About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

26 Aug 1991: Cronin, Jeremy

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POM     Jeremy, I suppose the obvious place is with the events of the last week in the Soviet Union and what was perceived in many quarters to be a rather cautious response from the party at the beginning of the coup, moving more fully to an endorsement of Mr Gorbachev as it became clearer that the coup was going to fail and he was going to be restored to power. There was that on the one hand and, of course, then in the response of Harry Gwala in Natal which gave a message of an entirely different sort and then perhaps even more surprisingly the total absence of any comment by the ANC at all. Would you like to start there? I'm sure you've been talking about these issues in many interviews over the last couple of weeks.

JC     First of all I would say that the picture that you've given is a little bit unfair. It's the picture that The Sunday Times precisely gave yesterday, Brian Pottinger in his front page article in The Sunday Times. We responded on Monday by saying two things, not one thing; Brian Pottinger makes us say one thing. The first thing he said we said was we are confused and uncertain as to what the hell is happening there, which we were. It was not very different from what President Bush said on Monday morning either. He looked very confused and he basically seemed to be saying, I hope the new lot stick by their international treaties, which wasn't such a firm condemnation either. We said it was too soon for us to comment. We really didn't know what was happening but what we did reaffirm was our commitment to the democratisation process under way here in South Africa, to the whole negotiations situation and so forth. We were very clear about that and also to our perspectives of a democratic socialism. Whatever was happening or not happening over there we reaffirmed that perspective. So we didn't do some kind of U-turn as a lot of people claimed we were or were likely to do if we were completely misreading the situation and we thought this was a new lease of life to Soviet expansionism itself, which it never was, clearly, even if the coup had stuck it was on the basis of a huge crisis in that society. It didn't mark a return to Soviet expansionism.

     On Tuesday Joe Slovo gave a long extensive interview on Voice of America which didn't get local coverage. That was a pity because he came out very forthrightly on Tuesday condemning the coup. On Wednesday as a party, but in the name of Joe Slovo, as a result of ongoing discussions, we condemned the coup. Now I know this Brian Pottinger and he also said that if the coup was over by Wednesday morning, well perhaps it was, that wasn't apparent to us at all on Wednesday morning, it certainly wasn't apparent to the press here in South Africa that we were reading. It was true that one had a sense that those leading the coup were acting rather cautiously, I think they lacked conviction in their coup, but it was certainly not for those reasons and all the press and we thought that they were in place. The local press were writing obituaries to Gorbachev at that time, they are again now but of a different kind. So it was not a couple of days for a party with few resources, without the massive infrastructure that a Bush or a De Klerk have, within two days coming out very clearly condemning the coup and not knowing that it was not going to last more than a few more hours. It was pretty quick, we think, and marked also a very important, and some of the newspapers noted, including the Business Day which is not a paper well-disposed to us, noted that it was a very important watershed in the history of our party that we were not following, tracking Moscow up and down as it moved which certainly has been a feature of the South African Communist Party in regard to international affairs.

     Domestically I would say there's a very different picture but internationally we have tended to, in a knee-jerk way, support Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Poland and whatever. In the last few years we have not and we were put to the test this past week and I think we came out of it reasonably well. It could have been nicer. On Monday we ducked. We didn't have any information to hand and also I think the caution was partly also the caution of knee-jerk reactions. We've been guilty of doing that, of imagining that one can line up very easily and automatically follow the Politburo in Moscow kind of thing. You've got it right; we've burnt our fingers in the past and the feeling was, although the leadership condemned it and was very worried about the coup, there was a strong feeling that we shouldn't try to pronounce too quickly but there was a counter-feeling that we had to.

POM     I think when I've been here, which is August last year, August/September last year and the year before and this year, is that what I tend to hear from the SACP is our message is right but very often the messenger has been wrong; that what communism in its ideal form conceptually stands for is a noble aspiration. What's happened to these other people who have tried to execute or bring about the noble aspiration have destroyed it or have merely destroyed it in their own particular cases, but that should not mean that the message itself should be rejected. Could you talk about that in the context, one, of the fact that this year you have had not just the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe but the pictures over the last couple of days of people toppling the statue of Lenin, of Yeltsin and Gorbachev moving simply to disband and outlaw the party as such and you're here like a lonely island holding on to communism and its tenets. In a way that does not seem to reassure people who still really don't know what you stand for.

JC     Well I think that we don't feel that alone, a little bit more lonely than we did two weeks ago, that's for sure. But locally we're not that lonely. We've got substantial support here in the country. When we launched the party in the Eastern Cape region, for instance, we got more people to our rally than Yeltsin got, not just people who were braving, literally, tanks and risking their lives, but after in the celebration of the defeat of the coup there was a crowd but it was actually smaller than the number of people we got to the launching rally of the South African Communist Party in the Eastern Cape after 40 years of being banned. So my point is that we don't feel besieged quite as dramatically as you're suggesting.

POM     Let me throw a figure at you because it's a figure that two journalists, journalists attached to very good newspapers, foreign newspapers, threw in our direction, and one is that you have about 12,000 paid up members and another was about maybe 14,000 or 15,000.

JC     That's about right, yes. The latter is about - well it's growing rapidly. We hope to have a membership of about 20,000 by the end of the year. Now that's small in terms of paid-up membership but our support is much, much larger and the difference between support and actual paid-up membership can be accounted for in a number of ways. First of all I'm not, the figure, whichever figure you accept, I think it's 14,000, about the 14,000 figure, I'm not on that figure. The particular branch that I'm a member of is not yet fully launched. I'm not counted as a communist in terms of those figures. The major organisational task that we've been battling with has been to build a strong ANC. We see that as the prime task of communists as well as non-communists here in South Africa and that's been a very complicated, difficult task. It's difficult emerging out of the Diaspora of prison, exile, underground and so forth, welding together different political cultures into a relatively effective organisation and I think it's only really in the last few months that the ANC is beginning to get its act together and certainly most of our resources, particularly by way of person power, have gone, correctly I think, in that direction of building the ANC. So we've not been able to throw a lot of resources at building the party.

     Secondly we're not concerned, again, within the alliance, and we have this unique alliance with the ANC, we're not over-anxious to build a massive party. We think there can be and needs to be a division of labour between the party and the ANC. We see the ANC as the leading formation in the current phase of struggle. So the kind of party that we want to build is a fairly streamlined party that begins to develop cadres in relatively small party branches. Cadres will then feed into the ANC, COSATU and to the Mass Democratic Movement. We see that as our prime task. So when it comes to elections and so forth we will be fighting those almost certainly under the ANC umbrella. So we're not under the kind of numbers pressure that the ANC clearly is.

POM     I think this has been to explain to us in one way about the observation of one of these journalists that it was far more important for you to be strategically positioned within the ANC, as you are, in terms of membership of the National Executive and the Working Committee than maybe tripling the number of paid-up members you have, that your power lies on the inside more than on the outside.

JC     I think that's somewhat true, yes. I would like to portray it slightly differently. We're certainly not in the numbers game in terms of getting people elected onto leadership positions in the ANC and so forth. We want to see a strong and effective ANC, that's true. Some of the leadership that I think was not rising to the new situation in South Africa were often Communist Party members and we weren't sorry to see them not be re-elected to the ANC. So the emphasis was on a strong, militant, effective ANC and very often the best people for particular jobs within the ANC leadership are non-communists. We're not fighting a narrow sectarian battle but it's true that ...

POM     You just happened to be well positioned within the organisation?

JC     That's true and I think that is our great strength, there's no doubt about that, is our strength within the ANC and our particular relationship. I've no doubt that that is very specific. Now that's a strength that we can't simply rely on. We do need to build an effective party in its own right, so we are trying to do that and as I say by the end of the year we hope to have a membership of about 30,000, by congress time. I think we'll just about get there; we might fall a little short of the target. And also we're not signing on members like the ANC. The ANC can become a member by basically paying a sub. For the party you don't become a member until there's a functioning branch and sort of high levels of activism are expected of our members.

POM     So your support has to reach a certain critical mass in any given area before you can constitute a branch?

JC     Precisely. Then we want active membership, not paper membership.

POM     One other thing we've noticed too is that, of course this issue surfaced last year, is the connection with the SACP and the ANC but it's more of an issue this year than it was last year. We can't figure out if that's whether the government has gotten better, kind of hammering away at the relationship between the two, putting a question mark beside it, or whether people are more genuinely concerned. We've talked to a lot of people who will say, I'd go out and join the ANC in the morning but not as long as the alliance with the SACP stands. And they're basing their assessment of that really on what they have known of the SACP over the years, but they would have problems with things like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and find it hard to square in their minds how one could be for those kinds of actions and yet come out and say, We believe in mass democracy, human rights, one man one vote, visible participation in government. I mean it's not a matter of moving on a position it's a matter of turning 360 degrees.

JC     I think there are several answers. First of all to talk about the people that you've been talking to, that is very definitely a perspective that is around which you are echoing. But there's another and perhaps dominant, if one's talking about townships, factories, rural areas perspective, if you listen to the radio phone-in programmes going on last week testing public opinion, whites were of course crowing at the downfall of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and so on. Black people phoning in, and this was a point that Brian Pottinger was picking up again in his Sunday Times article, blacks in their majority are now overwhelmingly saying, Good for the coup. We're behind it' So that kind of view that Harry Gwala, as you said earlier, was expressing is the kind of view that prevails very powerfully in the townships. So when you say that there are questions thrown at us, I accept that but they are coming from a particular spectrum of public opinion in South Africa.

POM     In the townships they were saying, Good for the coup?

JC     Absolutely. If you caught a lift in the ANC building, as I did, I was holding the statement by Joe because we were about to put it on to the fax line, the talk in the lift was, this was now before the coup was over, this is a strengthening of perestroika not a weakening of it and so on. This is not sort of grassroots militants within the ANC, let alone in the party. So one's got to understand the psychological realities I think of what the Soviet Union stood for people on the ground, not well informed about the Soviet Union, in fact terribly misinformed, but for them the Soviet Union was something, and remains but obviously now this picture is in deep crisis, the Soviet Union was something out there which was regarded as enemy number one by a regime which was oppressing them. It was a super power out there which supported us through thick and thin. When all other forces outside in the world in the early sixties were very reluctant to offer support to the national and racial struggle, the Soviet Union was there and supplied arms and other support. So in the townships you find ... called AK47 and streets called Gorbachev and Brezhnev and whatever and one's got to understand the psychology of that which is of an oppressed people, feeling lost, abandoned; that's less so now but certainly through the sixties and early seventies, those were dreadful years of massive oppression when the organisations had been more or less smashed and struggled on outside fundamentally, the sense that somewhere out there was a big brother, a super power, one of two, that supported us. That is a profound psychological reality which lingers on and people feel orphaned and they blame Gorbachev. They think Gorbachev is someone that messed up that dream by attempting to democratise and so on because ever since Gorbachev has come into power it's been downhill and they have a profound nostalgia for a return to a past which seemed OK. Part of our duty as a party, and I think perhaps we're better placed than any other formation, perhaps precisely because we have Afghanistan and Poland and so forth on our consciences is to try to inform and to educate that opinion which is a profound reality.

PAT     You mentioned what the party was saying because even if one would assume that you would, that the militants in the townships would have to embrace the Soviet Union ... What we're talking about now, I guess we're seeing changes, families who were very enthusiastic last year and hopeful about the ANC, who in some small way because they are people that we get to, have some leadership responsibility whether it's in a civic association, but they are middle class and they're Indians and they're coloureds and they're black and they are perplexed at best by this continual tie with everything that happened to communism in the world, of the ANC to hold on and it has deterred their interest in becoming more active in the ANC, they invest their activism in other ways. And then when we hear from people within the ANC, some of them have been communists over the years, it's, yes, they have to go out and do better in the coloured and Indian middle class community. How does that play out in terms of tactics that need to be employed here as the SACP looks to develop a more finely tuned role in the ANC and develop it's own outside government.

JC     Well I think that Pallo Jordan, a well known non-communist, although obviously a person of the left, said at the time of the debate which came to a head again just after the July Conference, he said, Sure, middle strata elements and particularly those in white, Indian and coloured communities very often have problems with the ANC because of the alliance. But he said some 70% of the population don't have a problem, in fact they endorse that alliance. And one's talking about people who after February, who are ironically known in the townships as a sort of February 2nd Brigade, those who have suddenly shown interest in the ANC now that's unbanned, now that it might be a fast track to governmental power as opposed to the hard days of slog when to support the ANC meant going to jail very likely. He said, We take seriously their concerns but we're not going to abandon a tried and tested alliance speculatively. We'll try and woo them over but we're not going to throw over an alliance, which is a tried and tested one, for middle strata.

POM     OK. I have a long question that you can read. I took it from something that you wrote. It's the five basic Marxist/Leninist principles of society ultimately have an economic basis.

JC     Did I write that?

POM     The history of society is the history of the class struggle and the Communist Party shares ... If you look at the past, in a catalyst, the aim of socialism, socialism is a period of transition between capitalism and communism.

JC     OK, I'm quoting I think, or it's a political article against Kitson. Those were his five basic principles that I have no problem with.

POM     Does the SACP stand by these?

JC     Yes I think so.

POM     In what you would call the concrete conditions of South Africa, could you go through them and show how does society ultimately have an economic basis?

JC     Just remind me of them as we go. OK. Those are big questions aren't they. I'm not sure if I'm going to deal with them sufficiently within the space of five minutes, but if one was trying to talk into ...

POM     Taking that, what kind of action does that move you in the direction of, what exercise, where does that lead you to in policy terms?

JC     On this one I'd like to begin a little early and that is that as a party all along we've believed that the peculiar conditions in South Africa, which we recognise as being specific, as any situation is specific, have to do with the capitalist character of South Africa. That's how we begin to concretise this particular general Marxist principle, that the particular capitalist path of development that we've seen in South Africa is precisely what has underlined the apartheid system and the things are deeply implicated and, therefore, looking forward, our perspective as a party is that a new constitution, a democratic dispensation, one person one vote, all of those things are very important and represent important gains for South Africans in general and for the path that we have to represent in particular, the working class. But a democratic dispensation won't bring an end to the accumulated effects of three centuries of colonial dispossession and one century of racist capitalism in our country. We're talking about problems like massive homelessness, joblessness, terrible education crisis, mass illiteracy. All of those difficulties and problems will not evaporate as a result of a one person one vote election because they are deeply rooted within an economic system which will continue to prevail and continue to be dominated by monopoly capitalism. As a party we believe that until we start to do something socialist about that reality we can make some progress certainly in the direction of feeding people, providing them with homes and so forth, but in the concrete conditions of South Africa we think that socialism represents an important and necessary medium to longer term development in order to defend and lead to the democratisation process itself.

POM     But I guess here for some people the problem comes because the evidence of the last 20 years would suggest that capitalism in its various manifestations or forms is a far better route to economic growth and raising living standards than socialism, which is why all the countries of Eastern Europe can't wait to get enough capitalism. If it has been shown in reality in other situations to have failed, the question is why should one believe that it shouldn't fail here?

JC     Well essentially I would give a two point answer. And the first prong would be to say that we don't think it has been an unmitigated failure. We don't want to run away from the massive crisis that there is and effective collapse in many socialist countries of the system, but we think that those socialist countries pioneered many of the social gains, like free health care, free education, the eight-hour working day, very low levels of unemployment.

POM     Many social democracies in Western Europe have followed that.

JC     Followed, tailed behind those gains which were made originally in the Soviet Union and at the time, if you were asking me this question in 1930, I would be looking very smug and you would be less certain. The world capitalist system was in what looked like terminal crisis. In the Soviet Union, the most backward country in Europe 20 years earlier, emerging out of a devastating First World War and a devastating civil war and famine, looked to be going forward. And was going forward.

POM     At tremendous cost.

JC     At tremendous cost, you're right. I mean if one looks today at Cuba, once again a society in deep problems, it's health care system is a damn sight better than the health care system in your country.

POM     Why would you not combine the best features of social democracy, or whatever, and say communism was about something else? The things you're talking about seem almost theological, like in the sense of everyone I think in an advanced capitalist society, except substantially in Northern Europe and particularly the Scandinavian countries, you have the welfare state almost developed into its ultimate form. So what would be the difference between what you would advocate and what you might have in Sweden?

JC     First of all when you say 'everyone in advanced capitalist countries', some of them try to do a good demolition on the safety net to begin with, like Margaret Thatcher and have also been chipping away at that too. But I think certainly we need to look to the success stories, or relative success stories of social democracy. I think there's a lot to be learned there. I personally believe that they are amongst the most free societies, leaving aside personal commitments and passions and so on which are wholly South African in my case and if one were a kind of cosmopolitan I would love to live in Holland or Sweden or whatever and bring up a family there. I think I would prefer that to either the Soviet Union or the United States or Thatcher's Britain, or what's left of Thatcher's Britain.

PAT     What about Castro's Cuba?

JC     Well I've got a lot of respect for Castro's Cuba.

PAT     That's the question. Would it be Holland as opposed to Cuba or Holland as opposed to Great Britain?

JC     OK. I think that the success stories of social democracy are essentially in rich pockets of the north and I think that the first major question which we have to ask ourselves is: is the social democratic path a feasible one in an underdeveloped third world situation? Because that safety net that you're talking about is a safety net which is there because there's relative full employment in any case, they are relatively successful economies which are a component of a world division of power and of wealth. And essentially they emerged out of the Second World War, economies where there was a possibility and of a pact between workers and capital. Workers agreed, perhaps not in as many words, not to tamper with the commanding heights of the economy, they would remain capitalist economies, but where the trade-off is that there is a substantial safety net, as you say, and a vibrant and robust democratic system. In South Africa, let alone Zambia, we do not have a relatively vibrant capitalist economy. It's in deep trouble and it's been put there by apartheid, yes, but also by capitalism and the short-sightedness of the capitalist class in our country which has proved to be remarkably short-sighted, remarkably incompetent. We have a lower literacy rate in South Africa than in Lesotho or Zambia, which is a shocking indictment of the system, capitalists and also the apartheid system have brought to our country. We also have a very high level of monopolisation as you know and there are a big four who basically control the commanding heights of our economy. We've got to begin to socialise those commanding heights in our view in order to create the wherewithal, in order to have a reasonable social net.

POM     But in the United States, breaking those up it just became almost a matter of, it would arouse no particular even public attention, that there would just be total disregard of the anti-trust laws. So it wouldn't be seen as a radical movement against capitalism. It would be seen as a movement to make capitalism more efficient.

JC     Yes. But in South Africa, our view is that that's what remains entrenched and beyond a new constitution will remain there and we've actually got to launch an assault against it. We've got to begin to democratise our economy as well. In our view that means pursuing a socialist path. What we understand by socialism, and I think that takes me to point two or three, and that is that a transitional system itself, it's a mixed economy, the socialist system is a mixed arrangement where capitalism continues. But what makes it different from a capitalist mixed economy is that the commanding heights are now in public control and ownership; stress 'public'. Of course the great lesson in our view of Eastern Europe was this conflation of socialism with nationalisation. The highest form of the social problem is not necessarily nationalisation. Clearly nationalisation can, and I am sure will, be an important instrument of economic policy and social policy in our country. It should be. But there are many other forms of social property, co-ops, collectives of various kinds, municipal property, various social entities can and should be wholly in control of productive economic property. So that's one important lesson that we are importing.

     And even when it comes to nationalised property, if you take away from Anglo American a whole lot of the economy and then give it over to a bunch of bureaucrats the democratisation process, working power, is not being advanced necessarily at all by that. And I think this is what's happened in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, that workers have not been empowered, bureaucrats have and it's the bureaucrats that were trying to kick last week, essentially, in their coup. So it's not just a question of extending one's concept of public ownership and control but also thoroughly democratising politics and the state and this is where a whole range of other things come into play, like a strong and robust civil society, like a Bill of Rights, an independent judiciary monitoring that Bill of Rights, and so forth. So all of those are components of what we think should be a democratic socialism. Which is a little bit distinct from social democracy which has never historically reversed the control that the capitalist class continues to have in Sweden and other countries. I think we've got to do that in our particular conditions. But we've got to build in many, many democratic

POM     If you had to compare very quickly social democracy and democratic socialism, what are the points of convergence and divergence?

JC     Well I think points of convergence are, well let's speak more generally so I'll not just confine it to a social democracy/democratic socialism comparison. I think that another huge failing which is implicit in all that I've been saying in the Soviet system has been that instead of advancing beyond first generation rights, the liberal values of the multi-party systems, independent judiciaries and so forth, have gone behind those in the name of advancing socialism so they suppressed freedom of movement, basic citizenship rights and so on, those traditional liberal values. We believe that the socialist project has got to take those on board and take them very seriously, but go far beyond them. So, freedom of the press? Absolutely, yes. It doesn't mean a hell of a lot if 70% of your population is illiterate as it is in our country. So you've got to take on second generation issues as well and we believe that socialism is the way that one does that. Point of convergence between us and social democratic? We think that they, perhaps more than any others in the world, have been at the cutting edge of defending those basic liberal values actually of the citizenship rights, democracy in that western sense. So we converge there and that involves all the other things, multi-party democracies and so on. Points of difference? One, the one I've just made, but I think that they have accommodated capitalism and lived within in and chiselled reforms which have been impressive reforms. We don't think that that's desirable even in Sweden in the longer term but it's certainly not even workable here in our South African situation. We won't be able to get a safety net unless we actually begin to impose public control and ownership on the commanding heights of our economy. I think a second point ...

POM     When you say 'the commanding heights' what specifically are you referring to?

JC     Specifically? Well in detail, but not yet, we're busy working on an economic manifesto so I would be talking very loosely. But one's talking about the finance and the major industrial sectors of our economy, metal mining and so forth, which are already very centralised but, of course, in private hands. The other point of difference to generalise a little is that I think that often social democratic parties have become electoral machines, have tended over time, one sees that very strongly in the British Labour Party, and there you see some of the shortcomings I believe of social democracy as it evolves, that's the commanding heights of the economy remain capitalist therefore also very often the press is dominated by the capitalist class. That's the case in Britain. The Labour Party doesn't have a single Labour Party supporting daily. If you're an electoral machine you tack and turn on the winds of public opinion which in turn is often massaged and moulded by forces which are not favourable to your socialist projects, for the socialist projects, which many of these parties say they are committed to, recedes as you trail public opinion and go for the centre basically.

     Now I think that if you look both to the failings of social democracy as well as the failures of socialism in Eastern Europe, you come up with what is our strength, our unique strength in South Africa which is for the moment a fairly mobilised populist, mobilised in a whole range of mass democratic and youth organisations, women's organisations, street committees, trade unions very particularly. Now that's the strength that we want to build into a future South Africa, that is we hope we are proceeding to a socialist South Africa. But there has to be a robust civil society with independent trade unions, civics and whatever playing a very important role in the evolving democratisation process. You find elements of that in social democracies, but that tends to disappear as the rules of parliamentary politics take hold and become the be all.

POM     When your party looks back at the changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union over the last number of years, what lessons do you draw, what have you learnt in terms of how you should effect the structure, policy orientation of your own party?

JC     I think I've probably already said most of the lessons we've drawn without making that direct connection, but a number of other things need to be added; one of them would be that a Communist Party cannot, should not, legislate constitutionally a kind of vanguard role.

POM     That it can't legislate?

JC     You know, kind of proclaim via legislation that it is the vanguard force in society, it represents the working class and that is constitutionally underwritten. So that a Communist Party which seeks to represent the working class, seeks to represent its interests, can't do so by self-proclamation and when in power carrying the self-proclamation as far as entrenching it constitutionally. It's a daily issue, it's a daily plebiscite, if you like, which you've got to win on the ground. You've got to be there defending workers, representing their interests. If they don't think you're representing their interests they must have the liberty to say as much, to vote in other directions or to support other parties and so forth. So the multi-party aspect is crucially important. You are a leader by being one, not by proclaiming it now and enforcing that once you have governmental power, if you do. I think that's a very important lesson and I think a second major lesson is the one I've just mentioned and that is the crucial importance of independent organs of civil society, like trade unions. They cannot and must not become rubber stamps for any political party. They've got to represent their members, robustly and we believe that that right must be entrenched constitutionally as well and we think that in a future dispensation unions, for instance, should have an entrenched right to have input into economic policy in an ongoing way. No government should be able to impose economic policy without bringing in a range of forces like trade unions into the process of policy formation.

POM     Just with regard to that in passing, do you think the constitution should have, should it in some way acknowledge that inequalities must be addressed in terms of redistribution of income or wealth?

JC     I think it would be great if we could do that constitutionally. I'm not sure whether in the negotiation process we'll win that in the constitution but certainly as a policy ...

POM     Should there be a parallel document to the constitution that would spell out the parameters of the economic restructuring that will be necessary if the constitution is to mean anything?

JC     Absolutely, absolutely. What I'm saying is, I'm not certain whether one entrenches that into a constitution, if one could that's great, but certainly the policies of what I take to be a future ANC led government must give flesh to the constitution which is that everyone is equal in South Africa but you're not very equal if you're starving, don't have a home, can't read and write and so forth.

POM     That's not what I'm asking Jeremy. Should this be spelt out beforehand or should it be left up to whatever government takes power, ANC, CP government, whatever you call it, to then develop it's own economic policies or should the broad parameters be set out beforehand and agreed on so that it doesn't become a matter of dispute?

JC     Well desirably, yes. As I say I'm not sure whether one can win that.

POM     It seems that part of the reason for the failure of communism in both Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was the vast bureaucratisation of the entire society and the particular role of the civil service, a lot of state workers in that. Here you have a civil service, a vast bureaucracy, I think it's one in every three whites work for the state or in parastatals with enormous vested interests in holding on to their positions and power. What kind of problems will that pose for a post-apartheid government and how can they go about addressing it, particular since I assume the government will go to build in protections for the existing civil servants?

JC     I think it's a very good question. I think that, I mean the short answer is enormous problems. It will certainly, unquestionably, given also the balance of power, we're into a transition process where neither of the two major parties are either defeated or entirely victorious. Clearly both are sitting down at a negotiating table because neither can continue in quite the same way. I believe the ANC is going more forward and the regime is retreating more than advancing, but clearly it's a complex situation and the world situation is also increasingly complex. So that these dreams of, as it were, throwing out of office hundreds of thousands of white bureaucrats, is a dream presumption. But the sensitive, complex reality that we're looking at, not least when one's talking about the security force end of the bureaucracy, there are half a million white males who are part of the active or reserve force of the South African Defence Force. So that's a huge undigested and undefeated reality. So I think a great deal of care, caution and sensitivity is the name of the game on this front.

     But secondly, I think, that's not to say that one caves in in front of the issue either, and I think that the answer to this is in fact also the answer to the longer term problem because you don't simply want to replace one bunch of bureaucrats with another bunch of bureaucrats of a different complexion, waving a different flag, because the examples of Africa are replete with this kind of problem. Zimbabwe strikes me as a case in point where you had a mass popular guerrilla struggle under way which more or less defeated the Smith regime. It certainly went much further than we did in our armed struggle. But after independence the guerrilla army was dissolved and the liberation movement becomes a bureaucracy effectively. So perhaps the fact that there are going to be a large number of white bureaucrats will keep us on our toes and perhaps that's good news also for the longer term as well.

     It really comes down to the point I was making earlier that we need (i) a government into which are many windows if you like, democratic windows are built and the peace process that we have been involved in now in the last period where we have just now got a peace accord is I think not just an investment in the immediate, trying to put an end to some extent to the violence, but I think it sets an important precedent. We're building in ombudsmen for the security forces, we're subjecting security forces to a great deal of public scrutiny for the next period. But I think it sets a good example for a future South Africa as well. So we need to do that.

     Secondly, I think the key thing is again a robust, independent, civil society so that, let's say in education, you have to have, you obviously need a bureaucracy, you need an administration, but you need strong teachers' associations, you need strong SRCs, you need strong Parent/Teacher Associations which bombard that education bureaucracy, say go to hell we don't like this policy and why do we need that. And I think we've got that a bit. In fighting apartheid we've had to mobilise people in their schools, in their universities, as parents, in their streets as street committees and so on. We've got to hold on to that and deepen it and develop it. And, of course, there will be tendencies within our movement to say, well thanks very much, you've done your job now shut up, we're in power now, we are your government now go home. I think we've got to resist that. I think we will and, as I say, in the interim period maybe the fact that we've got, I don't know, maybe 200,000 white bureaucrats will enable the mobilisation to continue. It's our best defence against retreat as well as against black bureaucratisation, which is also not good news in my opinion.

POM     We have come across a surprising number of people, most of whom would be supporters of the ANC, some of whom would be on the executive and even some of whom would be on the National Working Group who don't see any great problem with a post-apartheid government which would be a partnership of the ANC and the NP, where the ANC would be the major partner in the coalition and the NP a junior partner, a partner nevertheless. Does that surprise you?

JC     No it doesn't. I mean, I think that again, seize the balance of power and that's the first step, there's not one party to decisively be the victor. I think we're going to have to reassure whites who are armed to the teeth, who are well placed strategically. I think that what is going to be important is that certainly the ANC should be the dominant factor there, it should be setting the pace but it shouldn't be setting a pace which is unrealistic, which is a leapfrog into something which is impossible and which becomes indefensible in the world situation given the local balance of power. So I think what the party stands for, we've got to draft a manifesto which we are busy discussing through our ranks at the moment. It begins with a preamble which amongst other things says that we're for the maximum democratisation for speeding up the process as much as possible but we are realistic as well about the realities, regional, national and international. So we must never not democratise to the maximum extent possible within any given situation but any utopian leaps which cannot be defended given the balance of power actually set back the cause, derails that and provides space for the very powerful reactions also that are still around which are also in the international wings and some of which happen not a million miles away from where you hail.

     And of course the lessons of Mozambique and Angola are very fresh in our minds and are there right before our faces. I think that there were unrealistic leaps, often under enormous pressures and with enormous difficulties but where the Marxist vanguard went way ahead of where it's support base was and the net effect is that the order of socialism was never implemented in those countries at all. They never got remotely near there. In the popular imagination socialism and Marxism/Leninism equals queues, a war of destabilisation, a series of hassles, as is actually the case in Eastern Europe as well. People are discovering now that the free market brings unemployment, hardship and so on. But they want an alternative to what they've had thrust down their throats which is understandable and we really mustn't make that mistake, not even with regard to socialism and communism but in regard to basic national democratic advance. So the kind of scenario you paint doesn't surprise me. I mean it's not out of charity or whatever because we'd like them there, but the reality of the situation.

POM     Would it surprise you that quite a number of polls done consistently show that to a majority of South Africans that that kind of an arrangement would be an acceptable settlement?

JC     No, no. I mean it's surprising in a sense and yet not surprising. As a South African it doesn't surprise me but I think for an outsider observer it must be surprising because one of the features of black people in our country is their amazing forgiveness and sense of reconciliation which is remarkable. It really is.

PAT     Could you tell us of other countries where your concept of democratic socialism as a model is at work and you would say is making some successful strides, other than say the island of Cuba?

JC     No, I think there are bits and pieces of what we're talking about but there's certainly no blueprint, there never was. We always say there's no blueprint but we rather fancied that maybe there was a bit more blueprint around than there is. Look, I think in Cuba there are interesting features, not only in Cuba in that sense because clearly there are enormous difficulties primarily as a result of international factors. Castro, I think, continues to have enormous legitimate support in Cuba but the economic situation is a bit desperate. And in a sense I would say that some of the components are here on the ground, on the shop floor, in the township. We have socialism, important components of what will be a democratic socialism, street committees which say to the ANC, go to hell, often wrongly. I mean why did you suspend the armed struggle or something? But they say that and I think that that has been the battle that one sees played out inside the ANC over a period and it's an ongoing battle where the ordinary members down on the ground are saying it actually belongs to us. We like Mandela but it's not his organisation, it's ours and we don't like it when he made the following decision or whatever. I think it's quite a strong political culture in our country. One can exaggerate it as well but I think it's an important thing.

     And that's also to say, to go back to your last question, I think the party has played an important role in the kind of thing you were talking about and that is: why isn't there the kind of race hatred that maybe you see in parts of New York here in South Africa? We see features of that and I think one of the factors, not the only one, has been the long non-racial, historical role of the communist in South Africa. For 60 years it was the only non-racial party with one minor exception, the Liberal Party which lasted for a few years in the 1950s, and the fact that there have been non-African communists in the forefront of the struggle being executed and gone to jail and whatever, who have died in the trenches. And that's primarily, not only, but it's primarily been a very important contribution that I think our party has made. I was in prison with other white politicals because even in prison one was segregated. They were all communists as it happened and I don't think it's the sole factor, but I think it's a contribution we're proud of and I think we have made. People have understood that it's not a black on white war, it's a struggle between a certain set of political principles versus another set of political principles.

POM     Thank you ever so much.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.