In its political report to the South African Communist Party Central Committee the South African comrades confront the difficult political problems that they face with remarkable clarity of vision. Under the heading ‘South African monopoly capital has been the major beneficiary of the 1994 democratic breakthrough’ they have developed a perceptive analysis of the present political and economic situation. They then go on to look at the next steps for the working class movement in their country.This extract and other published here offer an insight into their thinking but the document as a whole, and other material in the current issue of African Communist are essential reading for anyone hoping to under stand what is going on and provides a useful antidote to the hopelessly crude and ‘workerist’ nonsense reproduced in this country by liberals and ultra leftists.
To understand the dominant growth path trajectory over the past two decades it is useful to return to the early 1990s. An important factor in the 1994 democratic breakthrough was the strategic realisation by South African monopoly capital (and the media and research think-tank apparatuses that advanced its interests), that white minority rule, having served monopoly capital’s objectives very well for decades, was no longer viable. The cost of waging regional wars, notably in Angola and Namibia, the instability at home as a result of the rolling semi insurrectionary waves of resistance, and international sanctions, particularly financial and oil sanctions, had all led to a significant decline in profitability.
This was an important factor behind the emerging national consensus for an advance to some kind of non-racial democracy that opened up the negotiations process. However, there were two very different class strategic agendas at play in this “consensus”:
For the broad liberation movement a democratic breakthrough was seen essentially as a platform to advance immediately (certainly as far as the SACP was concerned) with what we now call a “second phase” of radical transformation.
For South African monopoly capital it was almost the exact opposite. The establishment of a formal non-racial democracy was seen as a “necessary risk” to open up the region and world to South African business and restore profitability. The strategic objective was to create a “formal”, “low intensity” democracy in which majority power would be checked and balanced through a wide
range of institutional and other arrangements, including making “delivery” of “change” dependent upon and hostage to capitalist-driven growth. The idea was also to tame the ANC – partly through fomenting an Alliance break-up. Writing in 1992, Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert captured this overall strategic agenda well when he wrote: “one of the most daunting challenges facing [a future ANC government] is to protect the new political space created by negotiations from being used to contest the historical imbalances that precipitated negotiation in the first place… ” In other words, for monopoly capital and its ideologues, the strategic objective of moving towards a democratic settlement was not to advance radical transformation – but to forestall it.
On balance, it is this latter strategy that has prevailed – not because it was wrong of the NLM to pursue a negotiated settlement, not because of any major constitutionally imposed limitations, and certainly not because (as the ultra-left alleges) we were pursuing an NDR strategy. In fact, the problem was that from around 1996 there was a failure to decisively and confidently pursue an NDR strategy within the new democratic space and with an overwhelming electoral majority – as a result, the second radical phase of the NDR was postponed.