The Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) and the socialist strategy

Report of the APF workshop on socialist strategy 2- 3 July 2006, Johannesburg

Friday 14 September 2007

As part of the socialism series workshops, the APF organised a workshop examining the meaning of a socialist strategy for purposes of building a mass movement. The adoption of socialism as a vision means that the APF has a mammoth task of ensuring that socialism and its ethos become an integral part of the organisational practice and theory. As a socialist organisations the APF has a task of developing an understanding an international history of a socialist movement, history of socialist organisations in Africa and South Africa, the meaning of socialism today, strategies for struggling for a socialist future, as well as the connection between daily struggles and practices with a socialist vision.

Aims of the Workshop Held from 2 to 3 July 2006 in Johannesburg, the workshop was attended by delegates from the APF affiliates (see the attendance register). The workshop was aimed at helping the APF in developing a political strategy for building itself as mass organisations that is socialist in character. To achieve this objective, the organisation had to discuss the meaning of a socialist strategy and its implications for organising in communities.

The June 16 commemoration event that was held on June 16 2006 in the Vaal was used as a point of reference in developing a strategy for the APF. The thirtieth anniversary of June 16 was used as a tool for assessing the state of the organisation. In other words, an attempt to link the ideals of socialism and daily events and struggles were linked.

Issues that came out of the workshop The following issues were covered by the workshop: -

What is a socialist strategy?

Comrade John Appolis, the deputy chairperson of the APF, presented on his understanding of a socialist strategy. According to him a socialist strategy is employed by socialists organisations in their struggle for socialism and the emancipation of the working class. It entails the understanding of aims and objectives of a socialist organisation, a concrete analysis of capitalism and the balance of forces, an appreciation and understanding that the working class the act of emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class, organisations of the working class are indispensable instruments for realising self-emancipation. Women, according to comrade Appolis, as an extremely oppressed group are a critical component in the struggle for self-emancipation.

A socialist strategy should be able to inform us about a path or paths that must be taken in order to reach a socialist destination. According to comrade Appolis this is not an easy task. Marx and his generation were trying to grapple with that question. The Paris Commune of 1871 was also an attempt at answering this question. The working class in Paris took power for two months but they began to appreciate the task of confronting state power and the dynamics of self-rule. In 1917 the Russians waged a successful revolution which was defeated after a number of years of intense civil war, Stalinism and a failure of revolutions in other countries.

Comrade John also said that these attempts at socialist revolutions are providing us with important lessons which can help in formulating our current socialist strategy. Socialism has a heritage which can help us in understanding of a capitalist state, the significance of reforms in a struggles for a socialist revolution, the importance of organisation and organising, a need to make a concrete analysis of capitalism, the significance of education and the building of a layer of organisers, a need of an open debate in our organisations and so on.

He further stated that the APF has to ground its socialist strategy on a South African context. This does not mean that we need to de-emphasize the importance of international solidarity. We have to understand that we are organising in a South African context where there has been struggles that can give us lessons. We had a strong mass movements which was socialist in character. This is the movement which posed question of insurrection in the period 1985 -1986. As part of this movement, trade unions taught us the meaning of a socialist democracy, accountability and workers control.

According to comrade Appolis the movement that defeated apartheid achieved important victories such as the scrapping of apartheid in the legal framework of the country and the right to vote in 1994. Of course, socialism was not achieved because violence and the weaknesses of the leadership weakened the movement.

The APF has to recognise that it is organising in a period where movements that contributed to the struggle against apartheid are weak. Shop stewards who were the battalions of the revolution have now becomes human resource managers. Workers militancy and action has dropped dramatically. The civic movement (SANCO) has now become another site of capital accumulation (SANCO is now a business).

For the APF the socialist strategy means that the APF has to understand that it is challenging the hegemony of the neoliberalism. The APF is also rebuilding a movement that has declined. In other words, we have to prepare ourselves for a long haul, according to comrade Appolis.

Subsequent to the presentation a broad discussion on a socialist strategy and its implications for the APF ensued. Comrades agreed with the presentation but begin to talk about concrete challenges facing the APF.

The lessons of the June 16 event As part of an attempt at building the APF and students formations in the Vaal, the coordinating committee mandated the education committee to organise a popular education workshop to plan the June 16 event. All affiliates were requested to send their delegates to the workshop which was scheduled for 3 June 2006.

The workshop was aimed at systematically learning about organising events such as workshops, seminars and meetings. It was important because it discussed various issues concerning organising events such as determining the date, time, venue, target audience and topics of an event. In addition, the theory of organising events that was discussed at the workshop was applied to the organising of the coming June 16 event. The content of June 16 and the message of the APF for that day were also discussed in detail.

The general aims and objectives of the event were met because comrades were able to listen and engage with speakers who spoke about the significance of the Soweto uprisings. There were also discussions and speeches on challenges facing the youth and students today.

An assessment workshop was held subsequent to the event. While it was agreed that the general aims were met by the event, some comrades argued that the event did Not attract the youth in a significant manner. They argued that the organisation did not avail adequate resources for the event. But this point of view was disputed by a number of comrades who felt that the organisation did make provision for the success of the event. Some affiliates in the Vaal argued that there was no consultation but this was disputed by the fact that the coordinating committee, which is constituted by all affiliates, agreed on a democratic planning process. This debate raised a question about the role of affiliates and APF regions in APF events. The lesson is that affiliates and regions need to work closer with the office and office bearers.

The lessons of the June 16 events and implications for organising The APF has to understand that it is organising under conditions of general decline. In other words, a this stage it is difficult for our events to attract big number of people. Unlike the 1980s, our strategies have to take into account that the mass movement is in a decline. Having state this, it does not mean that we should not work hard and attract a number of people.

Concrete issues are an important component of a socialist strategy. We need to ensure that we ground our socialism on daily struggles and issues of the working class. The June 16 event was examining the state of education. Students and youth who are concerned about this question were interested in the discussions. We were also able to use the event for raising general problems of capitalism. We were able to move from the particular to the general.

We were able to link the history of student struggles in this country with that one of Paris students of 1968. We were trying to show that a socialist movement has a heritage which needed to be engaged and interrogated for purposes of drawing lessons.

The event of June 16 also reflected in detail on the history of students’ struggles in this country. We were grounding the socialist strategy on history of organising in this country. Again, we were showing that there are many lessons that can be learn from the past struggles for socialism.

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