South African engineering union NUMSA calls for ‘United Front’ to fight for socialism!

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Young NUMSA members lobby COSATU with a clear message
Young NUMSA members lobby COSATU with a clear message

SOUTH AFRICAN engineering union Numsa is calling for the building of a new ‘United Front’ to fight for socialism in a strongly worded statement on the revolutionary struggle currently on going in the country:

‘It has become necessary, and quite urgent, to emphatically re-state and explain the December 2013 historic National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) Special National Congress Resolutions, especially the ones that talk to the formation of the United Front, the Movement for Socialism, the ANC and its alliance, and the formation of an independent revolutionary socialist vanguard party of the working class and the role of Numsa in all this.

‘The Resolutions adopted in our Special National Congress were a culmination of more than 26 years of working inside the South African Liberation Movement (LM) in general, and inside and building the ANC and its alliance in particular.

‘Over more than two decades of struggle inside the LM and the ANC and its alliance, by December last year, Numsa came to the inescapable observation and conclusion that there is no chance of winning back the ANC-led alliance to what it was originally formed for, which was to drive a revolutionary programme for fundamental transformation of the country, with the Freedom Charter as the minimum platform to transform the South African economy and society.

‘As for the South African Communist Party (SACP) it was clear that its leadership had become embedded in the state and it was failing to act as the vanguard of the working class. Nor, for that matter, has the SACP any revolutionary programme, post-1994, for the struggle for socialism for South Africa.

‘By December last year, we became convinced that the chances of winning back the ANC onto the path of radical implementation of the Freedom Charter and the SACP onto the path of genuine working class struggles for working class power had become very remote, truly, had actually evaporated!

‘We therefore correctly resolved to call on COSATU to break from the ANC-led alliance. We stated that the need for looking for a political alternative had arrived. We then resolved that NUMSA was going to lead the establishment of a new United Front, which will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the UDF of the 1980s.

‘The task of this Front will be to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and to be an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies such as the National Development Plan. For this to happen, the Special Congress charged our members and shop stewards to be active on all fronts and in all struggles against neoliberal policies, wherever these policies were being implemented.

‘Clearly, the United Front is not a political party – it is simply an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies and for the demand for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter. The fundamental purpose of the United Front is to coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities.

‘We have noticed that some creative journalists have gone so far as to announce for us that NUMSA’s political party is called the United Front. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our Resolutions, we clearly stated that the United Front will be an organisation similar to the United Democratic Front (UDF) – a democratic umbrella coordinating structure of the shopfloor and community struggles of the working class bringing together all sorts of working class and progressive community organisations and individuals.

‘Again and for the record, the United Front is not a political party!

‘Side-by-side with the establishment of the new United Front, we resolved that NUMSA would explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism, as the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa.

‘We said that NUMSA would conduct discussions on previous and current attempts to build socialism. We resolved to commission an international study on the historical formation of working class parties, including exploring different types of parties – from mass workers’ parties to vanguard parties.

‘In our Special Congress we even mentioned countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Greece – as potential sources on socialist experiences we would study. We then said the whole learning process would lead to the union convening a Conference on Socialism.

‘We said that the work to explore the formation of a Movement for Socialism must be regularly reported to our NUMSA constitutional structures and the work must be finalised by the first NUMSA Central Committee in 2015.

‘In the meantime, in all the work being done, whether on building a new United Front or exploring the formation of a Movement for Socialism, we said that we must be alert to gains that may present possibilities of either the new United Front, or any other progressive coalition or party committed to socialism, standing for elections in future. We charged the NUMSA constitutional structures to continuously assess these developments and possibilities.

‘It is in pursuit of this objective that we have recently announced that we will consider the possibility of the working class fielding candidates in Metros and Municipalities, in 2016 Local Government Elections, such as in the Nelson Mandela Metro.

‘The “Movement for Socialism” is not the name of a political party NUMSA has formed. The name of such a political organ (could be a broad coalition of revolutionary socialist formations) or party (could be a straightforward revolutionary socialist workers party – not necessarily of that name!), and how such an organ or party will be formed, all will be determined in the theatre of struggle – the working class, once sufficiently mobilised and united behind the demand for socialism, will determine the programme, form and name of such a structure.

‘From the above, a few things that are very important must now be very clear. NUMSA is and will remain a trade union, inspired by Marxism Leninism. It will not convert itself into a political party. It cannot do so, anyway.

‘NUMSA sees itself playing a leading role in the formation of the United Front and a revolutionary and catalytic role in the formation of the revolutionary socialist organ of the working class – it is theoretically and factually wrong to assert that “NUMSA will form a political party” or more ridiculously and quite incorrectly, that “NUMSA has formed a political party” in the same way that Julius Malema or Bantu Holomisa formed their parties!

‘The political organ to logically arise out of the processes outlined above (whether it be a socialist movement or a socialist workers party, and called by whatever name) cannot be about “beefing up, or providing credible opposition to the ANC” precisely because the process we have outlined above are processes of the immense majorities – the South African working class, both black and white, in all their workplaces and communities!

‘All other previous and historic political formations, including the birth of the ANC itself, were movements of minorities! The ANC and SACP are everyday reminding NUMSA that the working class organised in COSATU unions and COSATU itself will always remain in the ANC and its Alliance. This is arrogance of the highest order, and it reveals shocking ignorance and abandonment of Marxist-Leninist class theory and analysis, on the part of the leadership of both the ANC and SACP, about why the working class both organised in COSATU unions, and those not organised in any union, have tolerated a clearly dysfunctional and anti-working class alliance for more than 20 years!

‘Simply stated, the working class, are not the political property of either the ANC or the SACP – their presence in the ANC and SACP is premised on the sole fact that these organisations are able to protect and advance the class interests of the working class. As more than 27 years of our Marxist-Leninist analysis and revolutionary work has shown, both these organisations no longer champion the interests of the working class or socialism. And the advanced working class has, and continues to, abandon these organisations.

‘The revolutionary strategic objective of all these processes is for the advanced detachment of the working class to rally the immense majority in order to win economic and political power for the immense majority of the South African working class in all its manifold manifestations, for a socialist South Africa as the only solution to the human crisis in South Africa, and the world, today.

‘There are no individuals among the NUMSA national leadership who harbour illusions of personal grandeur, or who want political power in order to advance their personal economic interests. Only a malicious and extremely ignorant imbecile would make such a mischievous and unashamedly false accusation.

‘NUMSA as a revolutionary trade union inspired by Marxism-Leninism, will play its revolutionary part in solving the human crisis in South Africa by advancing the cause for the only alternative solution available to us: socialism.

‘Writing in 1988 at a time when many left and revolutionary socialist formations condemned the SACP’s strategy of working inside the ANC-led Alliance for many reasons, including the possibility of the SACP abandoning the struggle for socialism in favour of the struggle for bourgeois nationalism, Joe Slovo then SACP General Secretary warned the working class thus:

‘ “It is obvious that the black capitalist class favours capitalism and that it will do its best to influence the post-apartheid society in this direction.

‘ “It is obvious that (like their counterparts in every part of the world) the black middle and upper strata, who find themselves on the side of the people’s struggle, are often inconsistent and vacillating. They are usually the enemy’s softest targets for achieving a reformist, rather than a revolutionary, outcome.”

‘Twenty years into our neoliberal capitalist democracy, it has become clear to us, the working class, that sections of the black petit-bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie who took part in the broad liberation alliance are viciously jostling for hegemony and attempting to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans by claiming that the Black and African working class will forever remain in the ANC and the SACP, and in the neoliberal and capitalist ANC-led Alliance.

‘The transition to socialism will be neither completely separate from nor contradictory to the tasks of the national democratic revolution. On the one hand, consistent implementation and defence of the national democratic programme constitute a major guarantee for progress towards socialism.

‘On the other hand, many of the major objectives of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) will be fully accomplished in the process of socialist construction. Among these tasks are complete national liberation and equality, elimination of sex discrimination, and, more significantly, the elimination of monopoly domination over the economy.

‘As NUMSA we have consistently maintained that the NDR is not on track – The only track for the NDR is towards socialism because we believe many of the major objectives of the NDR can be fully achieved in the process of socialist construction.

‘Our call for a United Front of the working class and a Movement for Socialism is precisely a defence of the national democratic programme, the Freedom Charter, which remains the only programme that is capable of laying the basis for socialist transformation of South African society.

‘There is no turning back for us in NUMSA. We will do whatever it takes to contribute to uniting the working class behind the demand for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter, for the struggle against a neoliberal capitalist post-Apartheid South Africa, and for Socialism.

‘As the then Marxist-Leninist SACP said in 1989; “in the aftermath of the democratic forces assuming political power, the working class has the duty to continue the struggle against capitalism, for socialism”.’

Irvin Jim,

NUMSA General Secretary

20 May 2014.