2015 New Year’s Statement – Sharpening contradictions and rising struggles

The contradictions of South African society were illustrated in brutal form in the course of 2014. At the end of October it was reported that the two richest people – Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer – possess more wealth than the poorest 50% of society. Two people have more wealth than 26 million people. This staggering statistic grates against the modest demands of the 70,000 platinum mineworkers who were forced to struggle in the longest strike in South African history just to win an extra R1,000 per month in wages. This contrast of rags and riches confirms that on the basis of capitalism the future is one of poverty for the majority, inequality and mass unemployment.

The capitalist class have confirmed as much in their forecasts for 2015. The IMF predicts growth of just 2.1% in the South African economy this year. By the ANC’s own admission, this is less than half of what would be necessary to even make a dent in the near 40% unemployment level that leaves millions languishing in poverty, their potential wasted. The IMF has said that the slowdown of the South African economy since the 2008 world economic crisis began has been “more profound” than other emerging economies. Their recommended ‘medicine’ is to “improve productivity” and introduce “structural reforms”.

In the sanitised language of the IMF they are issuing a call to arms for the South African capitalist class and their political representatives to wage a battle to offload the crisis of their profit system onto the working class and poor. The IMF will find willing partners in the ANC government, supported by the capitalist opposition of the Democratic Alliance. The new finance minister Nhlanhla Nene already indicated in his October statement the willingness of the ANC to continue their twenty years of subservience to the interests of the capitalist class into a twenty-first year.

Privatisation and public sector ‘wage restraint’ will be the order of the day in 2015 as the government tries to plug their 4.1% budget deficit (the gap between what they receive through taxes and the amount they spend). Such is the dire position of the economy that the ANC has been forced to revisit privatisation, something that in the past has carried grave political consequences. As reward for this capitulation, the threat by world capitalism’s ratings agencies to further downgrade South Africa’s sovereign debt rating in December was narrowly avoided.

The working class must be on their guard for the double-speak that the ANC’s February budget will be couched in. When they say “improved productivity” workers should hear “retrenchments and wage cuts”; when they say “structural reforms” communities and the youth should hear “privatisation and reduced government spending on health, education and social grants”. As a side-dish to the ANC’s grip on Cosatu, the DA continues to call for the introduction of anti-strike legislation in a vain attempt to head-off explosions of struggle.

Class struggle to continue

But struggle is guaranteed in 2015. The public sector will be a crucial field of battle as the ANC resists the modest wage demands of teachers, health workers, prison officers and social workers amongst others. They will bemoan the government deficit – that they themselves have created – as a reason to maintain low wages in the public sector. But in doing so the ANC is making an anti-working class choice.

In 2012, SARS reported that of 9,300 ‘high-net-worth’ individuals, only 300 paid their taxes! If these super-rich individuals coughed up just what they should, a further R48 billion per year would be raised. Further, it has been reported that on average R140 billion leaves the country each year in “illicit financial outflows” via the unreported, and therefore untaxed, transactions of big business. Platinum miner Lonmin was fingered as a major culprit in 2014. Big business and the super-rich, simply by paying what they should under the ANC’s minimal pro-rich tax regime could plug the deficit several times over.

Also of great importance will be the battles that will be waged by the students on the campuses as the squeeze on higher education funding continues. The Socialist Youth Movement will once again be to the fore in leading student strikes against academic and financial exclusions in 2015. It is vital that the students reach out to higher education staff – both academic and administrative – to support and join their struggles. A joint struggle of workers and students would send shivers down the spines of Blade Nzimande and the other apologists for capitalism in the SACP.

In both the metal and mining industries workers will be forced into struggle yet again to defeat retrenchments as the bosses retaliate for the wage concessions they were forced to make in the platinum mineworkers strike and the five week strike of 230,000 metalworkers in June. As the parastatals are primed for privatisation we can expect struggles to develop as workers resist attempts to make these enterprises attractive to capitalist buyers and investors at the workers’ expense. Service delivery protests will continue unabated and the work to create a socialist-led country-wide civic that can bring coordination and common demands to the struggles of the communities must be stepped up.

In all these battles we will lend our unwavering support. But we will not just be passive cheerleaders. We will be raising socialist and Marxist ideas that can illuminate the best methods of struggle and broader political aspects of the class struggles being waged in the workplaces, communities and on the campuses. Crucially, 2015 must be utilised to further advance the progress made toward the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme in the course of last year and unite these three theatres of struggle. It is vital that the struggles of 2015 find their generalised expression in the unity of the struggle for socialism.

2014 bequeaths a new political landscape

2014 will be remembered as a critical year that changed the political landscape. Despite winning 62% of the vote in May’s general election the ANC has never been weaker. Only 36% of their vote came from the urban areas and there is the real possibility that they could lose control of most of the major metros – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay – in the 2016 local elections. Significant sections of the working class, especially around NUMSA, are breaking with the ex-liberation movement turned capitalist government, a process accelerated by the 2012 Marikana massacre. At the ANC Youth League’s consultative conference in November, Zuma admitted in his speech that the ANC was “in trouble” before quickly being called to order. At the ANC’s November NEC meeting, ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe’s normal bluster was briefly forced to reflect reality. He admitted that the ANC risks losing power. However, returning to form, he tried to place the blame anywhere and everywhere but with the ANC’s slavish support for capitalism.

Even the boast that the ANC would rule “until Jesus comes back” has been dealt a blow. The religious elite in the SA Council of Churches have been forced to reflect the anger of their working class congregations, belatedly waking up to the ANC’s ‘false’ “wealth religion” of blatant self-enrichment. The Methodist church has even withdrawn their ministers from acting as chaplains for the ANC. As 2015 unfolds and the 2016 local elections draw nearer we can expect the tensions within the ANC to reach new heights, meaning fresh lows of manoeuvring and squabbling which will only reinforce their decline.

The Economic Freedom Fighters will no doubt play a role in catalysing the tensions in the ANC in 2015 if, as is likely, they maintain their disruptive high profile in parliament. But despite the role they have played in exposing this toothless institution, 2014 demonstrated that the EFF is not a party that will break with the cronyism so characteristic of capitalist political parties. Unfortunately, the EFF is confirming that it cannot be the vehicle for the revolutionary and socialist aspirations of working class interests. In the EFF’s so-called ‘People’s Assembly’ voices critical of Malema and the ex-ANC Youth League leadership were increasingly side-lined or pushed out of the party. The thin veneer of democratic process was little more than a cover for the dominance of Malema and his loyalists. Even so, we can expect the EFF to escalate its socialist rhetoric in 2015 from the luxury of opposition.

Many genuine working class activists who went into the EFF with illusions have now found themselves outside the EFF with a bloody nose. We will engage these groups in principled discussions in the course of 2015 and continue our fraternal dialogue with those genuine forces, of the youth in particular, who have remained in the EFF for now.

Prepare for rapid developments in the trade union movement

Despite the enormous significance of the emergence of the EFF to the left of the ANC the most important development in 2014 was the slow motion implosion of Cosatu, culminating in the expulsion of NUMSA. The depth of the split was demonstrated by the opposition of a further seven Cosatu affiliates to NUMSA’s expulsion. The realignment of the trade union movement will continue in 2015 and the battle for Cosatu will enter its final phase. It remains to be seen whether the pro-ANC right-wing leadership of Cosatu will hold to their promise of convening a Special National Congress. Even if they do, the indications are that NUMSA will not be allowed to attend and will have to wait until the scheduled Cosatu congress later in the year to appeal their expulsion. If that is the case, the Special National Congress would become little more than a gerrymandered rallying event for the pro-ANC leaders in Cosatu, used to fortify their defences in advance of NUMSA’s appeal.

Even so, it cannot be ruled out that the ANC, in an attempt to bolster their weakening position will try and broker a deal that brings NUMSA back into Cosatu. Their cynical motivation would be to try and head off the danger of NUMSA leading a wave of struggle fully outside of the ANC’s control and spearheading the formation of a workers party to unite those struggles and challenge them electorally. But the ANC will likely try in vain. NUMSA has come too far and would have to sacrifice too many of their principles to be readmitted on any basis other than their complete capitulation to the ANC.

Recognising the political character of the battle for Cosatu is crucial to determining the correct course of action. NUMSA is going to court to try and force the calling of a Special National Congress and win their reinstatement back into Cosatu. We have no principled opposition to using the courts as one front in the struggle. But the battle for Cosatu cannot be fought in the courts alone. The battle for Cosatu is a battle for the entire working class. Unity is essential to maximise the fighting capacity of the working class. But unity must be built through struggle. The sort of ‘unity’ that has existed in Cosatu for the past period was maintained only by the total abandonment of struggle. NUMSA and its allies should begin implementing the dormant Cosatu resolutions adopted in 2012 and lead struggles against retrenchments, e-tolls, labour broking and rising living costs to begin reforging the unity of the working class.

We have consistently argued for the creation of a Socialist Trade Union Network to unite in struggle – including the struggle to reclaim Cosatu – all those trade unions, trade union structures and groups of workers committed to advancing the interests of the working class through militant struggle. Such a Network would be the best organisational form to maximise the unity of the class at the current political conjuncture and lay the basis for a socialist trade union federation in the future. This demand has lost none of its urgency as we enter 2015. Whether a socialist federation would be under the banner of a politically reborn Cosatu, should NUMSA succeed in their battle to reclaim the federation, or a new formation should they fail, can only be decided by the living struggle. But the realignment that will pick up pace in 2015 and beyond will only mark a step forward for the working class if the trade union movement is rebuilt upon the basis of struggle, solidarity and socialism.

Will 2015 clarify the “NUMSA moment”?

NUMSA’s equally significant role in reconfiguring the political landscape is set to strengthen and deepen as 2015 unfolds as long as NUMSA seizes opportunities in a more timely fashion than was the case in 2014. A year has passed since NUMSA’s own Special National Congress (SNC) withdrew support from the ANC in the 2014 elections. This was an historic decision as we have noted many times. However the creation of alternative political vehicles agreed at the SNC proceeded too slowly in 2014. In effect, NUMSA shelved the implementation of the resolutions until after the general election, wasting the first four months of 2014 and leaving a vacuum now partially filled by the EFF.

We have participated enthusiastically in NUMSA’s United Front (UF) and other NUMSA organised meetings throughout 2014. We have argued that the outcome of the process must be the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme as the best vehicle, at this stage, for advancing the interests of the working class in their struggle for a socialist society. We will continue to participate and put forward our ideas in 2015. But should NUMSA sit out the 2016 local elections, or fail to link their industrial struggles to the political work of the union in the course of 2015 – as was the case in the metalworkers strike last year – their credibility amongst the working class, not least of all their own members, will be sorely tested. For the working class to enter a second post-Marikana national election without a mass force putting forward a socialist alternative to the crisis of capitalism would only expand the existing vacuum and further complicate the creation of a mass workers party in the future.

After May work began to establish the UF but progress was slow. The national launch is now scheduled for April. Steps toward the creation of a Movement for Socialism and a possible workers party have been virtually non-existent though an announcement out of NUMSA’s March CEC has been promised and the plan to hold a Conference for Socialism early this year has been raised regularly. However, with the postponement of the UF launch to April, that timetable may be in doubt. We believe that it is vital that the March CEC makes a clear statement on their commitment to the building of a new workers party and goes ahead with the Conference for Socialism, using it as a springboard to begin that task.  Over the past year, the uncertainty in the ranks of NUMSA, and the working class, over where exactly NUMSA stands on the question of a new party – are they launching one or aren’t they? – has been a factor in the lack of active participation amongst NUMSA members in the UF. The entire process will be reinvigorated if clarity is given on this question, drawing more NUMSA members into active participation, which in turn would  provide far more secure foundations.

Ideological battle

NUMSA has broken from the ANC, but as is to be expected the UF has become hotly contested ideological terrain. As is always the case, the climbing of the first mountain is not met by the end of the journey, but the realisation that another mountain lay concealed behind the first. We of course welcome democratic debate and the debates taking place within the UF will be an enormously beneficial political school for genuine working class fighters. But it is astounding that a debate needs to take place at all about the centrality of socialism to anything initiated by NUMSA!

The increasing dominance of the middle class and academic left in the UF leadership poses the danger that hard-learned lessons of the international working class struggle, generalised in the ideas of genuine Marxism, will be unlearned. The rightful hatred of the ossified Stalinised ‘Marxism’ of the SA Communist Party must not lead to the throwing out of the genuine Marxist baby with the filthy Stalinist bathwater. Rejection of Marxism and the central role of working class struggle is second nature to the class prejudices of the middle class. If they come to dominate the UF it could become a centre for ideological opposition to NUMSA and those who have so firmly defended socialism, Marxism and the role of the class struggle in changing society.

Despite that danger, there is every opportunity for NUMSA and the process they have begun in the UF to culminate in the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme. But there is no guarantee. It is beholden on all those who support the idea of a workers party to deepen their understanding of Marxism, in the first instance by entering the ranks of the Workers & Socialist Party, in order to organise and wage the ideological battles that we are faced with in 2015. Given the excellent class instincts of NUMSA members and their education in the class struggle we are confident that our ideas will gain the majority in any democratic debate held with and in front of the working class.

WASP in 2015

The new political landscape poses fresh challenges for the Workers and Socialist Party. We were the first party to emerge on the left out of the seismic events around the Marikana massacre. But we are no longer alone. On one side of us the EFF is posing as a radical alternative, particularly electorally. On our other side the NUMSA process continues to unfold, based, potentially, on the heavy battalions of the working class. This raises important questions about the type of party we must be to most effectively intervene in the new landscape.

Our task is what it has always been – defending the ideas of Marxism in order to point the way forward for working class struggles and their ultimate victory in the creation of a socialist society. But how we are organised must always be tailored to ensure we are the best fashioned tool for that task. This must be the subject of urgent debate and discussion within our ranks in the coming months. We must ensure we maximise the vast opportunities that will open up for winning significant sections of the working class and youth to the ideas of Marxism and the revolutionary struggle for a socialist society in 2015 and beyond.

 

The Workers and Socialist Party is an internationalist party committed to the worldwide struggle for socialism. We salute the heroic struggles of the working class and poor which took place on every continent last year and stand in solidarity with all the struggles that will unfold in 2015. We recommend reading, in conjunction with this statement, the ‘World Perspectives’ document of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) which was adopted in December 2014. The CWI is the socialist international to which the Democratic Socialist Movement – an affiliate and founding member of WASP – is affiliated. The document can be read here.


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