An Opportunity for Principled Fighting Unity: WASP and the EFF
The birth of first the Workers and Socialist Party and more recently the Economic Freedom Fighters has presented an historic opportunity to advance the struggles of the working class and deal the ANC government and its capitalist masters a major blow in the 2014 elections. After the watershed of Marikana the working class has begun a process of ideological and political clarification and organisational realignment that is seeing support for the ANC melt away across whole swathes of the population and the mighty Cosatu rapidly fragment. It is this process which, from different origins, has given birth to both WASP and the EFF and allowed both organisations to make rapid gains.
In order to advance the struggles of workers, communities and youth, WASP believes it is the historic duty of the EFF and WASP to entrench and extend our gains by building the maximum possible unity between our two organisations. With the national and provincial elections just months away, this means urgently coming to an agreement for collaboration on the electoral field. But at the current stage of development of working class struggle, any unity must simultaneously aid the process of ideological and political clarification. Unfortunately, the leadership of EFF have rejected WASP’s proposals on how to begin building unity making cooperation in the elections impossible unless they reconsider.
The letter below was sent by WASP to the EFF leadership on September 10 following a meeting between leaders of both parties. It presents WASP’s analysis of the present political situation and the demands we believe this places upon the shoulders of WASP and EFF, and advances proposals for the building of unity between our two organisations. Regrettably, we are yet to receive a reply from the EFF leadership. Regardless of the EFF leadership’s mistaken position described below, WASP will continue to extend the hand of solidarity and friendship to all genuine freedom fighters in the ranks of the EFF, for unity in action in the day-to-day struggles of workers, communities and youth. We hope that EFF members will work with WASP to change the position of the EFF leadership in order to seize the historic opportunity we are presented with.
The Workers and Socialist Party
October 15, 2013
Johannesburg, September 10, 2013
TO: The Economic Freedom Fighters Central Command
RE: Co-operation in the 2014 elections
We commend the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for approaching the Workers and Socialist Party for discussions to explore the possibility of collaboration. A full report of the meeting between us on August 19 was given at the recent WASP Interim Coordinating Committee meeting and our approach to the process was accepted. In summary, our view is that the EFF leadership’s proposal that WASP effectively dissolves itself into the EFF reflects a mistaken approach to the building of a new mass left political force. We are concerned that if you maintain this position, it would not only make it impossible for WASP and EFF to collaborate but would also risk setting back the development of the united working class party which history demands. As agreed at our first meeting on August 19, we here set out in writing the proposals we placed before you on that day, as well as our observations on the deliberations. We believe that a written exchange will contribute towards clarifying our respective positions.
The talks between us take place against the background of the reconfiguration of South Africa’s political landscape. The Marikana massacre marked a new period in testing out the forces of the working class against those of the ruling capitalist class. More than any other of the numerous betrayals of this government, it revealed the true class character of the African National Congress (ANC) – the main political instrument for the rule of the rich, the mining bosses and the capitalist class as a whole. The massacre illuminated with blinding clarity that while the working class has the right to vote, we are politically disenfranchised. None of the parties contesting power is rooted in and led by the working class independently and on a programme setting out working class interests. Accordingly, millions of working class people – workers, the unemployed, youth and students – have intensified their search for a political and ideological alternative to the ANC. The births respectively of the WASP and the EFF have, by different routes and with significantly different features, come about in response to this situation.
The working class is still at an early stage in the process of clarifying key ideological, political and organisational questions. Many know very clearly what they are against but are far less precise on what they are for. With the ANC unmasked as the main tool of capitalist rule in the eyes of millions and probably at its weakest point since it came to power – as evidenced by the steady decline in its real electoral support, the effective liquidation of the ANCYL and the fracturing of Cosatu, its most formidable organised base and electoral machinery – the historic opportunity to deal the ANC and its capitalist masters a significant blow in the 2014 elections will be at top of the minds of many. We believe that since both WASP and EFF are seen as answers to this question by significant sections of the working class, the two organisations should seek to collaborate in a way that both harnesses the combative strength of a united working class AND facilitates this process of clarification. An effective challenge to the ANC from the left would indeed be an important step along the path towards the future mass overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a workers government on a socialist programme. To let it pass by because of attempts to elevate individual party interests above those of the working class as a whole would be a dereliction of historic duty.
This is why we propose that WASP and the EFF collaborate in the form of a WASP/EFF electoral bloc, for the purposes of contesting the 2014 elections. As we explained at our meeting, our concrete proposals for the 2014 national and provincial elections are:
- Both parties agree to stand joint national and provincial lists of candidates under the name “Workers and Socialist Party / Economic Freedom Fighters”, or “Economic Freedom Fighters / Workers and Socialist Party”, pending consultation with the IEC on the exact form and legal requirements for such a list. The allocation per organisation and the position of candidates on the lists to be negotiated.
- Both parties will adopt a basic programme of joint demands, to be elaborated upon, but including as a minimum, (1) the nationalisation of the mines, factories and commercial farms at the commanding heights of the economy (2) a national minimum wage, (3) free education and healthcare, (4) anti-corruption, (5) a pledge for all MPs to take the average workers’ wage.
- Both parties will supplement this basic programme with their own specific programmes to be put forward independently.
- Both parties will maintain their organisational independence during this collaboration but will establish a mutually agreed democratic structure to coordinate the collaboration.
- Both parties agree to campaign to include other pro-working class, pro-poor and pro-youth forces on the basis of agreement with the basic programme, most notably the trade unions, granting representation on the list and participation in democratic decision making.
- Both parties will jointly campaign to maximise the vote for the joint lists but will maintain the right to public fraternal and comradely criticism on points of disagreement outside of the basic programme, agreeing to the prompt circulation of such fraternal and comradely criticism to one another.
- Both parties agree to extend a speaking invitation to one another for all significant public rallies, public meetings and press conferences.
Having presented these proposals to you on August 19 and heard your response, we understand the EFF’s position as follows:
- That the EFF is opposed to coalitions and that therefore WASP should “endorse” the EFF, which would entail:
- That WASP adopts EFF’s seven “non-negotiable” cardinal points.
- That the EFF will not accept any criticism of the seven cardinal points, while differences may be aired regarding other less critical supporting points.
- That all WASP members become EFF members.
- That WASP seconds two leading comrades onto the EFF’s national decision-making structure and that these two must be “naturalised” into the EFF, meaning they should be known as EFF representatives only, putting forward only EFF policies and not those of WASP.
- That WASP could nevertheless retain its separate identity, political organisation and campaigns.
As is evident from these two sets of proposals, whilst WASP and the EFF share important common ground, there are fundamental differences on the approach to collaboration. These differences in approach are not technicalities but of critical importance given the differences that also exist on fundamental political and ideological questions, which we believe need to be open to be clarified through debate in front of the working class, which in the final analysis will pass judgment on our respective programmes. The EFF’s conditions for cooperation would deprive the working class of the opportunity for such debate and clarification. Instead of fraternal collaboration, the EFF position requires the subordination of WASP policies to those of the EFF and renders the right that the EFF claims it recognises for WASP to retain its independent identity meaningless.
Key issues for debate are:
– The central question of nationalisation
The EFF, and before it the ANCYL, have done the working class a service by placing nationalisation once again on the agenda of mainstream politics. The question is at the centre of both WASP’s and the EFF’s programmes and we believe this should be an acceptable starting point for collaboration, despite important differences. We argue that nationalisation, in and of itself, does not equate to “economic freedom” for the working class. Unless it is implemented on the basis of workers control and management, and is undertaken as a step towards the socialist reconstruction of society, it can become a vehicle for the advancement of capitalist forces using the state to accelerate the development, in SA’s case, of a black capitalist class in much the same manner as the National Party did to develop an Afrikaner bourgeoisie, or as certain East Asian states have done to further a highly oppressive and exploitative form of capitalism. The EFF appears to look towards this radical capitalist variety of nationalisation. WASP, on the other hand, fights for nationalisation on the basis of democratic control and management by workers and working class communities, undertaken as a step towards the socialist reconstruction of society.
– Economic freedom and socialism
WASP stands firmly on a socialist programme – a programme for the take-over of the commanding heights of the economy by the organised working class and the democratic planning of production to satisfy the needs of the vast majority instead of the greed of a tiny minority. The struggle for the socialist transformation of society, on a world scale, is more than non-negotiable for WASP – it is the party’s reason for being to which all other points link. Meanwhile the EFF has pronounced itself “anti-capitalist” but has not made clear what it regards as the alternative to capitalism. Instead the EFF has popularised the idea of “economic freedom” in contrast to the “political freedom” ushered in in 1994 which remains largely meaningless for the black working class majority. We are of the view that genuine “economic freedom” can only be achieved on the basis of a socialist society, where the working class majority runs both its own state the economy. As pointed out in relation to nationalisation, in our view there are dangers that the battle cry for economic freedom could be used and abused to rally the working class only for its class enemies to climb on its back and install itself as a new set of oppressors and exploiters.
– Accountability and corruption
Corruption is a burning issue for millions and is an issue the working class takes extremely seriously, with its direct impact on living standards. The struggle against corruption and for accountability of elected representatives and government officials is at the centre of so-called service delivery protests on a daily basis. WASP recognises big business and its political representatives, mainly the ANC, as the fountainhead of the corruption sapping the resources of the country. WASP believes the best inoculation against careerism and corruption and to hold representatives to account is by raising the need for elected representatives, at all levels, to earn no more than the average workers’ wage and be subject to immediate recall. It is not clear to us what EFF thinks of these safeguards, which is particularly worrying given the cloud of corruption-controversy that hangs over key EFF leaders such as Julius Malema. We have no illusions regarding the motives of those driving the campaign against Malema, or for that matter their own records when it comes to using generally corrupt relationships to loot public funds. However, these circumstances do not take away the responsibility, in our view, on the shoulders of the EFF leadership to respond to these perceptions by employing the utmost transparency in the financial affairs of the party and its leaders as well as clarity in rejecting corruption.
We believe it is critical that WASP retains its own banner under which points like these can be raised independently in order to indicate, in an honest and principled way, where the road to genuine economic freedom lies. Unfortunately, the approach the EFF appears to be taking to collaboration – an effective dissolution of WASP into the EFF – would not allow this. A centralised monolithic party with a more or less self-appointed leadership is not the way to obtain the unity so crucial to the building of a mass left political alternative to the ANC. Given the vast range of political, working class, community and youth organisations that have mushroomed in South Africa as opposition to the ANC has grown, the only approach that can succeed in developing a mass alternative we believe is the creation of a formation of a federal character – an umbrella under which to unite different workers’, community and youth organisations on the basis of a common banner. This is what underpins our approach to the building of WASP at this stage. Participating organisations in WASP maintain their independent identity, and, outside of WASP’s basic programme, upon which agreement is necessary in order to join, are free to put forward their own views on issues and make fraternal public criticism where they disagree. This is not a weakness, but WASP’s strength. Unity cannot be imposed from above but has to be achieved through debate and discussion, the comradely thrashing out of differences and by joint action. Still, we are not so conceited as to think that all working class organisations will come under our banner all at once. In each case we discuss and work out how we can best work together, and in some cases the dialogue continues to find ways to work together even when an organisation remains outside of the WASP umbrella.
We have not approached the discussion with the EFF with the demand that you come under the WASP umbrella, but rather, at this stage, with a proposal for cooperation by forming an electoral bloc for the forthcoming elections.
We trust you will take the points we have raised in this letter in the fraternal and comradely spirit in which they are intended. We remain convinced that there is enough common ground between EFF and WASP to make cooperation imperative and will, as ever, strive to build the maximum unity in campaigns and mass actions. However, as set out above, cooperation on the EFF’s terms as presented so far is impossible for WASP to accept. We appeal to you and to the members of the EFF to reconsider your position, failing which we will regrettably not be able to work with you. We look forward to your views and eagerly await your reply. We would appreciate if you could respond in time for the next WASP interim coordinating committee meeting which will take place on September 21.
for the WASP interim secretariat