18 February 2015

On 14 February 2015, on the eve of its second anniversary, activists of the Workers & Socialist Party gathered in Johannesburg for a bosberaad (national meeting) to take stock and to discuss the future of the party. The meeting took the historic decision to begin a new phase in the life of the party: WASP will be built as a revolutionary party the better to continue the struggle for a socialist society.

This requires bringing WASP’s structures into alignment with its revolutionary political programme by building the party upon the principles of genuine democratic centralism. Further, WASP will seek affiliation to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) to assist the struggle for the creation of a global revolutionary party. This process will begin immediately and culminate in a re-founding Congress at the end of the year.

What has WASP achieved?

In WASP’s short life it has achieved a great deal. The strikes around the Marikana massacre found their political expression in the creation of WASP. Many strike committee leaders were the founders and first members, including the National Strike Committee which affiliated to WASP in March 2013. At the height of the strikes the National Strike Committee represented 150,000 mineworkers. Mineworkers from North West, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo attended WASP’s launch on 21 March 2013.

WASP has led mass protests of the street traders in Johannesburg and communities in Limpopo. We have won important affiliates and members, including the radical NTM transport union and Moses Mayekiso, the first general secretary of NUMSA, who is establishing a new socialist civic along with others. WASP has given birth to a youth-wing – the Socialist Youth Movement – which is now a powerful force on the campuses. Above all, WASP showed how serious it was by standing in the 2014 elections. WASP’s existence has sharpened the debates within the working class and acted as a sign-post for the creation of a mass workers party.

Why was WASP founded?

We founded WASP to help the working class take a step toward creating a mass workers party. To try and unite as many as possible, WASP was founded as a federal party allowing those that identified with WASP’s banner to retain their own identity whilst collaborating under the WASP umbrella. The political basis for uniting in WASP would be agreement with the ideas that: (1) WASP was a workers party, (2) it was socialist, and (3) it was based on the struggles of the working class. WASP would be a ‘broad church’ as long as there was agreement on these basic ideas.

But for the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – the co-founders of WASP alongside the mineworkers – WASP was not an end in itself. The DSM believes that inequality, unemployment and poverty will only be eradicated by the working class leading a revolution to end capitalism and create a socialist society. For that the working class needs a mass revolutionary party based on Marxism and a disciplined party cadre. However, whilst the leading layers of the working class in particular yearn for an alternative to the left of the ANC, the majority do not yet have a clear idea about the tasks the socialist revolution poses.

This is why the DSM argued for the creation of a broad mass workers party to assist the working class draw the necessary revolutionary conclusions. In launching WASP we took a step to help bring such a party into being. Such a party could unite the struggles of the working class – united struggle is the greatest teacher – and allow debates about the society the working class needs and the programme, tactics and strategy to create it. But it would not necessarily, in the first instance, develop with a clear understanding of what the struggle for the socialist transformation of society entails. For that a combination of experience and the presence within such a party of a revolutionary Marxist cadre would be necessary. Such a revolutionary Marxist core would ensure that the debates in a broad mass party would raise the working classes’ understanding of socialism and Marxism allowing a mass workers party to lay the basis for a mass revolutionary party in the future.

How has the situation changed in two years?

When WASP was created it was alone. But now the EFF and NUMSA, two very different mass organisations, partially fill the anti-ANC landscape. Also, AMCU is a new mass force on the mines with a leadership hostile to WASP. The class struggle never goes forward in a simple way. The emergence of the EFF, AMCU, and especially the break of NUMSA from the ANC, and the steps NUMSA has taken so far, including the launch of its United Front, and the preparations for a Movement for Socialism and a workers party, represent a step forward for the working class; the old support for the ANC is gone amongst key sections of the working class and youth and there is a striving for an alternative. But none of these post-Marikana organisations yet answers what the working class really needs. Rather, they are the first experiments.

There are many dead-end roads that we must help the working class to avoid. In NUMSA, there are already two polar opposite positions being adopted on the fundamental questions of the necessity for socialism and a workers party. Within the United Front the middle class and academic left are making anti-party, anti-Marxist, and even anti-socialist arguments. And even though the rest of the leadership in favour of the launch of a workers party has decisively broken with the SA Communist Party, they still believe that the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is “the shortest road to socialism”; all that is required is that it and the Freedom Charter (FC) should be implemented “radically”. Yet the NDR is a bourgeois revolution and the FC not a socialist programme as the NUMSA leadership itself acknowledges. In other words the pro-workers party leadership in NUMSA is still under the influence of the false Stalinist two-stage theory which has have led to disastrous defeats for the working class in a number of countries over the last century.

In the EFF there are the false ideas of the ex-ANC Youth League leadership, such as their partial-nationalisation policy. There are also more explicit anti-working class black nationalist and Pan-Africanist ideas in the EFF. The AMCU leadership teaches the mineworkers the wrong lesson from Marikana – that trade unions should not be political. To assist the working class to continue moving toward socialism we must help them make sense of the new landscape by engaging in this battle of ideas whilst remaining at the forefront of working class struggle.

Forward to the socialist revolution!

To fight effectively in the battle of ideas that is before us, WASP cannot be a ‘broad church’ too. WASP needs to be a party with a clear political identity. That identity must be based on an explicit revolutionary Marxist political programme that fearlessly points the working class in the direction of the socialist revolution. Given that the forces in WASP have, in the course of working together, developed a high degree of political unity, exemplified in WASP’s key document Only Socialism Means Freedom, the beginnings of a programme for the socialist revolution, it no longer makes sense to maintain WASP as a broad organisation.

It is necessary to re-found WASP as a revolutionary party to put our mass work on stronger foundations, allowing us to effectively intervene with our programme in the present political confusion. We will light the road to socialism by assisting the working class to establish its political independence and coalesce around clear socialist ideas. Re-founded as a revolutionary party, WASP will set itself the task of training a cadre capable of influencing the historical process which is relentlessly pushing developments in the direction of a new workers party. We must continue to champion the creation of a mass workers party out of the excellent working class material, particularly around NUMSA, that has been politically awakened in the dramatic developments of the past two years. Such a conquest would represent a major achievement on the road to the socialist revolution.

We were the first to face-up to the changed political situation post-Marikana and were the first to act upon those changes in launching WASP as a broad party. Now we are again recognising changes in the political situation that necessitate a change in the character of the party. Uniting the forces organised in WASP on new revolutionary foundations will see the creation of the most significant revolutionary party in South Africa and the region and allow us to remain at the forefront of working class struggle.