Isn’t it time the SACP went it alone at the polls?

Sunday Times - - Opinion - ✼ Lebitse is a colum­nist PALESA LEBITSE

Pa­tron­age pol­i­tics en­sures ben­e­fi­cia­ries con­tinue to build a power base at the ex­pense of build­ing a bet­ter coun­try. It is not al­ways the work of a fac­tion. Even un­der

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa the

ANC re­mains a party of pa­tron­age. But fun­da­men­tally this non­co­er­cive con­sol­i­da­tion of power is the base of the tri­par­tite al­liance, more so the al­liance be­tween the rul­ing party and the SACP.

The SACP un­der Blade

Nz­i­mande has dis­carded its ori­gins of build­ing so­cial­ism in SA. This is a re­sult of the se­cure po­lit­i­cal in­cum­bency of leader Blade Nz­i­mande, gen­eral sec­re­tary for more than 20 years. Nz­i­mande has en­joyed vast pub­lic ben­e­fits as a for­mer min­is­ter of higher ed­u­ca­tion and now min­is­ter of trans­port, while the SACP has lost le­git­i­macy as a van­guard of the work­ing-class move­ment.

The SACP aban­doned its his­tor­i­cal mis­sion to con­tinue the al­liance at all costs even if it meant the com­mu­nist role in the al­liance de­scended to ni­hility. The SACP has al­ways ar­gued that par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ANC govern­ment would en­able it to in­flu­ence ANC pol­icy in the in­ter­ests of the work­ing class. But this has not hap­pened. In­stead, the com­mu­nists have been un­able to re­sist the ANC’s ne­olib­eral poli­cies that go against the prin­ci­ples of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism.

The com­mu­nists’ at­tempts “to cri­tique and fight ne­olib­er­al­ism have re­mained rhetor­i­cal and in­ef­fec­tive”, said David Thomp­son. The SACP hoped to pull the rul­ing party to the left, he said, but he ques­tioned the com­mu­nist de­vo­tion to in­flu­enc­ing the ANC.

His­tory shows that the SACP’s in­flu­ence in the congress move­ment dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle was en­hanced by the then geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ences of the Soviet Union as a coun­ter­bal­anc­ing force to Western lib­er­al­ism rep­re­sented by the US and its Western al­lies.

SA gained its po­lit­i­cal free­dom at the height of the lib­eral dom­i­nance af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. The SACP found it­self in a po­lit­i­cal quag­mire in which its dom­i­nance had di­min­ished and it re­lied on the al­liance with the ANC to con­tinue ex­press­ing its in­flu­ence in par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics. The sit­u­a­tion put the party in a po­si­tion of weak­ness wherein its abil­ity to in­flu­ence the in­cum­bent ANC govern­ment de­pended largely on who was lead­ing the rul­ing party; for ex­am­ple, Thabo Mbeki deemed the SACP ir­rel­e­vant and never al­lowed the party to in­flu­ence his govern­ment’s poli­cies.

To­day, the SACP’s abil­ity to in­flu­ence the coun­try’s de­vel­op­men­tal tra­jec­tory de­pends on the re­la­tion­ship it will have with Ramaphosa.

Un­for­tu­nately, even if he has an ami­able re­la­tion­ship with the SACP, that is not go­ing to en­hance the his­tor­i­cal role that the party is sup­posed to play as a party that is sup­posed to serve the in­ter­ests of the poor and the work­ing class. That is be­cause the ANC has man­aged to po­si­tion it­self in that space, as a cham­pion of the poor and the work­ing class.

The SACP is also stag­nant in terms of de­vel­op­ment within its own ranks. It is the only force within the al­liance whose gen­der par­ity score is ap­palling. Its top six only has one woman and the cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee is no bet­ter. The Young Com­mu­nist League has no pro­file.

Many have also ques­tioned the SACP’s rel­e­vance in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal agenda. To re­ally re­gain its rel­e­vance, the SACP must re­or­gan­ise it­self as a work­ing-class party. The time is ac­tu­ally ripe given the grow­ing dis­par­i­ties be­tween the rich and the poor, and the high un­em­ploy­ment rate.

To re­main true to its prin­ci­ples, is it not time that the party con­tested elec­tions on its own, with poli­cies al­ter­na­tive to those of the rul­ing party? Shouldn’t they pre­pare them­selves as pos­si­ble part­ners in a coali­tion govern­ment, even with the ANC? This may en­able the com­mu­nists to set con­di­tions on the kind of govern­ment they seek — which could be a govern­ment that drives a rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal pro­gramme aimed at im­prov­ing the lives of the work­ing class and the poor.

But Nz­i­mande is un­likely to agree be­cause he basks in the com­forts of pa­tron­age. He had a tur­bu­lent re­la­tion­ship with stu­dents as min­is­ter of higher ed­u­ca­tion. This is typ­i­cal of how the ANC has man­aged to ren­der the party ir­rel­e­vant.

Com­mu­nists have been un­able to re­sist the ANC’s ne­olib­eral poli­cies

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