Ideological reflections on ideological reflections

By Cde Jeremy Cronin, SACP 1st Deputy General Secretary

Earlier this week NUMSA’s CEC issued a longish polemical statement entitled “Ideological reflections and responses to some of the recent attacks”. In this brief, and for the moment personal, intervention I will not be able to do justice to all of the important issues raised in the NUMSA document. Hopefully in the near future the SACP and NUMSA leaderships can meet, and a collective engagement on the NUMSA document can happen. Certainly, the SACP has been calling for such a bilateral for many months.

First, to agree generally with NUMSA’s characterization of the global capitalist crisis (much of the characterization is borrowed, by the way, from Party documents – no problem with that). There are matters of detail – for instance, the current global capitalist crisis is not merely cyclical (as stated in para.11). But that does not detract from the main point that NUMSA is seeking to make in this context – namely with the crisis, there is an intensified global capitalist offensive against the working class (and, I would add, broader popular strata).

There are many other issues where I think that NUMSA is basically right. For instance, I fully agree that the call in the Freedom Charter for “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry” to “be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole” was generally taken for many decades to mean “nationalization” – even if the word itself was not used. I therefore do not agree with cde Ben Turok, but that does not mean that I think that cde Turok has become an imperialist agent.

But what IS nationalization? And this is one of many areas where I have a problem with the NUMSA document. Nationalisation is the taking over of property by the state. Progressive and socialist states have nationalized – often, but not always with positive outcomes.  But fascist states have also nationalized. The apartheid state nationalized. In the recent global financial crisis, some major financial institutions were temporarily nationalized in the US, Britain and Spain (effectively nationalizing private debt). In all of these latter cases, nationalization has been directed at serving the interests of key sections of capital at the expense of “the people as a whole”. Which is why the SACP has proposed using the concept “socialization” of the commanding heights, to distinguish between radically different forms of public ownership – some extremely reactionary, others progressive – depending to a considerable extent on the class character of the state in question.

So what is the class character of the present South African state? The SACP has argued consistently that it is a class contested state and that this contest occurs both within and necessarily also from without the state apparatus. NUMSA appears to have a more cut-and-dry characterization of the class character of the present democratic South African state. Paragraph 7 of the NUMSA document refers to “the South African white capitalist state” that continues “to sustain the white complex”. Does NUMSA really want THIS “white capitalist state” to nationalize the commanding heights of the economy? Wouldn’t it be more consistent, given NUMSA’s characterization of this state, to call for its revolutionary overthrow, so that real nationalisation for “the people as a whole” can be effected by a different state?

There are other inconsistencies in the NUMSA statement in regard to nationalization. While the statement continually (and correctly) castigates monopoly capital and imperialism, when it comes to a nationalization hit-list “banks and monopoly industry” are mentioned in general. And, we are reminded, “the mines are also part of monopoly industry, like SASOL, Arcelor-Mittal, SAPPI and MONDI, construction and cement industries, etc.” (para.23). Strangely missing here, and from the entire document, is any reference to NUMSA’s key sector – the auto sector. Are GM, Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes Benz not monopoly capital? Are they not integrally linked into transnational imperialist capital? So why the ringing silence? Could it be that blanket nationalization might just be a little more complicated when it is closer to home?

There is another silence, in this case in regard to an actual nationalization that occurred in South Africa and on NUMSA’s own turf as it happens. Last year, the state effectively nationalized Scaw Metals – acquiring a 74% stake through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). This was done to secure strategic capacity in the steel sector as part and parcel of the democratic state’s agenda of re-industrialisation through beneficiation of our key mineral resources. Why is the NUMSA document silent on this? Is it scared of being “compromised” by acknowledging anything positive undertaken by the state?

Or is there another reason for its silence on Scaw? When (and hopefully it will be soon) the SACP and NUMSA leadership collectives meet, we would like to understand better why some in NUMSA quietly opposed nationalization of Scaw in favour of a joint venture between the union (or at least its funds) and a prominent BEE business-man to acquire the company from Anglo.

Which brings me to narrow BEE. I agree with the NUMSA document that the state and all our formations (the ANC, the SACP and COSATU) are liable to infiltration and manipulation by imperialism and monopoly capital. It would be wrong to suggest that COSATU is uniquely vulnerable. I also agree, by the way, that the cack-handed, “intelligence” document supposedly implicating cde Vavi and a whole bunch of others in imperialist plotting was a nasty piece of disinformation. Which is not to say that we should not all be vigilant – bearing in mind, also, that infiltration does not just manifest itself in pro-imperialist flag-waving. There are plenty of international examples of imperialism operating behind (sometimes unwitting) ultra-left adventurism or “humanist” civil society and NGO networks.

But to get back to narrow BEE. The SACP has argued over many years that narrow BEE has been the critical channel through which monopoly capital has swayed and infiltrated our movement and the state. Narrow BEE is monopoly capital’s agenda, not our’s. With a few possible exceptions, narrow BEE beneficiaries are both compradorially dependent on monopoly (often foreign) capital AND parasitic on the state. The more successful beneficiaries, who have now thrown away these ladders, are themselves an integral part of monopoly capital. Moreover, as the NUMSA document correctly notes, South African monopoly capital (SASOL, SA Breweries, Old Mutual, Anglo, for instance) has used the post-1994 period (aided and abetted by mistaken macro-economic policies) to massively (and often illegally) disinvest out of South Africa. Most of erstwhile South African monopoly capital is now thoroughly globalised. Major investors in these corporations include the Gulf States and US pension funds. SASOL is investing some R200bn in Louisiana, USA. The Chinese are major share-holders in Standard Bank. Does it still make sense to talk about “white” monopoly capital? And in any case, is monopoly capital our principal adversary? Or is it, as the NUMSA paper argues throughout, white monopoly capital?

And if monopoly capital were “black”? Or “yellow” (whatever that might mean)? Would that be okay? There are moments in the NUMSA document when this appears to be the view. Take paragraph 50, for instance, which attacks the SACP for arguing that the version of “nationalization” of the mining sector that was being advanced back in 2008 by today’s EFF’ers, with avid support (and funding) from certain BEE circles, was highly problematic. We pointed out then (and we were right) that it was really about bailing out indebted BEE beneficiaries at public expense (and to the benefit of the established mining houses and financial institutions who had loaned them the shares in the first place). NUMSA continues to argue the contrary. It accuses the Party of having “deliberately created an ideological confusion by placing narrow BEE capital on the same plane as “white monopoly capital”. And it insists that this kind of bail out “could have dealt a major, bigger blow to white monopoly capital”. The NUMSA document styles the union as proudly “Marxist-Leninist”. At the risk of once more being accused of being the self-appointed Pope of Marxism-Leninism, I suggest that this admirable defence of narrow BEE owes more to the influence of NUMSA’s businessman joint-venturer than any of the classics.

Finally, a few words about the SACP. Throughout the NUMSA document a false opposition between a “good” and a “bad” SACP is created. The “good” SACP existed before 2009, according to NUMSA, a time when the Party was “still prepared to be critical of government”. That was before the “Party leadership went into government”. But this is simply and factually not true. From the very beginning of democracy, from 1994, senior Party leaders served in government, most notably our chairperson at the time, cde Joe Slovo. Cde Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi was SACP deputy chairperson and minster of public administration. Later, SACP chairperson cde Charles Nqakula was a senior cabinet minister. Many other senior members of the CC were cabinet ministers before 2009. (It is true that before 2009 no serving general secretary, or deputy general secretary was in the executive – but that is not how the NUMSA document raises the matter).The SACP has learnt many lessons, some of them self-critical lessons from this experience since 1994. As the NUMSA document itself concedes, the presence of senior SACP leaders in government did not deter the Party (at least the “good”, pre-2009 Party) from raising critical concerns about government policy.

But, and this is a big but, we always endeavoured to ensure that our criticism was not sectarian. We never sought to place ourselves outside of the movement of which we were part. We sought to draw collective lessons, and we sought to influence our broader movement. Criticisms of government were (and still are) normally made collectively by the SACP – we have never expected individual Party leaders who happen to be in government to personally criticize government – as if they were standing outside of the collectives of which they were a part.

Unfortunately, this is in marked contrast to the tone and stance of much of the NUMSA document which turns differences into “attacks”, and comrades into enemies. NUMSA is always “absolutely correct”, there is no space allowed for the give-and-take of criticism and self-criticism. Any debate with NUMSA is turned into a grand “anti-worker” conspiracy. Unfortunately, this kind of posturing easily leads precisely to some of the unfortunate recent developments we have been witnessing, where comrades, for instance, take their own federation to court. It is a court, by the way, which if the NUMSA document’s characterization of things is to be accepted, must itself be part of the “white capitalist state” apparatus!



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