Socialism and nationalisation: question and answer
What sort of society does WASP struggle for?
WASP struggles for a democratic socialist society that shall replace capitalism in order to use the wealth of the society to meet the needs of it’s people not the needs of shareholders and big-business.
What does WASP mean by ‘capitalism’ and the ‘capitalist class’?
The word ‘capitalist’ is often used as an insult. But what actually is a capitalist? A capitalist is anyone who receives an income through the exploitation of other people’s labour. The only way to do this is through ownership of part of the economy. If a capitalist owns a factory, he buys and therefore owns the raw materials that will be worked on to produce goods, he owns the machinery in the factory used to transform the raw materials into saleable goods, and, by paying a wage, he owns the use of workers’ labour for a certain period of time. Owning all this means that, even if a capitalist never sets foot on the factory floor, he will own all the goods produced and therefore all the profits from their sale.
Being a capitalist means you exploit the labour of the working class and steal the wealth created by them. It is a purely parasitic role. It is only the state’s defence of so-called ‘property rights’ in the economy that disguises this theft. Capitalists only engage in production if they will be able to extract more wealth than they invest, i.e. if they can make a profit. This means a radiator is not build because someone is cold but just when someone has the means to buy a radiator so the capitalist can make a profit. It means that even when the wealth exits to provide everyone in society with a decent standard of living, this does not happen because it is not profitable to the capitalist.
Fundamentally, capitalism is a political and economic system that organises the theft of wealth from the majority – the working class – and heaps it up on the plates of the minority – the capitalist class.
What does WASP mean by the ‘working class’?
The working class occupies the direct opposite position in society to the capitalist class. The working class do not own any part of the economy. All that workers own (apart from their personal belongings) is their ability to work which they are compelled to sell to the capitalists to earn a wage to buy the things they need from the same capitalists. No amount of employee share-ownership schemes can alter this relationship.
The working class encompasses more than just those employed directly by the capitalists. It also includes the unemployed, retired workers and the dependents and family members of workers as well as those who are training to be workers like school-students and students.
But WASP wants to win over the ‘middle class’ and small business owners too. These groups are also exploited by capitalism and have common interests with workers. Many who would be described as ‘middle class’ work for a wage too, albeit a higher one. If capitalism goes into crisis they are cut lose and thrown into unemployment just as readily as workers. Small business owners – tuck shop owners, hawkers, family firms etc – have to buy their goods from big business and get loans from the big banks. If big business puts up its prices then small business owners suffer too.
What does WASP understand by socialism?
Socialism is taking the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, the mines, the farms and the factories – out of the hands of individual capitalists and shareholders and placing them in democratic public ownership. In other words changing who owns the economy. But this is only the starting point for a socialist society.
The purpose of ownership is control. A publicly owned economy would be organised on the basis of a democratic plan. Committees of workers, communities, consumers and local and national government at each level of the economy, would democratically determine the needs of society and ensure production and training matched them. This would require a reduction in the working week without loss of pay and a sharing out of work so that ordinary people had the time to participate in the running of society. On this basis the basic needs of all – housing, health care, education, sanitation, electricity, water – could be met, and we could begin meeting the aspirations of all through the rapid development of education, culture and science.
What does WASP understand by nationalisation?
The creation of a socialist society will have to begin with a first step. The levers necessary to begin reorganising society according to socialist principles are the commanding heights of the economy. To take control of those levers it is necessary to take them out of the hands of the capitalists and put them under democratic public ownership. This is what nationalisation is.
But WASP means more when it demands nationalisation. We have no confidence in the corrupt capitalist state or its governing parties, like the ANC or SACP, to run nationalised industries in the interests of workers. These parasites would use them to steal wealth and feather their own nests. That is why, for WASP, nationalisation means democratic workers control and management of nationalised industries. The checks and balances to ensure that nationalised industry is run in the interests of working class people will be those working class people themselves.
What is NOT socialism?
Socialism is a very used and abused term in South Africa. Politicians of all ideological stripes use socialist language the better to confuse people into accepting what are often openly pro-capitalist policies.
Simple sharing. Socialism is not simply about workers sharing what little personal possessions they have. Whilst it can be comradely behaviour to do this, socialism is not primarily about individuals acting in a ‘good’ or ‘kind’ way. For example, if a better-paid worker earns R5,000 per month more than the majority of his neighbours, sharing this out doesn’t increase the working classes overall share of society’s wealth – it just means we’ve re-divided it amongst ourselves. A socialist society doesn’t aim to level-down or average out the wealth amongst the working class, but rather to increase everyone’s share to the point where life is comfortable and free from worry.
To achieve such an increase in wealth for the majority, it will be necessary to take public ownership of the big banks, mines, farms and factories currently owned by the capitalist class and plan the use of the wealth produced to meet the needs and aspirations of the majority.
Redistribution of wealth on its own is not socialism. Increasing taxes on the rich whilst leaving their ownership of the economy untouched is not socialism. Whilst such measures can be progressive, they are not themselves enough to transform the living conditions of the majority permanently.
Redistribution of ownership from one elite to another is not socialism. This is what the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy attempted. BEE created a black capitalist class but these black capitalists rested on the same economic foundations as the white capitalists – the private ownership of the economy and the exploitation of the working class. The majority remain excluded from the wealth of society.
Nationalisation of individual industries on its own is not socialism. WASP supports nationalisation, but not as window dressing for a predominantly capitalist economy. Nationalisation needs to be widespread and part of a thorough-going transformation of society. Especially if an individual nationalised industry is run by a capitalist government it will simply be looted and the workers will continue to be exploited. That is why workers control and management is crucial to WASP’s demand for nationalisation as a step toward the nationalisation of all the commanding heights of the economy.
Bureaucratic dictatorship is not socialism. The former soviet states called themselves socialist. But even though they had a planned economy which brought advantages like free health care for its people, it was in fact a dictatorship of a bureaucratic elite which ruled against the working class. Because of the lack of democracy these economies and these states failed.
Doesn’t the ANC stand for socialism?
No. The ANC has always been a capitalist party, but from the 1950s onwards it had to make noises in the direction of socialism to win support amongst the majority of South Africans, for example with the adoption of the Freedom Charter in the clause “The People Shall Share in the Country`s Wealth!”. As soon as it came to power in 1994 the ANC not only rejected socialism but embraced the most brutal capitalist model – neo-liberalism – with the adoption of GEAR in 1996. Even the phrase ‘nationalisation’ – a necessary step towards socialism – was ditched at the ANC’s latest conference. The ANC has been used as a vehicle to create a black capitalist class to share in the wealth created by the exploitation of the working class. The ANC has utterly betrayed the working class.
What is the problem with the South African Communist Party?
The SACP bases itself on a counter-revolutionary theory, whilst throwing that accusation freely at others the better to disguise reality. The SACP’s theory of the ‘National Democratic Revolution’ postpones the struggle for socialism into the indefinite future. First, South African society has to go through a ‘stage’ whereby the legacies of colonialism and apartheid are dealt with.
The SACP has shared power with the ANC and Cosatu as part of the Tripartite Alliance for nearly 20 years. When exactly will it be acceptable to struggle for the socialist transformation of society? After a fifth national election victory in 2014? After another 20 years? The reality is that this NDR is smoke-screen for the SACP hides behind whilst its leaders enrich themselves. They help run a capitalist state and a capitalist economy. The SACP has a vested interest in maintaining capitalism. It is no wonder the NDR postpones socialism into the indefinite future. In fact the SACP has recently been described as the new “launch pad” for political careers, i.e. the political careers of big business politicians! WASP must expose the lies and deceit of the SACP.
What is the problem with the Cosatu leadership?
Undoubtedly the majority of rank-and-file members and shop stewards in Cosatu are still genuine fighters for the working class and for socialism. But unfortunately the leadership of Cosatu has followed the ANC’s lead in accommodating itself to capitalism. They give a left cover to the ANC’s capitalist government. Now, with the elevation of Cosatu leaders on to the ANC National Executive Committee, Cosatu’s role has changed from providing a left-cover to direct participation in the management of capitalism. Cosatu’s ideological degeneration over the entire post-apartheid period has left the working class with one hand tied behind their backs.
But there are deep divisions in Cosatu. So serious are they, that there are growing calls for a special congress. The attempt of the pro-Zuma faction to oust general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi risks the possible break-up of the federation. This would deal a severe blow to workers’ unity and our ability to resist the offensive the bosses and their government are preparing against us. That is, unless steps are taken immediately to create an alternative centre of working class unity and resistance. WASP calls on Cosatu members to throw out the pro-capitalist clique at the top and reclaim their unions. Where this is not possible workplace committees should be set up to organise for the looming class battles. We also understand and support when workers defect to unions outside Cosatu like AMCU or when new independent unions are set up, when this is the will of the workers. They have to make sure that these unions are run in their interest.
What does WASP understand the role of elected representatives to be?
Anyone elected to office on the WASP programme, whether at local, provincial or national level, will be required to take the average wage of a skilled worker and donate the rest back to WASP and other working class causes. Elected representatives are there to do just that – represent the interests of those that elected them, not use public office as a means to self-enrichment. WASP will demand the highest standards from its elected representatives.
But for WASP, pursuing elected office is not the only priority. Whilst it is important to use elected office as a platform to get WASP’s message out, it is the workplace and community struggles between elections that will be crucial in determining the fate of our class. WASP will be a party of struggle and solidarity. WASP will work to unite the struggles of the working class to increase their power and effectiveness. Elected office is an auxiliary to this task.
Why is WASP necessary?
WASP is necessary because of the betrayals of the ANC, the SACP and the Cosatu leadership. The working class has no political voice. It has had its independence snatched away. Without a political arm we are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. WASP is the beginning of the process of rebuilding the independence of the working class in order to fight for our common interests: socialism.