Is the South African Communist Party truly a vanguard? The purging of intellectuals, its increase in numbers, and its dearth of leadership resulting in the dearth of ideas points to a SACP stuck in yesteryear. Ultimately, what the latest Congress concluded was a commodification of Tripartite Alliance because the SACP wants to eat from the trough and criticise others eating from it as well at the same time.
As his battle with the South African Communist Party reached its climax and in the eye of the storm, Thabo Mbeki, at the ANC’s 52nd national conference, had the boldness to quote Vladimir Lenin: “better fewer but better”.
He uttered these words as he faced the democratic tide against him at the Polokwane conference. Vintage Mbeki, he tried to corner the conference. If he was re-elected, well then so be it. Yet if he lost, it was because they were dealing with, as he said in his political report: “members who, among other things, will have very little familiarity with the history and traditions of the ANC, its policies, its value system and its organisational practices.” Both ways, he attempted to write history.
Cloaked in Shakespearean irony, Mbeki’s call was directed mainly to his Leninist-Marxist opponents in the form of the SACP and COSATU. While his unionist, secretary-general, Kgalema Motlanthe, was pushing a million membership in his organisational report, Mbeki showed no interest in allowing the liberation movement to become one that was essentially pro-socialist. He wanted fewer because it was better to manipulate, to become elitist and thus push through policies that would secure capital. Alternatively, he wanted fewer for it was easier to control the process of capacitating and building strong comrades. The growth of the organisation naturally posed a challenge of control; how you would control the quality of comrades that are meant to represent the aspirations of the organisation.
Ironically, like the ANC a decade ago, the SACP finds itself today in the same conundrum. Historically, known as a ‘vanguard’, therefore fewer but better. The SACP today boasted, at its latest congress, a membership tally of a quarter million. The reality of course, as Mbeki tried to project in 2007 and which Lenin fully understood, was concentration on the increase in numbers meant the decrease in content and character. A vanguard, while open to all, is simply not a mass-based organisation.
Referring to his earlier work titled, How We Should Reorganise the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, Lenin cautions readers against thinking that the figures mentioned in that article were too small. Rather he suggests that the measures to be put in place must ensure that “really exemplary quality” is obtained. Ultimately, the establishment of the vanguard is in response to his old-time question: what is to be done?
The reality, of course, is that under the leadership of Dr Blade Nzimande a direct onslaught against the bourgeois intelligentsia, to which Marx and Engels were said to have belonged to, has taken place. Throughout the last two decades, there has been a deliberate purging of leading intellectuals within the party and a move towards one that is mass-based. It is not necessary to name these intellectuals here, suffice to say that anyone who has knowledge of the party would be able to identify them. Today these former intellectuals form a bitter band of badgers.
This death in leadership in the SACP has led directly to a death in ideas. One such example of the lack of ideas is summed up in the following paragraph: “[The] intention was not to decide on whether the SACP should stand for elections or not (that decision is a foregone conclusion), this is not because of the number of people who attended, but because of the prevailing conditions that arise in the current phase of the revolution. The decision to constitute a Commission to look into the pros and cons of standing for elections was not a coming out of a ‘yes we will’ or ‘no we won’t’ response. This is based on the fact that the question was not whether we should, but was whether if we do, how will we do it, when will we do it and how will this affect the Alliance between the SACP with COSATU and the ANC…”
You would be forgiven if you thought this was a summary of the decision by the Party to investigate modalities of participation in elections taken at its last congress held just last July. Sadly, this was a response by the SACP to a Business Day editorial in 2005 after the Party’s Special National Congress. Nearly twelve years on to the day, the SACP is stuck in the same place. Where is the vanguard?
In other words, for over a decade now the Party, which portrays itself as the vanguard of the workers, has been threatening to ‘go it alone’ as the Business Day editorial was titled. Since that Special National Congress, the Party has become emboldened to add to its membership, increase to an operating budget of R35 million with R2 million spent just on securing Party bosses alone.
The seemingly prevailing reality is that the supposed vanguard has fallen prey to the lure of “barter politics”. The SACP seems to be constantly bartering for a seat on the table, in its bid to maintain its proximity to power, resources and influence. This posturing has been the by-product of a relationship of mutual suspicion between the Congress Movement and the Vanguard. The SACP has always primed itself for the day that the ANC would be ousted from power in such a way that they would not be cast into the periphery should that day come. This has always been the prevailing influence in the relations between the ANC and the SACP.
The forty-one-member strong newly elected central committee of the Party boasts no less than five ministers in President Zuma’s cabinet, two provincial premiers, five deputy-ministers, three members of the executive councils, the deputy speaker of the national assembly, eight members of parliament mostly holding senior positions, two members of provincial legislatures, a deputy-mayor, and two senior bureaucrats.
They are all in their positions on an ANC ticket and stand the chance of losing these should the SACP go it alone. No wonder, unlike Solly Mapaila, Nzimande fought for the ‘relook at modalities’ again. He has been playing this card for the last decade in order to buy time at the trough.
However, it is the contention of these comrades that it is through the support of the Party on the ground and their alliance with the ANC that they are deployed to these positions via the ANC. Should the Party, therefore, instruct its deployees to vote in favour of the no confidence vote against President Zuma, it is the contention that these Party members will have to tow the Party line. The Party therefore literally wants its place at the trough and criticise those at it.