Amandla! interviewed two SACP members from the Eastern Cape where contestation ahead of this year’s conferences is heating up. They responded by email.
Amandla! (A!): What are the major issues and debates at stake at this Congress of the SACP?
SACP Activists (SA): I suspect that any discussion regarding leadership is going to be barred. There has been a systematic and careful clampdown on any attempts to criticize the status quo. Today, one cannot survive in the Party without supporting Blade. The SACP has been concentrating all of its energy on COSATU and developments within the ANC, which has greatly limited our capacity to be an independent Party, and gives us very little space for critical introspection. Most of the talk within the Party is about the ANC and the State in its current form. Any elements added to the debate will not enjoy much support.
A!: There is a debate regarding whether the General Secretary (GS) should be full-time party functionary or allowed to work full-time for government. What are the issues that lie behind this debate? Is it about the role of the Party? To what extent should it be subsumed in government or play a more independent role in working class struggles?
SA: This debate has been a key problem for the Party for a long time. There are two sides to it: one says that we must continue with the status quo and have the General Secretary as a cabinet minister. Within that you have two functional secretaries in the Party office to take care of the day to day affairs, but the GS maintains his government position. The other view is very critical of how the central committee functions and wants the GS to be a full time party functionary. What is the true role of the committee after meetings? Its members have actually little responsibility assigned to them. None of our officials are in the Party offices. The office is leaderless and without political direction. The treasurer is in the Eastern Cape; the Chairperson in Luthuli House; our deputy secretary is in Pretoria. There is not a single official that is responsible for our daily issues. The need for the party to speak on time about matters that truly affect workers has been discussed for decades.
Is it an accident that the SACP didn’t say anything about the DA march? No, because no one is given the responsibility to coordinate our political line. This isn’t going to change anytime soon. Even COSATU supported the suggestion to put the GS out of cabinet, but this resulted in tensions between COSATU and the Party leadership, to the extent that it was seen as a direct attack on the GS.
A!: Does the SACP have a programme beyond shaping and influencing the direction of the ANC and the Alliance? If so, what are its main elements and how are they implemented?
SA: On paper, we are supposed to be an organization that is at the forefront of the struggle, that gives confidence in working class formations, but the Communist Party has replaced its interest in the working class with an extreme concern for the ANC. Today, we only talk about issues regarding leadership. We supported GEAR when it was introduced, then the New Growth Path. As such, we are disconnected from the priorities of our constituencies and obsessing with the ANC, narrowly choosing one part of the problem. We are not building a qualitative approach to leadership, but discussing changes of personnel. Meanwhile, we have the same material conditions under Zuma that we had under Mbeki. The political and social basis hasn’t changed, but it’s as if we had given amnesty to Zuma to fail as much as Mbeki.
The Party is not tampering with the dynamics and ideological structure of the ANC. In the past, we changed our approach to race, pushed women in leadership positions and government to adopt a revolutionary program…The criticisms of Mbeki are still relevant today, but we are not voicing them, because Jacob Zuma has given us the chance to occupy certain positions.
A!: The growth in membership of the Party is said to be quite dramatic. Where are members drawn from? Is it accurate to say that a large percentage of members are drawn from the civil service?
SA: The problem with the party is that it follows the directions of the ANC, so that growth in the Party is actually influenced by changes within the ANC. I can’t speak on the drawing from civil service but to be clear: the ANC draws its membership from KZN on a narrow approach to leadership ties. KZN has overtaken governmental priorities, area developments, etc. The region of choice is KZN. Within the Party too, we are witnessing a “KZNification” of our organization. Some people say it’s the ethnic factor, others patronage; regardless, in essence it’s “KZNification” and it translates in a shift in developmental priorities.
A!: How would you describe the internal life of the Party; tell us about the day-to-day life in the Party? What do members do, what debates are taking place, what struggles are members parts of?
SA: These are interesting times for the Party. It is becoming an instrument of the state more than the working class. A very obvious sign of this is the intolerance to criticism of leadership. If there is any voice that disagrees with leadership, it is denounced as an attack on the Party. People are expelled; districts have been disbanded. It seems that if individuals have different views from the GS, they end up on the margins of the Party. On the other hand, we have branches that continue to serve their working class constituency and who have faith in the Party. There is a semblance of a socialist future in SA. Some branches are active enough to build the capacity of the working class to fight for itself.
There are also obvious elements of socialism in ordinary members of the Party, for instance those who think that socialism is health and education. Yet somehow, these priorities diminish as they climb the ladder of the party and as issues of deployment and the protection of the Sate become more important. The concern for our people diminishes. You don’t see the Communist Party pronouncing itself where there is a service delivery protest, or after an event like Tatane’s death.
A!: What is your assessment of the state of the Party in respect to engagement with the big developments in the class struggle, for example, debates around the global crisis, the emergence of the austerity regimes in Europe and the rise of new movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Revolution, the antiausterity movements in Greece, Spain, etc., and how these may impact on politics in SA?
SA: we always reflect on the crisis of capitalism and the critical role of the banks in corrupting the economy abroad. We have a good hold of the global crisis, and in our criticism is the recognition that this is a global problem. However, if it comes down to SA and how the crisis has affected us, we are silent or the language changes. The Party doesn’t have a hold on the class line! Why is it that we are not being vocal on measures to protect workers and jobs, in South Africa? Social movements and COSATU have become a critical component of society, the only component to criticize the irresponsible capital of the state. Yet the party repels them and will say that social movements are ultra left and isolated movements. When Tony Ehrenreich tried to organize social movements in the Western Cape with the UDF, the party was extremely critical and Tony came under vicious attacks, to the point that he had to stop. The only movement that is legitimate is something that gets legitimacy from the government. Everything that the government does, the party supports, everything that is critical, even if it’s on behalf of workers, the party has a problem with. We are even projecting COSATU as reactionary.
A!: The left is divided in this country. Does the SACP have any policy towards uniting the left in some broad alliance against capitalism? How does the SACP view the new social movements and the protests against service delivery?
SA: The party is not dead and there is life in the branches. There is an issue of capacity, but a serious socialist wish. The problem with the Party is that it doesn’t take up its own programmes; its campaigns disappear and become the programme of the ANC. We could compare the Party to an NGO that works as a consultant to government. NHI was ours but became co-opted by the ANC to become something different than was originally intended. When the DA launches a campaign, it maintains the ownership of it. The Arms deal, for example, was taken up by De Lille and became a marker for her organization.
We recruit the young and the unemployed with limited time and resources. We educate them, and then these comrades become good leaders in the ANC. However after some time they become preoccupied with the wrong things. Comrades that start in the Party will end up in the ANC, fighting to become councilors. I think that the biggest left in South Africa is outside the ANC and the Congress movement, and doesn’t have a responsibility to defend the ANC, nor should it be afraid of it. Successful alliances and campaigns like the one against e-tolling are built outside our programmes, with new coalitions. Yet the Party doesn’t participate in those; the only alliance it wants is one with the ANC.
Amandla! asked the SACP for comment on this article. By the time we went to press, no response has been received. For discretion purposes, the interviewee will remain anonymous.