South African Deputy President, Mrs. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has been spoken highly of by President Thabo Mbeki.
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The Revolutionary Phrase & the defence of the Democratic Revolution
On the ANC website there is an article written by the late Dumisani Makhaye, a member of our National Executive Committee, entitled "Left Factionalism and the Democratic Revolution". It was originally published in the ANC journal Umrabulo, and later as a supplement to ANC Today Vol 2 No 48, published in November 2002.
The article we publish in this edition, Part III of the current series, is principally an edited version of the Makhaye article, which argues, correctly, that our first task as a revolutionary movement is to defend our democratic victory.
Before we reproduce this edited version, we would like to make some introductory "scene-setting" remarks.
Our movement, the ANC, is not a Marxist-Leninist party. Nevertheless, we have never hesitated to learn the necessary lessons from other revolutionary struggles, relying, in many instances, on the internationalist experience of our historic ally, the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Within this context, we would like to refer to an article by VI Lenin, "The Revolutionary Phrase", published in 1918, a few months after the victory of the 1917 October Socialist Revolution. Lenin wrote:
"When I said at a Party meeting that the revolutionary phrase about a revolutionary war might ruin our revolution, I was reproached for the sharpness of my polemics. There are, however, moments when a question must be raised sharply and things given their proper names, the danger being that otherwise irreparable harm may be done to the Party and the revolution.
"Revolutionary phrase-making, more often than not, is a disease from which revolutionary parties suffer at times when they constitute, directly or indirectly, a combination, alliance or intermingling of proletarian and petty-bourgeois elements, and when the course of revolutionary events is marked by big, rapid zigzags.
"By revolutionary phrase making we mean the repetition of revolutionary slogans irrespective of objective circumstances at a given turn of events, in the given state of affairs obtaining at the time. The slogans are superb, intoxicating, but there are no grounds for them: such is the nature of the revolutionary phrase."
In our last article, Part II, we addressed some matters relating to the right wing opposition to our movement and revolution. In this article, our Part III, we focus on our "left opposition", hence our reference to Lenin's observations about "revolutionary phrase making", and the imperative for us not to be misled by "superb and intoxicating" but dangerous slogans and phrases.
For many years, since the victory of the democratic revolution, one of the defining theses of our "left opposition", to date, has been that the ANC has betrayed the revolution. The charge has therefore been made that all our movement is about is the implementation of neo-liberal policies, resulting from our allegedly slavish commitment to the prescriptions of "the Washington consensus". Naturally, the "left opposition" has offered its alternative in this regard.
For instance, consistent with the campaign that both the right and left opposition to our movement have pursued for many years, Dale McKinley, former member of the SACP, has argued that the SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) should establish "an organisational and political base to both shift ANC/government policy...and to re-build a genuine left political and organisational power-base to contest power relations within SA society".
This seeks to advance one other important thesis of our "left opposition" (shared by the right wing), that the SACP and COSATU should be detached from, and placed in opposition to the ANC. To substantiate its positions, the "left opposition" fondly resorts to the revolutionary phrases akin to those that Lenin wrote about in 1918.
Then, he warned of the danger that these phrases would "ruin our revolution". In our situation this is demonstrated by the fact that the right wing in our country, the true representatives of neo-liberalism, is intent to pursue exactly the same objective as our "left opposition" - the placement of the SACP and COSATU as a separate and organised opposition of the ANC, specifically to weaken and defeat the ANC and the rest of the progressive movement, including the SACP and COSATU.
In this regard, as recently as this year, Anthony Butler, a supporter of the right wing Democratic Alliance (DA), has publicly criticised those he considers to be his objective comrades-in-arms with regard to their opposition to the ANC - the SACP and COSATU - commenting thus: "Into battle - after it had been lost".
He lamented that the SACP and COSATU had tailed the DA with regard to a public agenda identified and defined by the DA, relating to its selection and presentation as its chosen sites of struggle such issues as AIDS, Zimbabwe, unemployment, the conflation of party and state, and the destruction of democracy within the ANC.
What has happened in the recent past has raised high hopes among some within our "left opposition", centred on the destruction of our Alliance. Ebrahim Harvey, described as 'a political writer and former Cosatu unionist', is one of these.
In an article dated 3 May 2007, he wrote: "[T]he current juncture is bound to go beyond the earlier tiring and incessant speculations about the fate and future of a long-standing but deeply troubled (ANC/SACP/COSATU) alliance whose strategic purpose has not only been exhausted but under the impact of neo-liberalism has become a serious hindrance to the fulfilment of the party's (SACP) socialist objectives, which it shares with its other ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions."
The fact of the matter is that in our concrete reality, the strategic platforms of the right and left opposition to the ANC have coalesced. The real politics of our country has presented us with the actuality that when we discuss the strategic task facing the ANC, to defend itself and the democratic revolution, we must confront the role of our "left opposition", as Dumisani Makhaye did in his important article, "Left Factionalism and the Democratic Revolution", published almost five years ago. Makhaye wrote:
The ANC faces the inevitable challenge to defend the democratic victory of 1994. It has the task to use this historic outcome to promote the strategic goal of reconstruction and development.
This demands that we defend the leadership role of the ANC in the continuing struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution, and maintain the unity of the forces that brought about the defeat of the apartheid regime.
For many decades, the ANC and the SACP have worked together as reliable and dependable partners in the struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution. In this context, they understood their respective and non-antagonistic roles. They knew that they had different and common goals.
The task of the ANC, composed as a multi-class formation, was to lead the masses of our people in the struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution.
For its part, the SACP had determined that its historic mission was, and is, to lead the workers and the working people in our country in the struggle for the victory of the socialist revolution. Nevertheless, it determined that for these working masses to tackle the challenge of their class oppression, first of all, they had to free themselves from national oppression.
The SACP therefore considered that, in addition, the working class struggles around issues of wages and working conditions were a necessary training ground to prepare the workers for the offensive not merely to win concessions from the employers.
Over the years of the ANC's evolution, in its basic documents it has stated the leading role of the black working class. This position was reached by the ANC on its free will and not because of some coercion. But the ANC has always understood this position to mean that the working class must earn this role through practice in the struggle for national liberation.
It can only do this if it plays a visible role at all levels of the ANC, especially at branch level. It cannot assume this role by quarantining itself into dark corners and conspiring to usurp the ANC leadership by undermining its democratically elected leadership and democratically reached positions as our left critics attempt to do.
The broad movement included the progressive trade union movement, whose role and place in the liberation struggle had been one of the central issues in the ideological, political and organisational struggle to which we have referred.
The trade union movement would be an independent formation of all workers without regard to the political allegiance of these workers. This was because these workers shared and share a common interest in improving their conditions of life as human beings and members of social units, including the family.
Both the ANC and the SACP would work among the workers and their trade union organisations to provide the political consciousness and leadership that would ensure the adherence of these workers to the respective political programmes and goals of the ANC and the SACP.
The historic alliance between the ANC, the SACP and SACTU, later replaced by COSATU, was born of and expressed the outcome of the evolutionary processes within the revolutionary movement, which gave it the strength to lead our country and people in the struggle for the defeat of the apartheid regime and system.
However, as we approached the moment of the accomplishment of the political tasks of this alliance, trends began to emerge from within the alliance whose effect was to question and threaten the ideological, political and organisational construct representing the united movement for national liberation that was on the verge of victory.
(Various) groupings within the SACP and COSATU came to the conclusion that the victory of the national democratic revolution would create the possibility for them to use the democratic state power to achieve the goals of the socialist revolution, as they understood these goals.
As part of this process, the historic leader of the national liberation movement, of the same forces targeted for transformation into the mass army that would fight for socialism now, would have to be presented in a new light.
According to these calculations, the ANC would emerge at best as a reformist movement, interested to enter into compromises with the same forces that had been and continue to be responsible for the exploitation of the black masses.
At worst, it would be presented as a traitor to the revolution, intent on forming an alliance with these forces, to misuse state power in a determined effort to share the spoils with the oppressors and exploiters.
(Accordingly, these groupings) have worked to turn the international forces that worked, under the leadership of the ANC, to defeat the apartheid regime, into opponents of our movement. They do this through a sustained campaign to discredit the efforts of both the ANC and the democratic state to achieve the objectives of the national democratic revolution.
The determination to achieve these objectives, that would lead to these groupings capturing the leadership of the ANC, necessarily led to them constituting themselves as a faction within the ANC. Acting as such a faction, these groupings set themselves particular tasks within the ANC.
Their hunger for political power drives them to act audaciously to undo everything that has been achieved in protracted struggle to build the united revolutionary movement represented by the historic alliance that emerged out of many decades of struggle. In this regard, they cannot but resort to divisive factional activity.
Objectively, two forces, (the right wing principally concentrated in the Democratic Party/Democratic Alliance and the groupings in the SACP and COSATU) work consistently to reinforce each other.
Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, it took the ANC some time fully to understand the new tendencies we have been discussing. There was a time lag between the evolution of objective reality and the subjective comprehension of this reality.
Our organisation failed to take into account the fact that not all leaders of the alliance would necessarily respond to our accession to political power in the same way, remaining loyal to the traditions established by our broad movement through and after many decades of struggle.
The result of this was that the ANC took time to respond to the ideological, political and organisational offensive of the groupings that had located themselves in the SACP and COSATU. This created the impression that these groupings had a just cause, whereas the ANC was guilty as charged by these groupings. (However) we have begun the counter-offensive to defend the best revolutionary traditions of our broad movement for national liberation.
Naturally, this will evoke a response from those against whom we defend our revolutionary traditions. We will continue to tackle this task in a principled, but vigorous fashion. Necessarily our opponents will respond in a different way, essentially driven by their inability to mount a straightforward and effective ideological and political response.
Objectively, each and every revolutionary movement has to confront three different tasks. The first of these is to overcome and defeat its opponent. This we have done. The second is to defend the revolutionary victory. We have done well in this regard. Nevertheless, the struggle continues.
The third is to use the revolutionary victory to realise the transformation objectives of the revolution. In this regard, again we are doing well. Necessarily, the struggle continues. The question of our quality and calibre as a genuinely revolutionary movement will be answered by the objective results relating to the second and third of these goals.
This central matter will not be settled on the subjective plane. Objective reality will determine whether our revolutionary movement has succeeded or it has been defeated. In this regard, facts will speak louder than words.
But this we must understand, that the subjective factor, the ideological, political and organisational struggle, will play a decisive role in determining whether, objectively, our revolutionary movement succeeds both to defend its revolutionary gains and to achieve the fundamental transformation of our country, as visualised in our historic policy positions, including the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme).
In their struggle, our 'left' and right-wing opponents allow us no quarter. We too, the tried and tested leader of the masses of our people, will not accept that we allow that the aspirations of these masses are defeated by any failure on our part.
Confronted as we are by 'left' and right-wing professionals, our movement must and will respond to these professionals in a consistently revolutionary, honest and open manner. We will not retreat from, or abandon, this struggle. Victory is Certain!
As we strive continuously to advance the national democratic revolution, determined to achieve successive victories, we must pay the closest attention to, and understand with no illusions, the domestic objective and subjective conditions we face, and the related objective and subjective conditions in Africa and the rest of the world. In this regard, as the actual vanguard of the democratic revolution, we must fully understand the meaning of the expression - if wishes were horses, beggars would ride!
Lenin concluded his 1918 article, "The Revolutionary Phrase", with these words: "In the summer of 1907 our Party also experienced an attack of the revolutionary phrase that was, in some respects, analogous. In St Petersburg and Moscow nearly all the Bolsheviks were in favour of boycotting the Third Duma: they were guided by 'sentiment' instead of an objective analysis, and walked into a trap. The disease has recurred.
"The times are more difficult. The issue is a million times more important. To fall ill at such a time is to risk ruining the revolution. We must fight against the revolutionary phrase; we have to fight it; we absolutely must fight it, so that at some future time people will not say of us the bitter truth that 'a revolutionary phrase about revolutionary war ruined the revolution'."
A century after 1907, in 2007, we should not, and will not fall into a trap, as a result of being guided by ill-informed revolutionary phrases rather than objective analysis, allowing ourselves to become victim to seduction by the repetition of revolutionary slogans irrespective of objective circumstances, leading to the ruin of the national democratic revolution.
Rather, given what has been happening, affecting our movement and revolution, we may very well have arrived at the moment when, as Lenin said, questions must be raised sharply and things given their proper names, the danger being that otherwise irreparable harm may be done to the Party and the revolution.