Unite all Struggles Around A Launch Date for Workers Party
On 10 and 11 May (provisionally), nearly three years since it first met, the Working Class Summit (WCS) will reconvene. This has the potential to be an enormous step-forward for the working class, one for which the MWP has campaigned for more than two years.
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) convened the original WCS in July 2018. 1,000 delegates attended representing 147 working class organisations drawn from trade unions, other worker campaigns, community groups and youth structures. At the time we described this gathering as “an historic step forward”.
As the WCS summit recorded, a clear position was taken. The summit report read: “A clear majority agreed on a need to build an independent, democratic and revolutionary working-class political party, which will be strong enough to conquer social, economic and political power, abolish the capitalist system and replace it with socialism.” The re-convening of the Summit will finally allow the implementation of this resolution to go ahead.
This could not be more timely. The re-convened Summit will take place against the background of a world transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The disruption of the lockdowns has accelerated South Africa’s economic crisis. The ANC government’s solution to the 2020 7% economic contraction, sky-rocketing unemployment and growing poverty, is to try and stave off the country’s looming sovereign-debt crisis by piling more misery on the working class with a massive intensification of austerity. Public-sector workers pay is being frozen and service delivery budgets slashed. Reflecting the sharpening of the class struggle all of this poses, the capitalist state’s judicial-wing is increasingly stripping itself of the mask of ‘impartiality’. The Labour Appeal Court declared the 2018 public-sector wage agreement, not only illegal but unconstitutional!
At the same time the main parties of capital are in disarray. The ANC’s factional divisions have become more inflamed. Zuma faces possible imprisonment; its NEC under pressure to enforce the ‘step-aside’ rule against its corruption-charged general secretary Ace Magashule. The DA’s racial tensions threaten to drain away its small black electoral support as it simultaneously bleeds votes to the right. Despite its increased 2019 vote, the EFF’s momentum has stalled. The likely prosecutions on VBS and On-Point Engineering will place unbearable strains on its leadership. This is why its commander-in-chief’s “tea party” with Zuma signals an auctioning off his party to the highest bidder between the ANC’s factions. For the first time since 1994, less than half of eligible voters voted in 2019. The working class sent a clear message with that abstention: We are politically disenfranchised! None of the parties in parliament represent our interests.
The danger is that if the vacuum is not filled by a workers party, reactionary formations will step in, stirring xenophobia, racism, tribalism and criminality. On the other hand, as DA leader Steenhuizen’s declaration of support for Ramaphosa shows, the capitalist class will attempt to put together a new pro-capitalist coalition should the ANC split. This underlines the urgency of the workers party’s creation.
The MWP has regularly analysed the factional divisions within Saftu, including in a detailed Open Letter (August 2020 – available on our website). Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s March ‘no-holds barred’ letter to Saftu affiliate’s general secretaries confirmed our analysis. In it comrade Vavi identifies “proponents of ‘RET’” (Radical Economic Transformation) – the corrupt Zuma/Magashule ANC faction as responsible for paralysing the federation.
The Stalinist distortion of Marxism that guides the faction around Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim, which we describe as the SACP 2.0-grouping, is fully compatible with the RET programme. Stalinism divides the socialist revolution into two distinct “stages” – a democratic capitalist ‘first stage’ we are currently passing through, and a socialist ‘second stage’ to begin at some unspecified future date. This is fully compatible with the development of the new black capitalist elite whose interests (against ‘white monopoly capital’) RET promotes.
The nearly three-year delay in re-convening the WCS and the de facto suspension of the process towards it, resulted from divisions within the Saftu leadership. The SACP 2.0 grouping attempted to collapse the original WCS. They sabotaged mobilisations for the 7 October and 24 February Section 77 ‘general’ strikes and attempted to undemocratically impose their own creation, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP). This amounts to strike breaking. Attempts to block the establishment of the workers party serves the interests of both ANC factions. With their fortunes tied to the preservation of capitalism, both fear an independent working class organised in its own party armed with a socialist programme.
The MWP believes that the majority of the SRWP membership was misled into believing that it was established and endorsed by Saftu’s WCS. They did not realise its establishment was not intended to pave the way towards a workers party but to obstruct it; not to unite but to divide the working class. Behind the radical socialist rhetoric, the SRWP stands fully on the Stalinist ‘stages’ programme. It therefore acts as a platform for the interests of the aspirant black capitalist class within the workers movement. A workers party would not support a programme to replace exploitation by so-called white monopoly capital with exploitation by black capitalists. We call upon members of the SRWP to confront these facts and recognise their “vanguard” party is in fact a sectarian one. Heed the yearning for workers unity comrades, and throw your full weight behind the WCS process to establish a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
The reconvening of the summit is a victory over the SACP 2.0-grouping. But only the determination to emerge from this summit with an unambiguous commitment to establish a mass workers party on a socialist programme can consolidate that victory. Therefore, the question of the composition of the next Summit is hugely important. The Summit must be made into a genuine parliament of the working class!
Freed from the shackles of the SACP 2.0-imposed paralysis, the WCS Steering Committee has played the role it was created for – to steer the way forward to the workers party. But its composition is not ideal. Trade unions and worker and community organisations involved in day-to-day struggles are seriously under-represented, compared, for example, to NGOs.
It is thus of vital importance, for example, that union delegations attending the Summit should be based on workplaces, not head offices alone. At the same time preparations for the summit provides an opportunity to revive the traditions of combining workplace and community struggle that marked the workers movement in the 1980s. Saftu shop stewards have a key role to play in reaching-out to working class community organisations – crisis committees, concerned residents groups etc. – to ensure their participation in the Summit.
Public sector workers anger at the tearing up of the final-leg of the 2018 wage agreement and three-year pay freeze is also being felt by union leaders. The Nehawu leadership’s announcement that they will not campaign for the ANC in the upcoming local elections reflects this. Many public-sector workers will be open to building a working class political alternative. Invitations to the summit should be issued directly to the members irrespective of the response of leaders of Cosatu and other federations.
There should be no attempt to emerge from the summit with a pre-fabricated party. The process of party formation must be democratically driven. For this it is necessary to set a date for the launch, even if it is in December or a year ahead. This will provide all struggles currently taking place in isolation from each other with a central point of reference. Raising their sights beyond the immediate issues and uniting across the different arenas democratic working class controlled committees of mass action – in effect pre-party formations – can begin to be established in every province, district, city, town and settlement. Over this period debates should be held over a range of questions such as rules of affiliation, participation in parliament, positions on the local government elections etc. In this way the launch will be the democratic bringing together of forearmed fighting detachments of the working class to create the party of struggle needed.
Forward to a socialist mass workers party!
This article appears as the editorial of the Autumn 2021 issue of the MWP’s magazine Izwilabasebenzi.