This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Left Factionalism and the Democratic Revolution
By Dumisani Makhaye
ANC Today Discussion Supplement
The ANC faces the inevitable challenge to defend the democratic victory of 1994. It has the task to use this historic outcome to promote the strategic goal of reconstruction and development.
This demands that we defend the leadership role of the ANC in the continuing struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution, and maintain the unity of the forces that brought about the defeat of the apartheid regime.
This MRABULO article gives guidance to all genuine revolutionaries about what needs to be done to achieve all these objectives.
For many decades, the ANC and the SACP have worked together as reliable and dependable partners in the struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution. In this context, they understood their respective and non-antagonistic roles. They knew that they had different and common goals.
The task of the ANC, composed as a multi-class formation, was to lead the masses of our people in the struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution.
In this regard, it had to ensure the defeat of the system of white minority domination and ensure that, as the programme of the national democratic revolution, the Freedom Charter said, 'The people shall govern'.
It would further ensure that the people use their political power to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, creating a new situation of equality among races, national groups and individuals.
For its part, the SACP had determined that its historic mission was, and is, to lead the workers and the working people in our country in the struggle for the victory of the socialist revolution. Nevertheless, it determined that for these working masses to tackle the challenge of their class oppression, first of all, they had to free themselves from national oppression.
In part, this was because the principal motive force for the socialist revolution was the black working class, a victim of national oppression together with the rest of the black population, regardless of class identity.
The SACP therefore shared a common responsibility with the ANC to organise and mobilise the black workers into the struggle for national liberation. At the same time and in this context, the two formations had a common obligation to mobilise this majority of our workers to engage in struggle to improve its wages and working conditions.
It was this understanding that allowed the late ANC President OR Tambo during the funeral of the late General Secretary of the SACP and leader of the ANC, Moses Mabhida to say: "It was part of Comrade Mabhida's greatness that having quite early on understood the importance of the unity of these great movements, (ANC, SACP and SACTU), he succeeded in ably serving each one of them individually, and all of them together. He served them together as a collective front for national and social emancipation..... Moses Mabhida knew that the very dignity of labour demands that those who toil should not only enjoy the fruit of their sweat, but should do so as free men and women.
"Accordingly, he fought against all attempts to turn the trade unions into appendages of the property-owning classes and he resisted all efforts to emasculate the working class as a leading social force for political change in our country. Likewise, he was fiercely opposed to all manouevres which sought to educate the working class to repudiate its own history and to allow itself to be turned into a base for the creation of a new political formation separate from and opposed to the ANC and the Communist Party."
For the ANC, this was an important element, relevant to its struggle to improve the material conditions of the black oppressed even before the transfer of power to the people. The SACP shared this interest, inspired by the fact that it had positioned itself as the party of the workers, whereas the ANC was the movement of the people as a whole.
The SACP therefore considered that, in addition, the working class struggles around issues of wages and working conditions were a necessary training ground to prepare the workers for the offensive not merely to win concessions from the employers.
Rather, these struggles would prepare the workers to launch the assault to expropriate these owners of productive property, as well as overthrow their state institutions, leading to the workers, under the leadership of the SACP, taking control both of the means of production and state power.
How this would express itself in the context of the democratic state and the new system of property relations, brought about by the victory of the national democratic revolution, was a matter that history, and only history, would resolve. In other words, it could not be answered through theoretical speculation, but would be resolved by historical, human practice.
Over the years of the ANC's evolution, in its basic documents it has stated the leading role of the black working class. This position was reached by the ANC on its free will and not because of some coercion. But the ANC has always understood this position to mean that the working class must earn this role through practice in the struggle for national liberation. It can only do this if it plays a visible role at all levels of the ANC, especially at branch level. It cannot assume this role by quarantining itself into dark corners and conspiring to usurp the ANC leadership by undermining its democratically elected leadership and democratically reached positions as our left critics attempt to do.
In organisational terms, the various tasks of the ANC and the SACP meant that the two formations had to maintain their independent existence, to create the possibility for them to pursue their different objectives.
At the same time, they had to elaborate the necessary forms of organisation that would give effect to the equally important reality that, with regard to a variety of important matters, they pursued common objectives.
This led to a complex ideological, political and organisational struggle within the camp of the forces of the national democratic revolution, stretching over a number of decades. Nevertheless, in time the main questions were resolved.
This struggle created a stable system of cooperation and united action between the ANC and the SACP, which gave our broad movement for national liberation the strength and the cohesion it needed to defeat the system of white minority rule.
The broad movement included the progressive trade union movement, whose role and place in the liberation struggle had been one of the central issues in the ideological, political and organisational struggle to which we have referred.
This struggle had also answered the questions that needed to be answered about the role of the organised workers in the struggle both for national liberation and socialism, in the manner we have explained.
One of these answers was that the trade union movement would be an independent formation of all workers without regard to the political allegiance of these workers. This was because these workers shared and share a common interest in improving their conditions of life as human beings and members of social units, including the family.
Another was that both the ANC and the SACP would work among the workers and their trade union organisations to provide the political consciousness and leadership that would ensure the adherence of these workers to the respective political programmes and goals of the ANC and the SACP.
The historic alliance between the ANC, the SACP and SACTU, later replaced by COSATU, was born of and expressed the outcome of the evolutionary processes within the revolutionary movement, which gave it the strength to lead our country and people in the struggle for the defeat of the apartheid regime and system.
However, as we approached the moment of the accomplishment of the political tasks of this alliance, trends began to emerge from within the alliance whose effect was to question and threaten the ideological, political and organisational construct representing the united movement for national liberation that was on the verge of victory.
Objectively, this emerged out of the natural consideration by each independent formation of the alliance, of the implications for itself of the impending victory of the national democratic revolution.
This natural process led to the emergence of groupings within the SACP and COSATU that sought to redefine the tasks of the working class, among others.
These groupings within the SACP and COSATU came to the conclusion that the victory of the national democratic revolution would create the possibility for them to use the democratic state power to achieve the goals of the socialist revolution, as they understood these goals.
In the meantime, the task that faced the ANC was to define, as precisely as possible, the tasks of the democratic state in the continuing struggle to achieve the goals of the national democratic revolution.
Nevertheless the groupings in the SACP and COSATU we have mentioned, set about positioning themselves within the alliance in such a way that they would be able to determine and decide what the democratic state would do. Necessarily, a number of consequences arose from this strategic shift.
One of these is that these groupings would adopt the position that the national democratic revolution had run its course. Accordingly, in their view, the time had come to build socialism now.
At the same time, the determination would be made that the same popular forces that secured the political victory of the national democratic revolution should be mobilised and transformed into the forces that would build socialism now.
To do this, it was necessary and obligatory that the forces of socialism, defined as the groupings located within the SACP and COSATU, should therefore take over the leadership of these popular forces. To do this, they would have to remove and replace the ANC in terms of the exercise of this leadership.
An important part of this exercise would be that these groupings would work to determine what the motive forces of the national democratic revolution and the country at large should accept as the genuine tasks of this revolution.
Further, they would work to position themselves as the best representatives of the forces committed to achieve these tasks, which necessarily, as socialist tasks, had to be presented as offering a glorious life to the workers and the working people.
As part of this process, the historic leader of the national liberation movement, of the same forces targeted for transformation into the mass army that would fight for socialism now, would have to be presented in a new light.
According to these calculations, the ANC would emerge at best as a reformist movement, interested to enter into compromises with the same forces that had been and continue to be responsible for the exploitation of the black masses.
At worst, it would be presented as a traitor to the revolution, intent on forming an alliance with these forces, to misuse state power in a determined effort to share the spoils with the oppressors and exploiters.
To achieve these objectives, the groupings in the SACP and COSATU that we have mentioned, decided to act and acted on at least seven fronts.
Before identifying these, we must make the point that the majority of members of both the SACP and COSATU do not constitute part of these groupings. These members came into these organisations informed by the long-established history of our alliance.
Without any doubt whatsoever, these same members will ensure that their organisations, the SACP and COSATU, are not abused and misused as instruments for the pursuit of goals inconsistent with the aspirations of the ordinary South Africans they represent.
We will now return to the tasks that the 'left' groupings within the alliance have set themselves, and what they have done in this regard from the period they decided to go on the offensive.
One, they presented their own unique political platform to the country, not hesitating to contradict and challenge the publicly expressed positions of the ANC.
Two, they opposed the concept of building the SACP as a vanguard party of the working class. They prefer that the Communist Party should remain a 'mass party'. For this reason, they are happy to admit into the ranks of the SACP people who join the SACP who became disaffected with the ANC when they fail to gain elective positions in the ANC, through our movement's democratic processes.
The advantages the 'left' grouping in the SACP and COSATU derive from this is that this enables these groupings to rely on the low level of socialist consciousness in the country to use all and sundry as part of their 'left' cadres.
Very few of these are able constructively to argue and propagate the cause of socialism. Nevertheless, they play a useful role in terms of shouting slogans, singing and toyi-toying for 'socialism'. This is the human material that is used to build the SACP as a 'mass party'.
Three, they worked to popularise this platform, engaging in an ideological, political and organisational struggle to build as broad a movement as possible to support this platform, specifically aimed at defeating the policies and positions of the ANC.
Four, they worked to exclude and deny ANC political leadership especially of the progressive trade union movement, to destroy the tradition built during the most difficult period of our struggle for national liberation, of ANC leadership of and integration with the organised workers, in the advance to national liberation.
Chief Albert Luthuli explained this as the dialectical unity between the mass ANC shield and the organised working class SACTU spear.
Five, they engaged in determined efforts to capture the leadership of the ANC in a factional process historically described in the progressive movement, with its tradition of forming united fronts, as entryism.
Six, they have relied on conspiratorial methods to achieve their objectives. This includes the processes in which they engage to capture the leadership of the broad democratic movement, including the ANC.
Seven, they have worked to turn the international forces that worked, under the leadership of the ANC, to defeat the apartheid regime, into opponents of our movement. They do this through a sustained campaign to discredit the efforts of both the ANC and the democratic state to achieve the objectives of the national democratic revolution.
In this regard, they rely on the same left factional forces that, throughout the international struggle against apartheid, consistently acted to divide the united front against apartheid. For many decades these foreign forces both pretended that they understood the national tasks of our movement better than our movement did, and were the most militant representatives of the struggle for the liberation of our own people.
Groupings that today occupy leading positions in our allied organisations, have entered into an alliance with the very same organisations that, objectively, acted as an obstacle to the international mobilisation of the greatest number of people to defeat apartheid tyranny.
Interestingly, and of notable significance, is the fact that both the 'left' factions of which we have been speaking, as well as their right-wing allies, have depended and depend for their strategic and tactical thinking and work on foreigner advisors, who pose as temporary or permanent 'immigrants' to our country.
For its part, while respecting and accessing international experience, our movement has made certain that it depends on its own resources, as well as the South African population at large, to determine the future of our country and all our people.
We insisted on this practice during the process of the complex negotiations for the transition from apartheid to democracy. We must sustain it as we work to implement the national programme of reconstruction and development.
Let us now return to our critical fourth point in the agenda of the 'left' groupings, which relates to their determined effort radically to change the relationship among the three centres, the organisational leaders of the national liberation movement, the socialist revolution, and the workers organised into the trade union movement.
In this context, the groupings in the SACP and COSATU to which we have referred, have had to work hard to destroy the credibility of tried and tested leaders and activists of the ANC, presenting them in a negative light among the very same members of the ANC whose experience teaches the latter to trust such leaders and activists.
Inevitably, these groupings could not but resort to personal vilification, lies and slander of these leaders and activists, to destroy the trust of the members of our movement, and its mass base.
The determination to achieve these objectives, that would lead to these groupings capturing the leadership of the ANC, necessarily led to them constituting themselves as a faction within the ANC. Acting as such a faction, these groupings set themselves particular tasks within the ANC.
One of these was to use the fact of the ANC membership of their members to promote their factional policy positions, pretending that these represent a progressive improvement of the policy positions of the ANC.
In this regard, they have not hesitated to use individuals within the ANC they knew were disaffected, whom they believed were influential within our ranks and society in general.
Another was to manipulate the democratic processes of the ANC to ensure the election of their candidates to positions of leadership within our movement. Among other things, this has taken the form of the executive lists these groupings secretly present to the delegates at ANC elective conference at all levels, for whose election they canvass, presenting themselves as a genuine ANC lobby.
To quote only one example, this phenomenon manifested itself at the 50th Mafikeng National Conference of the ANC. An investigation conducted by the leadership of the SACP after this ANC conference, at the request of the ANC, confirmed that, indeed, members of the SACP had made every effort at an ANC conference to ensure that in its elections, the conference gave preference to members of the SACP, as opposed to members of the ANC, regardless of everybody's contribution to the national liberation struggle.
The same thing is happening as we prepare for the 51st National Conference. Some members of the SACP, who are members of the ANC by virtue of the historic alliance of which we have spoken, have continued to act in the factional fashion we described earlier, which originated from the fact of our impending victory over white minority domination.
Clearly, this has become an endemic feature of our internal ANC politics. This is because the political victory was in fact achieved. In two successive elections, the masses of our people have elected the ANC as the formation on which they depend to lead them in the process of the reconstruction and development of our country.
This has more than confirmed the conviction of the factional groupings in the SACP and COSATU that now is the time for them to take away the leadership of the progressive movement in our country from the ANC.
Their hunger for political power drives them to act audaciously to undo everything that has been achieved in protracted struggle to build the united revolutionary movement represented by the historic alliance that emerged out of many decades of struggle. In this regard, they cannot but resort to divisive factional activity.
The message of these groupings is quite simple. It says if you are ANC, you are at best inadequate, and at worst, bad! If you are SACP you are at least a worker, and at best a revolutionary!
The problems we are experiencing in some areas of our country are a direct and immediate expression of the factional activities of these groupings. Inevitably, as they tried at Mafikeng in 1997, they will try in Stellenbosch in 2002, once more, to determine who should constitute the national leadership of the ANC.
From the foregoing, it is easy to see why the anti-ANC groupings in the SACP and COSATU earn the accolades and support of others in our country that oppose the ANC from conservative and right-wing liberal positions.
The reasons for this are not difficult to fathom. They reflect the perfectly logical conclusion of the conservatives and right-wing liberals that the enemy of their enemy is their friend.
These forces, principally concentrated in Democratic Party/Democratic Alliance, know that they are too weak effectively to oppose the ANC. This is despite their support by a variety of non-governmental organisations, various academics and 'experts', and sections of the media. They believe that our 'left' opponents have a better possibility to weaken their opponent, the ANC, and thus will contribute to the realisation of the strategic objective of the rightwing.
Objectively, these two forces therefore work consistently to reinforce each other. Recently, this has been well illustrated by the concentration of all these elements of opposition to the ANC, around the issue of the irresponsible and opportunist demand for the institution of a basic income grant (BIG).
In reality, this confirms the global experience of the progressive movement for a period that extends over a century, that left factionalists end up working as allies of right-wing reaction. This is precisely where the groupings in the SACP and COSATU stand today, having decided that they would constitute themselves into an opposition to the ANC.
They should have known that here was another opposition force to the ANC, waiting in the wings. These are the domestic and international forces that opposed the ANC in the past and do not accept the reality that, today and for the foreseeable future, the ANC is and will be the ruling political formation.
These other forces stand ready to enter into short term and other alliances with anybody who is interested to oppose the ANC. They will use all resources available to them, including the money in their hands, to strengthen this opposition.
Inevitably, the groupings in the SACP and COSATU that have defined themselves as opponents of the ANC, will find themselves entangled in all manner of machinations that will take them further and further away from the traditions of the organisations to which they belong.
The more they sink into the pockets of our historical opponents, the more they will be required to engage in desperate gambles to assert their 'left' credentials. This includes attempts that are bound to fail, of trying to mobilise the workers that form the core of the continuing struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution, to join political strikes against this revolution.
Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, it took the ANC some time fully to understand the new tendencies we have been discussing. There was a time lag between the evolution of objective reality and the subjective comprehension of this reality.
This was because the ANC thought that because the fundamentals that informed the structuring and functioning of our historic alliance had not changed, this alliance would continue to operate as it had done for some decades.
Our organisation failed to take into account the fact that not all leaders of the alliance would necessarily respond to our accession to political power in the same way, remaining loyal to the traditions established by our broad movement through and after many decades of struggle.
The result of this was that the ANC took time to respond to the ideological, political and organisational offensive of the groupings that had located themselves in the SACP and COSATU. This created the impression that these groupings had a just cause, whereas the ANC was guilty as charged by these groupings.
We now have the situation that the subjective has caught up with the objective. Our movement now understands very well both the objective and subjective factors that relate to the emergence of ultra-left factions within the alliance. Correctly, we have begun the counter-offensive to defend the best revolutionary traditions of our broad movement for national liberation.
Naturally, this will evoke a response from those against whom we defend our revolutionary traditions. We will continue to tackle this task in a principled, but vigorous fashion. Necessarily our opponents will respond in a different way, essentially driven by their inability to mount a straightforward and effective ideological and political response.
This has been demonstrated by the manner in which the groupings in question have, for instance, treated the issue of the restructuring of state assets. To substantiate their case, they have resorted to gross and deliberate falsification of everything relating to this process.
Even with regard to the two general strikes they have organised to resist this process, they have deliberately and consciously chosen to present these failed strikes as a success. This has included a specific injunction against trade union leaders not to speak honestly about the failure of these strikes.
At the same time, these groupings have sought to 'blame' what they call privatisation first of all on our government, which they strive as acting in a manner contrary to what the ANC thinks. This is done to demobilise the ANC, while they mount an offensive against the government.
These groupings proceed beyond this, to identify the general enemy in government as the bureaucrats and technocrats within the state system. This is intended to demobilise the ANC political leadership in government, from the President downwards, even as these groupings mount an offensive against decisions taken by this leadership.
To make doubly certain that our political leadership remains immobilised, these groupings then worked to isolate the Minister for Public Enterprises, presenting him as the villain of the piece.
Allegedly he, exclusively, is politically responsible for 'privatisation' informed by the state bureaucrats and technocrats. The hope is that this further 'insulation' from 'left' criticism of the ANC, both inside and outside of government, will create the space for the groupings to which we have referred, to win the tactical victories on which they have focused.
To reinforce and promote this outcome, these groupings made certain that they communicate their views through the recent Congress of the SACP. Accordingly, they campaigned for the exclusion from leadership of the SACP of the Mister of Public Enterprises, who, at that point, was a member of this leadership.
This could be and was done, given that the delegates were representative of the 'mass character' of the SACP. Accordingly, these delegates sang and toy-toyied the Minister out of the leadership of the SACP. Obviously, this had nothing to do with either the real tasks of the SACP or the possible contribution of the Minister, a communist, to contribute to their achievement.
The above indicates the tactical sophistication of the 'left' groupings that have positioned themselves as opponents of our movement. The task we face is to respond to them with equal or better sophistication, while respecting and further entrenching the morality of our revolutionary movement.
In this regard, we are faced with a number of tasks. One of these is properly to understand the strategic objectives, tactical tasks, operational goals and composition of the forces of the 'left' groupings. This must include their domestic and international 'left' and right-wing allies.
The other is properly to inform and mobilise the membership of the ANC about and around all these matters, including the substantive ideological and political issues. This membership must then act within all our structures to defend and advance the agreed positions of our movement.
Another is that we have to act with regard to the population as a whole to achieve these objectives. In this regard, we have to rely, first and foremost, on our means of communication. This is because in this struggle, we cannot depend on the mass media, some of which is politically committed to the defeat of our movement.
Yet another is that we have to communicate with other organisations of the mass democratic movement and other influential public organisations, to familiarize them with the positions of our movement. This also relates to the international community.
Objectively, each and every revolutionary movement has to confront three different tasks.
The first of these is to overcome and defeat its opponent. This we have done.
The second is to defend the revolutionary victory. We have done well in this regard. Nevertheless, the struggle continues.
The third is to use the revolutionary victory to realize the transformation objectives of the revolution. In this regard, again we are doing well. Necessarily, the struggle continues.
The question of our quality and calibre as a genuinely revolutionary movement will be answered by the objective results relating to the second and third of these goals.
This central matter will not be settled on the subjective plane. Objective reality will determine whether our revolutionary movement has succeeded or it has been defeated. In this regard, facts will speak louder than words.
But this we must understand, that the subjective factor, the ideological, political and organisational struggle, will play a decisive role in determining whether, objectively, our revolutionary movement succeeds both to defend its revolutionary gains and to achieve the fundamental transformation of our country, as visualized in our historic policy positions, including the RDP.
We will achieve our revolutionary goals in spite of the combined opposition of the 'left' inside and outside our ranks, and our right-wing opponents.
In this MRABULO article, which we have used as a supplement to ANC TODAY, we have discussed the 'left' opposition to our movement.
In a fortnight, we will use another MRABULO article as a supplement to ANC TODAY, to discuss the right-wing opposition to our movement.
This indicates the resolve of our movement to engage and sustain the ideological and political struggle, in the interest of the masses of our people. The period of the loss of vigilance on our part, occasioned by the euphoria of the democratic victory of 1994 is over.
In their struggle, our 'left' and right-wing opponents allow us no quarter. We too, the tried and tested leader of the masses of our people, will not accept that we allow that the aspirations of these masses are defeated by any failure on our part.
We will play no part in creating the possibility for some, regardless of their political labels, to succeed in their counter-revolutionary objectives.
As part of their armory, the 'left' and the right-wing will respond to our self-defense and counter-attack with self-righteous indignation. But we also know that professional wrongdoers know best about what they need to do to escape punishment.
Confronted as we are by 'left' and right-wing professionals, our movement must and will respond to these professionals in a consistently revolutionary, honest and open manner. We will not retreat from, or abandon, this struggle.
Victory is Certain!
Dumisani Makhaye is an ANC National Executive Committee member.
Supplement to ANC Today, Vol.2, No.48, 29 November 2002