Build a movement towards a Mass Workers Party in South Africa
Thursday 13 January 2005 by Trevor
Everyone agrees that we need a mass left political alternative to the ANC government in South Africa. Everyone, that is, who genuinely and selflessly wants to stop the suffering of the people under the capitalist jackboot of the capitalist state. But some people are not clear what form such an alternative will take and how it should be built. In this article the ideas of the Socialist Group, an affiliate of the APF, on why and how to build a mass workers party are put forward for debate and discussion. These ideas are put forward as a challenge to all comrades and in the spirit of debate and discussion. Enjoy.
WHY WE NEED TO BUILD A MASS WORKERS PARTY IN SOUTH AFRICA TODAY
1. Workers and youth ask questions about an alternative
Workers and youth are looking for an alternative.
Historically workers turned in their millions to the ANC, and built a mass party. They did this because it answered the questions in front of them: Where is the power to deal with the apartheid regime? Where is the alternative power? Where is the alternative government? With their struggle, workers unbanned the ANC and placed the freedom charter on the agenda of union after union. They gave the ANC life linked with the struggles they fought on the ground. They did this under conditions of repression a million times more difficult than today.
But what is this ANC doing today?
• When it was unbanned, it spoke of nationalisation. Now it is privatising. • It says that the people shall govern. But every decision has to satisfy bosses and foreign investors, not the people. • It said that there should be a better life for all. But it is only the bosses who are enjoying that better life. • It said that the needs of the people should be met. But now it says only if they pay first and provided that the bosses get enough profits out of the process.
It is enough now. The ANC is a government of privatisation and retrenchment and wage cuts and evictions and electricity cut-offs and pre-paid water meters. We are not happy to say this. We are the people who unbanned the ANC. We are the people who put this government there. It is sad to say that it has failed. But in that sadness is the hope of tomorrow. Because if we are the people who turned the ANC into a mass party, the people who forced the apartheid government out and the people who moved forward against all that repression - then we are the people who can do it again. We can do it, because it is necessary again.
We have now arrived again, under different conditions, where this same questions of power and an alternative government are asked, more and more often. More and more workers are dissatisfied with the old answer.
2. To take forward our struggles we need to build an alternative power
To take forward the struggle against privatisation, we have to raise the politics of nationalisation. To raise the politics of nationalisation we have to answer the question: nationalisation by whom? Under which government? It is the same with every major issue on the agenda. We need to point to the power that will implement the policies which favour the workers. We must do this in ways which are meaningful to the rank and file, that connects with actual struggles and relate to what is actually said on the ground.
3. Is the SACP a political alternative to the ANC?
Some might hope and believe that the SACP is the alternative. But look with your own eyes, how can you be an alternative if:
• You start each sentence saying you are a supporter of the ANC? • Your job is to silence anyone who speaks with a clear alternative voice? • All your life you supported the leadership of the ANC, even when it fought left wing alternatives inside the ANC? * Each time the capitalists attack workers using the ANC government your response is to safeguard the continuation of the Alliance where workers are junior partners to capitalist interests? * Your job is to supply the capitalist state with top comrades to make it attack workers better through policies and the police?
3. The conditions to build a mass workers party
The struggle for a mass workers party will not move forward in a straight line. To build the MWP, it must:
• Involve workers at all points, hundreds of thousands, millions, or it is not a MWP; • Connect, build and support each and every struggle on the ground, or it is not a MWP; • The forces of the left must co-operate for it, or there will be no MWP; • Every opportunity for propaganda must be used or there will be no success; • Every opportunity for agitation must be used or there will be no success; • Propaganda and agitation will have to be loud and clear; • By itself, propaganda will not ensure success - it has to be based on the best and most comprehensive plan of building amongst workers; • The MWP will have to be a workers party under the political leadership of the working class. Unless class lines are clear it will not succeed; • The MWP will have to be built out of a movement of struggle and a movement of struggle for an MWP. It will get nowhere if it is announced without that movement.
Developing that movement is the priority on the agenda for the next period - side-stepping that task in favour of declarations and announcements will get nowhere. Avoiding the issue because the time is not right will get us nowhere.
4. How do we build the movement for a mass workers party?
4.1 Call on Cosatu leadership to form a mass workers party.
We support the call by other socialist groups for the Cosatu leadership to form a Mass Workers party. But we know that the COSATU leadership will not make this decision without a struggle. It will only happen if workers are sufficiently mobilised to place real pressure to make the leadership act. Or - and it is not necessarily one or the other - workers gather sufficient strength and mobilisation behind the demand so that you can proceed, whether the leadership support the action politically or not.
We cannot mobilise for this call on the Cosatu leadership without pointing to the political problem of the COSATU leadership (class collaboration). Weu can’t make the call as if they agree with you or in silence about whether they agree or not. Without placing the politics of the Cosatu leadership on the agenda, their politics will simply undermine the mobilisation and political clarity we seek to build.
What would it need for the leadership of COSATU to do this tomorrow? All that is necessary is political vision, political will and political courage. That is why we make a demand on the Cosatu leadership - to show workers what is immediately possible if the leadership only agreed. It shows that this is not a question of convincing the enemy of anything, or getting extra resources or creating more wealth. It is simply a question of politics. If the union leaders agreed, they could do it tomorrow. If they don’t do it, there is only one reason and one problem stopping them: their politics stands in the way. That politics is the politics of class collaboration and of looking after their own interests as individuals or certain strata in society and not the interests of the broader working class.
4.2 Build pockets of support inside Cosatu
While we are fighting to place demands on Cosatu leadership we should also build pockets of support for the mass workers party inside COSATU structures, and other unions. These workers can later develop enough strength to fight decisively and win against the politics of class collaboration inside the unions. There are certain unions we can win as a whole, we can win workplaces and locals. For this campaign we would also need to go beyond the chains of industrial unionism (which divide workers in one place among different unions) and unite workers across unions at the workplace.
4.3 Use existing struggles
Use existing mobilisation —especially the set of campaigns and struggles that have developed in communities and workplaces around basic needs. The struggles of the social movements such as the APF, LPM, Jubilee, EJNF, AEC, CCF, RWM, MfD and others. We have to see these - and make these - sites to pursue the objective of building a mass workers party. We must respect the work of these movements and their internal democracy. But we must also help them to see the vision of the socialism and the path to make this vision a reality - the mass workers party. This will not necessarily happen through COSATU. In fact sometimes these campaigns and struggles will only develop apart from and against the COSATU leadership. This is not our choice. This is forced on us by the politics of the COSATU leadership of choosing to stand with the ANC bourgeoisie against the working class.
We must build pockets of support for the MWP inside COSATU and use existing struggles in the communities and factories and schools and hospitals to build support for the idea of the MWP. Those comrades who talk big politics and mouth left phrases without doing anything must be challenged to take action in support of their words. These are some of the main steps forward to actually building a movement for a MWP. We should encourage militants inside the SACP to take the same steps. In all of this, the vision and the need and the possibilities of a mass workers party have to be placed clearly on the agenda.
5. The elections
We can take forward the struggle to build a mass workers party during the coming local government elections. Political questions will be in the air for the masses and not just a few politicians. Whatever happens, there will be “independents” running for election against the ANC party at the local level. The elections and the “independents” will demand answers to a number of questions:
• On what platform will the “independents” stand? • What levels of co-operation and mutual support will there be between them? • What will happen after the election? • Who should workers vote for and why?
The movement for a MWP will have to relate to and grow out of all of this.
6. Raise the need for a Mass Workers Party in daily struggle
The right place to deal with the issue of the mass workers party is in the struggle and every day life of ordinary workers. The vision has to be shared with them.
We know that the struggle to build a MWP is not solved by proclaiming a MWP. We know that simply having a MWP (a form, a type of organisation) without a politics that starts and ends with workers needs and that stands against class collaboration is no good. And we know that a MWP without a revolutionary leadership based on the working class and its needs cannot struggle against bosses power. But none of these means that it is not a political task of this period to place the mass workers party on the agenda and to start campaigning for one. The question is not whether the left or the right wing agrees with this but simply of whether the call serves the interests of workers and makes sense to them.
Some comrades talk about the need to break the ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance. We agree with them. But breaking the alliance does not answer the question: on what politics? It only tells us: get rid of a particular “form” through which class collaboration is maintained. Breaking an alliance with the ANC does not automatically replace it with a politics that fights class collaboration - there is still the class collaboration of the Cosatu/SACP leadership. It is no use to replace one “form” with another when class collaboration is still dominant. Dealing with forms is not enough. It is not enough to say: “Break the Alliance” without saying - for what and on what politics? How can we deal with these questions without raising the issue of the mass workers party?
7. There is no easy road ahead, we have to answer problems and confusion with clear politics
Yes, there would be problems in struggling for a MWP. There would be threats and more. But remember that we are the people who have lived through the threats and more of apartheid. There would be confusion and uncertainty amongst some workers. The way to deal with confusion and uncertainty is with clear answers and clear politics, which starts and ends with the needs of workers. Here follows some questions and suggested answers on the MWP.
No parties, no state power?
There are comrades who say we don’t need political parties because we are not fighting for state power. We have to tell them: the capitalists use state power against the working class. Without the state there would be no capitalism, no exploitation of the working class. We have to challenge and destroy the power of the bosses. We have to destroy the bosses state. We have our trade unions which defend us at work, we have our civics and social movements which build the struggles in defence of our needs, we need a mass workers party to fight for the overthrow of the power of the bosses and to put into power the working class and its allies. (Admittedly we need more time and space to answer this objection as it is based on ideological and theoretical foundations which require further elaboration and critique).
A party that defends the ANC or that struggles against it? There would be people who say but the SACP is already a workers party. We would have to answer them - we want a workers party that will struggle against the ANC, not defend them and demand loyalty to them. We want a workers party whose leadership is not busy implementing privatisation. We want a workers party that will take the wealth from the bosses, not ask them to sell it so that they have got even more wealth. We want a workers party that will nationalise the banks and not demand from them for the poor.
Loyalty to the ANC or to the working class? There will be workers and comrades who want to stay with the ANC because of loyalty. And we have to show them that: the loyalty you need is to your class and its interests, not to an organisation that tramples on the working class everyday.
Who has the power? There will be people who say: we have struggled so long for power - how can we surrender it and go into long struggle again? And we tell them: The problem is that we have not got power - bosses have got power. The problem is that the government does not challenge the power of bosses - it accepts it and protects it in case there will be no investment. The government does not control bosses - it has accepted a politics that lets the bosses control it. We need organisation that deals with bosses power as the only way to meet workers needs.
MWP: Open to all except the bosses and their allies ? There will be people who say: why just workers, why not everyone. And we would have to tell them: in a workers party there is room for everyone who is ready to live without exploitation and oppression. That means everyone except the bosses and their allies.
Comrades, let us build the movement towards a mass workers party. This is the alternative we must build if workers are to fight and overthrow the capitalist system which tramples on their needs everyday. Join the struggle to build the movement towards a mass left alternative to the ANC. We are the masses who built the ANC and put it into power. We can do it again. We can build a mass workers party and put into power a government of the workers. Forward to the mass workers party!