Towards universal social emancipation
Let us unite and deal a blow to imperialism, our common strategic opponent;
Let us intensify the struggle in our respective countries!
7 October 2016
Dear comrades, allow me, first and foremost, to thank you for this opportunity, and to convey revolutionary greetings from the South African Communist Party (SACP). Let me also welcome comrades who have travelled from all over the world to come to this great proletarian internationalist gathering, here in Durban.
The global context: our perspectives
Like many countries of the world, South Africa was impacted negatively by the 2008 global capitalist crisis and, consequently, by a politics of periods of capitalist crises. Of course, South Africa is not alone; we have seen recently what happened in Greece where democracy was usurped by the interests finance capital, in Brazil, Venezuela and elsewhere. We have seen the imposition of an openly neo-Nazi government in Ukraine, and the funding of terrorist groups by the Western imperialist states and their allies in the Middle-East – and, comrades, where they feel like using direct military intervention, as in Iraq and Libya – they do it without regard to the destructive consequences.
The Greek example is particularly instructive for Western multiparty democracy because it says that the people’s electoral choices or preferences in referendums do not matter. The Greek example says what matters is the voice of the banks that distorts the meaning of democracy and determines the trajectory of economic development.
The 2008 crisis of capitalism is still in session, but – as it always does – capitalism keeps on searching for new avenues for accumulation. The African continent has now been identified as one such new avenue for capital accumulation. Indeed our continent does need massive investment to build labour absorbing productive economies. However, such investment and development must be to the benefit of the workers, peasants and poor.
But our continent faces a number of challenges, amongst them poor organisation of workers, peasants and other social strata. Under the circumstances, any massive investments are likely to primarily benefit elites. Therefore one of the biggest challenges in the continent is that of building progressive and revolutionary democratic organisations of workers and peasants. Let us use this historic occasion of the holding of the World Trade Union Congress on our African continent to lay a stronger foundation for building class-oriented trade unions in the continent. The SACP is committed to working with the WFTU and its South African affiliates to assist in this task.
Let us confront imperialism in all fronts of struggle!
Here in South Africa, one of the most important moves taken by the current government was to become a member of the Brics co-operation made up by Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. The African headquarters of the New Development Bank, also known as the Brics Bank, will be located in Johannesburg and progress is underway. This bank will hopefully offer alternative funding not only to South Africa, but also to the whole of the African continent and unlike the Bretton Woods institutions hopefully in a manner that is beneficial to poorer countries.
This, of course, has not gone unnoticed by our strategic adversaries, those who in the name of “Defending our Human Rights” bomb our cities and massacre our families. They are already busy with their regime change agenda in the Brics countries and, indeed, against all those countries which do not wish to be controlled by the dictates of their bankers, their oil and mining companies and their transnational corporations.
Yet we must not look only at the attack by the main enemy. We must also look at those internal and domestic weaknesses that often give our main enemy an entry point.
Our domestic challenge: fight monopoly capital as our main strategic enemy and the parasitic bourgeoisie as our most immediate threat!
Our struggle against colonialism in the global South, in particular in South Africa and in our region, was not a struggle for the replacement of the White or colonial elite by an African or Black elite.
We came together and united in the struggle because of our shared perspective that our struggle was both a struggle for political liberation and social emancipation.
We clearly understood that political liberation alone will have no meaning without the return of the wealth of our lands to the people as a whole.
We were united that our struggle was not a struggle to elevate sections of individuals or elitist groupings, be they locals, White or Black, to manipulate or pilfer our basic wealth and national resources.
Our struggle was not a struggle for a few individuals operating in our name as Africans or Black people to become a new class of exploiters in the place of, or working together with old, or established, sections of capital as well as foreign monopoly capital.
Without dislodging and defeating imperialism, our liberation will remain incomplete.
It was for these reasons that the SACP, together with the ANC and the progressive trade union movement, became part of the liberation movement as currently expressed by our Tripartite Alliance.
The April 1994 democratic breakthrough in South Africa marked a decisive advance against colonialism in Africa. It is a democratic breakthrough on the back of which we have made enormous progress in transforming the lives of ordinary workers and poor in our country.
We have progressive constitution and labour legislation, reflecting the many advances made by the struggles of the South African working class over more than a century of labour struggles.
We have made enormous progress through a number of redistributive social programmes. This includes providing free housing to the poor, expanding educational opportunities, electricity connections to millions of South Africans, social grants for the vulnerable and expanded access to health care, to mention but a few. Some of these programmes are unprecedented in recent history of the world.
But our major problem is that we have a semi-colonial, capitalist economic trajectory characterised by stubborn structural crises of unemployment, inequality and poverty. It is also an economy that is highly monopolistic, and hostile to the development of small and medium enterprises or co-operatives.
Without defeating imperialism on a continental and wider international basis, our liberation will remain incomplete. Conversely, we will not be able to defeat imperialism unless we defeat the internal class forces and strata that merely seek to replace for their own profit or join hands with the colonial era owners of means of production and monopoly capital in the exploitation of the masses.
In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels identified the lumpen proletariat as the “dangerous class”. Today in Africa, and in many other developing countries, the dangerous class is the parasitic bourgeoisie.
The parasitic bourgeoisie comprise of that section of the elite whose modus operandi involves establishing political connections in return for business connections with some sections of the leadership in governing parties. This is then used to call for the so-called empowerment and to ride on the back of the former liberation movements searching for plunder.
Of course ALL capitalism is to a greater or lesser degree parasitic, but the classical bourgeoisie exploits labour power by paying workers regularly so that they may keep coming back to work and continue to produce surplus value for the capitalist based on industrial development. The parasites, on the other hand, do not necessarily produce industrial development and, of course, they are at times the worst of exploiters.
There are different variations of the parasitic bourgeoisie, but their general characteristic feature is that they function, among others, like the so-called middleman.
Despite that some strata of the parasitic bourgeoisie could in varying respects be involved in industrial activity on a compradorial or other more or less similar bases, they mainly operate between the state and established sections of domestic and foreign capital. They prey largely on the very problematic (i.e. bourgeois) organisation of the state through concessions to the private sector, as well as through privatisation, outsourcing, out-contracting and generally through the procurement and delivery of public goods and services respectively from or through the private sector. This is one of the major causes and drivers of political and ideological deviation from revolution to reform, as well as of fierce competition for ascendency to positions of power and therefore increasing internal divisions or even factional splits.
This phenomenon is not new. Frantz Fanon, a young African progressive writer noted and discussed it and its dangers as far back as 1961 in his book The Wretched of the Earth in the chapter entitled ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’. He interchangeably used the notions of the “national bourgeoisie” or “national middle class” to describe what we now call the parasitic bourgeoisie.
When we as the Communist Party, or other revolutionary or progressive forces in their respective countries, challenge the activities of the parasitic bourgeoisie, including favouritism, corruption, rent-seeking and corporate capture, we are told that is to be on the side of imperialism or against African or Black empowerment or the so-called indigenisation. This is, of course, gibberish. The fact is that the parasitic bourgeoisie empower themselves by disempowering the workers and the national democratic revolutionary process of social transformation.
The parasitic bourgeoisie is serving its own private interests as a class. The wealth they accumulate in the name of all of us as the formerly oppressed and historically disadvantaged is theirs privately. It does not belong to the people as a whole. It does not belong to the working class. That wealth does not belong to the people who continue to experience class inequality, economic exploitation, unemployment and poverty.
It is NOT for, but AGAINST, the people that the parasitic bourgeoisie are hollowing out the strategic capacity and strategic discipline required by the democratic developmental state that the people need to serve their immediate material and cultural needs.
Also, the activities of the parasitic bourgeoisie and their collaborators, particularly corruption, rent-seeking and corporate capture are the entry point for the imperialists with their regime change agendas. Corruption within governing parties frequently repels sections of the working-class and pushes them either towards demoralisation or to start supporting right-wing parties that are in many respects even more corrupt.
We have just witnessed a parliamentary coup recently in Brazil supported among others by public representatives and businesspeople who are facing serious corruption allegations and were only interested in saving their own skins.
The corrupt champions of the neo-liberal agenda are often more sophisticated in their corruption. The perception being promoted is that those parties pursuing the neo-liberal agenda are less corrupt than the parties of liberation and more likely to run the economy efficiently and create jobs.
We must also understand that the basic organisations of the working-class itself, the trade unions, can, and frequently are manipulated in the interests of imperialism to bring down progressive governments. There are parasites and business unionists in this sphere of social organisation as well.
How the division in the international trade union movement came about is no secret. It is in fact a typical example of imperialist capture, as the highest form of corporate capture. In this regard, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the WFTU: You have resiliently stayed the course of class oriented trade unionism, with the objective interests and wider historical mission of the proletariat at heart, while others chose to collaborate with, or even to serve as the appendage of, imperialist forces or apologists of its system of capitalist exploitation.
Despite the many challenges that our country and alliance face, including our own internal contradictions, the SACP still remains of the view that our liberation alliance still remains an important vehicle to deepen our revolution. For us as the SACP it is the deepening of our democratic revolution that will lay a stronger foundation for a transition to socialism.
Comrades, it is because of the kind of things about which I have just spoken that, more than ever, we need the WFTU, the true international representative of the interests of the organised workers.
Class oriented trade unionism is important in the struggle to take forward global working class struggles!
Now let me come back to perhaps the most tragic event in South Africa since the democratic dispensation which began in 1994. I refer of course to the killing of workers in 2012 in the Rustenburg platinum belt and the “Marikana Tragedy”.
Capitalism has a history of using its own system crisis to seek to roll back the advances of the progressive trade union movement. Among others there has been an intense capitalist attack by the bosses in the mining industry, which was the spark to the Marikana tragedy, a tragedy that must squarely be placed on the shoulders of the bosses.
What started as an offensive against our ally Cosatu’s affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has now spread and threatens to engulf the whole of federation. It is our considered view as the SACP that the only way to strengthen Cosatu is by strengthening its class-oriented character, and hopefully for the whole federation to affiliate to the WFTU.
How could the Marikana tragedy happen in a country like South Africa with its progressive government?
Let us look at this question based on what happened thereafter.
After the strike was over, some of those who found their way in and used it to build their own trade union or political organisations were flown to London and New York where they were wined and dined by sections of the mining monopoly capital.
No why would the mine bosses wine and dine leaders who had led a strike which was against their interests?
As a result of the ongoing 2008 global capitalist crisis, at the time of the strike platinum prices had plummeted because of a production meltdown in major platinum consuming manufacturing sectors, among them, notably, the global automotive industry.
Workers are frequently placed on short time, temporary layoffs, or are permanently dismissed from work – all based on the so-called employer’s operational requirements, referring essentially to the single-minded motive of profit maximisation, protection of profitability or the rate of profit. This intensifies in the same manner that capitalist competition heightens during the system’s own crisis and decides which capitalist stays in or goes out of business and in addition produces monopoly capitalism. Every capitalist tries to stay afloat, reduce their share of loss and shove it upon their competitors.
As the increasing incidents of short time, temporary layoffs, retrenchments and other forms of workplace restructuring undercutting the total value of wages and eroding workers’ hard-won gains show, capitalists not only seek to shove off loss upon their competitors. They do everything possible to shove off loss at all cost upon workers in particular as at all the times, but on an intensified scale during crisis. At the end of the day, it is the degree to which each capitalist is able to extract as much surplus value as possible from labour and therefore impose maximum loss upon workers that basically determines their competitive advantage over their competitors.
This is the general character of the situation that was going on, including the old capitalist strategy of divide and rule. In this regard, the mining bosses gave one section of workers wage increases outside of collective bargaining agreements and deprived the rest of the workers thus effectively igniting the strike and setting workers against other workers. Rape, killings, displacements and other forms of workers’ or human rights violations took place in this context until the tragic 16 August 2012 police intervention occurred and even thereafter.
Further, the NUM in South Africa had, and still has, a long established campaign towards beneficiation and socialisation of the mining sector. This was obviously another danger to monopoly capitalist interests that then sought an alternative trade union organisation.
Current struggles taking place in the sphere of education: what are we faced with?
Dear comrades, please allow me to conclude by touching on the topical issue of both interest and concern, the ongoing disruption of the academic programme in South African universities and the genuine concerns of student relating to the all-important need to accelerate our ongoing progressive rollout of free higher education for the working class and poor who cannot afford student fees.
At the heart of the current student struggles in South Africa, is the fact that capitalism is refusing to fund the education of the workers and the poor. South Africa has enough money to be able to fund higher education for the working class and the poor, but the money that is required is largely concentrated in the hands of capital. This comes against the backdrop of decades of underfunding of higher education for black people.
The unaffordability of higher education by South Africa’s working and lower middle classes also has to do with these classes being heavily indebted as they are wooed by capitalist finance institutions to borrow for consumption and not lending for investment into productive activities. Interestingly, it was this sort of indebtedness that also played a huge role in the kinds of wage demands made in the platinum industry.
There can be no doubt that, post-apartheid, South African has delivered a massive progress in expanding access to both basic and higher education and training. There can also be no doubt that, notwithstanding the progress achieved, a lot still needs to be done and that the pace of change is unfortunately also decided by the amount of resources available and the balance of priorities.
It was after taking into account these conditions that the government recently announced that it will, through the policy of the National Student Financial Aid, pay fees and fee increases for the working class and poor who cannot afford.
In addition, for the first time the government will pay fee increases for lower sections of the middle class, covering households earning below the fairly high amount of R600 000 per annum. This is progress.
In other words, there will be no fee increases in 2017 except for those from rich families who can afford to pay but capped at 8 percent fee increase.
What we are dealing with, however, is a global problem not only in respect to student debt but also the material basis of the problem and its essential content.
The bourgeoisie are disproportionately the only consumers – on a capitalist private basis – of the professional and skilled labour power of graduates. Yet the bourgeoisie’s contribution in expanding access to higher education and training is almost invisible. It is the very same bourgeoisie who are opposed to corporate tax on a global scale and are campaigning against any increase in corporate tax needed to augment public resources and finance social programmes such as facilitating access to higher education.
In other words, we are faced with a challenge of having to subsidise the exploitative bourgeoisie from the meagre public revenue that is facing multiple priorities compared to capital’s massive accumulation of profit without regard to the needs of society including education but for greed and nothing else.
In addition, the ongoing capitalist crises that erupted in 2008 shrunk the tax base and continue to impact negatively on public revenue.
Let us work together as comrades in struggle and confront imperialism, our common strategic opponent!
Working people of the world will not be free unless we unite and defeat imperialism!
We hope your Congress will conclude successfully, and we look forward to your resolutions!
Issued by Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo, National Spokesperson, SACP, 7 October 2016