Revolutionary tactics & parliament – Socialist Youth Movement replies to SASCO

The dialectic of revolutionary tactics on elections & bourgeois parliaments

A response to Sibusiso Mpungose

By Nsizwa Thomson Nhlapo, National Secretary of the Socialist Youth Movement & Travolta Malope, National Coordinator of the Socialist Youth Movement.

The analysis below seeks to respond to Sibusiso Mpungose‘s article: EFF: A year of Populism and Opportunism published on SASCO’s official website. We do this bearing in mind that within SASCO there is a serious debate raging over the organisation’s ideological and political orientation. Many within SASCO have come to question the ideological line that, in particular, the SACP has encouraged SASCO to follow. It has become clear to many in SASCO that the SACP has distorted Marxism to legitimise the ANC’s pro-capitalist policies. Mpungose does not appear to be one of those moving to the left and away from the SACP’s Stalinist perversion of socialism in search of genuine Marxism.

Sibusiso Mpungose accuses the Workers and Socialist Party of “populism and opportunism.” Except for the fact that WASP stood for parliament in the 2014 elections, Mpungose fails to explain what in our actions or policies justifies such criticism.

Not an acquaintance of history

On the question of participating in parliament, Mpungose has arrogated himself the right to lecture the Left about the lessons of history without taking the trouble of acquainting himself with history first.  According to Mpungose, the contestation “of state power through an electoral process (is an) act of butchering of Marxist-Leninist ideology; (which) goes against the advice and lessons of many communist revolutions such as the Russian revolution, the French revolution, and the Cuban revolution which violently overthrew oppressive states.”

Mpungose tries to intimidate us intellectually by quoting Lenin’s classic work “State and Revolution.” But he has either clearly not read it, or read it without understanding a word of it, or just raided it for a quote.

Mpungose is ignorant of history and of the strategies and tactics employed by the Bolsheviks in Russia leading up to the October 1917 Revolution and after.  He also does not understand the Marxist concept of the state. As a result he succeeds in concentrating multiple errors into a single sentence.

Firstly participating in elections to a bourgeois parliament does not constitute “contestation for state power” which implies a struggle to exercise control over the existing state. The aim of the “communist” revolution is to replace the power of the capitalist ruling class with that of the working class.  Lenin devotes a great deal of time in “State and Revolution” to explaining what Marx and Engels had concluded from the uprising of the French workers in 1870 known as the Paris Commune. One of the main conclusions was that the working class cannot take over the existing state machinery, but has to smash it and replace it with their own, alternative organs of power.

Secondly, therefore, even in the event that a communist party were to win an outright majority and become the ruling party, what it shall have secured control of is parliament, not the state.

Thirdly the French Revolution was a great revolution but it was bourgeois revolution, not a communist revolution. It put the French bourgeoisie in power not the French proletariat.  There was no parliament to contest before the French Revolution. The French Revolution itself cleared the way for the development of French parliamentary democracy – a new form of governance associated with capitalism. Mpungose has his political taxonomy (the science of classification) wrong.

Fourthly although the Russian and Cuban Revolutions led to the overthrow of capitalism they did so by different methods, with different social forces playing the leading role – the working class in Russia and a guerrilla army in Cuba. Consequently the Russian Revolution gave birth to a workers democracy, (before the degeneration of the revolution and the ultimate restoration of capitalism). However, despite taking a giant step forward by abolishing capitalism, the Cuban revolution did not lead to the establishment of a genuine workers democracy.

Lastly, if Mpungose is correct and the act of participating in parliament earns you the political insult “opportunist” and “populist” then Lenin was an opportunist and a populist. Mpungose is apparently not aware that the Bolsheviks participated in parliament. They did so even in the Duma, an institution the Tsar conceded after the defeat of the 1905 revolution. The Bolsheviks contested elections in the Duma even though Lenin called it a “cow shed” and continued to do so throughout the period leading up to the October Revolution. In fact the Constituent Assembly was only dispersed after the working class had taken power.

Mpungose’s critique betrays his ignorance of historical facts and Marxist theory. He failed to do thorough research and made no attempt to understand adequately revolutionary Marxist-Leninism. This clearly flows from political miseducation. It suggests a careless attitude to political induction in Sasco, due to the influence of the SACP.

Genuine Marxism

The Bolsheviks participated in the Duma for tactical reasons. So did WASP in SA’s parliamentary elections. Tactics are an essential part of the weaponry of a genuine revolutionary party. We have no illusions in parliament. As Lenin explains “Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when, in analysing the experience of the Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!”

We point out to the masses that reforms and ultimately power cannot come through parliament but only through mass action. But we cannot ignore parliament. Although the number of people not voting reached record levels in the May elections, this does not mean that the masses have no illusions in parliament. Mpungose’s position implies that we should boycott parliament and elections. Such a position has nothing in common with Marxism. We must base ourselves on existing levels of consciousness, not jump over the heads of the masses. In fact Trotsky wrote that “it is permissible to boycott representative assemblies only in the event that the mass movement is sufficiently strong either to overthrow them or to ignore them.”

Marxists participate in parliament to take our socialist programme to the millions of people that look to parliament in the belief that it will solve their problems. We use parliament as a platform to expose the limitations of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. By campaigning on the slogans ”the right of immediate recall” and “a workers MP on a workers wage” we separate ourselves from other parties who use parliament as a career and stepping stone for self-enrichment. The salary of WASP MPs cannot be higher than that of the average skilled worker. The difference between the permissible agreed salary and the salary parliament pays is deposited into the party account to support workers struggles. Our MPs expenses are open for public inspection.

Through these elections we raised the profile of the organization. Ours was the only party with a genuine socialist programme.  It would have been completely wrong not to use the opportunity the elections gave us to propagate our ideas.

The 2014 Elections

The main reason that we did not receive enough votes to get a seat is that the media does not give equitable coverage to all parties especially parties that stand for socialism. But we still reached avenues and sections of the working class we would not have reached under normal circumstances. This is why we received votes on the provincial ballots in every province including in the six we did not contest.

Unlike the DA which spent R100 million on Gauteng alone in May 2014, or the EFF who received funding from black business, WASP raised its funding from the working class. SA’s electoral system is designed to keep out the parties of the working class and the poor. We agree fully with Lenin that parliamentary democracy is “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich–that is the democracy of capitalist society.” Despite this the elections gave WASP a national footprint. We reached many places where we established structures. As a result we are fertilizing the struggles in those communities currently.

Although a considerable portion of the population did not vote or register, millions did. Those that stayed away did so not because they despised an unwanted parliament. They withheld their vote because they are disillusioned with all political parties in parliament, all of whose programmes are not fundamentally different from the ANC – they are all capitalist.

The 1.3 million votes the Economic Freedom Fighters received show the electorate is looking for a programme to the left of the ANC. The EFF vote should have been much higher given the mood of the working class. But their vote only matched those of the Congress of the People in 2009 despite the much more favourable conditions under which they were launched and contested in – against the background of Marikana, Nkandla and corruption in general, e-tolls, divisions in the ANC and the personal unpopularity of Zuma.

This suggests that the EFF is not trusted by the majority of those looking for an alternative, particularly the organised workers in Cosatu which has an ideological tradition of socialism and worker control. This is because of the corruption charges hanging over its leader, Malema’s head, and because its programme is not regarded as a genuine socialist programme by organised workers.

Without a satisfactory alternative, millions voted tactically to punish the ANC. This means they voted for the DA, seen as the biggest opposition stone to throw at the ANC, not because they identified with its programme.

Despite the fact that the EFF is not a genuinely socialist or working class, only the ignorant would deny it has been very effective in putting the ANC and `Zuma under pressure over Nkandla: “pay back the money” and “killers of the workers in Marikana” are now part of the national vocabulary. These efforts cannot be overlooked out of sheer political spite and insulted with baseless accusations of “butchering Marxism”, “populism” and “opportunism”.

Our participation in the elections was to give confidence to the Left and workers in general that the ideas of socialism pose the only positive alternative. Without the Left standing in the elections, the electorate has no real choice and is in danger of ending up replacing one enemy of the toiling class with another, from the frying pan of the ANC into the fire of the DA for example.

Who is the real butcher of Marxism?

Whilst claiming that Left organizations are butchering Marxism, you are the one butchering it by distortions and omissions. It is very surprising how you engage in selective quoting. For example you choose from Lenin’s State and Revolution the following: “…heroes of rotten philistinism, such as the Skobelevs and Tseretelis, the Chernovs and Avksentyevs, have even succeeded in polluting the Soviets after the fashion of the most disgusting bourgeois parliamentarism, in converting them into mere talking shops…”

Yet the most significant sentence in this quotation is to be found in the preceding lines. Lenin says“…Marx knew how to break with anarchism ruthlessly for its inability to make use even of the “pigsty” of bourgeois parliamentarism, especially when the situation was obviously not revolutionary; but at the same time he knew how to subject parliamentarism to genuinely revolutionary proletarian criticism.” In other words Marx saw no contradiction between participating in parliament and subjecting it to revolutionary criticism. For Marx, Lenin points out, ”revolutionary dialectics was never the empty fashionable phrase” that Mpungose’s diatribe is so full of.

But we should not be surprised. Mpungose’s political affiliation is the most excruciating contradiction of all. He is as an ANC member and claims to be a Marxist-Leninist at the same time. He supports the very capitalist party that perpetuates the exploitation of the working class, and yet claims to be a revolutionary committed to the overthrow of capitalism. The working class need genuine activists and cadres, not posturers and phrasemongers.

WASP is proud of its historic role. We were the first genuine working class and socialist party established since the Second World War in South Africa. WASP’s birth acted as a catalyst for historic developments in Numsa, in particular the resolutions adopted at its December 2013 Special National Congress to break from the Alliance and establish a Movement for Socialism. WASP fully supports the formation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.  The Socialist Youth Movement, Wasp’s youth wing, is proud to be part of the struggle of the working class to fulfil its historic mission – the socialist transformation of society in SA, the African continent and the world.

Nsizwa Thomson Nhlapo is the National Secretary of the Socialist Youth Movement; Travolta Malope is the National Coordinator of the Socialist Youth Movement.

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