capture as a mere participant. He ignores the fact it was the SACP that first pronounced on the capture of the state and called for a judicial commission of inquiry – now underway.
He also insinuates that President Cyril Ramaphosa does not need the SACP, another false claim. The SACP and Cosatu have a crucial role to play in challenging the state capture ‘fightback’. The SACP is simultaneously playing its vanguard role in the fight against neoliberalism in our economy and policy space today. The comprehensive response by the SACP to the National Treasury’s economic paper first released in August 2019 is one clear case ignored in Fogel’s diatribe.
He claims that the General Secretary of the SACP is the most hated politician in South Africa, hated by workers because he expelled Zwelinzima Vavi and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa from Cosatu. First, who are these workers purported to hate Nzimande? Second, how does Nzimande expel a leader and entire trade union affiliate from an independent trade union federation that makes its own decisions? Fogel should be honest and confess that he and his sectarian ‘socialist’ cabal, corrupt workplace bosses and their associated ‘intellectuals’ and entryists without any organisational base hate Nzimande.
Fogel’s wasted a real opportunity in his article to engage in innovative and constructive discussion on socialist alternatives to our articulated political, economic and social crises threatening to reverse the gains of our democratic breakthrough. Instead, he took a tangent and reduced the discussion to shadow boxing, namely fighting an imaginary enemy within the working class movement. In conclusion, Fogel’s article is devoid of any analysis of the real problem – capitalism and imperialism, and the ways in which the system is deepening the exploitation of labour. Neither does it offer any programme for a united working class.
Against all manifestation of imperialism: A response to Benjamin Fogel
The United States, centre of imperialism, neoliberalism and horrific terrorism against anyone who fails to bow down to its economic and military aggression, is also home to a whole army of “independent ‘Leftists’”. US imperialism is so strong that it has the capacity to atmospherically capture some of those involved in such parallel “left” networks and make its behaviour felt in their conduct and articulations. Instead of sharing with us what they are concretely doing to advance socialism where they are based, including in the now right-wing, neo-fascist-led Brazil, what they do includes attacking others in the real Left.
Such a person is a São Paulo-based, New York University PhD student, Benjamin Fogel. His article “South Africa could use a communist party” in The Mail & Guardian (27 January 2020) was no more than a collection of half-truths and outright lies against the South African Communist Party (SACP) in general and its General Secretary, Blade Nzimande in particular. Fogel’s very nasty personal attack on Nzimande is in reality an attack on a Party which has relentlessly striven to tell the truth about what is happening in South Africa since its formation.
Fogel’s assertions are based on a mishmash of prejudices derived from anti-Communist “lefties” and devoid of factual evidence or in-depth analysis. The rapid growth of the South African Communist Party in recent years gives the lie to his assertion that it is “increasingly irrelevant”.
Let us now look at more facts.
When government launched the neoliberal “Growth, Employment and Redistribution” (GEAR) economic policy in 1996, it was the SACP which was to characterise it as the “1996 Class Project” that will advantage the elite, rather than build a national democratic economy to empower the people as a whole, the majority being the working class. And it was Nzimande who Fogel so despises, who popularised a new word to the English language ‘tendrepreneurs’, those who in the name of “Black Economic Empowerment” would secure lucrative contracts at the expense of the people.
It was the SACP which among others played a major role in the Polokwane Conference of the ANC, asserting a national democratic programme. The SACP took responsibility and tackled wrongdoing when it later turned out that not everyone who emerged in Polokwane had good intentions.
Fogel claims “The party supported Zuma when the Guptas landed at Waterkloof,” when in fact Nzimande, immediately after this event, is on record as saying; “South Africa could not allow private activities on any of its military places,” and that “Our sovereignty and dignity as a country is at stake and must be protected.”
Again, it was the SACP which, in 2014, was first to characterise “corporate-capture of the state”, later shortened to “State Capture”. But unlike others whose comments were loudly proclaimed by the press, SACP members were murdered for exposing corruption.
Far from “hitching their political future to Cyril Ramaphosa,” as Fogel claims in his article, the SACP remains steadfast against a reassertion of neoliberalism, as it made it clear in its response to a document released by the National Treasury in August 2019. In defence of our national democratic gains, and in pursuit of a democratic developmental path, the SACP made it clear at its Special National Congress in December 2019 that it is strongly opposed to neoliberalism as it is equally opposed to parasitic state capture networks.
The end results of the neoliberal, privatisation agenda and the like, is the same as that of the parasitic networks of state capture – except that the former uses policy under foreign influence (neoliberalism is a foreign, imperialist agenda) and the latter follows brazen-smash-and-grab tactics, said the SACP in its declaration for a democratic developmental path.
On higher education funding, Fogel writes as if Nzimande is responsible for funding higher education from his pocket, or as if the department was allocated sufficient money. That is obviously nonsensical, which is why VAT was increased by 1%, from 14% to 15% after Nzimande was factionally removed as higher education minister. Nevertheless, he had done his best, including by financing the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) from Sector Education and Training Authorities and the National Skills Fund to support education for poor and working class students.
Space will not allow a full correction of all the inaccuracies in Fogel’s article. He should check his sources and use facts when writing. This will help him in his New York PhD.