Towards a conference of the left

by Aug 1, 2011All Articles

AMANDLA ISSUE 5 and 6 | EDITORIAL : The left in South Africa is more divided than ever. The Tripartite Alliance left grouped around the SACP and COSATU has become more embedded in the ANC than at any point since the end of apartheid. Following the Polokwane ANC conference and the recent un-seating of their nemesis ñ Mbeki ñ and the subsequent split of the Mbekiites, they desperately need to ensure theirs is not a pyrrhic victory.
Whereas the SACP previously came under internal pressure to stand independently from the ANC in the coming elections, they now need to ensure that what was achieved at Polokwane and subsequently is not lost at the polls. This requires that they play a leading role in the ANCís strategy to follow through on the Polokwane resolutions and in the coming elections.
Leading members of the SACP and COSATU are now part of the inner sanctum of the leadership of the ANC. But the fruits of their victory will be realised only when there is a marked shift in policy from the Mbeki era. Yet their situation is vulnerable. They represent a small minority on the ANC National Executive and when the crunch comes in terms of deciding on and implementing policy as government (and this is especially true of economic policy) the pressure on Zuma and co. will be to compromise with capital and conservative forces in the state. Rumours already abound of ANC plans to dump the Party and COSATU after the elections.

The difficulty of the Alliance left in defining its independence from the ANC, especially since the latter became the ruling party, is the basis of the continuing division between them and the independent left. But multiple divisions within the independent left prevent it from appearing as a viable alternative force. These divisions become more apparent as elections loom. The independent leftís weakness in numbers and lack of a national profile makes it difficult to contemplate standing in the elections. Not that the independent left is even united on the question of whether to stand. There are strong impulses, particularly in the social movements, to call for a boycott ñ no land, no house, no vote. Some sections of the left call for a spoilt ballot as a protest against current policies as none of the parties represent an alternative. In contrast, other groups are launching electoral initiatives.

All components of the left claim to be representative of the interests of the workers and the poor. What they say and do is motivated by the need to transform the lives of the millions of downtrodden whose condition has not materially changed since the end of apartheid. Their struggles provide the basis for the left to overcome the ideological and strategic differences and achieve greater unity in action: in defence of jobs, working conditions, access to basic services, for land, decent education and health care and against outsourcing and privatisation.

The impact of the global economic crisis, contrary to Finance Minister Manuelís denials, is going to seriously affect the lives of the poor. This should instil greater urgency for unity amongst left forces.  Already it is reported that more than 70,000 workers have been retrenched in the third quarter of this year alone! Worse is to come as demand for exports crumbles, more markets crash and the decline in the value of the Rand leads to further increases in inflation.
In the face of this situation the employers will shift the crisis to workers and the poor. With mass unemployment and frustrated hopes, an explosive situation is unfolding. This could either be channelled into mass mobilisation for change or could quite possibly lead to intensified reactionary outbursts of xenophobic and other anti-social violence.

A long-standing resolution of COSATU calls on the federation together with other forces to convene a conference of the left. A bilateral summit of COSATU and the SACP, held in Johannesburg over 27/28 March 2007, similarly ëcommitted itself to convene within a year a conference on socialism, as part of an effort to build and lead a mass movement for socialism in our countryí.

Such a conference would provide the opportunity for forces of the left to discuss the complex issues of dealing with the global financial crisis and how the global energy and food crises, which take a particular form in South Africa, compound the situation. In spite of differences over strategy it would also offer an opportunity to agree on a programme of mass action in defence of working-class interests. Hopefully issues of the region ñ Zimbabwe, Swaziland, regional integration ñ would also be debated and common action agreed.

While there are serious challenges to building greater left unity, the collapse of the neo-liberal consensus on the one hand, and the danger of major attacks on the working class on the other hand, should be the impetus to get the left to hammer out a joint programme of action. This will require humility, the preparedness to listen, and, above all, a commitment to embrace a vision of unity of the democratic left.

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