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Community protests in Tembelihle and Tsakane over poor water services, inadequate housing and illegal electricity disconnections have been brutally repressed by the police. The Workers & Socialist Party condemns the police murder of two community members (including a school child) and injuries and arrests of dozens of others.
Ignorant media accounts make the explosion of protest sound as if it came out of the blue. But these communities have been suffering for years and have explored every ‘official’ route to improve their living standards. People’s patience has run out! After the community submitted a memorandum on their service delivery issues last year, the housing department promised a follow-up meeting in January. Nothing happened. When the community enquired they were told the meeting had already happened – but no community representatives had been present!
On Tuesday housing officials came to the community saying the MEC for human settlements, Jacob Mamabolo, ANC and SACP member, needed a further two weeks to consider their concerns. Maybe in that time Mamabolo should also live without adequate housing, water, sanitation and electricity. The community demanded he come to the community in person to discuss their concerns but the officials said he was scared he would be lynched! The community assured his safety but were clearly not believed. It is an indictment of so-called public ‘representatives’ when they fear their own constituents!
On Wednesday a mass meeting of over 2,000 residents voted overwhelmingly against giving MEC Mamabolo a further two weeks and voted in favour of mass action now to force him to listen to their concerns. They began marching that afternoon and moved to block the road. At this point the police were used to suppress the protests in a blatant act of political policing. Residents exercising their democratic right to protest over political issues – the question of how resources in society are allocated – were brutally suppressed.
As ever, the politicians are trying to make the protests appear as mindless violence rather than a long developed grievance for which they are to blame which has been responded to by democratically organised mass action. The ANC MEC for community safety, Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane, has described it as “utter lawlessness”.
Also, the media wishes to sensationalise aspects of the protest than get the truth out. A tiny minority tried to use the protest as an excuse for xenophobic looting it is true. But the protest organisers met with shop-owners and searched the settlement in order to return their goods. Likewise, the idea that the black Africans of the community are “fighting with their neighbours”, the Indians in Lenasia, is likewise false. A lone lunatic in Lenasia, was firing a gun at protestors, killing one and injuring a further three, but he has a long history of such crazy action. In general the Indian community is sympathetic to the plight of their neighbours and have a good relationship with them.
We stand in solidarity with the residents of Thembelihle and Tsakane. We will support future protests over service delivery and protests against the ANC’s political policing.
The out-of-touch class arrogance of Finance Minister Nhlanhle Nene was demonstrated not just in the budget he put forward on behalf of the ANC government but also in his choice of ‘jokes’. When announcing a 1% increase in personal income tax on those earning over R180,900 per year, and explaining this would only mean an extra R21 per month for someone earning R200,000 per year, he quipped that, “this category is not in this house [parliament]” to titters of laughter. When he outlined that those with incomes higher than R1.5 million would only pay an extra R1,100 per month he said, building on his earlier joke, “I’m not sure [how many are] in this room” to rapturous laughter.
When it came to the increases in alcohol duty, Nene had his super-rich politician friends rolling in the aisles. The increases in beer and wine duty passed in silence, the increase in sparkling wine began to get a response from the MPs, but when Nene announced an increase in whisky duty, joking that “people [the MPs] need to listen very carefully”, the house descended into playful boos and jeers. The contempt of the super-rich politicians for the working class and their indifference to the grinding poverty in which the majority live was exposed in these few brief moments.
But many a true word is said in jest – Nene is right! The basic annual salary for an MP is R900,000 per year; for the ANC ministers it is far higher. In September, when the Parliamentary Register of Members Interests was published, 370 out of 400 MPs declared that they had incomes in addition to their already sky-high parliamentary salaries. The most disgusting levels of personal wealth are owned by those politicians who do not just govern on behalf of the capitalist class but have also entered their ranks. ANC deputy president and deputy president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa, has shareholdings worth R76 million and owns 30 houses in Johannesburg alone. Baleka Mbete, ANC chairperson and speaker of the house, owns shares worth more than R27 million.
Nene, and the ANC capitalists mock the working class and poor majority amongst whom the median wage (i.e. where half the population gets less and half more) is less than R3,500 per month (R42,000 per year). WASP believes that all elected public officials should only take the average wage of a skilled worker with all their expenses published for public scrutiny. We also support the introduction of legislation requiring political parties to disclose their funding.
A capitalist budget
The redistribution of some crumbs from the plates of the middle class to the working class cannot disguise that this was a budget for the capitalist class. The tinkering around the edges, including tiny social grant increases and relief on transfer duty, will be welcomed by those working and middle class people who will benefit. But Nene refused to rule out a VAT increase in the near future, which will hit the working class hardest, taking back with one hand what he gave with the other. Nene has slashed R25 billion from government spending next year. This means real terms budget cuts of around 2% across government departments. This may not sound like a huge amount, but it must be remembered that 2004-2010 saw average growth in spending of 9% and that was not able to solve the problems of mass unemployment, poor service delivery, inadequate housing, water, sanitation and roads.
But Nene is proposing no new policies that will touch the the wealth of the tiny capitalist elite. On the illicit capital flows of big business to the imperialist countries, tax avoidance by the rich, and the new con-trick of the bosses – ‘transfer pricing’ – which miner Lonmin used to move R1.2 billion out of the country untaxed between 2008 and 2012, Nene only said they are “looking into it.”
In our new year statement we warned the working class to be “on their guard against the double-speak” inevitable in the budget. Nene did not disappoint. He announced the “consolidation of government personnel numbers” – i.e. the cutting of public sector jobs which will fuel unemployment. He said he aimed at “reducing workplace conflict” – i.e. clamping down on strike action as workers struggle to improve their living standards. He reaffirmed that “cost recovery from road users will continue to be the principle financial mechanism for major road users” – i.e. e-tolls will continue in one form or another. And finally we were told that “fiscal support” for the parastatals like Eskom, SAA and the Post Office will be “financed by asset sales” – i.e. privatisation, the handing-over of public property to the capitalist class to profit from. To rub salt in the wound, Cryril Ramaphopsa will oversee privatisation which is little different to putting the fox in charge of the hen house!
The credit rating policemen
The underlying necessity for this budget from the point of view of the ANC government and the capitalist class is the crisis of South African and global capitalism. Nene has again revised down growth for this year from 2.5% to 2%. He says it might get to 3% in 2017, but this is still 2% below the level that even the ANC admits is necessary to make any difference to unemployment. Across the world the capitalist system is in chaos. Political crises are being provoked on every continent as the capitalist class tries to offload the crisis of capitalism onto the working class. But everywhere they face resistance – the class war is escalating.
Looming in the background of this budget were the global credit rating agencies. These unelected policemen of the global capitalist financial system, appointed by the imperialist powers, have threatened to provoke an economic crisis. Their weapon of choice is to downgrade SA’s credit rating to ‘junk status’. The ANC government is spending more than it receives in taxes every year. It plugs the difference by borrowing money from the capitalist class who demand the repayment of the loan plus interest (their profit). This year the capitalist class will receive R115 billion in interest payments from the government. Within two years they will be receiving R153 billion per year. The working class and poor are being kept in poverty to guarantee the profits of the capitalist financiers. But still that is not enough for them!
The ANC government, like anyone who borrows too much money is in danger of not being able to repay its loans. If this happened it would have to declare itself bankrupt. Nobody lends money to bankrupts except mashonisa who charge sky-high interest rates. For a government already dependent on loans to function, this would be a disaster – public sector wages would go unpaid and government services would close down. This is the threat the ratings agencies are making to safeguard capitalist profits.
Fortunately for them, the ‘threat’ was never more than a ‘quiet word with a friend’ as the ANC government long ago accepted the rules of capitalism. This budget confirms that they are happy to toe the line. In fact Nene was at pains to boast about the capitalist playground the ANC has helped to create in SA – with healthy capital and property markets and a competitive tax regime (corporate tax is lower today than in 1994). The Democratic Alliance, in their shadow budget, showed that they only disagree on the detail of how to make SA a capitalist ‘paradise’.
WASP struggles for the nationalisation of the banking and finance sector and for the introduction of a state monopoly of foreign trade and capital controls all under the democratic control of the working class as the answer to the threats of the ratings agencies and the imperialist powers behind them.
For a socialist alternative
This budget is a declaration that the ANC government, and the capitalist class they represent, are increasing the intensity of the class war they already wage on workers, communities, the poor and the youth. We must answer with determined struggle and by raising a clear socialist alternative. The only way to improve the living standards of the working class majority – higher wages, adequate housing, water and sanitation, free education and healthcare – is to take the commanding heights of the economy out of the hands of the capitalist class. The mines, the banks, the commercial farms, big factories and big businesses must be nationalised under democratic worker and community control as a step toward the creation of a socialist society. This will unlock the vast wealth that the working class itself creates that currently goes to the capitalist class in obscene profits – not least of all interest payments on government loans!
WASP supported the budget day protests of NUMSA’s United Front (UF) in Cape Town and will be participating in the Provincial budget protests in Gauteng, the North West and elsewhere next week. However, the national UF leadership’s reply to the budget, the Memorandum of People’s Demands, does not offer any real alternative to Nene’s budget or point a way forward for the struggles of the working class. Indeed the document fails to talk about the working class but talks about “the people” instead. But this is the same language of class collaboration that Nene himself used in presenting the budget, the better to disguise his class agenda. Nene called for the “unity” of “government, labour, business and all South Africans”, i.e. “the people”. But “the people” are composed of classes with opposing interests. We must bring clarity where the ANC sows confusion, repeating (even unintentionally) their language will not assist with that.
The UF leadership also fails to name the ANC government or capitalism as the cause of the working classes’ suffering. Neither “ANC” nor “capitalism” appears once in their statement. Unfortunately, neither does the word socialism or nationalisation and struggle is only mentioned in the most abstract way. The Freedom Charter, which the NUMSA leadership themselves admit is not a socialist programme, goes further than the national UF leadership’s statement in a period when world capitalism is in a crippling crisis and revolution and counter-revolution play-out on every continent. The UF will not develop into the mass movement we want and need it to become if instead of giving a lead to the working class it lags behind them.
The Workers & Socialist Party calls for the creation of a country-wide socialist civic to unite the service delivery protests, the creation of a socialist trade union federation out of the ashes of Cosatu, and a mass revolutionary youth movement uniting the students and the unemployed youth of the townships. But more, we call for the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme so that in the future we can implement a budget of the working class and poor.
WASP’s youth wing – the Socialist Youth Movement, is playing a key role in the struggles of the students at the Tshwane University of Technology and are taking their protests to the department of Higher Education next week; we are supporting the service delivery march of the Gauteng Civic Association to the Union Buildings on 11 March which will be an important step in the creation of a country-wide socialist civic; we are preparing a campaign of workers struggle to ensure the bosses’ compliance with anti-labour broking legislation. Only mass struggle, guided by a revolutionary socialist programme, can push back the attacks of the capitalist class and push forward to a socialist future.
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.