BOOST FOR WORKING CLASS
But SRW party must strive for maximum unity around demands
THE recent birth of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) is a major development in the working class movement, especially at the current juncture of a crisis-ridden capitalism which has had a very destructive impact on the black working-class majority.
THE recent birth of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) is a major development in the working class movement, especially at the current juncture of a crisis-ridden capitalism which has had a very destructive impact on the black working-class majority. High levels of poverty, unemployment and raging social inequalities serve to reinforce the objective necessity for such a party.
But what are the prospects and problems confronting the SRWP? Especially how well is it likely to do over both the short and long term?
However, before answering that key question I want to focus initially on what I think should have happened. Besides the formation of a working class socialist party, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and several other leftist groups also committed themselves to forming a United Front, which would unite a broad front of anti-capitalist organisations in a common programme of action.
I have argued that it is the formation of that UF and in the course of those common struggles that the best possible basis would have been laid in action for the formation of a workers’ party at a later stage. I remain steadfast that this would have been a much better course of action. It would have injected a much more concrete basis for maximum unity and agreement in the formation of such a party. But the truth is that the UF has failed to materialise with any real national significance.
It is against such a background that in July a Working Class Summit was held to explore whether a workers’ party was a feasible proposition for building and achieving working-class unity to advance an anti-capitalist struggle for socialism. Besides Numsa and other affiliates of the new trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), the summit was attended by several other leftist groups and many civil society organisations, an impressive presence.
But although it is still very early days I can see various problems which, if not addressed very soon, could scupper what appears to be the best potential thus far to build a mass alternative to the beleaguered ANC. In fact, it is precisely because the ANC faces an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy that this initiative bears credible hope.
However, it will need much more than hope. It requires a clear and coherent vision of itself and a common programme of action with which to build wider and deeper support among the masses, especially workers in other trade union federations, such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu). It must also necessarily draw in the township militants who have been most active in various struggles for long. They require guidance and broader working-class leadership.
With the global crisis in capitalism and trade unions in retreat, this is a very tough and tall order. But it is that same crisis which will generate a fightback by workers. The South African black working class has been one of the most militant in the world for decades. This includes many of the unions in these federations, especially Cosatu and Saftu. But besides this potential to build such a united working-class party there are many problems which beset the SRWP early on.
There is a worrying propagandism I see within the leading ranks of the party. How they see and relate to other socialist groups is highly problematic. There is too much of a triumphalist arrogance in some of the views expressed by them, especially worrying because, to all intents and purposes, the SRWP is overwhelmingly a Numsa initiative.
There is not much of a presence and involvement in the SRWP of the other affiliates of Saftu. This can prove especially debilitating organisationally over the short term, when in fact maximum unity in action is needed. Right now, one can reasonably equate the SRWP with Numsa. The other affiliates of Saftu would have to become much more active within the SRWP to give credence to the notion that Saftu as a whole is committed to the SRWP.
It is also mistaken, especially at such an early and delicate stage of forming a mass working-class party, to prescribe and impose organisational party forms on other interested parties. I am concerned with the notion of a “vanguard party”, which the failed South African Communist Party (SACP) was supposed to represent for decades, with very little success.
At a moment of unprecedented crisis within both capitalism and the ranks of the working class… for the SRWP to be prescriptive about the vanguard notion is highly problematic. Today’s crisis demands a different focus: welding together various working class interests into a united force. Squabbling about a “vanguard” organisational and leadership structure or not is a serious distraction from the key tasks at hand. It is in fact the height of propagandistic folly.
If one studies the working-class movement in South Africa over the past few decades, then indeed a more federal structure of a new party is necessary, especially when there are various strivings for a way forward and when there are burning issues right now affecting workers collectively, irrespective of which political affiliation or sentiments they might have.
Frankly, the term “vanguard” sounds hackneyed, subjective and highly propagandistic, especially at the current crisis-ridden juncture. So is the purist notion, coming from sections of the SRWP, of opposition or scepticism towards Parliament and elections as “bourgeois”. This I regard as particularly ultra-leftist under existing realities. My frank sense is that this vanguardist fetish emanates mainly from the Numsa leaders who come from the SACP.
One can see why I earlier argued that if the UF was formed it would have made unity and a working-class party on a concrete and practical basis more possible. But it is in the light of the failure to form a UF that the structure of a new party must be a bit more fluid. In other words, the party must be structured to do what a UF should do: strive for maximum unity in action around a common programme of demands, where each representative will be mandated to act both in the interests of the organisation it comes from and hopefully reach agreement with the party it is a constituent part of. Such flexibility is demanded by the enormity of the tasks at hand.
This is a tactical unity which must be forged upon a common programme of demands, the fulfilment of which is the heart of the party. It must be a party of united working-class action, not an intellectualist talk shop, abstractly preoccupied with whether the party must be a vanguard or a mass party. In fact, to present the question in those binary terms itself spells of confusion. A true working-class party, anywhere for that matter, is a much more complex dynamic.
Besides, there is nothing wrong or unprincipled in marching separately but striking together. In fact, given a very fractious leftist history, it is, I argue, incumbent to do so.
Harvey is a political writer and former Cosatu unionist.
The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party is seen as a boost for the working class, says the writer.