The demon of liberalism

Sara Gon writes on Nzimande and the SACP's regular attacks on the concept

There are a number of myths perpetuated in South African politics. A myth is a “widely held but false idea or belief”. This is the third in a series of article by the SAIRR which explains and debunks some of the political myths in South Africa.


General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Bonginkosi Emmanuel (Blade) Nzimande, regularly appears in the media attacking liberalism and neo-liberalism.

It’s fair to say that for Nzimande his liberal opponents are not just opponents; they are “the enemy”. And enemies are to be destroyed.

The tone of his attacks are war-like. South African liberals are waging an "ideological offensive" at the tripartite alliance (News24 17/09/2012). There is a "liberal agenda" to unfairly criticise the liberation movement and the government (News24 07/09/2011). "We have a huge liberal offensive against our democracy” (BDLive 28/09/2010)

There’s a whole article entitled “The eternal hypocrisy of the liberals” on Politicsweb (01/03/2012).

What is this liberalism that Nzimande and fellow communists so detest and abhor? This political swear word? As Wikipedia defines it:

“Liberalism is a political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual, favouring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.

Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality. The former principle is stressed in classical liberalism while the latter is more evident in social liberalism.

Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and international cooperation.”

So Nzimande is saying that he opposes freedom of speech, the press, religion, free markets, civil rights and democracy.

One of the creepiest and most disrespectful aspect of a national democratic revolution leading to a communist/Marxist state is its paternalism. It is the anti-thesis of liberalism.

Paternalism is the policy or practice of people in authority that restricts the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to or otherwise dependent on them, in their supposed interest.

Liberal states are by definition answerable to their people: communist states by definition are not. The people are not deemed worthy of determining their own economic preferences. Their lives must be determined by whom they are ruled, not governed.

The quality of jobs a person can aspire to improve with education. The dire state of South African education ensures that the size and plight of the working class and the unemployed is not going to be alleviated anytime soon. This applies even if the state takes over the ownership of what is archaically called the “means of production”.

Communism can proselytise the equality of man, but no successful economy is going to be one in which everyone’s job is of equal value and can be treated as such. Jobs have to be evaluated by the complexity of their content, society’s demand for them, and the responsibility they carry. If that distinction is not made then there is no incentive to invent and create. Man is meant to invent and discover.

The ANC and SACP espouse a Eurocentric ideology that is over one hundred years old but has proved to be a consistent failure. Politics is economics and those societies that have espoused Marxism have either imploded, or withered and died. Only those that have moved to a more liberal, capitalist way of operating have survived, and the extent generally depends on the acceptance by these societies of free markets and democracy.

Prior to the collapse of communism there were approximately 46 countries ruled by communist regimes. Only five still call themselves communist: China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam. China, Laos and Vietnam are adopting increasingly capitalist/liberal economies if not yet political philosophies. Cuba is rapidly moving into America’s sphere of influence. Only North Korea is the last absolute communist state and is one of the most frightening and despotic places on earth.

Communism is a theory or system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community, and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.

It cannot work. It doesn’t account for the abilities, needs, and differences of human beings. Nzimande doesn’t have the right to determine what anyone does or think. And that is what communism ultimately requires to succeed. And that’s why communism ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

Capitalism can take a variety of forms but most critically it is shaped within a democratic society where the individual is protected first and foremost. If the individual is protected, the group will be protected. But protection of the group first and foremost does not guarantee the protection of the individual.

Nzimande, the EFF, the ANC etc sneery refer to the “neoliberalism” of the enemy/opposition/business community as if it were some evil to be smote (communism is a belief system like religion).

Marxism came into being in response to the industrial revolution and is rigidly grounded in that idea and those circumstances. Capitalism, on the other hand, has many variants and adapts with time.

Unlike communism, capitalism is not an ideology. It’s an economic system which is comfortable in all political strategies even if not all political strategies are comfortable with capitalism.

In Piketty's Faith, a critique of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Jonah Goldberg refers to radical philosopher Georges Sorel’s (1847-1922) observation: “Appeals to science are powerful only if the science holds up. So long as Marxism's claims remained uncontested and unexamined, Marxism had a huge advantage. Once it became clear that the science in "scientific socialism" was nothing more than clever branding, all that was left was faith.”

The SACP’s reference to the “ownership of the means of production” has in mind big industry, business and mining being “owned” by the working class. This pie-in-the-sky concept has barely changed in the SACP’s thinking since it was first articulated in the mid-nineteenth century. The big industries of the 19th century are not the big industries of the 21st.

To illustrate the absurdity of ownership of the means of production, look at the state of our mining and steel industries. The SACP wants them to be owned by the proletariat. Sasol has just been added to Nzimande’s list.

In 2015 our mining industry is in trouble: it produces materials the world no longer needs in any great quantity. And it doesn't need it from South Africa because the production of the products here is too expensive, and it can be sourced more cheaply elsewhere.

Steel is dying because demand has dropped and it can be sought more cheaply elsewhere. China is dumping tons of cheap steel on the South African market.

What’s next? Is the SACP going to seize ownership of tourism and IT sectors? The ultimate sectors that reward individual initiative?

Liberalism is the answer not the problem. Nzimande desperately doesn’t want to be a liberal. The scary question is why not?

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.