The EFF: populism not socialism
by Izwi Labasebenzi editorial board, June 2014
The Economic Freedom Fighters received 1 169 259 votes (6.35%) in the 2014 national elections, with 48% of those votes coming from the urban metros, giving them 25 MPs in the National Assembly. In the provinces they won 30 MPLs and are now the official opposition in the North West and Limpopo. In addition the EFF holds six seats in the National Council of Provinces. This election result is of enormous significance because it marks the first electoral breakthrough for a party to the left of the ANC in the twenty years since the end of apartheid.
But, notwithstanding this achievement, the EFF does not answer the key strategic task faced in this period by the working class, the poor and the youth – the creation of a mass working class party on a clear socialist programme. On the contrary, the EFF’s breakthrough at the 2014 elections could complicate the birth of such a party. Therefore, in what follows, we offer an analysis of what the EFF represents – its ideas and social support base – and possible perspectives for its future development. This is not to score petty points against a ‘rival’ political party, but to help arm WASP members and EFF members themselves, as well as the wider working class, with an understanding of what the EFF represents.
This is all the more necessary given the EFF’s electoral breakthrough. History is already littered with failed political parties that were rapidly lifted up by the desperation and hopes of the masses only to collapse as rapidly. We owe it to the working class and poor to point to some of the warning signs already present within the EFF that could ultimately lead to the same fate. Further, at this conjuncture, when the air is alive with talk of the imminent birth of a mass working class party, it is crucial to understand the implications of the EFF’s breakthrough for the development of such a party. Regardless of the EFF’s successes in the 2014 elections we do not believe this task can be postponed.
A product of social conditions
Clearly the EFF’s demands for nationalisation, wealth redistribution and job creation have gained a significant echo. Yet the EFF’s leader – Julius ‘Juju’ Malema – is facing charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering and money-laundering. During his time as leader of the ANC’s Youth League he amassed a fortune as the original ‘tenderpreneur’. For many, Malema is the best example of everything wrong with the corrupt politicians in this country. But to others he is the radical voice standing up for the impoverished black masses against those politicians.
Why have so many given support to the EFF despite the question mark over their leader? The answer is to be found in the poverty faced by millions and the glaring inequality in South African society. Amongst young people in particular, who suffer over 50% unemployment, but also among the poor, support for the EFF reflects the burning desire to change their situation. It is this desire that means a section of society is willing to overlook the shortcomings of Juju and invest their hope and energy in the EFF. For some workers, voting for the EFF is seen as a way to hit back at the ANC and behind them the capitalist system that they defend.
The advances the EFF has made in its short life have been helped by inheriting structures from the ANC Youth League and making use of the connections to the new black elite that EFF leaders’ years inside the ANC have provided. This has given them the resources to capture some of the enormous potential for an alternative to the left of the ANC and to turn it into membership, structures and electoral support.
WASP’s attitude to the EFF
It is the objective social conditions driving support for the EFF among the youth and the poor that first and foremost determines WASP’s attitude to the EFF and especially ordinary EFF members. WASP has a base amongst the young and poor constituencies attracted to the EFF through our work with the Socialist Youth Movement, the Johannesburg street traders and the Congress of South African Non-racial Civic Movements (COSANCOM). But to those among these constituencies who have aligned themselves to the EFF banner, we will patiently explain that the EFF, on the basis of its current manifesto, the background of its leadership and its general approach, does not offer the genuine working class socialist alternative so desperately needed by the working class and poor.
But for the majority the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. WASP must demonstrate in practise that our ideas are based on a clear socialist programme which can be the foundation for uniting the struggles of the working class, communities and the youth in a powerful mass movement that can change society. This is why when WASP was approached by the EFF leadership in August 2013 we proposed an electoral collaboration. We proposed registering a new banner for the purposes of standing joint lists of candidates in the 2014 elections, named either EFF/WASP or WASP/EFF. This would have allowed us to unite the anti-ANC left vote, a key strategic objective. But what was crucial for WASP was the necessity to protect our independent identity given the clear differences on programme, including, crucially, on the understanding of nationalisation and socialism. We insisted on the right to debate these questions openly in front of the working class and poor in any collaboration.
But this was not out of a desire for theatre or to satisfy the egos of WASP leaders. We believe that revolutionaries must always remain open to the potential need to change tactics as the class struggle develops. For example, the founders of WASP operated as the Marxist Workers Tendency (MWT) within the ANC from the 1970s through to 1996 even though we understood that the ANC was not a working class party and in fact had a pro-capitalist leadership. At that stage however the ANC had a mass support base within the working class. Working within the ANC was therefore the best tactic to attempt to win the masses to genuine revolutionary socialist ideas. The EFF’s following does not demand such a tactic at this stage.
But more fundamentally, the Marikana massacre and the heroic struggle of the mineworkers for a R12 500 minimum wage that led to it, posed a whole number of crucially important questions that the working class needs to strive to answer. Why did ‘our’ organisations betray us? Why has ‘democracy’ not delivered for the working class? How do we reorganise ourselves industrially and politically given the betrayals we have suffered? What sort of society do we need and how will we create it?
We had intended that an electoral collaboration based on the right to engage in the fraternal debate of each other’s policies, would have helped clarify the answers to some of these crucial questions as well as allowing the working class to debate the different understandings of nationalisation and socialism on offer from the EFF and WASP. Such a democratic approach would have placed an EFF/WASP electoral collaboration on a firmer foundation and armed it with clear policies.
Unfortunately the EFF leadership’s counter proposal would not have allowed such debates. They demanded the effective takeover of WASP by the EFF and WASP’s ideological and political liquidation with the restriction of any criticisms by WASP leaders to internal leadership meetings. This was an impossible demand to agree to. Debates, however fraternal, held behind closed doors would have been of no benefit to either EFF or WASP members and supporters, nor to the broader working class.
When our proposals for an electoral collaboration were rejected by the EFF, we were left with no alternative but to campaign independently as WASP because as important as unity is, at this stage in the struggle, assisting the working class in achieving political clarity is absolutely crucial. WASP views the responsibility of establishing a clear reference point for revolutionary socialist ideas in order to try and shape the next period as fundamental. Even so, we wished to continue the engagement and an exchange of documents was agreed to. In good faith we wrote to the EFF leadership to explain our position on the questions posed by Marikana and to seek clarity on the EFF’s views. Nine months later we are still awaiting a response.
Notwithstanding the failure of the first discussions between WASP and the EFF and our view that there has been a rightward drift in the EFF in the months since our initial engagement with the watering down of the EFF’s nationalisation policy (more below), WASP remains open to further leadership discussions. For example, we would welcome a reply from the EFF leadership to the points we are raising in this article.
On the ground, WASP members will strive for fraternal relations with EFF members and unite in struggle where possible. Not to do so would be to act in a sectarian way and put party interests ahead of the unity of the working class and poor in struggle. We only have to look at the disastrous rivalry between the NUM and AMCU leaderships which leaves ordinary mineworkers divided and struggling separately against the onslaught of the mine bosses to see the result of sectarian rivalry.
But this does not mean WASP will write the EFF a blank cheque. There have been a number of occasions when EFF members have turned up to events they were not involved in organising, or struggles led by others, and demanded an automatic right to leadership. The working class will not tolerate such arrogance and neither will WASP. If EFF members want to offer genuine support to the struggles of the working class they are welcome but attempts to hijack struggles for narrow electoral purposes will be rightly condemned. WASP approaches struggle with the understanding that leadership must be won and respect earned.
Where WASP members find themselves working alongside the EFF on such a genuine basis we will nevertheless clearly maintain WASP’s independent banner and explain firmly to EFF members and all those watching the two organisations that only WASP’s programme, offers a genuine revolutionary socialist alternative.
Who supports the EFF?
The EFF’s main base of support is the youth and the urban poor. However the EFF also enjoys the support of sections of the black middle class and sections of the black capitalist class. This means that the EFF has a mixed character and cannot be regarded as a working class party.
The working class remains sceptical of the EFF in the main. For example, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the largest trade union in the country that recently withdrew support from the ANC, took the decision not to support the EFF due to the background of the EFF’s leadership and the limitations of the EFF’s programme (discussed below). However, because WASP has only partially filled the vacuum to the left of ANC at this stage, and in the absence of a mass working class alternative, some workers will have voted for the EFF as the best way to deal a blow against the hated ANC.
The leadership of the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) called on its members to vote EFF (or, contradictorily, the Pan Africanist Congress!). But this call was little more than a propaganda victory reflecting an alignment of views between the pro-PAC Nactu leadership and the Africanists in the EFF leadership. The two most significant unions in Nactu are the National Transport Movement (NTM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The NTM is an affiliate and staunch supporter of WASP and the AMCU leadership is notorious for their ‘anti-political’ position. WASP had AMCU members and shop stewards as well as NTM leaders standing as candidates in the 2014 elections.
What is the EFF?
At this stage in its development, the EFF is best described as a left-populist party. Populism is characterised by a radical appeal to ‘the people’ against ‘an elite’. It is an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world but one where exactly who ‘us’ and ‘them’ are, is a moving target. Left-populism has a generally progressive character because it uses a dividing line that is primarily economic, making an appeal to the poor against a wealthy elite.
Left-populism is in keeping with the Freedom Charter’s ideas of nationalisation and a non-racial democracy. There is a clear ‘Charterist’ trend within the EFF leadership that wants to return to an undiluted Freedom Charter following the ANC’s abandonment of every principle of this historic document. Like the Freedom Charter, the EFF is making an appeal to all black people, whether workers, ‘professionals’ or capitalists, against the white capitalist class and white land owners (the same thing given the commercial character of the big white owned farms).
The Freedom Charter was a progressive document but it always had a contradiction at its core. It simultaneously tried to please the working class and poor with demands such as the nationalisation clause, but it also tried to please the aspiring black capitalist class who wanted to have the chance of competing with the white capitalist class on a level-playing field in a way that apartheid prevented. As Mandela himself explained, the Freedom Charter was “not a blueprint for a socialist society”. The founders of WASP, as the MWT, always pointed out that unless the nationalisation clause of the Freedom Charter was fully implemented, and then upon the basis of worker and community control as part of a planned socialist economy, the other freedoms of the Charter could never be fully realised. The EFF must not repeat the ANC’s historic mistake and suffer from the illusion that they will succeed in implementing the Freedom Charter without a complete break with capitalism.
In ‘democratic’ South Africa, the racist legacies of colonialism and apartheid are fertile ground for populist politics. Echoing the Freedom Charter, they allow the EFF to make an appeal to all black people regardless of class using the left economic demands of nationalisation and land expropriation. When the problem is seen to be the domination of the economy by white capitalists, the demand for nationalisation can be supported across classes, though with very different expectations of what the outcome of such nationalisation will be. For the black working class, nationalisation offers the chance to end the uncertainty of every-day life by giving them democratic control in the workplace and unlocking the wealth that they themselves create in order to develop society. For the aspiring black capitalist class, nationalisation is a means to rebalance economic ownership and the distribution of wealth within the capitalist class by using the state to dismantle the white capitalists’ control of the economy. These two understandings are fundamentally incompatible. Unfortunately the EFF’s position on nationalisation (see below) is more in keeping with the latter, capitalist version.
However, even sections of the black working class, facing racism and discrimination in the workplace and the frustration of their career prospects by white-owned and white-managed enterprises, can be attracted to this mistaken capitalist version of nationalisation without a clear alternative explanation for the conditions they face and the tasks necessary to improve them. In particular, the EFF is focusing on the recruitment of black ‘professionals’ and the upper layers of the working class with the promise that they can take over the currently white dominated professional jobs and managerial positions. Whilst WASP wants to win over the middle layers in society – the middle class, ‘professionals’, small business owners and small farmers – we do so by campaigning to place them on the standpoint of the working class in the struggle for a socialist society, not by repeating capitalism’s broken promise that they too can become a wealthy elite.
The errors of left-populism
It is of course absolutely true, that in South Africa, even after twenty years of democracy, class divisions closely mirror racial divisions. The working class remains overwhelmingly black and the capitalist class remains overwhelmingly white. White ownership of the economy was carried over from apartheid to ‘democratic’ South Africa because of the ANC’s compromise with apartheid. They negotiated taking political power in exchange for leaving the capitalist economic foundations that apartheid had rested upon intact. The ANC’s answer to this problem was to attempt to create a black capitalist class through their Black Economic Empowerment policy. But even by the ANC’s own standards they have failed – ownership of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is still dominated by white capitalists.
That means that on the surface it can appear that the cause of the problems in society is the domination of the economy by white capitalists. The implication being that a black ‘patriotic’ capitalist class would somehow live in harmony with their black workers. But left-populism only tells half the story. The fundamental division in society is specifically between the working class and the capitalist class. The ethnic composition of the capitalist class, whilst not unimportant, especially in the impact it has on consciousness in society, is ultimately secondary to this class division. The real lesson after twenty years of democracy is that the desperate situation of the working class and poor is the result of the continuation of the capitalist system from apartheid to ‘democracy’ with nothing but a partial black face-lift in between.
WASP bases itself firmly on the working class. We understand that it is the working class that has the decisive role to play in the struggle for socialism because of their immense social weight and their crucial role in the economy. The working class and the capitalist class have opposed interests that cannot be reconciled. Capitalist profits are nothing more than the unpaid wages of the working class. If the share of wages goes up it eats into the share of profits for the capitalists. This dynamic is the motor of the class struggle. Even if every capitalist in South Africa was black and every white capitalist chased off the African continent, the living standards of the black working class and poor could still not be improved. WASP is clear that a black capitalist class would be as much of an enemy of the working class as the present white dominated capitalist class. It will be a terrible waste if the EFF project only proves in the future what WASP is warning today: capitalism itself is the fundamental problem not the domination of white capitalists.
The dangers of nationalism and right-populism
The EFF’s ‘anti-white’ populism is largely implicit at this stage. For example, Malema has had an article in the Afrikaans language newspaper Beeld titled, “Why Whites Should Vote for Me” and the few white individuals in the EFF’s ranks have been promoted in the media. The EFF’s manifesto talks about benefiting “all the people of South Africa” and restricts its description of the elite the EFF is opposed to, to “those who owned before 1994”. But no one can have any doubt that this means whites.
However there is another trend within the EFF leadership under the influence of black nationalism. This influence can express itself as right-populism using the ideas of race and nation to define ‘us’ and ‘them’, casting those in the ANC as ‘collaborators’ who have betrayed a so-called ‘black nation’. This could see the moving target of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in EFF rhetoric shift away from ‘the poor’ and ‘an elite’ and more explicitly to ‘black’ and ‘white’. The EFF has comfortably absorbed the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the September National Imbizo (SNI) and parts of the Pan African Congress (PAC). All of these movements are based on the ideas of ‘Africanism’, which is a black nationalist ideology. But the problem with Africanism is that it is not principally opposed to capitalism, but rather, the domination of the economy by white capitalists. It does not therefore offer anything fundamentally different for the working class and poor and repeats the mistake of the ‘Charterist’ wing in the EFF but from a different standpoint.
Any elite minority needs to try and find a mass support base to rest upon if it does not want to have to resort to the extremely costly methods of dictatorship and a police-state. Nationalism has always been a crucial tool for the capitalist class which they use as a weapon to fool the working class and poor into supporting their exploiters. Nationalism attempts to mobilise the working class and poor behind the capitalist class who claim that they are speaking for all people regardless of class to defend a shared cross-class ‘national interest’. This of course suits the aspiring black capitalist class who can use populist rhetoric to advance their class interests against the white capitalists and divert the legitimate anger of the working class and poor onto whites in general rather than the capitalist system which they themselves aspire to rule.
In the struggle against apartheid, black nationalism had a relatively progressive character because all black people, regardless of class, were oppressed because of the colour of their skin. It was therefore possible for a cross-class struggle of all black people in the liberation movement to win democratic rights for all. The founders of WASP supported this joint struggle but warned that the working class must maintain its independence within the movement because whilst there was a common interest in struggling for basic democratic freedoms across the classes, there was a fundamental divergence of economic interests.
However the situation is very different in ‘democratic’ South Africa. The new context changes Africanism from the relatively progressive movement it was under apartheid, to a reactionary one today that diverts the working class and poor away from the real ideas and methods needed to change their situation – the struggle for socialism based upon the independent struggle of the working class. The pressure in ‘democratic’ South Africa toward the class differentiation of Africanist forces can be observed in the differing attitudes within the PAC towards the EFF. The conservative pro-capitalist leadership of the PAC is attracted to the EFF and is taking the PAC into ever closer collaboration with them. However, among the working class youth that dominates the PAC’s youth wing – the Pan-Africanist Socialist Movement of Azania (PASMA) – WASP has made significant gains with our clear call for a genuine mass workers’ party, a break with capitalism and support for socialism upon the basis of working class control of nationalised industry.
Antagonisms within the black elite
The ANC continues to make use of nationalist rhetoric, but now has more in common with the white capitalists than the black working class and poor. Today, the main way to join the black capitalist class is through the patronage of the ANC – whether through BEE, tenders, nepotism or cronyism. The ANC have turned themselves into the doormen of capitalism, admitting into the club only those they think deserving. But because of the continued domination of white capitalists, the ANC’s capitalist club is very exclusive!
But Africanist ideas can still find genuine support among the black petty bourgeois and black middle class reflecting their social conditions under ‘democracy’. In the eyes of this aspiring elite the ANC has failed them, though in a different way to the way the ANC has failed the working class and poor. Given the ANC’s compromise with the white capitalists in 1994 and the resulting failure to allow a wider section of the black population to join the ranks of the capitalist class, it was only a matter of time until a political movement emerged to express the frustration of the aspiring black elite, now blocked by the ANC rather than apartheid.
These ‘middle’ layers are characterised by vacillation between the two major classes in capitalist society – the working class and the capitalist class. They cannot make up their mind where their interests lie and are incapable of taking a genuinely independent position that does not either lean on the capitalist class or the working class for support. On the one hand they are squeezed and blocked by the competition of the big capitalists, but on the other hand they mistakenly fear the working class as a threat to the small privileges they enjoy under capitalism. That is why populism fits like a glove on the hand of this layer. It allows them to make radical demands on capitalism but without the revolutionary determination and leadership of the working class they are incapable of developing that position into a genuine revolutionary programme for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. Reflecting this, the word ‘socialism’ is used by some EFF leaders and appears in the EFF manifesto, but as is characteristic of populism it is never given a clear definition. To define socialism as WASP does, as the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, organised on the basis of economic planning, all under the democratic control of the working class, would require a complete break with capitalism and the capitalist class. The middle layers will only take this step if given bold leadership by the working class, in the absence of this they will vacillate and equivocate over the question of capitalism or socialism.
This aspiring elite dominates the EFF’s leadership who are at ease with Africanist ideas because of the ideological justification they provide for vacillating on the question of capitalism or socialism. Reflecting the interests of this layer, the EFF’s manifesto supports Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), adding the condition that the EFF will “radically review” BEE and broaden it out. But the BEE policy was never primarily about ‘affirmative action’ but was the means by which to elevate select black people into the ranks of the capitalist class. The only way to genuinely place the economy in the hands of the black majority – by which we understand the working class and poor – is through nationalisation under worker and community control. A genuine democratisation of the economy through such measures by definition places ownership and control of society with the black majority since the working class is both overwhelmingly black and makes up the majority of the population. Only socialism means freedom.
Right-populism and xenophobia
In a panel radio interview that included two WASP leaders and Floyd Shivambu, an EFF leader, Shivambu attempted to undermine WASP by saying that the EFF did not want to be “dominated by Europeans” which they dishonestly say is the case in WASP. This was a reference to the white ethnicity and Swedish background of Liv Shange, one of the WASP leaders taking part in the show. Shivambu was trying to rally the support of the listeners, not by winning the argument, but by appealing to the idea that he was like them – a black person – and Shange was not.
In this incident we can see the dangerous seed of xenophobia – the twin of right-populism – within the EFF’s politics. On that radio show, ‘us’ and ‘them’ was ‘black people’ and ‘white Europeans’, tomorrow it could become ‘black South Africans’ and ‘non-black South Africans’ or even ‘Zulus’ and ‘Xhosa’. EFF members must condemn such cheap shots from the leadership and insist that they engage with WASP’s ideas instead. The unity of the working class and poor will be at stake if we allow xenophobic ideas to take root. That will only benefit the capitalist class as working class and poor people fight each other over differences in background rather than uniting in struggle against our common enemy – the capitalist class.
Unfortunately, at a number of public events, EFF members too have been heard making xenophobic remarks and shouting xenophobic insults, for example against Indians and Pakistanis. Given the barbaric conditions of capitalism it is inevitable that amongst the masses there will be backward xenophobic ideas, as well as sexist and homophobic attitudes and other prejudices. But it is the role of leadership in a genuinely progressive movement to combat these ideas and attempt to raise the political understanding of members and supporters. This is the way that WASP approaches the issue.
But whilst the EFF manifesto says that the EFF is opposed to xenophobia, there is not sufficient evidence that there is a real attempt to tackle such attitudes within the party. In fact WASP is concerned that there is an intentional silence from the EFF leadership on this issue because they are more confident to appeal to the backward prejudices of the masses and lean on those ideas for support rather than advancing a genuine revolutionary socialist programme based on the maximum unity of the working class regardless of background.
The limitations of the EFF’s manifesto
These characteristics of the EFF inevitably translate into important mistakes in their manifesto. In general, the EFF’s manifesto is radical and contains many demands that, individually, WASP could support. But taken as a whole, the EFF’s manifesto is not a revolutionary programme for the socialist transformation of society because it leaves the foundations of capitalism intact. It does not therefore offer a genuine solution to the problems of the working class and poor.
The EFF leadership has a confused understanding of the role of the state, how fundamental social change comes about as well as the key issues of nationalisation and workers’ control.
The state and struggle. The EFF describes itself as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ (adding ‘Fanonian’ to please their Africanist wing). However, one of the core ideas of ‘Marxism-Leninism’ is an understanding of the class character of the state. This says that the state in any society is always the state of the ruling class. From that understanding flows Marx’s idea that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”. On the contrary, the capitalist state will be used to defend capitalism and crush the democratic will of the masses. This has been proved again and again in the revolutionary struggles of the working class in many different countries and was graphically demonstrated here on 16 August 2012 when police murdered 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana in defence of the profits of the mining capitalists.
However, for the founders of WASP, Marikana, whilst a brutal shock, was not a complete surprise. Basing ourselves upon the Marxist understanding of the class character of the state, and recognising the compromise the ANC made with capitalism, we warned in May 1994, one month after the ANC assumed power, that it was only a matter of time “before an ANC government sends in police and army units against striking workers or rebellious inhabitants of the African townships”. We were proved correct. Unfortunately, on its current trajectory we would be forced to issue the same warning about the EFF if they ever formed a government.
WASP actively works to help clarify the role of the capitalist state in the eyes of the working class and poor. Unfortunately, the EFF leadership sows illusions in the capitalist state and does not explain what it will take to bring about fundamental change in society. Winning a majority in the National Assembly, and even all nine Provincial Legislatures, is not the same as winning political power in the genuine ‘Marxist-Leninist’ sense as is implied by the EFF. These capitalist institutions by definition do not encroach upon the real foundation of the capitalist classes’ rule: their ownership of the economy. The ANC has already proved the dead-end that awaits a party without a clear understanding of the class character of the state.
WASP bases itself upon the understanding that the present capitalist state must be dismantled and a new working class state put in its place. This can only happen as the outcome of a revolutionary struggle led by the working class. Working class MPs must use the capitalist state institutions – like the National Assembly and Provincial Legislature’s – as platforms to raise the voice of the working class and poor, fighting for every improvement possible in the lives of the working class and poor, but acting as an ancillary to the decisive struggles that will be waged in the workplaces, the communities and the institutions of learning.
Crucially, WASP points the working class and poor toward the tasks that will be necessary to construct a working class state by raising the need for worker and community control of nationalised industry – the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, the big factories and big businesses. Drawing the mass of the working class and poor into the day-to-day running of society through the formation of worker and community committees linked up at sector, industry and national level will be the foundation of a working class state that can begin the construction of a socialist society. But the EFF’s leadershipdoes not seem to understand any of this. In the introduction to their manifesto Malema says that the aim of the EFF is to “[c]ontrol the state through electoral politics in order to transform it…” Some ‘Marxist-Leninists’!
The struggle for nationalisation. The EFF’s position on nationalisation has the potential to demobilise the working class and poor to spectators in the struggle to change society. Their message amounts to: ‘vote for us, and we will sort it out for you’, suggesting that the EFF leadership views struggle through the prism of the potential to enhance their electoral chances. This was shown when Juju assured ‘international investors’ (capitalists) that nationalisation would “be done through legislation”.
Whilst a socialist majority in the National Assembly might be able to vote through nationalisation legislation, unless such legislation was backed-up by a mass movement of the working class and the poor to implement it on the ground it would become a dead-letter as the capitalist class engaged in sabotage to defend their power and wealth. Even passing nationalisation legislation might not be possible within the capitalist state’s ‘rules’ given the capitalist property clause in the constitution.
WASP believes that the working class, the poor, communities and the youth must be mobilised in struggle to use our collective power to complete the tasks necessary for the socialist transformation of society. WASP explains in the introduction to our manifesto that “ultimately we believe that the fundamental changes needed in this country will be won in the struggles in the workplaces, the communities and institutions of learning”. WASP’s manifesto is “a guide to struggle”. Accordingly we devote an entire chapter of our manifesto to the issue of working class organisation to assist the working class, the poor and the youth to prepare for the struggles ahead.
Workers’ control and nationalisation. Flowing from their confused understanding of the class character of the state is the even more confused posing of workers’ control by the EFF leadership, its belated appearance in EFF policy almost certainly a response to the criticisms made by WASP and NUMSA. The EFF’s manifesto only raises the issue of workers’ control when it talks about the mines. But the EFF‘s manifesto only calls for the nationalisation of a “minimum of 60%” of the mines, as it does for the banks and other strategic sectors of the economy. But how is genuine workers control going to be exercised when the capitalist class continues to own 40%? What you do not own you cannot control. The enterprise as a whole will have to make profits in order to pay dividends to the capitalist owners of that 40% who would enjoy it in the form of private wealth.
The EFF’s nationalisation policy is in reality a partial nationalisation policy. When this confused position is linked to the failure to call for socialist economic planning to replace the capitalist market, it is clear that if ever implemented, the EFF’s policy would end up being window-dressing for a capitalist, not a socialist, economy. In practice 60% ‘workers’ control’ is no real control at all. It could only ever be implemented as some form of employee share ownership scheme or the participation of trade union representatives on the board. Around the world, both of these models have been tried and they have failed. The capitalist character of industry would remain and force workers to police themselves because the rules of the game will still be dictated by the laws of capitalist economy. In such a situation the state would of necessity maintain its capitalist character in order to defend the capitalist 40%. The theft of wealth from the working class would continue, taking the form of the planned looting of the economy by the capitalist class via their state’s control of nationalised industry regardless of the fig-leaf of so-called 60% ‘workers’ control’.
WASP stands for a genuine socialist nationalisation policy. That can only mean 100% nationalisation under democratic workers’ control as part of a democratically planned socialist economy brought about through mass struggle led by the working class. For the EFF to claim that 60/40 is a ‘socialist’ policy is to destroy the meaning of the word!
The land. The anger felt by the black majority at the wholesale theft of land by white colonialism and then the apartheid regime is entirely justified and demands urgent redress. But the EFF’s centrepiece policy on land nationalisation suffers from the same problem as their nationalisation policy in general. The EFF say that “the state” is to become the “sole custodian” of the land and lease it to those wishing to use it. But again, the question of which class interests the state represents is left unanswered.
In addition, the EFF’s policy does not take account of the reality of land ownership. There are over 1.3 million small and subsistence farmers in South Africa, predominantly black and predominantly in the former homelands. Whilst sounding super-radical, borrowed wholesale from the Africanists, if implemented by a capitalist state, the EFF’s land policy could see land theft happening all over again, this time through black expropriating black.
Further, the EFF’s policy of land nationalisation without compensation risks alienating small and subsistence farmers from the struggle for socialism. This policy would introduce unnecessary divisions among the masses and make a united struggle against the capitalist classes’ control of the land more difficult. In reality, WASP has a far more radical land policy that calls for the nationalisation under workers’ control of the 36,000 commercial farms that control 95% of agricultural land; support and debt cancellation for small and subsistence farmers; and community committees to determine the use of non-agricultural land with home owner occupiers and small business premises exempt. This policy breaks the capitalist classes’ control of the land and places it, through nationalisation, under the democratic control of the black majority, whilst simultaneously attempting to win over the small and subsistence farmers to the struggle for a socialist society.
Where is the EFF heading?
Any party that challenges the capitalist classes’ power and wealth in society will come under enormous pressure to accommodate themselves to the capitalist class regardless of any radical rhetoric. Unless that pressure is understood and the tasks necessary to end capitalist rule faced head-on the result will be capitulation. This is even more the case in a cross-class party such as the EFF. The class contradictions will at some point be forced into the open. The potential for the EFF to be pushed to the right has already been demonstrated in the watering down of the EFF’s nationalisation policy to the present 60/40 formula and the assurances that Malema has made to ‘international investors’.
Individual EFF members have assured WASP members that these compromises are only being made to maximise electoral support and are not the ‘real’ position of the EFF. The belief seems to be that when there is enough support, the fully revolutionary EFF will reveal itself, reversing its compromises and firmly committing to socialism. On the one hand this sentiment reflects a genuine radicalism amongst some EFF members, but it also demonstrates how unprincipled populism is, where you say whatever needs to be said to win whatever support you can! The momentum the EFF has built up helps to maintain the illusion amongst the membership that this is the leadership’s ‘strategy’.
But even assuming that this was true, it is wrong on two counts. Firstly it sows confusion by not preparing the working class and poor for the tasks necessary for the socialist transformation of society. Secondly, whatever the intention, winning the support of non-working class forces on the basis of adapting the EFF’s message in order to appease them will have consequences. Influence will not be a one way street. Such forces will influence the EFF themselves and make their own demands. History is littered with parties that adapted themselves to prevailing class prejudices, prioritising expediency over principle, leading to them being taken over by the very forces they were supposed to fight.
But it would be naïve to think that there is any such ‘strategy’ given the dominance of the aspiring black elite within the EFF’s leadership and the absence of any serious indication that they intend to break from their past. It is no accident that Malema, thrown out of the capitalist club and into the gutter by the ANC doormen, is the central figure in the EFF. Significant sections of the EFF leadership have been turned away at the door of capitalism by the ANC but wants to be let in.
Now lifted into the National Assembly and the Provincial Legislatures by the votes of the youth and the poor, the parliamentary caucuses of the EFF will come under great pressure from the capitalist class at the same time as they take a step away from the masses. It is to be applauded that the EFF will require their public representatives to use public services. However this policy should be taken further with the requirement that all elected representatives take only the wage of a skilled worker. This policy is necessary to tie the living standards of elected representatives to that of the working class and poor, a tie which the inflated salaries for elected representatives are intended to dissolve as part of the capitalist classes’ policy of co-option of working class leaders.
The EFF leadership will come under relentless pressure from the young and poor constituencies that have been attracted to the EFF’s banner. This will be the case particularly as the South African economy continues to deteriorate and the ANC rolls-out the National Development Plan with all the consequences that will have for the living standards of the working class and poor. Enjoying the luxury of opposition, there will be few consequences for the EFF leadership to respond to this pressure by increasing their radical rhetoric and talking even further left.
On the other hand, the illusions of the EFF leadership in the capitalist state and their mistaken understanding of nationalisation, workers control and their failure to clearly call for socialism will make them susceptible to pressure to move to the right at the top. In the future the EFF will come under pressure to form coalitions with other capitalist parties to unseat the ANC. To accept this role at any stage would be the signing of the EFF’s suicide note. Additionally there will likely be leadership conflicts between the Charterists and the Africanists at the same time as attempts to appease the two sides produce an eclectic mix of left and right populist policies.
The EFF leadership may be able to contain these contradictions and continue to grow for a period, especially on the basis of their strong performance in the 2014 elections. But as a result of these contradictory pressures we can expect zig-zags in EFF policy as they move to the right under the pressure of the capitalist class through parliament and move to the left, at least verbally, under the pressure of their base. The lack of democratic structures within the EFF means that there is no genuine mechanism for the membership to control the leadership of express their dissatisfaction. This could see a falling away of active support in the medium term as unhappy members vote with their feet.
The rapid development of the EFF is an expression of the deep anger in South African society and a product of the search amongst the downtrodden masses for a vehicle that can lead struggle and change their situation. But the EFF leadership has a long way to go to live up to the expectations that have catapulted them forward. Nevertheless, the EFF has demonstrated the enormous potential that exists for a left political alternative to the ANC and the enormous support that exists for a different way of running society. WASP will continue to doggedly argue that that alternative must be socialism and strive to keep the ear of EFF members genuinely committed to struggling for a socialist society, helping them understand developments in the EFF at each stage. We will continue to argue, including amongst EFF members, for support for the crucial task posed for the working class, the poor and the youth in this period – the creation of a mass working class party on a clear socialist programme.