Statement on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary Commemoration of Joe Slovo’s death – Celebrating his revolutionary life and times:
‘Forging working class unity for a people’s economy’!
by Blade Nzimande
6 January 2015, Avalon Cemetery
On this occasion, the 20th Anniversary Commemoration of the death of Comrade Joe Slovo and the celebration of his revolutionary life and times we are pleased that the South African Communist Party continues its robust growth. The SACP has now surpassed 210 000 members.
We are coming together here at the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto, Johannesburg, where we laid to rest on 15 January 1995 the revered leader of our struggle for liberation and socialism, Comrade Joe Slovo. Slovo died exactly 20 years ago on 6 January 1995. Slovo’s legacy of immense contribution to our revolution, including his writings and incisive analysis of South African society continues to live on! We must continue to draw inspiration from the exemplary leadership that he set.
Our detractors and other renegades selectively celebrate the lives of some of our leaders, not in order to learn appropriate lessons from their deeds, but in order to condemn the current leadership of our movement. Others – like a number of today’s media analysts who are mostly failed researchers or former newspaper editors and who never praised the SACP in the past – are now praising the Party for its role in the liberation struggle, but they do this in order to attack it today working under very different conditions. Let us tell the story of Joe Slovo in order to train an even better cadre for the SACP and our movement as a whole.
We are also gathering on the eve of the Centenary of the ANC’s 103rd Anniversary, the SACP’s 94th Anniversary and we are just three years away from the Centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia in 1917.
Let us take this opportunity to wish the ANC well ahead of its 103rd Anniversary, and we call upon all communists to join the ANC’s 103rd anniversary in Cape Town this weekend, and in subsequently all other parts of the country.
Slovo served our struggle through the formations of our National Liberation Movement that he belonged to, the ANC and the SACP, and did so with distinction and loyalty to the end! He never was so short-sighted as to see belonging to both the SACP and the ANC as compromising the independence of each organisation. As a communist he not only theoretically but practically understood the role of communists in the broader liberation movement and in the trade union and mass movements.
Comrade Slovo was a living embodiment of our Alliance! He served as The Chief of Staff of our joint ANC-SACP armed wing, the people’s liberation army, MK. Slovo served as a member of our ANC-headed Alliance’s Revolutionary Council from 1969 until its dissolution in 1983. He was a founding member of the Congress of Democrats, and at the time of his death Slovo was SACP National Chairperson, as well as ANC National Executive Committee member. He was also serving as the Minister of Housing in our first democratically elected government. All those thoroughly grounded in the politics of the Congress movement know that there is no contradiction in playing these roles, much as occasional tensions are always there in any Alliance.
Our Congress movement has always been guided by organisational principles that have served our revolution well and are still valid today and going forward. This includes the principle of every member being bound by the discipline and decisions of each organisation. Where there is a clash of decisions or policies between formations, these must be discussed between the relevant allies organisationally, and not be reduced to the problem of those individuals who may be serving in more than one formation. This Leninist principle has guided communists for decades, often referred to as the role of communists in mass organisations!
Today, some of those who argue for “independence”, what they often want is to become media heroes through unprincipled attacks on the ANC. As communists we never struggled in order to become media heroes, but in order to serve the cause of our people! Those who seek to be media heroes at the expense of our movement, they shall remain only that – Paper Heroes! Sometimes the media that some of us seek to be endorsed by, never, ever supported the liberation movement, both before and after 1994!
What can we learn from this leadership example set by Slovo?
The good leadership example set by Slovo epitomises the importance of unity in the struggle for liberation, the unity of our Alliance; the unity of our broad movement; the unity of the working class; the broad unity of our people! Serving as a leader of the SACP, the ANC and MK, Slovo understood, through lived experience, that an offensive directed at any one of our Allied formations would ultimately result in an attack on the movement as a whole. This does not mean that Alliances, by their very nature, do not have tactical differences at times. The mistake we must not make is that of elevating tactical differences into strategic divergences, as some of our detractors are doing now. As Slovo eloquently puts it in his 1988 seminal work ‘The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution’:
“The classes and strata which come together in a front of struggle usually have different long-term interests and, often, even contradictory expectations from the immediate phase. The search for agreement usually leads to a minimum platform which excludes some of the positions of the participating classes or strata.”
This does not mean that those positons were, or must be, abandoned. As Slovo states (to paraphrase him), the working class did not simply melt into the Alliance once it was created. The working class did NOT “abandon its independent class objectives or independent class organisation”. As he further states:
“On the contrary, the strengthening of workers’ independent mass and vanguard structures is even more imperative in periods demanding organised relations with other class forces.”
The workerists in our ranks completely miss these points. We are sometimes told as the SACP that unless we take up issues in exactly the same way as Cosatu, we are no longer a vanguard party of the working class. But being a vanguard does not mean becoming a carbon copy of Cosatu, otherwise we must merge into one organisation (e.g. on e-tolls).
According to Slovo, it therefore follows that diverse class forces can only create an alliance if they are prepared to make compromises in so far as the content of the minimum programme that unites them is concerned, and that the alliance “can only survive and flourish if it is governed by a democratic relationship between” its partners.
Tactical or other differences with and between Alliance partners have to be handled in a manner befitting of Alliance partners rather than antagonistic forces that are irreconcilable facing one another – a tendency which can only degenerate into oppositionism.
It is through unity with the ANC-headed Alliance in the forefront of our National Liberation Movement that we dislodged the apartheid regime and have made the kind of progress we have over the past 20 years. It is therefore dangerous to gamble with the unity of the whole movement or any of its components and in particular organised workers. Going forward we need more and not less of our Alliance and broad unity!
That is why the SACP has called on all workers across the economy to build a united and militant trade union federation – a Cosatu that is both independent but part of the Congress movement. We reiterate the importance of this posture and strategic orientation of Cosatu! As, again, eloquently captured by Slovo:
‘…the trade union movement is the most important mass contingent of the working class. Its organised involvement in struggle, both as an independent force and as part of the broad liberation alliance, undoubtedly reinforces the dominant role of the workers as a class’.
Our enemies want to translate independence to mean being anti-ANC. Organised workers and the working class in general must build maximum unity both at work through strong Cosatu affiliates that serve workers’ interests, and in the community through activist participation in the ANC and the SACP. Slovo correctly argued against trade unions keeping out of the broader political conflict – he emphasised the importance of unity, through the alliance, between the national movement, the trade union movement and the political party of the working class as represented by the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP respectively. In Slovo’s words:
“Worker participation in the ANC is one of the important ways in which our working class plays its role in the democratic revolution. But, above all, the tripartite alliance, moulded in the revolutionary underground, between the ANC, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) [now Cosatu], and our SACP, represents a framework which expresses the political interests of our working class in the broad front of struggle.”
This Alliance between our national movement, the progressive trade union movement and working class political party is the best organised front to take forward the struggle to complete the liberation of our people and pursue social and economic emancipation! The multi-pronged offensive to divide Cosatu and split it from the Alliance can therefore only be useful to a counter-revolution. This is why as the SACP we strongly condemn all activities aimed at dividing and weakening Cosatu and our Alliance. A divided Cosatu that concentrates on in-fighting within its ranks rather than take the fight to the bosses can only serve the agenda of the exploiters.
The strategy to divide Cosatu, including attempts to separate it from the Alliance, represents a classic imperialist strategy to defeat revolutionary movements. In Europe, for most of the 20th century, as anticipated by Lenin in the early teens of the previous century, imperialism concentrated on driving a wedge between the communist and labour movements thus weakening and defeating both. In developing countries where there has been some relatively significant trade union movement, the imperialist strategy has been to drive a wedge between the national liberation movements and the trade union movement. This is what has been attempted in Zambia and Zimbabwe in our region. The initiative led by the Numsa leadership clique fits perfectly into the same imperialist strategy to try and dislodge the ANC-led Alliance from power. It is therefore important that we understand this idea of a “united front” and “workers party” from this political angle.
Today we did not only gather to commemorate the death of Slovo. We have also gathered to celebrate his revolutionary life and times. Let us therefore recall what he has had to say in his theoretical contribution about trade unionism, especially in his reflections on:
Workerism, interchangeably syndicalism.
Our approach today does not focus on what Slovo would say about our current situation. We are reflecting on what he has said already. There are important lessons to be drawn from this. Slovo developed a theoretical analysis on some of the problematic tendencies that could only disrupt unity in the trade union movement and in trade unions as prime mass organisations which [Allow us to quote]:
“must attempt, in the first place, to unite, on an industrial basis, all workers (at whatever level of political consciousness) who understand the elementary need to come together and defend and advance their economic conditions… and cannot demand more as a condition of membership.”
We are emphasising the role of trade unions in uniting workers on an industrial basis because this is a founding principle of Cosatu. We have already seen a worrying phenomenon negating trade union solidarity, replacing it with competition, and therefore eroding the basis for the unity of the federation. Some of the elements who are engaged in this agenda contradictorily also do so in the destructive Leon Trotsky-style whose essential character was exposed by Vladimir Lenin – the “Disruption of Unity Under Cover of Outcries for Unity”.
Tempering with the fundamentals of a working class organisation unilaterally is bound to cause some of the problems that are posing a threat to the unity of Cosatu, its nature and character as we see today. In Slovo’s words [paraphrased] this would be as suicidal as blurring “the border-line between trade unionism and the political leadership of the working class as a whole”.
In his 1988 seminal intervention ‘The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution’ Slovo deals with workerism, one of the tendencies that blurred the “the border-line between trade unionism and the political leadership of the working class as a whole”. He notes that workerism regarded the National Democratic Revolution, whose main content is to complete the liberation of the historically oppressed, as a diversion from, and denied its immediacy in class struggle. He states that where workerism admits the relevance of national domination in the exploitative processes, it insisted on socialism immediately. Workerism, writes Slovo, alleges that inter-class alliances lead to an abandonment of socialist perspectives and to a surrender of working class leadership.
Slovo also observed that workerism claimed the economic struggles between the workers and the bosses at work, which of course indeed spill over into the broader political arena, are the “class struggle”. He noted that this was “sometimes coupled with a view that the trade union movement is the main political representative of the working class”. He did not end there. Slovo identified a “more sophisticated version of the left-workerist position” which had surfaced among union-linked academics. “This version”, he writes, “concedes the need for inter-class alliances but puts forward a view of working class political organisation more appropriate to a trade union than a revolutionary political vanguard”.
These are not the things we have manufactured in the light of what is going on in the trade union movement today. These were the observations made by Slovo and the SACP in the late 1980s. Workerism is not a label but an operative description of a certain political, and economistic tendency mainly found within the ranks of the trade union movement.
Slovo also warned against the working class isolating itself from the alliance. He emphasised that:
“…the result would be to dilute the content of the National Democratic Revolution, to hand over its direction to the other class forces and, in the long term, to hold back socialist advance.”
Slovo’s conclusive warning against class purism through a direct quotation from Vladimir Lenin (Collected Works, Vol. 22, pp. 355-6) is worth repeating in this reflection on his theoretical contribution in our struggle:
“So one army lines up in one place and says ‘we are for socialism’ and another, somewhere else and says, ‘we are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! … Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is”. (Collected Works, Volume 22, pp.355-6).
The SACP says let us forge working class unity and build a people’s economy!
Twenty years have passed since Slovo’s death, and we have just entered the year of the 21st Anniversary of our 1994 democratic breakthrough. The theme of our Party Programme this year is Forging Working Class Unity for a People’s Economy!
The National Democratic Revolution has made massive progress compared to where we come from, and there are major advances that the working class has benefitted from. This includes human and workers’ rights which are enshrined in our constitution and have further been given effect through various pieces of labour legislation. Let us celebrate the many major redistributive achievements over the past 20 years:
The over 3.5 million houses built for free benefiting over 16 million people including the youth;
The over 7 million strong household electrification programme, compared to 5 million (on a racist basis) in the preceding century by the colonial and apartheid regimes;
The over 400 000 free solar water geysers; the expansion of access to potable water to 92% of South Africans compared to 60% in 1996;
The expansion of social grants from 3 million just after 1994 to 16 million people in 2013, benefiting the elderly, children, and veterans;
The expansion of child support grants to include all eligible children up to age 18; the transformation of the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa into the new National Student Financial Aid Scheme and its expansion to benefit over 1.4 million students;
The massive rollout on HIV treatment more so after the 2009 general election benefitting over 4.6 million people.
If he were alive, Slovo would be pleased with this progress which, for example, includes the progress made in human settlements, building on the foundations he laid as Minister of Housing. He would, of course, appreciate that much more work still needs to be done to undo the centuries- and decades-old damage and legacy of colonial and apartheid capitalism.
As the SACP we are certain that by supporting the perspective of a second, more radical phase of the National Democratic Revolution – the foundation of our transition to socialism – we are on the right track! At the heart of this second radical phase of our transition must be the deepening of democratisation and radical economic and social transformation which has not been attained, despite the all-important redistributive social advances that we have achieved.
This is why for the SACP the second, more radical phase of our transition means the struggle to roll back the capitalist market in advancing our transformation and developmental goals.
The key objectives of this phase of our struggle include the transformation of the mining sector to support industrialisation, expand access to productive work, and reduce unemployment and poverty. This must necessarily involve the use of our mineral resources to advance the manufacturing of finished goods in our economy as opposed to the colonial-type dependency on the export of raw materials and the import of finished goods. Raising the education levels and developing the vocational skills of our workforce and transforming the financial sector to serve the people are at the core of this programme.
The transformation of the financial sector to serve the people requires the complete overhaul of the architecture of the financial sector in our country. This must entail de-monopolisation of the banking sector and the elimination of private monopoly dominance in our financial sector in general. The SACP will intensify its Financial Sector Campaign including the struggle to diversify, and build a large co-operative and state banking sector.
This is critical for access to affordable credit for the workers and the poor for productive use and NOT the dangerous phenomenon of consumerism which only benefits the capitalist class. The Financial Sector Campaign also includes an intensified fight against omashonisa (loan sharks), reckless lending practices and unscrupulous evictions which are one of the most devastating things that can ever happen to any family.
The second financial sector summit must be convened this year under the auspices of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to review progress since the last summit held in 2002 and to strengthen measures to achieve financial sector transformation.
During this second phase of our transition one of the struggles that we must intensify is:
Deepening the offensive against racism and all other forms of discrimination
Much as the struggle against racism and patriarchy is integrally linked to the struggle against capitalism, racist attitudes needs to be confronted wherever they raise their ugly head. The SACP is deeply concerned about the internet and online media outlets for being carriers of some of the worst racist and sexist expressions, including hate speech. This is known as trolling, and many other countries in the world have decided to criminalise this, including, of late the UK.
Trolling is defined as sowing discord by posting inflammatory, off-topic and extraneous (including racist and patriarchal) messages on internet or in an online news outlet that allows comments, or sending any content of a similar nature via SMS to current affairs programmes on radio, internet, newspaper or television. These are sometimes simply read even without any disclaimer. Some media houses also allow such comments to be posted or published directly in their online news outlets. This includes comments that are derogatory, infested with hate speech, or deliberately contain false information about or seek to malign the character of other people.
The SACP calls upon all media that uses the internet as one of its outlets to take responsibility for the content posted onto those platforms. It is surprising that the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and the Press Ombuds appear to be indifferent to these racist and sexist crusades which are carriers of some of the most vicious of hate speech. These closet racist trollers often use pseudonyms to carry out their acts. If these media institutions are to be believed that they abhor racism, they must act on the racist rants carried through their platforms, and we call on them to act and do so decisively.
The SACP wishes to use this occasion of commemorating one of the greatest champions of non-racialism, Comrade Joe Slovo, to call upon the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate and recommend appropriate action on Internet trolling, including possible criminalisation and other legislative measures. This must include studying what other countries are doing in this regard. We cannot allow media outlets to let this criminal and offensive behaviour to go on unchallenged.
It is important to emphasise that while our country’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it expressly prohibits propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and all that constitutes incitement to cause harm. The constitution further protects the dignity of all our people!
Honour the legacy of Joe Slovo; Serve the people unconditionally!
As South African communists let us Honour Comrade Joe Slovo by committing to serve our people without expecting any special favours for ourselves!
In Honour of Comrade Slovo, let all our ANC municipal councillors commit to serve and service our communities, and hold quarterly report back ward meetings in our communities!
In Honour of Comrade JS, let all our shop-stewards and trade union organisers service workers in all workplaces!
In Honour of Comrade Joe Slovo let all communists and SACP branches intensify the Know Your Neighbourhood Campaign!
In Honour of Slovo let us expose and defeat all tenderpreneurs, including the thieves that owe SARS millions from stolen money and illicit tenders!
In Honour of Comrade Slovo let us intensify our campaign against corruption!
In Honour of Comrade JS let us defend all of our organisations from corporate capture by commercial interests!
In Honour of Cde JS let us defend our state owned companies from being captured by any variety of tenderpreneurs!
In Honour of Cde JS let all public servants actively embrace Batho Pele and serve our people with humility!
Long live the memory of Cde Joe Slovo, long live!
Blade Nzimande is SACP General Secretary