November, 2014

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NUMSA expulsion: rebuild trade union movement on socialist principles

The pro-ANC right-wing of the Cosatu leadership has accomplished what the apartheid regime could not and split the 2.2 million strong trade union federation. On the night of 7/8 November – dubbed the ‘night of the long knives’ in the press – Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) voted 33 to 24 in favour of expulsion of the metalworkers’ union NUMSA. This action was taken to punish NUMSA for their December 2013 decision to break with the ANC and the steps they have taken toward the creation of a socialist political alternative. For the ANC, the split in Cosatu is a disaster. Their strategy to turn Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC has failed and NUMSA has been put beyond their reach. In their attempts to subordinate Cosatu within the Alliance and neuter working class resistance they have inadvertently accelerated the re-emergence of the working class as an independent political force.

In NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim’s marathon three hour presentation to the CEC refuting every charge and accusation levelled at NUMSA, he summarised precisely why NUMSA was being targeted, when he said, “You want to expel us because we constantly remind you how you are failing to protect the interests of the working class”. Jim further warned that, “inside or outside Cosatu, we will not stop mobilising the working class on the road to socialism. We will not give you any peace as we expose the miserable failure of the class alliance you are entangled in and how it compromises your ability to lead the working class.”

The split

Heeding the call, on 10 November a further seven of Cosatu’s 19 affiliates suspended themselves from participation in Cosatu’s leadership structures in solidarity with NUMSA. The unions are the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), the South African Football Players Union (SAFPU), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), the Public and Allied Workers Union (PAWUSA), the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the South African State and Allied Workers Union (SASAWU) and the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU). At Cosatu’s press conference on 11 November that formally announced the expulsion, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was absent. An ally of NUMSA, Vavi later released a letter opposing the expulsion. He is next in the firing-line of the right-wing and the next CEC on 19 November will discuss reinstating the charges that led to his suspension from August 2013 to April 2014. As with NUMSA, the real reason for the attack on Vavi has been his vocal criticism of the pro-capitalist policies of the ANC government.

The unions whose ‘leaders’ voted for NUMSA’s expulsion are riddled with corruption and splits and do not have the support of their members for their actions against NUMSA. The general secretary of the transport union SATAWU recently appeared in leg irons in the commercial crimes court charged with theft but is still in office and welcome at Cosatu meetings. The CEPPAWU leadership has not convened a national executive for over two years in order to protect their positions. Several CEPPAWU regions have publicly voiced their opposition to the leadership’s support for the right-wing in the course of Cosatu’s crisis.

Splits in these unions are likely and some are already underway. The former president of the pro-ANC led South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) is pioneering the launch of a new public sector trade union after being expelled this year for his support for Vavi. The potential exists to create a new trade union federation, replacing the class collaboration of the Tripartite Alliance with the principles of working class political independence and socialism. That possibility has been acknowledged by FAWU deputy general secretary Moleko Pakhedi at the press conference of ‘the seven’ on 10 November.

The seven NUMSA allies are resuming their court action to force the convening of a Special National Congress of Cosatu. A special congress could elect a new leadership and reinstate NUMSA. For that reason the demand has been refused by the right-wing for over 18 months despite the criteria for convening a special congress having been met. The right-wing will continue to resist this and block NUMSA’s return. A new scab metal industry union – the Metal & Allied Workers Union of South Africa (MAWUSA) – is expecting to complete its registration with the department of labour by year end. Founded by former NUSMA president Cedric Gina, who abandoned NUMSA just before its 2013 special congress, they have requested admittance to Cosatu.

The blame for the break-up of Cosatu lies with the right-wing. They have betrayed every principle of working class political independence, worker control and socialism. All that remains within Cosatu of the traditions that gave birth to the federation in the 1980s battle against apartheid is the name.

Bold action necessary

We support the efforts of NUMSA and its seven allies to continue the battle for a special congress. However, time must not be lost in laying the basis for a new socialist trade union federation should that battle fail. NUMSA has already announced it will go ahead with the national launch of its United Front, which WASP participates in, on 13-16 December. NUMSA is also convening mass meetings of its members and shop stewards across the country with an invitation to all Cosatu members to participate whether or not their leaders voted for the expulsion. They have also said their members should continue to attend Cosatu structures. This is the correct strategy as it is absolutely crucial that workers and rank-and-file members are drawn into active participation in the remoulding of the labour movement.

But more, WASP believes that out of these meetings a date should be set early in the new year for a conference to discuss the way forward for the trade union movement. This should be open, not just to NUMSA and its allies, but members and structures of other Cosatu affiliates, affiliates of the Nactu trade union federation, independent unions and groups of unorganised workers struggling to found new unions.

WASP has consistently raised the idea of a Socialist Trade Union Network based on such broad forces. The time for such an initiative is here and could be launched from the conference we are proposing. The immediate task would be to rally those forces in the trade union movement genuinely committed to socialism and worker-controlled trade unions and bring the full force of the organised working class to bear in the battle to reclaim Cosatu. Such a Network could overcome the paralysis of working class struggle created by Cosatu’s crisis and give a lead in the looming public sector wage struggle, the struggle to enforce the wage settlement in the metal industry and the struggle to scrap e-tolls. It would simultaneously lay the basis for greater unity and cooperation with non-Cosatu unions should that battle to reclaim Cosatu succeed or bring together the forces that could be the basis for a new trade union federation should that battle fail.

Linked to the building of working class unity around a strategy of class struggle must be the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme. A mass workers party could unite organised labour with the communities and the youth by expressing the general interests of the working class – the creation of a socialist society. This is the greatest fear of the capitalist class and their political representatives in the ANC and SACP. But the opportunity must be boldly seized. We call on all those who support this strategy to participate in NUMSA’s United Front and to join WASP and work with us to help bring such a party into being as part of the struggle for a socialist South Africa and a socialist world.

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.

Support NUMSA’s struggle to reclaim Cosatu’s political and class independence for struggle solidarity and socialism

Moses Mayekiso
WASP President

The outcome of the Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC)  of 23 – 25th October, 2014, has delayed, until 7th November, 2014, the almost certain expulsion of the 340,000-strong metalworkers’ union NUMSA, Cosatu’s biggest affiliate and the African continent’s largest trade union. NUMSA’s expulsion would be yet another seismic event, an aftershock of the massacre of 34 workers striking for a R12,500 wage increase at Marikana – the epicentre of the earthquake that continues to reshape the political landscape in South Africa today.

Ahead of its planned expulsion, NUMSA has reiterated its determination to go to court to challenge its expulsion and its demand for a Cosatu special congress. Over the course of the two years or so that this drama has unfolded, sub-plots like the court cases over the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and calls for a special Cosatu congress, as well as protests against e-tolls in Gauteng the economic hub of the country, led by the pro-ANC Cosatu leadership against the Zuma led-ANC government, have detracted attention from the central issue: the collapse of the foundations of the political settlement on which the post-Apartheid political dispensation rests.

Understanding this, the Financial Mail (30/10/2014), expresses its opinion by way of an illustration of their rating of the performance of a number of political role players in a so-called “D Matrix”  whose axes divide it into four quadrants, with Discerning at the top followed clock-wide by Delightful, Dumb and Despicable. NUMSA’s secretary general, Ivin Jim’s performance is located at the mid-point of the graph of the Despicable and Discerning quadrant.

The FM’s illustration at least has the merit of being an honest expression of the attitude of the capitalist ruling class whose organ it is, to developments in Cosatu and NUMSA’s centrality to them. Far from being delighted at the prospective demise of Cosatu – a foe for which they have always felt a mixture of fear and loathing – the capitalists are gripped by a sense of foreboding.

This is why NUMSA’s actions are equally “despicable” and “discerning”. Despicable because out of the ashes of Cosatu’s embrace of the pro-capitalist ANC, is the possibility of the rise, Phoenix-like, of a new and far more dangerous threat – a mass workers party on a socialist programme.

What is working itself out is the conflict of irreconcilable class interests – a clash of civilisations between the barbarism of a decaying capitalism and the aspirations of the working class for a society free of poverty, unemployment, poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, religious, gender and ethnic bigotry and war.

The FM’s classification of NUMSA’s actions as simultaneously despicable and discerning, reflects two things: (i) the ruling economic and political elite’s class hatred for NUMSA; (ii) their recognition of the failure of the ANC and its allies’ propaganda that NUMSA’s actions are motivated by the ambitions of an unprincipled business union bureaucracy determined to win a struggle for power against another bureaucracy in which the political and ideological issues are a mere smokescreen.

Cosatu, at birth in 1985, represented in the eyes of the working class, as NUMSA’s statement of 27 October point outs: “a revolutionary socialist, militant federation that rejected all forms of cultural male chauvinist and racist discrimination, a champion of the working class which believed in working class power, and advocated worker control not only of the progressive trade union movement, but of society as well.”

The Cosatu of 1985 and the one turning 30 next year are separated by light years. Then the apartheid regime, despite a partial state of emergency and a finger waving PW “Groot Krokodil (Big Crocodile)” Botha at the helm, was obliged to comply when Cosatu founding president Elijah Barayi demanded that the pass laws (that every African in the urban areas were obliged to carry to prove they had the right to reside in the cities) be abolished within six months or be burned in mass action. Today’s Cosatu’s failed to muster even a semi-decent mobilisation for an e-tolls protest despite a universal hatred for e-tolling that has sparked the biggest unofficial civil disobedience campaign since the ANC came to power. It was an embarrassing public confirmation of the erosion of Cosatu’s once formidable political and class authority.

The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) fully supports NUMSA’s tactics in resisting the conspiracy to oust it from Cosatu, not to walk even if expelled. There is neither a constitutional case to answer nor a political one. These attempts are being led by a leadership that has remained in office by defying Cosatu’s constitution, an act that amounts to a coup. This leadership fears its own membership and the prospect of being suspended in mid-air at any Cosatu Special Congress where NUMSA is likely to get overwhelming support. A once great federation is on its knees with enough affiliates no longer in good standing to call into question the CEC majority.  A number of affiliates are split as a growing rank-and-file rebellion seeks to reclaim their unions from corrupt leaders of e.g., Commercial Paper Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppawu), Police and Civil Rights Union (Popcru) , the South African Democratic Teachers union (Sadtu) as well as the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu). With a new public sector union ready to launch, Cosatu is dying on its feet.

We commend NUMSA for reaching out to the rank-and-file of the eight affiliates supporting it in Cosatu. Before Vavi’s reinstatement, the Cosatu Gauteng Shop Stewards Council stated clearly that their support for NUMSA was not limited to the Vavi issue (whose reprehensible sexual liaison with a subordinate was exploited to conceal the real issue: his trenchant criticism of government corruption) or the call for a special congress but that they supported all the political resolutions adopted by the NUMSA Special National Congress in December 2013.

We believe that this alliance within Cosatu should be extended beyond the boundaries of the federation into the political initiatives NUMSA has taken to prepare for the launch of a workers party. NUMSA has proposed that the Freedom Charter (adopted in 1955 at the Congress of the People and associated with the ANC which calls for radical reforms including the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy without explicitly calling for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society) be debated as the possible programme of the United Front. NUMSA’s Cosatu allies should be invited to participate in the United Fronts under construction and invited to debate how to subject the Freedom Charter to a socialist overhaul as the programmatic foundation for a mass workers party to struggle for the socialist transformation of society.

We call upon NUMSA to launch a Socialist Trade Union Network to prepare a for the new federation should they fail to reclaim Cosatu, uniting the entire trade union movement inside and outside Cosatu to take forward the struggle against e-tolls, labour broking, a decent minimum wage, rising fuel prices and the escalation costs of food, transport and basic goods.

NUMSA’s rejection of the ANC’s dishonest, hypocritical and self-serving intervention in the mediation is entirely correct. It is consistent with the historic resolutions of its December 2013 Special National Congress which retied the historical knot between the NUMSA generation of 1993 – a year before SA’s first democratic elections, which moved for Cosatu to form a workers party and not to support the ANC. The experience of the first two decades of “freedom” has vindicated the perspectives of the 1993 generation. WASP stands ready to work with NUMSA towards the historic objective of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.