27 June 2015

Activists across the country will be disappointed over the postponement of the launch of the United Front, for the second time in six months. The conversion of the original launch in December 2014 into a Preparatory Assembly was understandable and necessary. Then structures were not in place and there was uncertainty over the UF’s ideological orientation, organisational character and political objectives.

With these key questions having been referred back to the areas for discussion, a process of debate, highly imperfect in many provinces though it might have been, had begun which was to have been concluded at the launch. For the first time since Numsa’s historic Special National Congress (SNC), the UF’s place of birth, a sense of momentum had begun to develop. Civics which the UF had for most of the past eighteen months failed to connect with, and which, in turn had adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards the UF, have begun to be drawn towards it.

Thus, whereas in December 2014, there were hardly any structures in place, this time the UF has established structures in every province except KZN. Again, although in many cases still rudimentary at this stage and still to develop into active forums for mass action campaigns, their establishment represents an important step forward. The debates on the key issues – whether the UF should be socialist, stand in the elections or adopt the Freedom Charter – that were to have continued at the launch, have animated activists, providing a sense that the UF is at least, and at last, beginning to take the necessary steps towards clarifying its ideological, programmatic and political character.

The new postponement has been explained as necessary due to the lack of finances available. Whilst finances are always a struggle for the working class movement this could have been overcome if the UF had developed its roots amongst the mass of the working to a greater extent than has been the case.

Wasp calls upon all the structures in the provinces not to allow the momentum to be slowed. The majority of provinces have come out overwhelmingly in favour of socialism and prefer the UF to stand in the elections. These developments indicate that the UF still has the potential to achieve the objectives for which the Numsa SNC gave birth to it – the unification of struggles of working class communities and of the working class in the workplace.

The UF must, as a matter of urgency, connect with the service delivery protests that have reached new levels of frequency and intensity across the country. At the same time there are major disputes in the workplace in both the private and public sector. Telkom is threatening to retrench 14,000 workers. MTN workers have been hospitalised after being shot at by police. Mining industry wage negotiations have commenced against the background of over 34,000 job losses since 2012 with more threatened.

The public sector wage agreement teetered on the verge of collapse following the government’s decision to renege on the agreement for a 7% increase. The state’s decision to unilaterally claw back 0.6% on the basis of the provisions of the 2012-14 three-year deal was provocative in the extreme. Belatedly recognising the severe damage that could be inflicted upon Cosatu president Dlamini by robbing him even of this small ‘victory’, the 7% has finally been agreed to. But this episode, and the attempts to extend the life of an expired agreement, converting it effectively into a permanent agreement, has serious implications for the collective bargaining process and the right to strike which will come under increasing threat in the next period. The local government wage negotiations are also dead-locked with workers rejecting Salga’s derisory offer.

Education Minister Blade Nzimande has openly admitted that there are insufficient funds to finance the education of thousands of working class students who are effectively being thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment which has now reached the highest level in many years bringing the total to 8.7 million. Yet the UF has yet to take solidarity action to support students. The Numsa SNC mandated the UF to unite all these struggles. Unfortunately the UF leadership appears to have interpreted its mandate differently.

The ingredients are present for a national day of action, even a general strike, by organised labour. But despite the simmering anger across all three theatres of working class struggle – the workplaces, the communities and the education campuses, the UF leadership have focussed the UF’s energies on campaigns that, though not unworthy in and of themselves, are far more the pre-occupation of its middle class leadership than those the working class is seized with.

Emboldened by the slow pace towards a clear political and trade union alternative by Numsa, Vavi and their trade union allies, not to mention the UF, the government has adopted a more harde-gat attitude. Soweto residents have been told that they will just have to accept the pre-paid meters and their associated  higher and unaffordable tariffs under threat of cut-offs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Ramaphosa has threatened draconian, and potentially illegal measures, (non-renewal of vehicle licenses) to break the back of the boycotts of e-tolls. The most grotesque example of the ANC government’s insolence and the contempt in which it holds the people, is its rallying behind Zuma’s refusal to pay for the Nkandla corruption.

March to Union Buildings

Astonishingly the UF leadership has chosen not to lead, but merely to support the proposed mass action campaign against corruption and its centrepiece of a million strong march on Union Buildings on 19 August. The issue around which the march is being called has the potential to unite the overwhelming majority of society. It has the potential to deal a severe blow to the government with potentially fatal consequences for its electoral prospects especially in the metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekhuruleni and Nelson Mandela Bay in the 2016 local government elections. It could provide the basis and momentum for the formation of a mass workers party to challenge for power in 2019.

But with the political character of the anti-corruption campaign left in the hands of Vavi, there is no counter-pressure to his attempt to put a political and ideological stamp on the march that runs directly counter to Numsa’s and the rank-and-file of UF aligned structures. In the face of accusations that its SNC resolutions and the UF in particular were evidence of a hidden agenda of “regime change”, Numsa has replied defiantly that “regime change” is inherent in every election. We would add that to one degree or another, “regime change” is inherent in all the struggles taking place and is the common point around which they are increasingly converging.

Unfortunately Vavi has taken fright at the ANC’s “regime change” accusations. He has denied that the march is against the ANC or the government. Apart from the fact that the ANC and its government are not two different political personalities, against whom could a march to the Union Buildings possibly be directed if not the ANC government? Vavi’s approach is reinforced by those sections in the UF leadership who oppose the UF becoming a political party or participating in the elections.

By focussing narrowly on the issues of corruption, the golden handshakes plague and the manipulation of Chapter Nine institutions like the Public Protector’s Office, the impression is being created that, cleansed of these transgressions, the ANC government is capable of solving the problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality. But corruption is not the equivalent of the unpleasant outbreak of a bout of flu. It is the oil that allows the wheels in the machine of capitalism in government and the private sector to turn. The slogan of the march should be “Zuma must go! And the capitalist ANC government behind him!” The idea of a constitutionally-compliant ANC and a better Zuma is hardly the way to inspire the masses to turn up for the march and can only invite derision.

We believe the purpose of the march has been narrowed down in this way to accommodate business, the first on the list of social forces, institutions, organisations and individuals to be invited as announced by Section 27’s Mark Heywood on radio. Private sector corruption dwarfs that in government. They collude with each other and we should not be sowing illusions that the political morals of the capitalists are any less soiled than those of the ANC government for whom they set the example.

Most important of all, advantage is not being taken of the fact that that every service delivery protest taking place daily is in reality against the equivalent of Nkandla-type corruption in local government. The march therefore has the potential to resonate directly with the masses provided the political purpose of the march is broadened to place the grievances and demands of the masses at the forefront. In this way it will be the middle class being drawn behind the working class instead of the masses being the foot-soldiers of the middle class.

The working class must lead this march not only politically but also ideologically. The liberal tone set by the march organisers at this stage is the mirror image of the those UF leaders who oppose the UF adopting a socialist orientation.

Come Out Boldly for Socialism

In preparing their own political alternative, the strategists of the bourgeois have acted decisively and boldly. They have carried out a coup against Helen Zille in the Democratic Alliance (DA), ‘blackened’ the leadership by installing Maimane who is enthusiastically hoisting the banner of the “free market” (capitalism) and slogans such as “freedom and opportunity for individuals”. The capitalist class are further preparing the DA as a substitute, or partner, for the ANC as the main managers of their system should the ANC vote fall below 50% in 2019.

In reply those who have been elevated into their positions politically and organisationally by workers want to hide from the working class the banner of socialism – the ideology of the working class and the only programme upon the basis of which a society capable of ending the misery and barbarism of capitalism that is the daily experience of the working class can be created. They respond to an ideologically and politically bold capitalist class with ideological and political cowardice. The greatest scepticism and hostility towards socialism comes not from the working class but the more prosperous sections of the upper middle class and the capitalists and their worshippers in academia and the media. As survey after survey has shown in Cosatu and amongst the broader working class there is overwhelming support for a workers party (67% in the last Cosatu shop steward survey) and socialism.

To argue that the UF has too much on its plate to lead the Union Buildings march which has been initiated by Numsa and the seven unions supporting it is like a political party or trade union saying it is “full” and can’t accept new members. The SNC delegates who voted to bring the UF into being and those that have been drawn towards it did not want unity for its own sake, but for the purpose of struggle. There can never be enough struggle until the working class is emancipated from capitalism and has taken its place at the head of a socialist society.

The UF leadership appears to have failed to grasp the significance of the developments within Cosatu and the country as a whole. They are thus at risk of abdicating an historic responsibility to provide leadership. The decision to bar Numsa from the Special Congress which Numsa had called for is the final nail in Cosatu’s coffin. The seven unions supporting Numsa now have to choose between participating without Numsa – thus endorsing a decision that they have so far resolutely opposed – or, as they are more likely to do, to walk away from Cosatu in its present incarnation.

The UF should be actively supporting Numsa and the seven “apostles” not only by taking a clear stand on the battle for the soul of Cosatu and the formation of a new federation, but by ensuring that the march to Union Buildings takes place under its banner.  The UF’s failure to take a bold and principled stand on this question comes across as disinterest, even indifference on a question in which Numsa, out of which the UF was born, is playing a central role.

The leadership of the seven apostles has until now been wary of taking their support for Numsa beyond the issue of its expulsion and its call for a special Cosatu congress. The UF’s poor excuses for not taking its place at the head of the march could resuscitate the hesitation of these leaders precisely at the point when they have begun to overcome their political reservations about the UF. The rank-and-file of the seven apostles have been to the left of their leaders on these issues from the onset. A Gauteng Cosatu Shop Stewards Council as long ago as last year expressed support not only for Numsa’s demands for Vavi’s reinstatement and its demand for a special congress, but for all the political resolutions adopted at Numsa’s SNC.

The recent NUM congress demonstrated that the rank-and-file of those unions that remain firmly within the Cosatu fold for now are also far to the left of their leaders and could be won over to a new socialist federation and workers party with a bold policy. The booting out of Frans Baleni and other figures associated with NUM’s slavish support for the ANC which saw the NUM leadership assume the role of key apologists for the Marikana massacre, leading to the loss of some 100,000 members, whilst falling short of the development of an organised ‘left-wing’ that some commentators have invented, and notwithstanding the questionable politics of new general secretary David Sipunzi, nevertheless represented a rebellion of the rank-and-file and the development of another hairline fracture not just in NUM but also Cosatu.

We call upon all UF structures to mobilise for the Union Buildings march linking the Nkandla corruption to what they are experiencing locally across the country. We must make it crystal clear that we are mobilising not only against corruption, but for regime change and system change – for a workers government and for socialism. Wasp has developed a ‘Zuma must-go’ petition, if all the organisations supporting the march were to take-up the collection of signatures it would be possible to obtain at least a million. This would show the widespread support for the march and give a fuller indictment against this government and its capitalist masters.

The Union Buildings march offers a unique opportunity to unite working class communities in the townships with organised workers in the workplace, to contribute towards the acceleration of the process towards the formation of a new socialist trade union federation and ensure that the tide of discontent swelling in all the main streams of working class struggle is directed towards each other, becoming tributaries of a single river of working class rage. The march has the potential to elevate the UF into a position to be the leading force in the development of the political alternative that millions are yearning for – a mass workers party on a socialist programme.

Originally published as an Executive Committee statement of the Workers and Socialist Party, a predecessor of the MWP.

For a Socialist Freedom Charter

United Front Discussion Document

Before the second postponement of the United Front’s national launch the Workers and Socialist Party published the article below as a discussion document for consideration at the launch. The document takes up the question of the United Front’s programme and was written by Weizmann Hamilton.

5 June 2015

In December 2014, the United Front’s National Preparatory Assembly referred back to the structures for discussion a number of questions critical to the UF’s role in the struggle of the working class. These issues are: (i) should the United Front become a political party? (ii) should it adopt socialism as its ideology? (iii) should it contest the 2016 local government elections? (iv) should it adopt the Freedom Charter as it’s programme? (v) should political parties be allowed into the UF? All these questions are to be debated at the national launch of UF from 25 to 28 June, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the adoption of Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People on June 26th 1956.

The UF came into being following Numsa’s historic December 2013 Special National Congress resolutions which agreed to launch a United Front, form a Movement for Socialism and to explore the establishment of a workers party. The United Front was conceived as a vehicle to re-unite, in the main, the struggles of the organised labour movement and working class communities involved in service delivery protests, as well as a range of other single-issue campaign formations and political parties on the left.

Since the Numsa SNC the ongoing economic crisis has combined with political developments to draw the lines of class and political divisions in the country much more sharply. Against the background of the loss of more than a million jobs since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007/8, unemployment has increased even more taking the total unemployed to 8.7m according to Stats SA. Yet the number of dollar millionaires has grown by 9% amongst all race groups over that same period. However amongst Indians, Coloureds and Africans the number of dollar millionaires has shot up, on average, by an astronomical 142% bringing the total to 13 700, just a few hundred more than the total amongst whites. This has happened despite a 41% decline in the value of the Rand over the same period. According to Oxfam, SA’s two richest men, Nicky Oppenheimer and Johannes Rupert own as much wealth as the bottom 50% in SA.

The vacuum to the ANC’s left has been only partially filled by the EFF. The EFF is neither a genuine party of the working class, nor genuinely committed to socialism. It wasted no time in abandoning its commitment not to accept parliamentary privileges, including salaries. It is wracked by controversies over unfair staff dismissals, financial impropriety, sexual scandals, factionalism and has so far experienced three major revolts that have led to the expulsion of leading party figures and the embarrassment of a thousand defectors to the ANC in Mpumalanga. For many inside and outside it, the EFF was supposed to be a radical socialist alternative. But the experience of the EFF so far resembles that of a man lost in a dessert and, overcome with thirst, runs towards an oasis only to discover it is a mirage.

But its presence on the electoral plane nevertheless remains a complicating factor. In the absence of a genuine mass workers party with a socialist programme, the EFF will continue to offer what many voters, alienated by the ANC but repelled by the DA, would consider the least of the bad amongst the alternatives on offer, which offers the benefit at most of providing a sjambok to lash the ANC with.

The EFF’s limited appeal is shown by the fact that it received 1.3m votes which, though a spectacular achievement for a party less than a year old, succeeded only in matching Cope’s 2009 vote in political circumstances much more favourable than those in which the first major split from the ANC was born.

The ANC has reacted to the crisis in society on the economic and social front with a significant shift to the right with the adoption of an austerity budget that has now finally even abandoned the pretence of opposing privatisation. The ANC government’s contempt for the people is shown by its waiving aside of the overwhelming objections to e-tolls and its rejection of the Public Protector’s recommendations on Nkandla. This will only accelerate the ANC’s decline as an electoral force and, in time, wipe-out all vestiges of its liberation credentials.

Politics like nature abhors a vacuum. If the vacuum is not filled with progressive content, it can be filled with reaction. The so-called xenophobic attacks are a warning to the working class that forces exploiting the despair of the marginalised and the declassed have no hesitation about unleashing the barbarism that spread through the country in April. With lines of barely concealed political support tying them to senior figures in the ANC government, and state backing in the form of e.g. Operation Fiela, these forces are on standby to take advantage of the failure of the working class to provide a way out of the blind alley of capitalism.

The UF national conference thus has an enormous historical responsibility resting on its shoulders. With just twelve months or less to go before the local government elections, there is unfortunately no mass workers party in place as yet. The Numsa central committee will deliberate further on this matter at its July central committee meeting. Even so, although Numsa remains committed to the formation of a workers party, the debate over the character of the party, that is whether it should be a mass workers party or a vanguard party has yet to be resolved. It cannot be certain therefore, that even if the matter is finalised at the July central committee, that the debate will be resolved in favour of what history demands at this conjuncture – a mass workers party on a socialist programme.

This makes the deliberations at this conference even more important. Out of the rubble of the Tripartite Alliance that the Marikana earthquake left, Numsa’s SNC took the historic decisions to reconstruct the working class movement on the ideological foundations and principles on which Cosatu was founded, of workers unity and socialism. A new era in the post-apartheid era has opened up. In the wake of the SNC’s decisions, the political terrain has changed decisively and irreversibly. For most workers inside and outside Numsa, the different resolutions adopted – to withhold political and financial support from the ANC, not to campaign for it in the elections, to establish a Movement for Socialism, build a United Front and to explore the formation of a workers party – raised the hope that their combined effect would be the creation of a mass workers party.

It is for this reason that Wasp welcomes the proposal to debate the Freedom Charter as a possible programme to be adopted by the United Front. This is despite the fact that, as Numsa itself acknowledges, the Freedom Charter is not a socialist programme. A programme is central to the building of a workers party. To bring a party into being without this decisive question having been resolved, or at least the basis for it laid down clearly, such a party will not be able to fulfil the historic challenge facing the working class – the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.

The United Front So far

An honest assessment of the achievements of the UF so far does not yield encouraging results. It has failed to draw in the masses involved in service delivery protests, has not attracted the organised workers even in Numsa itself, and has thus been unable to fulfil the mandate of the SNC resolutions – to act as a unifying force between the masses involved in service delivery protests and organised workers. Instead, against the spirit of the SNC resolutions it has excluded political parties promoting divisions and encouraged the suppression of dissent.

Given the fact that Numsa is engaged internally in a process towards the formation of a workers party, as well as the Movement for Socialism, it is perhaps understandable that there should be uncertainty about whether the UF itself should become a political party. But as this is the central challenge of the working class, the UF must have a position on how it relates to it and what its role is in the creation of such a party. It is Wasp’s view that the UF should be organised as a mobilising force towards a mass workers party.  This will require an array of different tactics in the 2016 local elections. The UF should register with the IEC so its banner can be used by candidates that support the UF’s programme As an alternative to standing in the elections in its own name, the UF should encourage communities to stand but under a programme and banner that brings them towards the UF and the processes towards a mass workers party. Unfortunately the debate on the political party seems to be based on questioning the relevance of political parties in general.

Wasp finds most disturbing of all that there should even be a debate about socialism. The UF is the political offspring of a union that is firmly committed to socialism. It could not have been the SNC intention to bring into existence a forum that could act as an ideological opponent to its socialist orientation. The questioning of socialism is the exclusive preserve of middle class left academics and ex-Marxists who have thrown out the Bolshevik baby with the bathwater of Stalinism. Socialism enjoys overwhelming support amongst the working class in SA and is undergoing a revival internationally the longer the ongoing crisis of capitalism continues. Unless the UF connects with the socialist sentiments of the masses and actively contributes towards the building of a mass workers party it will be reduced to a liberal pressure group, whose main preoccupation is to direct critiques of the government’s failure to adhere to SA’s capitalist constitution, and engaging in Black Sash-like candle light vigils over the injustices of ANC rule.

The UF is therefore at risk of isolating itself not only from the working class in SA but from the swing towards socialism occurring internationally. The idea that there is a “third way” between capitalism and socialism is utterly discredited.

Wasp believes that the challenge facing the conference is to take decisions on the key 5 questions that it must debate that will align the UF with the spirit of the SNC; to ensure that the UF bridges the gap between communities in struggle for service delivery and the organised working class that Cosatu and the Tripartite Alliance’s drift to the right has opened up; will recognise that at the heart of the social crisis lies the crisis of capitalism itself and that workers’ unity can firmly be rebuilt only on the basis of socialism. For the UF to become the unifying force many activists and the wider working class hope it will become, its resolutions must be ideologically complementary to Numsa’s socialist orientation and lend cohesion organisationally to Numsa’s commitment to building a workers party.

How should the debate on the Freedom Charter be approached?

For Wasp the debate on the Freedom Charter presents the working class with the opportunity to develop a programme that would enjoy mass support and around which the struggles taking place in the three main theatres of class conflict – service delivery protests, student struggles against financial and academic exclusion and workplace struggles of the organised workers — can unite.

We oppose both the uncritical acceptance of the Freedom Charter as well as its outright rejection. We oppose especially attempts to impose it on the UF because such an approach is divisive and reinforces the mistaken but understandable suspicion that it is an attempt by Numsa to import the political traditions of the ANC/SACP into a movement that intends to break not only with the Alliances’ ideas, programme and organisational methods but also its culture of intolerance of dissent.

Wasp accepts that the Charter has serious deficiencies. In fact in its present form it is not a socialist programme, as Numsa itself acknowledges. In spite of the fact that none of its most important demands, especially nationalisation, have been implemented, the ANC uses it to provide a cover for its ANC betrayals. But we do not agree that this is an argument for discarding the document in its entirety. The fact is that, apart from the right to vote, not a single one of its most important demands have been met.

The most important demand, nationalisation, was the first to be sacrificed. This was agreed to in the secret negotiations in the 1980s already. Codesa was merely the occasion to put pen to paper. But so complete was the ANC’s capitulation to the pressure of imperialism that even demands that are in fact achievable even on a capitalist basis, such as free education, free health care, an end to contract work and a 40-hour week, have been jettisoned.

For those forces that arose independently of and also in opposition to the ANC but which nevertheless have been drawn to the “Numsa moment”, the Charter’s association with a corrupt, politically bankrupt and increasingly authoritarian ANC government, which together with its ally the SACP, is becoming more and more discredited, has understandably engendered hostility towards it. The ANC’s betrayals are not attributable to the Charter, but the opposite, to its failure to implement a policy it still claims to subscribe to. The ANC abandoned altogether a document it had sworn by for nearly forty years. Its claim that it is the custodian of the Freedom Charter is sheer hypocritical posturing.

Without the nationalisation clauses, the Freedom Charter is disembowelled. It means the ANC government has denied itself the means by which to fulfil all the Charter’s other social demands. The ANC’s declaration of 2015, the Charter’s 60th anniversary, as the “Year of the Freedom Charter” is but the latest attempt to clothe the wolf of the ANC’s neo-liberal capitalist policies in the sheep skin of the Charter.

Those from outside the congress tradition have gravitated towards the “Numsa moment” in the expectation that Numsa has embarked on a path that points to a complete break with the betrayals of the past two decades. This betrayal has entailed the subordination of the interests of the working class to those of the aspirant black capitalist class and their white capitalist masters behind them. It has been expressed in the increasingly rightward drift of an ANC government that, at best, now regards the working class more or less openly as mere political cannon fodder whose interests cam just be contemptuously waived aside, and whose struggles must be suppressed with state violence at worst.

We believe the best way to overcome these differences is by subjecting the Freedom Charter to an overhaul aimed not only at addressing its deficiencies in relation to its demands but its false theoretical underpinnings. We propose a Socialist Freedom Charter. This means injecting the Charter with socialist content capable of addressing the social crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but also the residual unresolved matters related to the national question which has become re-inflamed. We propose a charter above all that shines a light on the path towards socialism.

However, neither its supporters nor its opponents have, in our view, drawn the correct conclusions about the Charter. Its supporters argue that it was not implemented because the ANC lacked the will to do so. Its critics argue that, especially given its preamble, but also its vagueness on a number of demands, the Charter had no revolutionary potential from the beginning; that the nationalisation clauses, by calling for the transfer of the wealth of the country to the “people”, and not to the working class, could not have set the revolution on course towards genuine socialism.

We believe these arguments to be one-sided and incorrect. They result from an abstract analysis of the Charter, ignore the political conditions under which it was adopted, the class forces that came together at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955 and how the classes variously understood the aims of the Charter. A historical materialist analysis sheds a different, clearer light on the significance of all its clauses and how the evolution of the ANC leadership’s position proceeded from regarding the Charter as fundamental to its programme for the “national democratic” transformation of the country, to abandoning it altogether.

Continue to read the remainder of the document here.