Revolution and Counter Revolution in contemporary South Africa
In one of the last set of important activities that Cde Jabulani Mzala Nxumalo, the late and leading cadre of the ANC and SACP living in exile in London at the time, did before his passing away in January 1991, was to try and interview as many of our leaders as possible, especially those coming out of long-term imprisonment on Robben Island. One of those he interviewed was the late Cde Harry Gwala, a stalwart of our movement. In it Cde Mzala asked Cde Gwala what he thought of the then (possible) impending negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid regime. Cde Gwala warned that one of the main objectives of the apartheid regime at the time - which seemed to have been preparing itself to accept the eventuality of majority rule, albeit heavily qualified at the time with notions like 'protection of group rights' bandied about by the De Klerk - was some kind of political settlement, but with no 'economic settlement'.
We need revolutionary changes: A people can never feed on a vote
In his answer, Cde Gwala made the point that much as a vote is important but people can never feed on a vote, unless that is accompanied by fundamental economic transformations, essentially making a reality the call by the Freedom Charter that the wealth shall be shared amongst the people through, amongst other things, returning the land to those who work it and ensuring that the mineral wealth beneath the soil is returned and used for the benefit of the people as a whole.
Indeed Cde Gwala was also building on the central message contained in the ANC's 1969 Morogoro Conference Strategy and Tactics:
"In our country, more than in any other part of the oppressed world, it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not even represent a shadow of liberation"
In our political report to the last SACP Central Committee (CC) evaluating the current political conjuncture, especially the meaning of the outcomes of the ANC's 52nd Polokwane Conference, we observed, amongst other things, that:
"While we routinely describe events as 'historical', it is highly probable that, in decades to come, the ANC's December 2007 Polokwane Conference will indeed be understood to have been 'historical', a significant watershed moment in the history of our national liberation movement. Almost uniquely for a post-independence national liberation movement, an incumbent president and his electoral slate were defeated democratically within the organisation, notwithstanding all of the advantages and considerable resources enjoyed by an incumbent.
"There were, of course, many diverse currents and agendas at play in Polokwane. Essentially, however, it represented the eruption of popular democracy within the ANC, the re-claiming of democratic space within the organisation by thousands of branch delegates, and the rejection of a top-down, bureaucratic capture of the organisation. It is true that we should not discount the degree to which delegates' votes were themselves the result of considerable provincial (and other) level factional bargaining and trading, and top-down instructions. But this cannot detract from the fact that the genie of inner-party democracy was unleashed. The elation felt by delegates was often related less to the victory of this or that list and more to a sense of a recovery of popular/delegate power. The democratic dislodging of an incumbent president was the symbolic enactment of this broader reality. 'Those whom we have elected this time', many said, 'must know that we can do the same to them in five or ten years' time'".
However our Central Committee pointed out that significant as these developments are going forward in our national democratic revolution, we do not need just changes (whether in leadership or leadership styles, important as these are), but we need thorough-going revolutionary changes that will fundamentally transform the socio-economic conditions of the overwhelming majority of our people. We need a decisive return to the Freedom Charter and an emphatic, unwavering implementation of the message from Morogoro. That is what we understand to be the mandate from the Polokwane Conference!
Revolution means defeating and transforming the colonial type economy
The single biggest threat to the deepening and consolidation of our national democratic revolution is the continued reproduction of the colonial type economy whose features include continued white ownership of the economy, overwhelming dominance of monopolies (continuing to, amongst other things, collude in price fixing, robbing the poor of their important means of livelihood), enrichment of a small black elite, extremely high levels of (racialised) unemployment and poverty, and its general failure to transform the systemic features of underdevelopment and (the economy of) colonialism of a special type. In fact, not only has the economy failed to transform the systemic features of underdevelopment, it is actually the foundation upon which underdevelopment is built and daily reinforced. It is this reality that makes Gwala's statement that 'people cannot feed on a vote' continue to haunt us.
The SACP is fully aware that the Polokwane outcomes, including its leadership and policy outcomes, will be a subject of intense (and ongoing) class struggles and contestations both inside our movement and in broader South African society. For instance the capitalist classes (domestic and international) are deliberately interpreting Polokwane policy resolutions as if they imply 'business as usual', precisely because they want to see the continuation of the current economic growth path. Similarly 'business unusual' seems not to be touching any of the fundamental features of our current economic trajectory! The current economic growth path needs to radically change if we are to realise genuinely revolutionary advances, and this is what the SACP will intensively struggle for both inside and outside our alliance.
In the run to the ANC's Polokwane Conference, the SACP called for either a change of heart or change of leadership at that conference, as preconditions for a united alliance capable of advancing our revolutionary goals. There seems to have been both outcomes from Polokwane, both a change of heart and change of leadership. These developments create huge spaces and possibilities for deepening a radical national democratic revolution. The political report to the last CC characterised this new space and the tasks arising therefore thus
"There are many positive signs that this inner-party democratic momentum from Polokwane will be carried forward. The January 8th statement of the ANC NEC calls for a year of mass mobilisation to build a caring society. There are welcome signs that the new ANC leadership has every intention of working in a far more collective manner, that dynamic contact and consultation with structures is a priority, and that overcoming the factionalism of the run-up to Polokwane, based on a principled strategic approach and on a shared programme of action, is a major priority. This democratic opening is also tangible in many other locations, including the ANC's parliamentary caucus.
"However, the 'Polokwane Spring' is not guaranteed to last forever. The potential clearly inherent in this moment might be stifled by a variety of objective and subjective factors. The eventual impact and significance of Polokwane are themselves, therefore, the subject of an ongoing struggle".
For the SACP the mobilisation of the working class, intensification of mass struggles on the ground by taking up the fight directly against the predatory practices of the capitalist class, and the prospects of an ANC taking up such daily people's struggles, are absolutely essential in realising the potential of the 'Polokwane Spring'; in other words, for revolutionary changes to take place.
Safe-guard the revolution: Identify and defeat counter-revolution
The SACP's last CC was also self-critical on a number of fronts. One criticism we levelled at ourselves was that given the overwhelming challenges on the socio-economic terrain, we have neglected paying systematic attention to the important task of the transformation of our criminal justice system. Matters related to this question have tended to be taken up largely, and exclusively, in relation to protests about the abuse of the constitutional rights of the President of the ANC, Cde Jacob Zuma. Much as it has been important to take up these matters - as they themselves highlight the overwhelmingly central challenge in the transformation of our criminal justice system - the CC directed the SACP to consistently take up these matters broadly and in a manner that will build the hegemony of the working class in the very definition and operations of the rule of law. In other words, we must not allow our rule of law and the institutions of the criminal justice system to favour the rich, to abuse and rob the poor (eg price fixing by cartels), and be defined in an elitist, liberal context, devoid of the overall revolutionary challenges of our country.
The findings of the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) on the 'Special Browse Mole' are a powerful reminder of the importance of a systematic SACP and working class attention to the criminal justice system. From this report alone, we should characterise some of the activities of the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions), especially on the Browse Mole, for what they are, that they are counter-revolutionary activities! They reflect serious abuse of state power, a 'dual' (criminal and political) investigations on certain individuals, selectivity in the application of the rule of law, and most seriously unaccountable investigative actions. It is always important to remind ourselves that in the history of national liberation and socialist revolutions, many a promising progressive revolution was rolled back or even defeated by counter-revolutions mainly spearheaded from within the institutions of the criminal justice system, with Chile between 1970 and 1973 being one such prime example.
The disbanding of the Scorpions is therefore an important step in defending our revolution from counter-revolution. This is not to suggest that every member of the Scorpions was or is a counter-revolutionary (there are indeed many fine men and women in this institution), but unfortunately it had become a seed-bed and potential launching pad for counter-revolution, judging by its many problematic activities, including those identified by the JSCI.
However if we are to get to the bottom of seeking to defeat counter-revolution, it is important that investigations are also launched on the possible collaboration around the 'Special Browse Mole' between sections of the Scorpions and leading political office bearers. Usually such activities and reports are never undertaken without some such political back up and collusion.
In closing his 1989 interview with Cde Mzala, Cde Gwala said he was inspired by the younger generation of revolutionaries mainly sprung up by the 1976 student uprisings, and concluded that with their revolutionary commitment and dedication, he was convinced that indeed our revolution was safe!
For all the above reasons, it is absolutely critical for intensified working class and popular mobilisation to defend our revolution from counter-revolution, to make sure that 'our revolution is indeed safe', by radically transforming the current economic growth path and decisively confronting counter-revolutionary elements in our entire state system. The post-Polokwane conjuncture has all the potential ingredients to achieve exactly that!
Blade Nzimande is the General Secretary of the SACP and a member of the ANC's National Working Committee. This article was published in Umsebenzi Online Volume 7, No. 4, March 5 2008