The Freedom Charter: blueprint for socialism or capitalism?
by Weizmann Hamilton
“Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit.
The Charter does not contemplate such profound political and economic changes. Its declaration “The People Shall Govern!” visualises the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of this country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty bourgeoisie.”
– Nelson Mandela, Liberation 1956
In December 2014, the United Front’s National Preparatory Assembly referred back to the structures for discussion a number of questions critical to the UF’s role in the struggle of the working class. These issues are: (i) should the United Front become a political party? (ii) should it adopt socialism as its ideology? (iii) should it contest the 2016 local government elections? (iv) should it adopt the Freedom Charter as it’s programme? (v) should political parties be allowed into the UF? All these questions are to be debated at the national launch of UF from 25th to 28th June, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the adoption of Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People on June 26th 1956.
The UF came into being following Numsa’s historic December 2013 Special National Congress resolutions which agreed to launch a United Front, form a Movement for Socialism and to explore the establishment of a workers party. The United Front was conceived as a vehicle to re-unite, in the main, the struggles of the organised labour movement and working class communities involved in service delivery protests, as well as a range of other single-issue campaign formations and political parties on the left.
Since the Numsa SNC the ongoing economic crisis has combined with political developments to draw the lines of class and political divisions in the country much more sharply. Against the background of the loss of more than a million jobs since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007/8, unemployment has increased even more taking the total unemployed to 8.7m according to Stats SA. Yet the number of dollar millionaires has grown by 9% amongst all race groups over that same period. However amongst Indians, Coloureds and Africans the number of dollar millionaires has shot up, on average, by an astronomical 142% bringing the total to 13 700, just a few hundred more than the total amongst whites. This has happened despite a 41% decline in the value of the Rand over the same period. According to Oxfam, SA’s two richest men, Nicky Oppenheimer and Johannes Rupert own as much wealth as the bottom 50% in SA.
The vacuum to the ANC’s left has been only partially filled by the EFF. The EFF is neither a genuine party of the working class, nor genuinely committed to socialism. It wasted no time in abandoning its commitment not to accept parliamentary privileges, including salaries. It is wracked by controversies over unfair staff dismissals, financial impropriety, sexual scandals, factionalism and has so far experienced three major revolts that have led to the expulsion of leading party figures and the embarrassment of a thousand defectors to the ANC in Mpumalanga. For many inside and outside it, the EFF was supposed to be a radical socialist alternative. But the experience of the EFF so far resembles that of a man lost in a dessert and, overcome with thirst, runs towards an oasis only to discover it is a mirage.
But its presence on the electoral plane nevertheless remains a complicating factor. In the absence of a genuine mass workers party with a socialist programme, the EFF will continue to offer what many voters, alienated by the ANC but repelled by the DA, would consider the least of the bad amongst the alternatives on offer, which offers the benefit at most of providing a sjambok to lash the ANC with.
The EFF’s limited appeal is shown by the fact that it received 1.3m votes which, though a spectacular achievement for a party less than a year old, succeeded only in matching Cope’s 2009 vote in political circumstances much more favourable than those in which the first major split from the ANC was born.
The ANC has reacted to the crisis in society on the economic and social front with a significant shift to the right with the adoption of an austerity budget that has now finally even abandoned the pretence of opposing privatisation. The ANC government’s contempt for the people is shown by its waiving aside of the overwhelming objections to e-tolls and its rejection of the Public Protector’s recommendations on Nkandla. This will only accelerate the ANC’s decline as an electoral force and, in time, wipe-out all vestiges of its liberation credentials.
Politics like nature abhors a vacuum. If the vacuum is not filled with progressive content, it can be filled with reaction. The so-called xenophobic attacks are a warning to the working class that forces exploiting the despair of the marginalised and the declassed have no hesitation about unleashing the barbarism that spread through the country in April. With lines of barely concealed political support tying them to senior figures in the ANC government, and state backing in the form of eg Operation Fiela, these forces are on standby to take advantage of the failure of the working class to provide a way out of the blind alley of capitalism.
The UF national conference thus has an enormous historical responsibility resting on its shoulders. With just twelve months or less to go before the local government elections, there is unfortunately no mass workers party in place as yet. The Numsa central committee will deliberate further on this matter at its July central committee meeting. Even so, although Numsa remains committed to the formation of a workers party, the debate over the character of the party, that is whether it should be a mass workers party or a vanguard party has yet to be resolved. It cannot be certain therefore, that even if the matter is finalised at the July central committee, that the debate will be resolved in favour of what history demands at this conjuncture – a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
This makes the deliberations at this conference even more important. Out of the rubble of the Tripartite Alliance that the Marikana earthquake left, Numsa’s SNC took the historic decisions to reconstruct the working class movement on the ideological foundations and principles on which Cosatu was founded, of workers unity and socialism. A new era in the post –apartheid era has opened up. In the wake of the SNC’s decisions, the political terrain has changed decisively and irreversibly. For most workers inside and outside Numsa, the different resolutions adopted – to withhold political and financial support from the ANC, not to campaign for it in the elections, to establish a Movement for Socialism, build a United Front and to explore the formation of a workers party – raised the hope that their combined effect would be the creation of a mass workers party.
It is for this reason that Wasp welcomes the proposal to debate the Freedom Charter as a possible programme to be adopted by the United Front. This is despite the fact that, as Numsa itself acknowledges, the Freedom Charter is not a socialist programme. A programme is central to the building of a workers party. To bring a party into being without this decisive question having been resolved, or at least the basis for it laid down clearly, such a party will not be able to fulfil the historic challenge facing the working class – the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.
The United Front So far
An honest assessment of the achievements of the UF so far does not yield encouraging results. It has failed to draw in the masses involved in service delivery protests, has not attracted the organised workers even in Numsa itself, and has thus been unable to fulfil the mandate of the SNC resolutions – to act as a unifying force between the masses involved in service delivery protests and organised workers. Instead, against the spirit of the SNC resolutions it has excluded political parties promoting divisions and encouraged the suppression of dissent.
Given the fact that Numsa is engaged internally in a process towards the formation of a workers party, as well as the Movement for Socialism, it is perhaps understandable that there should be uncertainty about whether the UF itself should become a political party. But as this is the central challenge of the working class, the UF must have a position on how it relates to it and what its role is in the creation of such a party. It is Wasp’s view that the UF should be organised as a mobilising force towards a mass workers party. This will require an array of different tactics in the 2016 local elections. The UF should register with the IEC so its banner can be used by candidates that support the UF’s programme As an alternative to standing in the elections in its own name, the UF should encourage communities to stand but under a programme and banner that brings them towards the UF and the processes towards a mass workers party. Unfortunately the debate on the political party seems to be based on questioning the relevance of political parties in general.
Wasp finds most disturbing of all that there should even be a debate about socialism. The UF is the political offspring of a union that is firmly committed to socialism. It could not have been the SNC intention to bring into existence a forum that could act as an ideological opponent to its socialist orientation. The questioning of socialism is the exclusive preserve of middle class left academics and ex-Marxists who have thrown out the Bolshevik baby with the bathwater of Stalinism. Socialism enjoys overwhelming support amongst the working class in SA and is undergoing a revival internationally the longer the ongoing crisis of capitalism continues. Unless the UF connects with the socialist sentiments of the masses and actively contributes towards the building of a mass workers party it will be reduced to a liberal pressure group, whose main preoccupation is to direct critiques of the government’s failure to adhere to SA’s capitalist constitution, and engaging in Black Sash-like candle light vigils over the injustices of ANC rule.
The UF is therefore at risk of isolating itself not only from the working class in SA but from the swing towards socialism occurring internationally. The idea that there is a “third way” between capitalism and socialism is utterly discredited.
Wasp believes that the challenge facing the conference is to take decisions on the key 5 questions that it must debate that will align the UF with the spirit of the SNC; to ensure that the UF bridges the gap between communities in struggle for service delivery and the organised working class that Cosatu and the Tripartite Alliance’s drift to the right has opened up; will recognise that at the heart of the social crisis lies the crisis of capitalism itself and that workers’ unity can firmly be rebuilt only on the basis of socialism. For the UF to become the unifying force many activists and the wider working class hope it will become, its resolutions must be ideologically complementary to Numsa’s socialist orientation and lend cohesion organisationally to Numsa’s commitment to building a workers party.
How should the debate on the Freedom Charter be approached?
For Wasp the debate on the Freedom Charter presents the working class with the opportunity to develop a programme that would enjoy mass support and around which the struggles taking place in the three main theatres of class conflict – service delivery protests, student struggles against financial and academic exclusion and workplace struggles of the organised workers — can unite.
We oppose both the uncritical acceptance of the Freedom Charter as well as its outright rejection. We oppose especially attempts to impose it on the UF because such an approach is divisive and reinforces the mistaken but understandable suspicion that it is an attempt by Numsa to import the political traditions of the ANC/SACP into a movement that intends to break not only with the Alliances’ ideas, programme and organisational methods but also its culture of intolerance of dissent.
Wasp accepts that the Charter has serious deficiencies. In fact in its present form it is not a socialist programme, as Numsa itself acknowledges. In spite of the fact that none of its most important demands, especially nationalisation, have been implemented, the ANC uses it to provide a cover for its ANC betrayals. But we do not agree that this is an argument for discarding the document in its entirety. The fact is that, apart from the right to vote, not a single one of its most important demands have been met.
The most important demand, nationalisation, was the first to be sacrificed. This was agreed to in the secret negotiations in the 1980s already. Codesa was merely the occasion to put pen to paper. But so complete was the ANC’s capitulation to the pressure of imperialism that even demands that are in fact achievable even on a capitalist basis, such as free education, free health care, an end to contract work and a 40-hour week, have been jettisoned.
For those forces that arose independently of and also in opposition to the ANC but which nevertheless have been drawn to the “Numsa moment”, the Charter’s association with a corrupt, politically bankrupt and increasingly authoritarian ANC government, which together with its ally the SACP, is becoming more and more discredited, has understandably engendered hostility towards it. The ANC’s betrayals are not attributable to the Charter, but the opposite, to its failure to implement a policy it still claims to subscribe to. The ANC abandoned altogether a document it had sworn by for nearly forty years. Its claim that it is the custodian of the Freedom Charter is sheer hypocritical posturing.
Without the nationalisation clauses, the Freedom Charter is disembowelled. It means the ANC government has denied itself the means by which to fulfil all the Charter’s other social demands. The ANC’s declaration of 2015, the Charter’s 60th anniversary, as the “Year of the Freedom Charter” is but the latest attempt to clothe the wolf of the ANC’s neo-liberal capitalist policies in the sheep skin of the Charter.
Those from outside the congress tradition have gravitated towards the “Numsa moment” in the expectation that Numsa has embarked on a path that points to a complete break with the betrayals of the past two decades. This betrayal has entailed the subordination of the interests of the working class to those of the aspirant black capitalist class and their white capitalist masters behind them. It has been expressed in the increasingly rightward drift of an ANC government that, at best, now regards the working class more or less openly as mere political cannon fodder whose interests cam just be contemptuously waived aside, and whose struggles must be suppressed with state violence at worst.
We believe the best way to overcome these differences is by subjecting the Freedom Charter to an overhaul aimed not only at addressing its deficiencies in relation to its demands but its false theoretical underpinnings. We propose a Socialist Freedom Charter. This means injecting the Charter with socialist content capable of addressing the social crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but also the residual unresolved matters related to the national question which has become re-inflamed. We propose a charter above all that shines a light on the path towards socialism.
However, neither its supporters nor its opponents have, in our view, drawn the correct conclusions about the Charter. Its supporters argue that it was not implemented because the ANC lacked the will to do so. Its critics argue that, especially given its preamble, but also its vagueness on a number of demands, the Charter had no revolutionary potential from the beginning; that the nationalisation clauses, by calling for the transfer of the wealth of the country to the “people”, and not to the working class, could not have set the revolution on course towards genuine socialism.
We believe these arguments to be one-sided and incorrect. They result from an abstract analysis of the Charter, ignore the political conditions under which it was adopted, the class forces that came together at the Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955 and how the classes variously understood the aims of the Charter. A historical materialist analysis sheds a different, clearer light on the significance of all its clauses and how the evolution of the ANC leadership’s position proceeded from regarding the Charter as fundamental to its programme for the “national democratic” transformation of the country, to abandoning it altogether.
Class interests collide at Congress of the People
The ANC has always portrayed itself as a multi-class party with the leadership insisting that, whilst it was biased towards the poor, it represents equally the interests of all South Africans, rich and poor, white and black, workers, professionals, petty bourgeois, capitalists, liberals, democrats and revolutionaries. The composition of the Congress of the People reflected this. In fact, astonishingly, even the Nationalist Party, oppressors of the people and architects of the recently introduced apartheid system, was invited but declined to attend. The NP preferred not to participate in a charade of political “happy families” concentrating its efforts instead on the more serious business of trying to sabotage the Congress. The Congress was a convention of conflicting class interests and competing ideologies with no prospect of it emerging with a Charter that spoke unambiguously in the name of the working class.
Thus the Charter included nationalisation clauses but not a word either about capitalism or socialism. The leadership genuinely believed for a long period that nationalisation was essential if the aspirant black capitalist class was to take control of the commanding heights of the economy. It’s vision was of a capitalist economy in which the black capitalist class would occupy at its summits a position corresponding to the weight of the black population in society. Freedom for the aspirant black capitalist class meant a predominantly black capitalist class instead of one dominated by a white minority.
The contradictions in the contributions, and the fierce debates that raged at the Congress were rooted in the opposing class positions from which the worker delegates and the capitalist delegates approached the nature and tasks of the struggle.
The Congress of the People – how worker delegates saw the Charter
The Congress of the People provided the first opportunity for testing the balance of power in the relationship between the black working class and the petty bourgeois leadership of the ANC since the ANC had turned to the masses for support in the struggle against Apartheid. Despite the common opposition to Apartheid, the process of drafting the Charter revealed the conflicting aspirations of the different classes at the congress. ANC leader Ben Turok, who was responsible for drafting the economic clauses, confirms that the process was controversial with many delegates feeling that the Charter was not radical enough.
Although the word “socialism” does not appear anywhere in the Charter, records of the proceedings show that the interpretation of the economic clauses by the working class delegates was in direct contradiction to Mandela’s. As the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC – predecessors to the Democratic Socialist Movement and co-founders of Wasp pointed out in its 1982 publication “SA’s Impending Socialist Revolution”, the mover of the clause: “The people shall share in the country’s wealth in the country’s wealth” explained it to the delegates as follows: “It (the Charter) say the ownership of the mines will be transferred to the people. It says wherever there is a gold mine there will no longer be a compound boss. There will be a committee of the workers to run the mine. …wherever there is a factory and … workers are exploited, we say that that the workers will take over and run the factories. In other words, the ownership of the factories will come into the hands of the people. … Let the banks come back to the people, let us have a people’s committee to run the banks.”
The next speaker, representing trade unions in Natal, spelled out with complete clarity the meaning the workers attached to the clause: “Now comrades, the biggest difficult we are facing in South Africa is that one of capitalism in all its oppressive measures versus the ordinary people – the ordinary workers in the country. We find in this country, as the mover of the resolution pointed out, the means of production. The factories, the lands, the industries and everything possible is owned by a small group of people who are the capitalists in this country. They skin the people, they live on the fat of the workers and make them work, as a matter of fact in exploitation. …this is a very important demand in the Freedom Charter. Now we would like to see a South Africa where the industries, the land, the big business and the mines, and everything that is owned by a small group of people in this country must be owned by all the people in this country. That is what we demand, this is what we fight for and until we have achieved it, we must not rest.”
The vague contradictory nature of the formulations in the Charter reflected the success of the capitalist leadership in diluting the more radical socialist aspirations of the workers. From the standpoint of the worker delegates, the most important conquest was the nationalisation clause. In spite of the fact that the Charter does not call specifically for the abolition of capitalism, the sweeping nationalisation the Charter calls for at least poses the question of the abolition even if it does not answer it. The omission of the word socialism is not accidental, it reflects the dominance of the capitalist delegates at the Congress.
The Congress of the people – how the capitalists saw the Charter
Building on their success in purging the Charter of the revolutionary strivings of the workers, the leadership was at pains, throughout the entire period after the adoption of the Charter up to the end of apartheid and beyond, to clarify what they understood the Charter to stand for. The most striking of these “clarifications” was given by Mandela himself in an article “In our Life time” published in Liberation in June 1956.
“Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound political and economic changes. Its declaration “The People Shall Govern!” visualises the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of this country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty bourgeoisie. (emphasis added)
“It is true that in demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the mines and the land, the Charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold mining monopolies and farming interests that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned it people to servitude. But such a step absolutely imperative and necessary because the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless and until these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people.
“The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own, in their own name and right, mines and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.” (emphasis added)
Of all the repeated “clarifications” by the ANC leadership, Mandela’s is the clearest declaration of the separate and in fact opposing class interests of the black working class and that of the aspirant bourgeoisie the ANC was founded to represent. What is spelled out in this article is that the leadership had no quarrel with “free enterprise”, that is capitalism. Their objection was that the black bourgeoisie had been denied the opportunity to occupy the same position as white monopoly capital at the summits of the economy. The presentation of what were in fact the separate and distinct aspirations of the black bourgeoisie as those of “all the social classes” is a deception that the bourgeoisie everywhere has been obliged to resort to throughout its history.
The idea that all social classes own equally the commanding heights of the economy under capitalism is a complete falsehood. But the bourgeoisie is obliged to present the relationship between the classes in this manner because, as a tiny minority in society, they can fulfil their aspirations only by marshalling the support of the “people”, that is the working class masses who alone have the capacity to shake the old order. This deceit is not unique to SA. It is the method not only of the colonial bourgeoisie but in fact of the bourgeois even during the rise of capitalism.
The bourgeois disguises its aims as that of the people
Marx and Engels identified this characteristic of the bourgeoisie from their observation of the bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848 already insisting that the working class must always fight for its own demands and build its own parties. Their address to the Communist League in 1850 is a brilliant example of Marxism at work as a science of perspectives, providing as Trotsky was to put it later, “the advantage of foresight over astonishment”. It illuminates with blinding clarity the conduct of the ANC throughout its history more than a century later. It also arms the working class with the theoretical weaponry to build its own forces, explains the essence of the theory of permanent revolution and exhorts the working class to build its own programme and its own party.
“The relationship of the revolutionary workers party to the petty bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position. The democratic petty-bourgeois far from wanting to transform the whole of society in the interests of the revolutionary proletarians, only aspire to a change in social conditions which will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible …In order to achieve all this they require a democratic form of government, either constitutional or republican….
“As far as the workers are concerned one thing, above all, is definite: they are to remain wage labourers as before. However the democratic bourgeois want better wages and security for the workers, and hope to achieve this by an extension of state employment and by welfare measures; in short they wish to bribe workers with a more or less disguised form of alms (charity for the poor) and to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable…
“But these demands (the demands of the petty bourgeois democracy) can in no way satisfy the party of the proletariat. While the petty bourgeois want to bring the revolution to an end as quickly as possible, achieving at most the aims already mentioned, it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of proletarians has progressed sufficiently far—not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. Out concern cannot be simply to modify private property, but to abolish it, not to hush up class antagonisms but to abolish classes, not to improve the existing society, but to found a new one… (emphasis added)
“At the moment, while the democratic petty bourgeois are everywhere oppressed, they preach to the proletariat general unity and reconciliation; they extend the hand of friendship, and seek to found a great opposition party which will embrace all shades of democratic opinion; that is they seek to ensnare the workers in a party organisation in which general social democratic phrases prevail, while their particular interests are kept hidden behind, and in which, for the sake of preserving the peace, the specific demands of the proletariat may not be presented. Such a unity would be to their advantage alone and to the complete disadvantage of the proletarians. The proletariat would lose all its hard-won independence and be reduced once more to a mere appendage of official bourgeois democracy. This unity must therefore be resisted in the most decisive manner.
“Instead of lowering themselves to an applauding chorus, the workers and above all the League, must work for the creation of an independent organisation of the workers party, both secret and open, alongside the official democrats, and the League must aim to make everyone of its communes (branches) a centre and nucleus of workers’ associations in which the position and interests can be discussed free from bourgeois influence.
“In the event of a struggle against a common enemy, a special alliance is unnecessary. As soon as such an enemy has to be fought directly, the interests of both parties will coincide for the moment and an association of momentary expedience will arise spontaneously in the future.
“It goes without saying that in the bloody conflicts to come, as in all others, it will be the workers, with their courage, resolution and self-sacrifice, who will be chiefly responsible for achieving victory. As in the past, so in the coming struggle also, the petty bourgeoisie, to a man, will hesitate as long as possible and remain fearful, irresolute and inactive; but when victory is certain it will claim it for itself and will call upon the workers to behave in an orderly fashion, to return to work and to prevent so-called excesses, and it will exclude the proletariat from the fruits of victory.”
The ANC’s track record from the 1950s, during which they frequently called of mass action without consultation with the workers, the manipulation of the proceedings of the Congress of the People, the Codesa negotiations and its performance over the past twenty one years, accords almost precisely to the perspective outlined by Marx and Engels 165 years ago!
If the ANC leadership has failed to implement the Freedom Charter, it is not so much because they lacked the will to do so. It is because its implementation comes into collision with the class interests of the class it was their strategic objective to be assimilated into. The black bourgeoisie’s interests coincide much more with that of the ruling capitalist class than that of “their people”.
Those, like Moeletsi Mbeki , who argue that the betrayals occurred not in the Codesa negotiations at Kempton Park, but in parallel negotiations on economic matters at the Development Bank of SA (DBSA), are attributing the ANC’s betrayals to simply being outmanoeuvred by a more intelligent negotiating opponent. The truth is that, from the standpoint of the ANC leadership’s class interests, the apparently diametrically opposed position on control of the economy the ANC ended up with at Codesa, was not in fundamental contradiction to the position they originally adopted (on nationalisation) at the Congress. In Kempton Park as in Kliptown, the ANC leadership stood for capitalism. As a force for capitalism, the ANC did not re-invent itself ideologically to take power as the new management of SA Inc on the 27th April 1994. It had prepared itself for that role from birth, through the position it took as early as in the 1950s after it had transformed itself into a mass organisation, in the mass struggle of the 1950, at the Congress of the People and even when it turned to the armed struggle.
The Charter’s shortcomings
The Charter has obvious shortcomings. It does not provide for the right to strike. There are no demands for the eradication of the oppression of and discrimination against women, LGBTQ people, nor any on the environment, demands that have risen to the top of the working class agenda today. But these shortcomings can be easily remedied. This would make the Freedom Charter even more radical. In fact its demands are already so radical that it is impossible for all of them to be implemented within the framework of capitalism. The full implementation of the Charter requires the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.
The Charter’s most serious shortcoming, however, lies not so much in these omissions, but in the fact that it is completely silent on the fact that its demands are incompatible with capitalism. The Charter fails to spell out what measures would have to be taken to enable the working class to carry out the expropriation of the capitalist class and to create basis for its own rule. The Charter also does not explain that the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy is the only means by which a future government would be able to place the resources in its hands to enable it to fulfil all the other demands like free education and health and to substitute the anarchy of the free market with a democratically planned economy. Radical as the demand for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy are, the Charter omits to qualify the nationalisation demand by linking it to workers control and management. There is no reason why these shortcomings cannot be addressed as part of the socialist overhaul of the Charter.
Expunge the Preamble
The Charter’s proclamation in its preamble that “SA belongs to all who live in it….” is the section that attracts the most strident objections by its critics. This is understandable. In the apartheid era this amounted to calling upon the oppressed black majority to agree to share the country on an equal footing with their white oppressors. Such a call to the black majority sought to flatter the working class for its renowned generosity only to deceive it. It implied in fact the political expropriation of the right of the black majority to determine, even dictate the political and social character of the new political order under majority rule.
That call remains objectionable today despite the fact that the black majority has been “freed” by the dismantling of the system of white minority rule. The black majority continues to experience subjugation – poverty, unemployment and inequality – today in much the same way as under apartheid. What the continued subjugation of the black majority shows is that the national oppression of the black majority did not simply serve a racial agenda of white supremacy pure and simple. Capitalism rested simultaneously on the national oppression and class exploitation of the black majority, with apartheid providing social reserves in the white middle and working class, serving an instrument of divide and rule all the more effectively to exploit the black working class. Apartheid served simultaneously the interests of the white, predominantly English capitalist class and the ruling racial Afrikaner elite.
The notion that the working class and the capitalists, exploiter and exploited, slave and slave-owner, should have an equal say in determining the new political and social order is by itself objectionable. The idea that they can live side by side with each other in harmony is not only utopian. It misleads the working class as to the capitalist foundations that such a democracy would be based on – the continued oppression and subjugation of the working class majority by the capitalist minority – and disarms the working class as to the measures necessary to enable it to take ownership of the country. We therefore agree that the preamble must be expunged from the charter.
Wasp bases itself on the understanding that society is divided into classes – the main forces of which are the working class on the one hand and the capitalist class on the other. The continuation of the capitalist system is possible only on the basis of the perpetuation of the slavery of the working class – the exploitation of workers by the capitalists. These classes are locked in a life and death struggle because their interests are irreconcilable. Society can find its way of this impasse only by the triumph of the working class over the capitalists.
However the objections of the critics of the Charter’s preamble are not based on class issues, but on racial ones. What does “SA” in the declaration “SA belongs to all who live in it” pose if not the question who owns the economy – the banks, the mines, the big factories, and the land? It is a question that can be resolved only by the method of the class struggle.
The reality of present day SA, however, is that both black and white society are divided into classes. In fact the fastest growing disparity in the distribution of wealth is no longer between blacks and whites but within the black population itself. The black working class cannot agree that SA belongs to it as much as it does to the Ramaphosas, Motsepes and the Maponyas and white monopoly capital. Nor, as the experience of the past twenty one years shows, would the emergent black but still weak capitalist class agree to share the country in the manner the Freedom Charter suggests. Ramaphosa’s role in the Marikana massacre is an emphatic repudiation of the illusion that the emergent black capitalist class and the working class have a common interest when it comes to the ownership of the economy. Ramaphosa, the ANC government and white mining bosses, the vanguard of white monopoly capital, have answered this question in the blood of the martyrs of Marikana.
Nationalisation and Socialism
What the worker delegates to the Congress expressed could be realised only through the overthrow of capitalism even if that was not stated explicitly. It is therefore entirely incorrect to argue as is done in the 60th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter publication produced by Workers World Media, that the adoption of the nationalisation clauses was of little significance as the idea of nationalisation was widely accepted at the time. It may be true that following the Second World War many capitalist governments in the West implemented nationalisation to such an extent that as much as 60% of the world’s economy was under state control at one time in that period as WWM points out. But these capitalist governments acted under the pressure of a massive post-war movement of the working class, and given the economic crisis and the radicalisation of the working class were compelled to take measures to contain the movement – to make concessions from above to stop revolution from below.
It is also true that nationalisation does not equal socialism and the latter does not automatically follow from the former. The epic Chinese Revolution of 1949 also saw the nationalisation of the economy by the Communist Party yet this did not make China a workers democracy. In fact the Chinese Communist Party did not even have a socialist programme to begin with – its programme was “national democratic”. It had a capitalist vision for China in mind. Nationalisation was forced on the CCP by the rottenness and bankruptcy of Chinese capitalism and landlordism.
Nationalisation nevertheless resulted in the eradication of capitalism for a whole generation. Imposed from the top and not the outcome of a conscious workers revolution, the 1949 revolution produced a deformed workers state in which the working class did not run society as would be the case in a genuine workers state. The Chinese regime was modelled not on the workers state of Russia 1917 – 23, but 1949. That there is now a process of capitalist restoration under way in China, and that the description deformed workers state is now no longer applicable, does not erase this fact from history.
To approach the nationalisation question therefore as if it is separate and distinct from socialism under all and any circumstances is mechanical and not dialectical reasoning. Nor does counter-posing “socialisation” to nationalisation resolve the issue. It is merely to dabble in semantics. For socialists nationalisation means placing the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of its own state – a state based on workers democracy that replaces the smashed bourgeois state. This is absolutely essential to enable the state to introduce a democratically planned use of society’s resources. Without nationalisation it would be impossible for a workers state to commence the socialist reconstruction of society.
The Bolshevik government did not nationalise until July 1918. Yet it was a workers state from the beginning. But it was imperative to proceed with nationalisation otherwise it would not have been possible to commence with the development of a planned economy and the socialist reconstruction.
To dismiss the nationalisation clauses of the Charter as if the delegates were merely dressing themselves up in the latest policy fashion garments, is to dismiss the outlook of the worker delegates. It also tears the Congress from the historical context of the political situation prevailing in SA at the time.
The Congress of the People occurred against the background of the biggest mass movement of the black oppressed since the colonisation of the country and was itself the largest democratic gathering ever. What the worker delegates showed at that time already was the understanding that the struggle for national liberation was bound up inextricably with the struggle against capitalism. The outlook of the workers delegates could only mean in practice that the attainment of the demand for national liberation and democracy would require the method of class struggle against the capitalist class whose exploitation of their labour in the workplace was enforced and protected by the same white minority regime that held them in subjugation as blacks through apartheid.
The revolution the workers had in mind could therefore not stop once white minority rule and apartheid had been overthrown but would pass on uninterruptedly to the overthrow of capitalism as well. This is the meaning of the theory of permanent revolution as first explained by Marx and Engels in their address to the Communist League quoted above, and elaborated by Trotsky in the context of the Russian Revolution a half-a- century later.
In this schema nationalisation was absolutely critical to the fulfilment of the aims of the revolution. That the bureaucracies in Russia (after the degeneration of revolution) China and Eastern Europe after the second world war rested on state-controlled economies does not in any way diminish the importance of nationalisation as a policy indispensable to the ability of the working class in its revolution to break the power of the capitalist class, establish its rule and proceed with the thoroughgoing transformation of society.
The attitude that nationalisation is neither here nor there would have meant not taking the side of the worker delegates at the Congress, and turning one’s back against the entire proceedings. It would have the same effect as the actual role played by the SACP at the Congress, which, instead of bolstering the demands of the workers and filling them with revolutionary content, held the workers back, herding them like cattle behind the petty bourgeois on the basis of the NDR. That the SACP was unable to participate in the Congress as a party because it was banned was in fact no barrier to its participation. It had many delegates who participated as ANC members. The NDR dictated that the SACP members should participate in the ANC not to promote the interests of their party and the proletariat in whose name it spoke, but those of the capitalist leadership of the ANC. Upon entering an ANC meeting room they dutifully left the SACP hats outside. This meant in fact bolstering the right against the left at the Congress.
Any communist party worthy of the name would have used the Congress to ensure that the Freedom Charter contained clauses that made explicit what was implicit in the worker delegates’ minds ensuring the inclusion of socialist clauses. A genuine communist party would have called for the substitution of the Charter’s liberal preamble with one that places the working class at the head of the nation, and outlines a vision of society based on the transfer of the wealth of the country to the people by the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class. A socialist preamble would go further to explain that this would require the overthrow of capitalism, the smashing of the state and the creation of a state of workers democracy by replicating the workplace committees the worker delegates referred to by the worker delegates, in communities and cities linking them country-wide.
But imprisoned in the Stalinist two-stage theory, the SACP became the political handmaidens of the ANC bourgeois, providing them with the theoretical justification for their determination to remain firmly within the framework of capitalism and therefore, in the final analysis, collaborators of the capitalist class and imperialism.
80s revolutionary movement galvanises capital to pressure ANC to abandon nationalisation
The real question that should be asked is why if, even in its most radical moment, when it had inscribed into the Charter demands for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy for the purpose not of overthrowing capitalism, but deracialising it, it eventually abandoned nationalisation.
The capitalist class, who are in the business of protecting their wealth, power and privilege and keeping their boots on the necks of the workers, take a far more serious attitude to the question of nationalisation than the comrades of WWM who think that it but one policy option amongst many on the supermarket shelves of capitalist rule. When as they have done under the current Great Recession, occasionally resort to nationalisation, it is only a temporary measure to rescue ailing companies at the expense of the state only to hand them back to private owners for a song as soon as possible afterwards.
It is an entirely different matter when the nationalisation demand is demanded by their class enemies, the working class. Like bloodhounds, the capitalists detected the scent of working class influence in the nationalisation clauses of the Charter, despite the camouflage of its woolly phraseology. They take account not only of who makes such demands, but also of the circumstances under which they are made.
The negotiated settlement signed at Codesa did not spring out of a clear blue sky driven by a regime and a capitalist class who had undergone a conversion on the road to Damascus along which they had discovered that black people had human rights and that democracy may not be such a bad thing after all. It was the culmination of secret talks with the Mandela in prison and with selected ANC leaders abroad initiated by business, apartheid intelligence services, and representatives of the Afrikaner elite under the hot breath of the insurrectionary movement developing in SA at that time.
The 1973 Durban strikes, the countrywide revolt in 1976 detonated by the Soweto Uprising, the unity of workers and youth in the 80s, the birth of UDF in 1983, the acquisition by the mass movement of an increasingly insurrectionary character as the youth and workers moved blended into one between 1984-86, overcoming the repression of both the partial state of emergency in 1985 and the permanent one in 1986, and most decisively of all, the birth of Cosatu in 1985, concentrated minds of the bourgeoisie wonderfully. They could see the writing on the wall for white minority rule. What alarmed the strategists of the bourgeois most of all was the consciousness of the black working class.
How the capitalist evaluated the situation is revealed in the comments of the capitalist press of the time. “The two major demands of the Freedom Charter are that the ‘people shall share in the country’s wealth’ and ‘the land shall be shared among those who work it’. The fact that businessmen sought yesterday’s talks, reflects the deep concern felt by South African big business art the increasing radicalisation of black thinking and the growing rejection of the free enterprise system. What the businessmen wanted to know was the degree to which to which this view was shared by the ANC leadership. ” (Financial Times UK 14th September 1985)
A year later the same paper quoted Anglo American director Zac De Beer, one of the participants in talks with the ANC, as saying: “We all understand how years of apartheid has caused many blacks to reject the economic as well as the political system. But we dare not allow the baby of free enterprise to be thrown out with the bathwater of apartheid” (Financial Times UK 10th June, 1986).
Thus whilst hypocritically wringing their hands over the “unfortunate” measures the state had to take to restore stability through the State of Emergency, big business undertook the political Great Trek to Lusaka, Dakar, London and Washington to engage the ANC leadership. The strategic aim of these discussions was to emasculate the Freedom Charter by exerting relentless pressure on the ANC to abandon nationalisation and thereby turn the ANC into their conscious collaborators in diverting the revolution and preserving capitalism.
Whatever the intentions of the ANC leadership, were they to attempt to implement the nationalisation clauses of the Charter, what would be posed is the overthrow of capitalism itself. They would not be able to proceed in that direction in any case without the mobilisation of the masses. But since the intention of the aspirant black capitalist class is not to create a socialist society, the commanding heights of the economy shall have been taken out of the hands of white monopoly capital only to be placed in those of the black capitalist class. The working class would be expected after acting as the foot soldiers of the black bourgeoisie in the NDR, to take their place at the bottom of the social pyramid as before and to serve their new masters. That is a scenario that would have resulted either in an uprising against the ANC government or the ANC itself would have been pushed to the left.
This was far too risky for both the ANC petty bourgeois leadership as well as the ruling capitalist class. The strategist of capital understood that the ANC, in adhering to nationalisation meant no harm to capitalism — a system they had wanted to be part of from the day it was formed in 1912. The problem was that the ANC would be able to carry out the policy of nationalisation only by expropriating the capitalist class. This would not have been possible through a mere legislative process. The masses would have had to be mobilised to overcome the inevitable resistance of the capitalist class who would have resorted to armed force to protect their wealth and property.
In the context of the uprisings taking place and the radicalisation of the masses, the perspective would be one of civil war. As the flames of revolution reached higher the Financial Mail (6th December, 1985) warned: “Interventionist military action in a last ditch attempt to retain the status quo… has not been discounted in some quarters. Just which would be the worst case scenario – a dictatorship of the Left or of the Right – is open to conjecture. Few, however, who have any insight into the ideological drift of the African National Congress Freedom Charter and its talk of nationalisation, have any serious doubts on that score. Anything would be preferable to seeing SA’s economy decimated by such crude attempts at ‘wealth redistribution’ implicit in the doctrine of the Charter.”
The bourgeois would have had no hesitation to try and drown the revolution in blood. But that was not the preferred first option of the bourgeois. Given the racial balance of forces, and the temper of the masses who, far from being cowed by the State of Emergency reacted to it as to the whip of the counter-revolution, intensifying the struggle, a military solution was too risky. Its outcome was not at all a certainty, could spark racial civil war and inevitably lead to SA’s further isolation internationally.
The only way in which the ANC would then be able to carry through nationalisation would be by the mobilisation of the working class, an armed insurrection and the seizure of power by force. Uncertain of the outcome of such a scenario, the bourgeois concentrated on ensnaring the ANC leadership in a negotiated surrender, secure in the knowledge that if the ANC leadership faced a choice between leading a socialist revolution and collaborating with them, the ANC would choose the latter.
The strategist of capital thus set about the task of co-opting the ANC, ensnaring it in negotiations that culminated in the betrayal at Codesa. In a massive propaganda campaign negotiated settlement was presented as a “miracle” by the media in DSA and internationally and as a “democratic breakthrough” by the SACP.
ANC capitulates – from the Freedom Charter to Gear
This pressure paid off handsomely. The leadership went into headlong retreat with the SACP providing the theoretical cover for this cowardly capitulation. By October of that year ANC president Oliver Tambo gave British imperialism the assurance in an address to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons of the British parliament that the Freedom Charter “does not even purport to destroy the capitalist system.” Earlier that month Zac De Beer recalled that Tambo had said that “large sectors of the economy would be left open to private enterprise.” (Guardian Weekly 5th October 1985) In an interview with Anthony Heard, Cape Times editor, Oliver Tambo said that “Everyone’s property will be secure.” By 1987 the South African Financial Mail, reporting on the Dakar, Senegal talks, reported that the ANC delegation “had agreed that there was a distinction between ownership of minerals, which belonged to the nation, and the right to extract it which must be purchased. This section might have to be reworded, an ANC representative said.” (14th August 1987)
Comrade Ronnie Kasrils in an otherwise courageous and commendably honest acknowledgment of the betrayals in the negotiations in the preface to the latest edition of his biography, “Armed and Dangerous” attributes what happened to the naivety of the leadership in the Codesa negotiations. This is a mistaken view. The foundations of the Codesa betrayals were embedded in the SACP’s theoretical DNA and the class character of the ANC. The SACP’s 1962 programme spells this out very clearly: “The immediate and imperative interests of all sections of the South African people demand the carrying out of.. a national democratic revolution which will overthrow the colonial state of White supremacy and establish an independent state of National Democracy in South Africa. The main content of this revolution is the national liberation of the African people. …
“It is in this situation that the Communist party advances its immediate proposals before the workers and democratic people of South Africa. They are not proposals for a socialist state. They are proposals for a national democratic state”. (emphasis added) Although SACP general secretary Joe Slovo was to recognise the inextricable link between the struggle for national liberation and the overthrow of capitalism in his “No Middle Road”, it was the same Slovo, in an address to the board of Woolworths in the early 1990s who argued that “nationalisation would be extremely costly . .. (would) be met by capital flight and skilled manpower and possibly lead to economic collapse. He likened nationalisation to “’consigning the height of our economy to a commandist bureaucracy’” (WWM – 60 Years of the Freedom Charter)
The ANC on the other hand was never a workers party, but a party of the black middle class and the aspirant black capitalist class. The leadership repeatedly made it clear that it never stood for socialism from Mandela in 1956 to Thabo Mbeki whose address to the 1998 Cosatu congress was but one example. Agter the adoption of gear Thabo Mbeki went so far as to say ”Call me a Thatcherite”. The ANC’s commitment to capitalism was complemented by the SACP’s championing of the two-stage theory on which the concept of the National Democratic Revolution is based. In combination they provided the political basis for the betrayals consummated at Codesa.
Total capitulation followed rapidly after the initial “re-interpretations” of the Charter. The Charter was abandoned even before the 1994 elections and substituted with the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) stripped of the nationalisation notions so offensive to the capitalists. If the ANC was on its knees at Codesa, by 1996, barely two years into democracy, it was on its belly licking the boots of white monopoly capital and imperialism after jettisoning the RDP and adopting the neo-liberal Gear programme.
Despite the fact that the outcome of the deliberations at the Congress of the People had been manipulated to dilute the Freedom Charter, denuding it as much as possible of the revolutionary socialist aspirations of the worker delegates, the mobilisation for the Congress was much more democratic and based on inviting workers and activists contribute towards its contents and to debate them at the event itself. In sharp contrast Gear was developed by a team of experts from the World Bank and selected ANC leaders trained in the ideas of the Washington consensus. It was adopted by cabinet without even the ANC NEC being consulted and presented to the ANC conference in Mafikeng a year later as an accomplished fact merely for rubber stamping.
The National Democratic Revolution – The shortest road to socialism?
The Numsa leadership’s position of the Freedom Charter is bound up with their position on the National Democratic Revolution which the comrades argue is the “shortest road to socialism”. If there is a “road” between the present order and socialism what will the class character of the regime on that “road” be? How long is this “shortest road”? If the comrades mean that the leading force on this “road” will be the working class, then the aim of the NDR must be to ensure that the working class will clear this “road” in order to seize power. There will be no stopping along the way to allow for the installation of a class into power other than the working class.
If that is what the comrades mean then what they have in mind is permanent revolution. Why give it another name? In revolutionary politics we are guided by Marxism, not Shakespeare’s Juliet who said about Romeo that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The NDR is the name assigned to a programme whose aim is to establish a National Democratic State (NDS), not a Socialist State. A NDS is a state in which property relations remain unchanged, that is, remains capitalist. A capitalist state is a dictatorship – the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class held in place behind the mask of bourgeois parliamentary democracy.
There is no such thing as “democracy” in the abstract unrelated to the property relations on which such a state rests. Explaining Marx’s observations about the Paris Commune, Lenin points out in State and Revolution : “To decide once every few years which members of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament – this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics.”
This position is in essence no different from that which the SACP put forward both during the liberation struggle and afterwards. It implies that the working class cannot be mobilised on a socialist programme in its own right. This is compounded by the mistaken notion that a socialist programme does not take account of the national question. The implication of this conception is that the road to socialism can be opened only by a period of bourgeois democracy during which the foundations for socialism would be built brick by brick in the “now” without apparently the capitalists noticing anything whilst their cattle are being stolen . In the meantime the workers must wait. They must give their “own” aspirant bourgeoisie the opportunity to be their masters. Only with this experience behind them apparently, will the working class be able to distinguish their class interests from those of the black capitalist class, and draw socialist conclusions. The Numsa leadership’s sharp and entirely correct criticism of Ramaphosa and the black capitalist class reflects their own recognition of the already existing reality that the working class has long reached the level of consciousness enabling them to distinguish their class interests from those of the black capitalist class. Why then is there a need for a “sho’t left” to socialism?
Alternatively the implication of the argument that the NDR, (with the aid of its programmatic instrument, the Charter) is the “shortest road to socialism” is that the implementation of the Charter would automatically lead to the socialist revolution. This is a fundamental mistake. It reflects the failure to draw the correct lessons not only from the experience of post-apartheid “democracy”, but of the experience of the working class in the colonial revolution world-wide historically and to the present day, reinforcing the fundamental theoretical mistakes in the conception underpinning the two-stage- theory.
It ignores the lessons of the Russian Revolution on the two-stage theory and the permanent revolution. Both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks agreed that the tasks of the revolution were bourgeois. Tsarist Russia was a feudal backwater, and top of the agenda was the democratic transformation of Russian society. But the liberal bourgeoisie was too timid to lead its own revolution and hid behind the skirts of the Tsar. Only the workers and the peasants had the will to carry through this revolution. But the Russian Revolution was taking place in the epoch of imperialism. The Russian bourgeoisie had arrived too late on the scene of history to be able to lead the way to the democratic let alone the capitalist development of Russian society. With the task thrust onto the shoulders of the working class and the peasants and the way to capitalist development barred to backward Russia, a semi –colony in reality, the way out of the impasses could only to take the form of a revolution that proceeded uninterruptedly from the democratic to the socialist task of the revolution.
It reflects a failure to understand what it would require for the working class to attain power but also to draw the lessons of the past twenty-one years of democracy. That lesson is that whilst the working class and the aspirant black bourgeoisie had a common interest in ending white minority rule, they were driven together in this common endeavour for entirely contradictory and in fact irreconcilable strategic aims. If the NDR sought to bind together the oppressed of all classes against white minority rule, its objectives were attained by the conquest of the right to vote and the election of the ANC in 1994. In that sense the NDR has attained its objective and is now redundant.
For the working class the struggle against apartheid was intended to end not only white minority rule (or “colonialism of a special type” to use the SACP’s preferred phrase) but also the economic and social foundations on which it rested and whose interests it serves – the capitalist system. The aspirant black bourgeoisie in contrast aimed to end the form of colonial class domination but not its substance. The working class wanted to end capitalism; the aspirant bourgeoisie wished to preserve it. The aim of the aspirant bourgeoisie was to substitute the rule of the white masters over the masses for their own. The subliminal message of the NDR is that the objection of the black working class is not so much to exploitation as such, but to exploitation by white overlords. The masses would much rather be exploited by their “own”.
The experience of post –apartheid democracy has allowed what was posed programmatically in the Charter – the separate, contradictory and irreconcilable interests of the black working class and the emergent black capitalist class — to play themselves out in living reality in the starkest terms. To promote the unity of the black capitalist class and the black working class as the NDR does, is to find not the shortest road to socialism, but towards Loskop hill at Marikana.
The failure to grasp this leads to the unintended consequence of the Numsa leadership’s approach being susceptible to the interpretation that the break with the SACP in particular may be a political fact but is not yet an ideological one; that their strategic objective is the formation of the equivalent of a “Herstigte SACP” – cleansed of the impurities of the class compromisers, an “SACP outside the SACP” as some comrades say, and, re-founded with the necessary will to “radically implement” the Freedom Charter, open the road to socialism.
The problem however is not subjective but objective. The NDR is not a socialist theory. It is a theory merely for bringing an end to colonial rule, (in the case of SA, white minority rule) and for “democracy”. White minority rule has now been abolished. We have a black majority government. If the the racial and class configuration of society remains largely unchanged, that is to be explained by the strategy capitalism was compelled to follow to entrench itself in SA, on the basis of cultivating a social base within the white middle and working class as a social footrest for the exploitation of the black working class. Whilst it was necessary and possible to dismantle the political apparatus of apartheid rule, the same could not be done with its social foundations. The precarious conditions of the black middle class is hardly a secure social shock absorber for capitalism capable of buttressing a white middle class support for the post-apartheid political ans socio-economic order. Therefore not only has capitalism continued under democracy as it did under apartheid,but the racial composition of the capitalist class, with the exception of the assimilation of a small layer of black capitalists, remains overwhelmingly white dominated. As even Zuma has whined, the weakness of the black capitalist class is reflected in the figures of black share ownership on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, anywhere between 3% and 20% depending on the calculation formulae. White monopoly capital maintains a crushing dominance over the economy.
As an instrument for the thoroughgoing transformation of society, the theory of the NDR has proven to be completely impotent. Its limitation lies in the fact that it is not based on a class analysis of society. The NDR has been defended on the basis of the false debate about hierarchies of oppression – as if the issue is which form of oppression takes precedence over the other, national or class. This is the preoccupation of academic Marxists, not revolutionaries who have undertaken a serious study of the history of revolution.
Its aim, as spelled out by the SACP, is a National Democratic State (NDS). Unless the class basis of the NDS is spelled out, it can mean only one thing: that the class basis of the post-colonial democratic order will be fundamentally the same. This is not accidental. The authors of the NDR consciously intended to conceal the class aims of the aspirant black capitalist class behind the veil of racial solidarity between them and the black working class on the national question. The NDR in other words is a programme for the substitution of the mastery of the white rulers for that of the aspirant black bourgeoisie – a programme for neo-colonialism in which the direct rule of the colonial power is substituted with the indirect rule of the aspirant bourgeoisie. The masters would be different, but the slaves the same. The NDR in the final analysis stands in opposition to the socialist revolution. The post apartheid democratic order is as national democratic as it is possible to be.
Doubts about Numsa’s commitment to breaking with the ideology of the SACP are reinforced by the argument that the Freedom Charter is the “shortest road to socialism”. The comrades argue that the problem is not with the contents of the Charter but the fact that it has not been “radically implemented.” We believe this argument is one-sided. There can be little doubt that the contents of the Charter are radical and, were they to be implemented, would set in train the complete transformation of society. In fact the full implementation of the Charter would require the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.
The argument implies that the ANC merely lacked the will to implement it – an argument that is quite widespread on the left in SA, used even in relation to the provisions of the Bill of Rights in the SA constitution. The comrades argue further that the ANC has been captured by the class forces of capital which led them to abandon the charter in favour of the neo-liberal programme whose latest incarnation is the NDP. It leaves out of account the class character of the ANC and the SACP’s role in mobilising the working class to support the ANC on the basis of the two-stage theory according to which the aims of the liberation struggle was in the first instance for democracy – for the emancipation of the black majority from national oppression – with socialism postponed indefinitely into the future.
To bridge the gulf between uncritical acceptance and blind rejection of the Freedom Charter, we propose that the debate must entail subjecting the Charter to a socialist overhaul. Central to the building of a workers party is the development of a programme. In politics, party programmes express the interests of different classes and fractions of classes. As matters stand, with the partial exception of the EFF, all opposition parties stand in defence of capitalism, differing from each other only on matters of secondary importance — in the detail of the management of this system. As our contribution to this process, Wasp will submit its 2014 Election Manifesto to all UF structures. In addition we submit this analysis of the Freedom Charter and a companion document — a Socialist Freedom Charter.
This approach will not only provide a basis for common agreement between those opposed to and those against the Charter. It would also appeal to those sections of the working class movement, the comrades in Numsa, led then by comrade Moses Mayekiso, who saw in the concessions the ANC was making in the negotiations in the early 90s, the danger of the betrayal of working class demands in the Charter. They therefore proposed a Workers Charter as an alternative to the Freedom Charter. They sought to distill from the Charter the demands of the working class, to subordinate the demands of the middle class to that of the working class, and to develop a charter much more explicitly committed to workers power and socialism.
A Transitional Approach
Despite widespread support for socialism, there is as yet not a sufficiently developed understanding amongst the guiding layers of the class of what socialism is and what the struggle for it entails. This is the reason that Trotsky, drawing on the experience of the Bolshevik party, developed the concept of a Transitional Programme – one that is aimed at raising the prevailing level consciousness of the working class to the level required for the working class to grasp the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society; a programme that builds a bridge between these different levels of consciousness. Wasp believes that Numsa’s break with the ANC/SACP is final and irrevocable. The sentiment amongst the overwhelming majority is “Asijiki” – we are not turning back. The Numsa Central Committee, despite the delays, has been faithful to the mandate of the SNC, has held political schools on socialism, held the International Symposium, and embarked upon international study to acquaint the union with the actual experience of workers and socialist parties. There is therefore no reason to doubt Numsa’s commitment to the formation of a workers party, the debate about the character of such a party – vanguard or mass – notwithstanding.
Stated differently, if the Numsa leadership has come to the conclusion that the working class needs its own party – and the steps taken to implement the SNC resolutions towards the creation of a workers party show that Numsa is committed to this vital SNC resolution – what is implied is that it is possible to construct a workers party without a workers programme, for that is what a socialist programme is. The working class cannot take power without its own programme and the organisational instrument to fight for it – a workers party. A political party is in the first instance a programme. The party is the organisational instrument with which to fight for its programme.
Wasp proposes that the aim of a socialist overhaul of the Freedom Charter must be to produce a transitional programme for the socialist revolution.
*This document was originally titled “For a Socialist Freedom Charter”. It was re-titled in October 2016 to more clearly indicate the contents now that the debate in Numsa’s United Front has passed.