Welcome to the second, more radical phase of South Africa’s democratic transformation! On 1, 14 and 22 March 2015 President Jacob Zuma emphasised the necessity for socialism, and the superiority of socialist values over the ruthless system of capitalist exploitation. History will record this as having been the first time since our April 1994 Democratic Breakthrough that the President of the Republic and the ANC has explicitly supported socialism in any way.
Firstly, the SACP should welcome this at a time when we are confronted by forces which seek to create tensions and divert attention away from the gains of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and any serious or concrete discussion on the strategic way forward. As a matter of fact, such individuals and groupings egged on by some sections of the press have no other programme but to drive a wedge to divide our liberation alliance.
Secondly, the SACP must engage with a number of opinions that the President has expressed.
For example, is the SACP’s strategic slogan ‘Socialism is the Future, Build it now!’ a departure from the programme that Moses Kotane and JB Marks led in their capacity as Party leaders?
Moses Kotane joined the Communist Party in 1929, the year when the Executive Committee of the Communist International adopted a resolution which stated that “the Communist Party of South Africa must combine the fight against all anti-native laws with the general political slogan in the fight against British domination, the slogan of an independent native South African republic as a stage towards a workers’ and peasants’ republic, with full equal rights for all races, black, coloured and white”. The resolution, which was later referred to as ‘The Native Republic Thesis’ or ‘The Black Republic Thesis’, called for the Communist Party to work closely with the ANC and transform it into a revolutionary fighting nationalist organisation. Three different positions within the party emerged then.
The first position, supported by S.P. Bunting and T.W. Thibedi, reluctantly accepted the resolution, despite not understanding the necessity of the “independent native republic”. This position believed in moving directly to a workers’ and peasants’ state – that is a socialist state.
The second position, driven by D. Wolton and L. Bach, accepted the resolution but completely misunderstood it. This position developed its own interpretation of the resolution as being a call not for a national democratic but for an immediate socialist revolution. Criticising Kotane in Umsebenzi (9 June 1933), Bach presented a dogmatic view which said the Communist Party “leads the fight for an Independent Native Republic, for the democratic dictatorship and Soviet Power, to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the building of socialism. According to Kotane, the proletariat is more national conscious than class conscious” (Quoted in A. Lerumo, 1971; Fifty Fighting Years)
The third position was the original position pioneered by J. La Guma in 1927. He saw the necessity of linking the Communist Party to the national liberation movement in the form of the ANC, and then moved for this position at the Communist International which then adopted the resolution calling for a Native Republic. This resolution in turn relayed to the Communist Party in South Africa which adopted it its 1929 Congress. This became the position that Kotane pushed forward, later to be joined by Marks and others.
In fact in 1934 Kotane wrote his famous Cradock letter in which he criticised the the dogmatism – which had taken hold of the Party. He wrote that:
“the Party is beyond the realm of realities, we are simply theoretical and our theory is less connected with practice. If one investigates the general ideology of our Party members (especially the whites), if sincere, he will not fail to see that they subordinate South Africa in the interests of Europe, in fact, ideologically they are not S. Africans, they are foreigners who know nothing about and who are the least interested in the country in which they are living at present”.
The answer to our question has been made obvious and needs no repetition.
But here we also need to reflect on the outcome of the Fifth SACP Congress. The reason for this is because the findings from an enquiry into continuously changing reality cannot be static – one and the same for all the times. This is the essential content of science! The Congress modified ‘The Native Republic Thesis’ and accordingly adopted a new Party Programme, ‘The Road to South African Freedom’. Held in 1962, this watershed Congress re-elected Moses Kotane as General Secretary and elected JB Marks as National Chairperson.
The NDR, the national democratic state, and socialism – the way forward by the SACP
The Fifth Party Congress characterised South Africa as a colony of a special type in which the oppressors lived in the same territory as the oppressed, but this designed in the interests of imperialism when Britain “conceded” the so-called “independence” in 1910. This is what ‘The Road to South African Freedom’ said is the way forward:
“This crisis can only be resolved by a revolutionary change in the social system which will overcome these conflicts by putting an end to the colonial oppression of the African and other non-White people. The immediate and imperative interests of all sections of the South African people demand the carrying out of such a change, a national democratic revolution which will overthrow the colonialist state of White supremacy and establish an independent state of National Democracy in South Africa.
The main content of this revolution is the national liberation of the African people. Its fulfilment is, at the same time, in the deepest interests of the other non-White groups, for in achieving their liberty the African people will at the same time put an end to all forms of racial discrimination. It is in the interests of the White workers, middle class and professional groups to whom the establishment of genuine democracy and the elimination of fascism and monopoly rule offers the only prospect of a decent and stable future.”
The Congress further said:
“The main aims and lines of the South African democratic revolution have been defined in the Freedom Charter, which has been endorsed by the African National Congress and the other partners in the national liberation alliance. The Freedom Charter is not a programme for socialism. It is a common programme for a free, democratic South Africa, agreed on by socialists and non-socialists.”
The Communist Party pledged “its unqualified support for the Freedom Charter”. For the Party, “the achievement of its aims will answer the pressing and immediate needs of the people and lay the indispensable basis for the advance” to socialism – a transitional phase to a communist future.
A social revolution does not start with the achievement of its goals, no matter declared from the onset. That is where as a process it culminates with the negation of the old order of things. Depending on the conditions dictating the form of the new phase, that is where it also ends with the beginning of the construction of new foundations before moving forward to the next phase of higher development and a new order of things.
The SACP was not wrong to say ‘Socialism is the future, Build it now!’ The relationship between the NDR and socialism as developed under the leadership of Kotane and Marks – summing up the collective wisdom of the Party – is also very much in line with a fundamental principle elaborated by the founders of the Communist Party, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels when they said:
“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” (Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848)
Accordingly, for the SACP the NDR represents the programme to answer the pressing immediate questions facing in overwhelming majority the working class. This simultaneously buttressed by the intensification of the struggle for socialism to ‘take care of the future of that movement’. These two pillars of the struggle were since that long time ago seen as mutually reinforcing side by side with each other rather than representing one stage after another.
What about the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’?
From the above, including the theory of the national democratic state put forward in ‘The Road to South African Freedom’ we have the answer to this question already. But we also have the answers to the question whether the SACP today has veered away from Moses Kotane and JB Marks with regard to that question. Some addition from Joe Slovo’s ‘The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution’ might, however, perhaps help elucidate further. This is what he said:
“The term ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ reflected the historical truth that in class-divided social formations state power is ultimately exercised by, and in the interests of, the class which owns and controls the means of production. It is in this sense that capitalist formations were described as a ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ whose rule would be replaced by a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ during the socialist transition period. In the latter case power would, however, be exercised in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people and should lead to an ever-expanding genuine democracy – both political and economic.”
Whether the phrase ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ was no longer employed in the vocabulary of most Communist Parties, including ours, in the light of the “ambiguities and distortions” which it opened, the associated abuses and exigencies which had as a result occurred in history and which “bore little resemblance” both to the concept’s originality and its democratic content, said Slovo, “does not, in all cases, imply a rejection of the historical validity of its essential content”.
The current SACP programme, ‘The South African Road to Socialism’, is based on that same essential content and seeks to take it forward. At the heart of the programme, and as the main motive force to push the revolution to its logical conclusion, is the establishment of working class power and hegemony in all key sites of societal activity, the community, the workplace, the economy, the ideological terrain, etcetera, including the state.
From the above our answer is clear – there is no need for tautology, no need for ambiguities. Forward to the democratic control of all levers of societal power by the working class with the industrial proletariat at its core in order that socialism, a truly democratic society based on socialised ownership of the means of production and the wealth produced can be built!
Article by Alex Mashilo