COSATU leader Zwelinzima Vavi has written an open letter to the South African Communist Party (SACP) expressing his concerns over the party’s right wing policies.
Vavi begins: ‘Dear comrades
‘After reading Comrade Jeremy Cronin’s public response to my address on 21 November 2014 at the ceremony to mark the 40 years of the South African Labour Bulletin on the topic “Is the labour movement at the turning point?”, I was convinced that a public debate was necessary, not just with comrade Jeremy but with the entire leadership and membership of the SACP. I am doing this not just as a General Secretary of COSATU but also as a member of the SACP.’
The following are extracts from the letter: ‘Time has arrived however for certain uncomfortable truths to be stated at this historic conjuncture.
‘You are all aware that COSATU, and therefore the organised section of workers, are going through the most painful period in our history – a period of divisions, factionalism and paralysis which will continue to haunt the working class for many years to come. All our best efforts to arrest these developments have so far been frustrated. . .
‘Therefore it is especially painful that the vanguard party of the working class, the party which is supposed to lead and unite the working class, is this time deeply involved in these divisions. . .
‘Unfortunately, instead of calming the situation down, and assisting the Federation to resolve its difficulties, the Party leadership’s interventions have in many cases exacerbated the problem and added fuel to the fire. . .
‘Many statements have been made recently by the SACP about the crisis in COSATU by both the Polit Bureau and Central Committee, in the December 2013 African Communist and in a series of polemics in Umsebenzi Online. We have had serious disagreements with many of these, and have often been shocked by their sectarian character.
‘I have refrained from responding, for fear of worsening the situation. I have confined myself to focusing on explaining my approach to addressing the crisis in COSATU.
‘But the point has now been reached where certain matters need to be placed on record, specifically in relation to questions relating to the SACP.
‘I do this not only in defence of the members we represent, but also out of genuine concern that if the Party does not change course, it will increasingly discredit itself amongst organised workers, and forever lose its ability to unite and lead the working class. . .`
‘Despite the historical loyalty of many workers to the SACP, and the fact that we have been together in the trenches on a number of campaigns, questions have increasingly been asked about the direction of the Party, and whose interests it is representing. . .
‘It is informed by the following key issues:
• The changing impact of the Party’s relationship with the ANC and its leadership, and that of government;
• The impact of these political relationships on the SACP’s response to critical issues confronting the working class;
• The role of individual Party leaders in driving policies hostile to the working class;
• The balance between the SACP leadership’s participation in the state and political organisation and mobilisation of the working class.
• The necessary debates about the state of the NDR (National Democrati Revolution) and whether the current trajectory can ever herald a seamless movement towards socialism as per the Party slogan – “Socialism is the future; build it now!”’
Citing ‘Underlying Policy Differences’ Vavi begins with the 1995 and 1996 privatisation policies GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy) and the so-called ‘six pack’ of measures, which included proposals for privatisation of state assets and cutbacks, or ‘downsizing’, in the public service in 1995.’
The CP said: ‘GEAR provides a clear framework within which monetary and interest rate policy must work’ and is a ‘path-breaking macro-economic strategy’. Says Vavi: ‘We now know that the ‘clear framework’ it provided was a comprehensive neo-liberal macroeconomic strategy, which the Party was later to denounce as the 1996 Class Project.
‘This is this still relevant because it was seen by the working class as a major betrayal of trust in the SACP’s responsibility as a leadership, rooted in its attempt to retain its proximity to power. Others on the left of the SACP argue that this was not a misjudgement but a political choice and have from that time written off the SACP. It didn’t help that a leader of the SACP, Cde Alec Erwin, was a prominent driver of the GEAR strategy.’
On the National Development Plan (NDP), Vavi says: ‘Following the launch of the NDP in August 2012 there was silence from the Party about the ideological and class problems within it. Despite the fact that the NDP had been endorsed by Cabinet, in which the top leaders of the Party are members – which then suggests that comrades in government must have engaged with the content – there appeared to be complete denial, or at best ignorance, of its massive problems. . .
‘It was only once COSATU began to raise its concerns at Mangaung, and after it drafted a detailed discussion paper critiquing the NDP in February 2013, that the Party began to articulate a critical position. . .
‘Further, even after having endorsed COSATU’s critique, the Party appeared to lack the political will, or courage, to take the battle on the NDP to its conclusion. . .
‘The price paid by the working class in this process is immeasurable. A pro-business economic strategy will now run till 2030 unless a major pro-left political rupture takes place within the ANC and the Alliance.
‘Frankly I see no possibility of this happening inside the government or even the ANC in the near future. . .’
Vavi goes on to condemn the SACP for failing to fight for ‘income distribution’ citing poverty, low wages, mass unemployment and e-tolls.
Vavi notes that ‘the perspective articulated by the SACP in “Going to the Root” creates the impression that it is so embedded in government, that it is unable to have an independent critical perspective either on what additional interventions and policy shifts are required, or to be able to reflect critically on the fact that some of the existing policies have serious weaknesses and contradictions. . .’
Vavi goes on to accuse the SACP of sending out mixed messages on the campaign against corruption.
Condemning the Stalinist witchhunts of the past in Spain and other countries against Trotskyists and others, Vavi writes: ‘They were attacked with exactly the same sort of insults and absurd conspiracy theories we hear today in South Africa, in which NUMSA and COSATU leaders, NGOs and progressive civil society groups are charged with “anti-majoritarianism” and conspiring with international counter-revolutionaries to destabilise “our” ANC government. . .
‘Unfortunately the historical role of the Party – to build unity in unions – is now being reversed in many workers’ minds, who perceive the Party to be implicated in splits, and revenging unions on behalf of government. . .’
On the National Democratic Revolution, Vavi insists: ‘I maintain the view that the Resolutions of COSATU’s 11th National Congress were correct in identifying the challenges facing the working class and the revolution at this juncture.
‘Allegations of “hidden agendas” etc. only divert attention from the fact that if these challenges are not addressed, there is the real possibility that the NDR project may totally implode and that the potential for advancing a radical second phase, or placing the NDR on a new footing, may be destroyed. This is the challenge facing the working class. . .’
On the SACP’s ‘critique of COSATU’, Vavi says ‘it is totally incorrect to label us as rejectionist and oppositional in approach’.
He adds that ‘I am not apologising for rejecting and opposing the current macroeconomic policy framework. . .
‘We have opposed not just rhetorically but have organised practical campaigns against a host of other neoliberal policies. If this makes us deserve a rejectionist and oppositionist label then we are quite happy with it.
‘Having said that I must argue that we have not once opposed any progressive policies – not even mistakenly. . .
‘The Party itself has in the past been very critical of an Alliance that can only run one campaign – elections.
‘But this is very different from saying that COSATU has an alternative political agenda to transform itself into a political party. Many of such conspiracy theories are the function of paranoia and insecurity. . .
‘However, it is obvious that, even without COSATU playing any role in this regard, if workers no longer feel they have a political home in the Alliance, they will look elsewhere.
‘As we have always said in the movement, politics and nature allow no vacuum. So it should not be a surprise that NUMSA and other left formations are beginning to take initiatives to occupy this space. But this is not the same as the federation driving, or endorsing, a project of this nature. . .
‘In line with Marx’s dictum of course that “Philosophers have interpreted the world. The point however is to change it!”, the question arises: what needs to be done to address these unfolding dynamics in the organised working class, and to rise to the challenges they pose for worker unity, not to act in ways which foster divisions?
‘Unfortunately the SACP has been sending out mixed signals. . .’
On the ‘SACP’s Role in COSATU Divisions’, Vavi says: ‘From around the 2011 COSATU Central Committee, the Party increasingly began to be seen to be actively involved in internal COSATU political contestation, which was to develop into open factional politics from the 2012 COSATU Congress.
‘This political posture of the Party partly resulted from differences in strategic perspectives on the direction of our revolution, as outlined above. But it also appeared to be a backlash against the critique articulated by the COSATU CEC of absorption of the SACP leadership into government. . . .
‘In the post-February 2013 divisions in COSATU, there were worrying indications that the SACP was involved in caucuses with those spearheading the campaign against the 2012 Congress decisions.
‘Divisive claims are being made that battles in COSATU can be explained by the emergence of “business unionism”. The “battle over resources” then becomes a convenient explanation to divert attention from political differences.
‘It is shameful that the important vanguard and ideological role of Party has been used to label and demonise legitimate strands of political opinion in COSATU, which have always coexisted, by writing off leaders and organisation as workerists, syndicalists, vanguardists, personality cults, etc. . .’
On the SACP and NUMSA, Vavi says: ‘The intensity of NUMSA’s critique, particularly since 2013, and the NUMSA Special National Congress resolutions of December 2013, reflect the crisis in COSATU, in the Alliance and in the working class as a whole.
‘This is what the Party should have been responding to, not their irritation with NUMSA positions which they may regard as extreme. Rather they should be responding to the extremity of the moment, in which the working class finds itself in a deepening crisis.
‘Secondly we need to ask, why is the SACP so threatened by NUMSA’s critique of “neoliberalism” in South Africa?
‘It may be that NUMSA’s critique has sometimes been overly crude in not recognising areas of progress, contradiction and contestation in the state.
‘But equally the SACP has been in denial about the reality that neoliberalism is a significant feature of strategic aspects of government economic policy, and that this needs to be contested. If the economic proposals of the NDP are clearly neoliberal, what else should we call them? . .
‘The Party seems to have decided on a course of total confrontation, engaging in running battles with NUMSA, hyping up the war talk, and pushing for the purging of NUMSA from the movement. . .
‘This confrontational posture has been reflected in the extreme language continuously used by the Party, such as referring to the elected leadership of NUMSA as the “NUMSA leadership clique”, and “business unionists”.
‘Frequent references are made to the allegation that NUMSA has declared “civil war” in COSATU. This war analogy was extended by the General Secretary when he referred to NUMSA as a “rotting corpse”.
‘Demonising NUMSA and its leadership in this way will make it very difficult to pull back from the brink. . . .
‘Party statements thinly disguise the fact that it was celebrating the expulsion of NUMSA. This creates the clear impression amongst workers that the Party was indeed behind this, despite its denials. . .
‘Promoting the firing or expulsion of a union because we reject decisions of a Special National Congress, which is the product of the most democratic process available to unions, is neither politically mature, nor one which unifies workers.
‘If we disagree with the approach NUMSA has taken, we need to engage with them. The Federation has incorporated these differences historically and needs to continue to do so. . .’
In his conculsions, Vavi warns: ‘An intense class battle is playing itself out. There is a realignment of class forces in society and the movement, leading to new political dynamics and class divisions. New friendships are being made, and old relationships are collapsing, leading to rising tensions.
‘No-one must agitate for divisions: There has been a serious miscalculation that isolating and expelling NUMSA would lead to the neutralisation of a militant and independent tendency that the Party didn’t like; or that the rest of the Federation would cohere around a “more acceptable” agenda.
‘This underestimates the anger among workers, including members of affiliates who supported the decision to expel NUMSA, and the extent to which other unions in COSATU shared NUMSA’s concerns, even if they come from different political traditions.
‘The ANC, while not blameless in this whole saga, seems to have a better appreciation of the imperatives of working class unity than the SACP – as seen in the Jessie Duarte article and aspects of the ANC task team report and statements.
‘It is not too late for the Party to change direction, and recapture its historical role, so that together we can transform our skewed internal development and place society onto a new growth and developmental path.
‘Moreover, and most importantly, every time the Party wavers on issues of principles, fudges issues and sends mixed signals in the face of the relentless capital attack on the working class, it must know it is not just weakening the working class or failing to play a proper vanguard role, but it is also dividing the working class.’
• continued tomorrow