THE National Union of Metalworkers South Africa, Numsa, has released a full statement responding to Jeremy Cronin, of the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Cronin attacked NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim’s leadership in an article entitled ‘Irvin Gymnastics – the devious art of political contortionism’.
NUMSA brands the SACP attack as ‘pathetic’, ‘inconsistent’ and ‘opportunism’ and asserts itself as a Marxist-Leninist trade union.
Here, in full, is NUMSA’s response by Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, released on 22 May 2014: ‘As Communists we must always welcome any debate on the serious crisis facing the workers’ and socialist movement in South Africa today, but we do hope that it will reach a higher theoretical level than that displayed by Cde Jeremy Cronin in his rant, entitled ‘Irvin Gymnastics – the devious art of political contortionism’.
Comrade Cronin’s article is remarkable for managing to avoid all the most fundamental questions facing South African workers at the moment – the capitalist crisis of mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption, the wave of strikes and community protests and the role of the ANC government and its allies in all of this.
Instead he argues that our biggest problem is a ‘game’ being played by a ‘clique’ led by an individual.
From a comrade claiming adherence to Marxism-Leninism, this approach could not be further from the traditional Marxist approach of beginning any assessment of a problem by looking first at the underlying world economic situation, the class balance of forces and the political struggles between capitalists and workers, and only last at the role of individuals.
Right from the first paragraph, he identifies the key issue as the emergence of a ‘NUMSA leadership clique under Jim’, and in almost every paragraph uses the phrase ‘Jim clique’ in order to create the impression that the whole ‘problem’ revolves around one individual, and that the collective views of the NUMSA members, as expressed in its Special National Congress in 2013 and discussions in all 50 Locals and all 9 Regions, are of no relevance. What a communist shame.
The reality, which Cronin tries so hard to deny, is that what is happening in NUMSA is a reflection of a profound protest movement amongst its members, other unions’ members and the working class as a whole against the effects of a fundamental crisis of capitalism and a neo-liberal menu so eagerly advanced by the National Liberation Movement.
If he were remotely serious, as a ‘Communist’ leader, this explosive mass movement is what he should be looking at. In particular he should be asking why his own party, which always claims to be the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ of the working class, seems to be completely unaware of it, and indeed now finds itself on the opposite side of the barricades to the workers it claims to be leading.
A good example of Cronin’s superficiality is his ‘argument’ that the NUMSA ‘project’, as he calls it, ‘plays directly into the hands of the most reactionary, anti-worker forces in our society’. This sounds like a serious charge, yet he cannot identify a single one of these ‘forces’ and explain how they are supposed to be benefitting from developments in the union.
The reason is that he clearly has made no effort to analyse precisely who the workers’ enemies are and what role they are playing.
So NUMSA must help him out by identifying these enemy forces and the policies that they are pursuing, in order to demonstrate just how wrong Comrade Cronin is. Our enemies are:
1. White monopoly capitalism – the mainly white/male-owned corporations, many foreign-owned, which dominate our economy, in particular key sectors like mining and finance, and resort to collusion and price-fixing to keep out new competitors and make even bigger profits;
2. Tenderpreneur capitalists, who resent their exclusion from the big monopolies and are prepared to go to any lengths, legal or not, to catch up and get rich as quickly as possible, including conspiring with public representatives and officials to rig tenders to their advantage;
3. Most opposition parties, especially the Democratic Alliance, who serve the interests of monopoly capital and oppose even faintly radical policies;
4. The owners of all the mainstream media, both print and electronic, who are themselves running businesses for profit and use their outlets to propagate pro-capitalist and anti-socialist propaganda; they include those like the SABC and Guptas who pretend to back the ANC only in order to advance their business interests.
5. A small but dominant section of the leadership of the ANC and government, some of whom are also themselves involved in business, who have hijacked the movement for their class interests, highlighted by their defence of labour brokers, support for e-tolls and, above all, their championing of the neoliberal economic and labour chapters of the National Development Plan;
6. The leaders of the SACP, who have become silent in both the ANC and cabinet with respect to the imposition of neo-liberal policies, who have offered no resistance to right-wing policies and are incapable of giving the working class confidence to fight for their interest.
The SACP has taken a position that we must take responsibility for the NDR and therefore the pre-occupation to fill strategic positions in cabinet, national assembly, provincial legislature and civil service is considered a necessary co-governance strategy.
7. A few leaders of COSATU-affiliated unions who, with no mandate from their members, engineered, illegally, the suspension of Zwelinzima Vavi, sabotaged the call for a Special National Congress, tried to castrate the federation’s bold policies and turn it into a ‘labour desk’ for the ANC government; several of these leaders have now secured seats in Parliament on the ANC list, which is precisely why they want a weak and divided COSATU.
Now into the hands of which of these enemies does Jeremy believe NUMSA is playing?
Merely to pose the question points to the answer – they all hate everything NUMSA stands for and will stop at nothing to keep trade unions divided, weak and tame. They fear the emergence of a genuine, radical socialist workers’ movement.
To any ‘communist’ this ought to be self-evident, but Cronin’s dilemma is that he is a leader of one of those enemies – Number 6 – and co-conspirator with Number 7. He has to try to avoid explaining why the SACP is not only doing nothing to support workers’ struggles, but actively campaigning to bolster the most right-wing elements in the ANC and government.
As our Special Congress Declaration spelled out, ‘the leadership of the ANC and SACP is protecting the interests of white monopoly capital and imperialism against the interests of the working class.
The ANC and SACP leadership defends the ownership and control of the mines, banks and monopoly industries in the hands of white monopoly capital and imperialism’.
To avoid answering this serious charge of class collaboration, Jeremy resorts to the old, bogus argument of claiming that NUMSA itself is guilty of exactly the same crime, by working in cahoots with un-named right-wing ‘forces’.
The obvious difference is that while NUMSA’s accusation against the SACP is firmly based in reality, his counter-charge is a groundless fantasy. All his other ‘arguments’ are equally pathetic and so easy to demolish.
Comrade Jeremy begins by comparing developments in NUMSA with the emergence of COPE and Agang, two of the most reactionary formations, with whom NUMSA has absolutely nothing in common.
All such parties will use opportunist rhetoric to win a few votes, but are deeply rooted in the ruling class and its ideology. But NUMSA is not resorting to rhetoric. What Comrade Jeremy calls ‘its reckless game of brinkmanship, organisational dissidence and electoral boycotting’ – is in reality a serious, well-researched political programme for the socialist transformation of society.
Far from being ‘a project … devoid of any sustainable capacity to unify and advance working class power and struggle’, it is a programme that does indeed have the potential ‘to unify and advance working class power and struggle’, certainly far more so than anything the SACP is offering workers and the working class these days.
Comrade Jeremy then proceeds to accuse us of ‘political contortionism, riddled with contradictions’.
NUMSA, he declares wants to transform itself into both a broad general workers’ trade union ‘AND a tightly-knit, ‘Marxist-Leninist red union, that uses union resources to act as a pseudo-vanguard party’.
NUMSA is well aware of the different roles of a trade union and a vanguard revolutionary party. But we utterly reject the false charge that because a trade union cannot substitute itself for a political party, which is correct, that NUMSA must therefore become a toothless and tame union.
Lenin, whom Comrade Jeremy loves to quote, argued exactly the opposite, that the very fact that trade unions generally ‘reveal certain reactionary features, a certain craft narrow-mindedness, a certain tendency to be non-political, a certain inertness, etc.’ is all the more reason for a struggle, which, he says in Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, ‘must be waged ruthlessly … to a point when all the incorrigible leaders of opportunism and social-chauvinism are completely discredited and driven out of the trade unions.’
This has nothing in common with Comrade Cronin’s view that trade unions are inevitably and permanently conservative, and cannot adopt revolutionary policies, as NUMSA is doing.
That is why our Congress resolved ‘to explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism as the working class does indeed need a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa’.
This has become necessary precisely because the SACP, far from playing the role of a revolutionary workers’ vanguard party, is now backing, and indeed leading, those Lenin defined as ‘incorrigible leaders of opportunism’ within COSATU who want to turn it into a tame labour desk for the ANC government, and who are using the workers’ movement as a stepping stone to a career in Parliament.
Comrade Cronin then turns his attention to the old and bogus charge that NUMSA is guilty of ‘workerism’, recalling the debates of the late 1980s, when NUMSA and others were wrongly accused of ignoring the broader ‘populist’ political struggle for the transformation of society, in favour of a purely workplace-based form of unionism, which Comrade Jeremy defines as ‘syndicalism’.
The real issue then, as now, was not a crude choice between whether workers’ organisations need to be involved in political struggles as part of the national liberation movement, or just restricted to workplace battles.
NUMSA, and indeed COSATU itself, was always heavily involved in both struggles. It has never been non-political, and is not today, but has always stressed the need to ensure that unions while being involved in politics, also remain independent of any political party and that they are controlled by the workers and not by the party.’