Monday, April 24, 2006

YCL's Defiance Campaign Under Perspective

Defying the Defiance Campaign: Reflections on YCL strugglesNyiko Floyd Shivambu

The Young Communist League of South Africa has grown to be considered as one of the most relevant, outspoken and influential youth organisations in South Africa. The growth of the YCL is no doubt attributed to its strong structures and ideological steadfastness. Very few youth and student structures in South Africa today have the gallantry to articulate conversant perspectives on matters of national importance like the Young Communist League does.

It is indeed a commendable phenomenon that young intellectuals and revolutionaries in the YCL shape its strategic character and outlook in the present trajectory characterised by massive challenges for young people and a relative less influence from young activists. Nevertheless, the recent launch of the YCL’s defiance campaign and its concurrent rejection of the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGI-SA) require a much closer analysis and assessment. This text aims to make reflections on these two bold positions of the YCL. The document is definitely not hubris and not intended at discouraging revolutionary programmes and campaigns, nor exhaust perspective in that regard.The present political trajectory calls for both creativity and intellectual openness. It also requires a continuing exchange of ideas not only within the ranks of the YCL but also within the broader youth movement and between activists. The document will indeed charge into the concept of defiance, not in a mechanical fashion, but as an acknowledgment that concepts, phrases and ideas in a revolution are as much important as practice.

As a starting point, it is instructive to note that cosmetically, an analogy could be drawn between the present YCL and the 1940s youth generation in the African National Congress, founders of the ANC Youth League (ANC YL), who after proclaiming “freedom on our lifetime” embarked on a defiance campaign against the apartheid system. The YCL has adopted “socialism in our lifetime” as its slogan and recently embarked on a defiance campaign against the capitalist system.

YCL’s proclamation of “socialism in our lifetime” is indeed a courageous rush into what the broader South African Left movement, including the SACP, fears to tread. Whilst the SACP has acclaimed to regard socialism as the future of South Africa, they have not once categorically stated when and how. This is not to suggest whatsoever that the Party should present a time framed blue print or grand plan on socialism, because such will be utter disregard to both subjective and objective conditions necessary for a revolution to be successfully executed. Nonetheless, YCL’s courage should indeed be a welcome move in the South African Left movement.

Whilst there are glaring similarities between the ANC YL founders and the present YCL concerning defining and leading the South African revolutionary and/or evolutionary project, there are indeed core differences, which extend beyond the superficial and cosmetic similarities. The ANC’s conceptualisation of the defiance campaign was largely implemented through defying, disregarding or working against the then existing rules, regulations and systems. Such defiance was mainly through the banning of Pass Books and entering or going into places and areas that were specifically demarcated for whites.

Now the YCL conceptualised its defiance campaign along and around the ubiquitous demands made mainly by social movement and civil society on the Left political spectrum. These include jobs for all, free education, basic services for all, social grants, nationalisation of land, public ownership of mineral wealth, etc. Well, these are aspirations many desire to achieve in South Africa, if destined at eradication of unemployment and poverty, which continue to ravage our communities. Notably, these demands are the most important tenets of a socialist society, since they fundamentally interrogate and could alter production relations. Lacking from YCL’s demands is conspicuously dictatorship of the proletariat, thereof making these demands quasi-socialist. However, the element of defiance in calling for these quasi-socialist demands is glaringly absent. YCL acclaims to be defying the South African capitalist system, yet these omnipresent demands, do not in anyhow reflect the defiance the YCL speaks about. Conceptually to lodge a demand for something cannot be defiance. Indeed the epicentre of YCL’s defiance campaign has heavy elements of advocacy, and trade unionish demands, than defiance. The notion of defiance is rather attractive, yet a closer look into YCL campaigns and/or demands reveals something different.

Alarming is the fact that the YCL puts these demands to the present South African state, which any Marxist or thinker worth his/her salt cannot deny is a capitalist state. Whilst the underlying significance of YCL’s virtually socialist demands to the South African state might have good vindication, they appear to many South African as demands, which the YCL expects or genuinely believes government will accede to. The YCL is highly advanced and armoured with Marxist-Leninist tools of analysis to could understand that socialism cannot come through demands in a memorandum to government. What many see is the YCL demanding socialism from government and/or South African capitalist state. If this could be true, it is not only bizarre, but unscientific and unprecedented in the history of socialist revolutions. Unfortunately, the genuine demands’ character and form which the YCL puts are not intensively, contextually and conjecturally clarified.

Marxism, which certainly is not dogma, but a guide to action, presages that “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life[1]”.

Marx states that “no social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation[2]”.

When these productive forces are sufficient and developed, what then becomes the next stage of development? At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their antagonistic nature, giving rise to class contradictions. According to Marx, such level is indicative of the beginning of social revolution period[3]. The social revolution is largely determined by the kind and nature of consciousness amongst and within society, specifically the working class and the revolutionary intelligentsia.

The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation[4].
This view is correctly expressed by Marx in a letter to Joseph Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852; he says clearly: "Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was first, to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; second, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; and third, that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society[5]."
The first step in a revolutionary process is the seizure of political power by the working class majority of society; known in Marx's day as the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as opposed to the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" which is seen to be an inevitable phenomenon in a capitalist society. Once in political power, the working class can then move to assert its control over the economy. Once the working class democratically runs the economy in the interests of all, instead of in the interests of a handful of capitalists, then very quickly the working class will be able to provide the basic necessities and then much more to everyone. There will therefore be provision of necessities such as unemployment; free quality healthcare; education, housing, and more to everyone, free mineral wealth, and training of as many artisans as the state decides. The creative and productive potential of humanity will be unleashed[6].
These explain the gist of socialist revolutions as presaged by Marx. In Lenin’s Bolshevism, which is widely considered as a successful practicalisation of Marxism as tools of analysis and guide to actions, and elementary to a genuine and true National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the working class leads the revolutionary programme, which transforms fundamentally the structure of society from what it is to a completely different society called the revolutionary and democratic dictatorship of the proletariat enroute communism. This form and approach to a revolution somehow underplays the necessity of matured and developed productive forces, which sharpen class contradictions in a capitalist system.

The Bolshevik approach, which underpins any true National Democratic Revolution does not ascribe to stages of a revolution, but ensures that the proletariat as the most advanced segment of the working class, leads the programme and gives it character and content.

So the notion of socialist and/or quaisi-socialist demands placed in memorandums to government is rather new in revolutionary theory and practice. Perhaps like the innovation and conceptualisation of Bolshevism within the Marxist framework, YCL is introducing a new revolutionary practice, which will set precedents for revolutions to come—‘memorandum socialist revolution’. There is really nothing wrong with the YCL having intentions to overthrow the capitalist system through campaigns and memorandums to government, it is simply unlikely and disregards or misdiagnoses the nature and character of a capitalist state.

It is highly unlikely to materialise demands such as nationalisation of mineral wealth, land and free education in full consideration and thorough understanding of the nature and essence of a capitalist system, within an imperialist framework. Whilst the national bourgeoisie and comprador capitalists (white and black) are in charge of the state as an exclusive tool of coercion, the imperial masters institutionalised in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) controls and take macro-economic and socio-political decisions on their behalf. So a capitalist state accession and/or consent to nationalisation of land, mineral wealth and free education, because the YCL has presented a memorandum is not only unlikely, but impossible. For instance COSATU mobilised virtually all workers in 2001 and 2002 against privatisation, yet the state went ahead with it, retrenching thousands of workers and informalising certain industries.

This however does not aim to suggest whatsoever that reformist struggles should not be pushed and engaged on by revolutionary movements, as the core of mobilising for socialism. It is to illustrate that it is virtually impossible and unforeseeable for a capitalist state to accede to the basic pillars of a capitalist system, such as private property. Reformist struggles are indeed necessary, and should be directed towards the benefit of the working class and the poor. Abandoning reformist struggles in a capitalist state is tantamount to taking a position which is adopted without taking notice of the current situation. Those who define concepts, argue that ultra-leftism as “an approach to radical politics that doesn’t see the need for revolutionaries to immerse themselves in struggles that are not already revolutionary[7]”.

Well an analogy between the YCL ‘defiance campaign’ and Lenin’s April thesis cannot be drawn for conspicuous conjectural and contextual differences. Whilst the demands in both the ‘defiance campaign’ and April thesis are analogous concerning fundamental transformation of production and thereof power relations, there still cannot be correspondence since the April thesis was drafted in the face of a collapsing Tsarist autocracy in Russia. The South African capitalist system is in the contrary strengthening, without major crisis presently, and in the immediate future. Importantly, the April thesis was presented to the followers and supporters of the revolutionary programme in Russia, not to government. In essence, the Thesis was condemning co-operation with the then provisional government after the February revolution.

With overwhelming evidence that a capitalist state will not accede to socialist demands, the YCL chose to misname its struggle for socialism, defiance, which does not appear anywhere in Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. Marxism-Leninism is certainly not dogma but would categorically advocate for crashing and dismantling of the capitalist state, than defiance. Why would a struggle for socialism be conceptualised as defiance, whilst it ought to be unapologetically confrontational with intentions of taking over for a revolutionary and democratic dictatorship of the proletariat (DOP)? Defiance can well be associated with passive candle-holding civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, than the confrontational approach of the Russian workers in 1917. By the way, the 1940s ANC YL realised that although defiance was significant in engaging the apartheid state, there were more chances of getting arrested and demoralised during defiance than changing the basis of society. Even de facto defiance is not necessary, if indeed the YCL and the Party represent the aspirations of the working class and the poor, who are majority in South Africa, and could take over political power either through a social revolution (festival of the masses) or ballot.

Despite the misnamed and barely scientific defiance campaign, the YCL rejects ASGI-SA on the basis of the demands they packaged under their “defiance campaign”. The seemingly entire rejection of ASGI-SA by the YCL is premised on YCL’s supposition that “ASGI-SA is based on the same neo-liberal thrust that informed the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) programme which has failed to create any jobs despite a decade of growth in the economy[8]”. The YCL further charges that “This is the nature of capitalist growth: increasing profits for owners of capital built on the exploitation of an increasingly smaller number of workers whilst millions more are subject to job losses, unemployment and poverty[9].” The overall supposition of the YCL is that “ASGISA requires growth first without even a clear programme of how to ensure the redistribution of wealth[10].”

Whilst it is correct and respectable for the YCL to criticize ASGI-SA, it is entirely wrong to raise false alarms and wrongly describe ASGI-SA as a programme that requires growth first without even a clear programme of how to ensure the redistribution of wealth. YCL’s missing of ASGI-SA’s intentions and character should indeed be forgiven, yet not attributed to ideological differences between YCL and ASGI-SA. Somewhat, YCL’s missing of ASGI-SA’s character and intentions can correctly be attributed to misinformation on and under-reading of this national developmental programme.

We all agree that ASGI-SA is not a revolutionary programme, and was not intended to be one. Yet the approach of counterpoising the Defiance Campaign as an alternative to ASGISA is equally not revolutionary. It is not revolutionary for revolutionaries to disengage from developmental programmes, objectionable or not, with the view of counterpoising quasi-socialist demands.

The SACP’s position on ASGI-SA was rather reflective of an engagement with the ASGI-SA background document, which unequivocally states that ““South Africa’s growth was largely based on the combination of strong commodity prices, strong capital inflows and strong domestic consumer demand, rooted in anti-poverty measures, growing employment, and rising asset prices[11]”. Furthermore, ASGI-SA maintains that whilst the social grant has given some impetus to poverty reduction and income redistribution; there remain about a third of South African households not able to benefit directly from South Africa’s relative economic success[12]. Consequently, ASGI-SA was therefore introduced as a set of concrete micro-economic proposals, not an overarching economic strategy to ensure inter alia, that the growing economy is accelerated and shared across the broader spectrum.

ASGI-SA does outline the methods and strategies it aims to pursue in poverty reduction. It does not “require growth first without even a clear programme of how to ensure the redistribution of wealth” as the YCL posits. ASGI-SA acknowledges that the South African economy is significantly growing, but excluding the South African poor. It therefore is an intervention to ensure that the poor and disadvantaged have a share in the growing economy. Furthermore, it outlines strategies and programmes, which will ensure that indeed the poor benefit from growth. Succinctly, ASGI-SA aims to address issues relating to the following[13]:
Ø Achieving balanced and sustainable growth
Ø The cost of doing business in South Africa
Ø Infrastructure development
Ø Sector investment strategy
Ø Education and skills development
Ø Second economy interventions
Ø Governance issues

Furthermore, ASGI-SA speaks to specific projects that should be run in the next few years as a means to ensure that development is indeed a reality. There is well consensus that the growing economy has not been benefiting the working class and the poor, and ASGI-SA is somehow introducing and increasing high level investment in labour intensive programmes and projects to ensure that the working class and the unemployed poor are absolved through employment into the growing economy. Not only through employment, but through Small and Medium Enterprises, Cooperatives, BPOs, tourism and so on, given impetus by income generated from these employment opportunities.

Furthermore, ASGI-SA speaks to concrete issues, some affecting young people, which the YCL cannot afford to disengage, if the entire rejection of ASGI-SA entails inter alia disengagement from ASGI-SA proposed programmes and projects. Other specific programmes that cannot be avoided by any revolutionary youth movement in South Africa today include:

Ø Establishment of 100 Youth Advisory Centres
Ø Enrolment of at least 10 000 young people in the National Youth Service.
Ø Enrolment of 5 000 volunteers to act as mentors to vulnerable children.
Ø Close monitoring of the impact of programmes on youth skills training and business empowerment.
Ø Intensification of Youth Cooperative Programmes
Ø The QUIDS UP programme aimed at achieving high levels of literacy and numaracy in the lowest grades;
Ø The Maths and Science (Dinaledi) programme for high schools to double maths and science high school graduates to 50 000 by 2008;
Ø An upgraded career guidance programme; and
Ø A huge upgrading of the Further Education and Training colleges.
Ø Ramping up of the Adult Basic and Education Programme based on models developed in Cuba and New Zealand[14].

These could well be correctly and incorrectly dismissed in the Left circles as mechanical issues arising out of the fundamental structure of the capitalist economy, which determines the superstructure. However, the YCL cannot afford to disengage in programmes and projects such as huge upgrading of the FET colleges, establishment of YACs, ABET programmes based on the model of Cuba, intensification of the Youth Cooperative programmes. By the way, most of these programmes link directly to YCL campaign issues and programmes such as Youth Cooperatives and training of 50 000 artisans annually. Well if there is an alternate framework within which skills should be produced and acquired, there should be provision of such alternatives, rather than entire rejection of ASGI-SA or throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

In the struggle for socialism, it would not be very adroit of the YCL to choose to reject anything, which is supposedly and debatably associated with the neo-liberal thrust, which YCL acclaims ASGI-SA is. An approach of somehow waiting for socialism to produce skills and ensure that our society is educated is neither tactical nor strategic in the South African context. It is actually counter-revolutionary to disengage in programmes and projects that are largely perceived to be not revolutionary. The YCL have a choice to disengage entirely from ASGI-SA, yet the reality remains that ASGI-SA will continue and be guided by those who could be generally considered as neo-liberal or Right-wing.

A rather legitimate concern, which they YCL should ideologically raise in the context of ASGI-SA, is the production relations in the execution and implementation of programmes and projects, which ASGI-SA is proposing, with a full understanding that these will happen within a neo-liberal framework, which remains the basis of South African macro-economic framework, GEAR. It is not inherent that production relations in certain ASGI-SA projects and programmes will be immensely unequal and unbalanced. ASGI-SA clearly indicates that it is not replacing GEAR, the government POA, GDS and the MERS, but works within that framework as a set of concrete micro-economic interventions, to accelerate economic growth and ensure that it is shared. The YCL is thereof barking the wrong tree, by creating things that do not necessarily appear in nor thrust of ASGI-SA.
The SACP rather took a diametrically different view from that of the YCL in acknowledging that “ASGI-SA calls for an active developmental state, for a comprehensive industrial policy and for integrated local development planning”[15]. The SACP acknowledges further that “the initiative is characterised as a broad framework of further steps that need to be taken ... Further work would be required to put them into practice, in a partnership among all economic role-players[16]”. There are weaknesses, which the SACP genuinely highlights in ASGI-SA, such as questioning the intended beneficiaries of some of the projects, such as Gautrain, Coega and the Dube Trade Port, manly when these happen and establishment of smaller producers is neglected. The whole issue of HIV/AIDS raised by the SACP is not only genuine, but fundamental to realisation of a successful skills acquisition programme and the broader implementation of ASGI-SA.
Moreover, the YCL can realistically raise issues and have campaigns around and about the content, character and nature of education and skills provided, rather than an entire rejection of an Initiative, which aims amongst other things to hugely invest in skills development, including the training of artisans. The YCL has in the contrary a role to mobilise young people, as current and/or potential economic role players to actively partake in the skills revolution as promised in ASGI-SA.
Another area of concern could be around the whole employment creation activities, which will arise out of ASGI-SA programmes and projects. Whilst employment is at the centre of poverty reduction in South Africa, the YCL should rather be calling for sustainable and quality employment within the framework of ASGI-SA, which is a realistic labour relation issue. ASGI-SA programmes if privately managed and implemented are more likely to increase the number of the working poor, whilst reducing unemployment, which is basically futile, since poverty would have not been scratched by this developmental initiative.
In conclusion, there are countless other issues which the YCL could mobilise on and critique, yet the entire rejection is not adroit, strategic and tactical and the present conjecture and trajectory. The YCL should indeed engage ASGI-SA, acknowledging that some of the programmes and projects proposed will need the organisation’s utmost and active participation. In scientific socialism, it is not counter revolutionary to engage in programmes and projects that are not immediately revolutionary. The conceptualization of defiance should rather be looked into and engaged to chart an unequivocal way forward in the struggles for socialism. In his address to The Third All-Russia Congress Of The Russian Young Communist League titled the “Tasks of the Youth Leagues” Lenin stated in October 2, 1920 that “in dealing from this angle with the tasks confronting the youth, I must say that the tasks of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organisations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn”. The Young Communist should indeed learn and engage ASGI-SA and in campaigns and struggles for socialism in our lifetime. Forward with socialism forward!
[1] Marx, Karl (1983). “Preface” to “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,” in SW, Vol 1 (1859)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] K Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) (London, 1971), pp. 20-l.
[5] V. I. Lenin 1917: "The State & Revolution"; In 'Chapter 2 part 3. The Presentation Of The Question By Marx in 1852'; Moscow; 1980; Volume 25; pp. 381492

[6] Ibid.
[7] Alex Levant, What is Ultra-Leftism, New Socialist: ideas for radical change, see
[8] SACP Website, YCL Critisises ASGI-SA and Launches Defiance Campaign for Free Education and Quality Jobs. See
[9] Loc cit.
[10] Loc cit.
[11] ASGI-SA Background Document, February 2006
[12] Loc cit.
[13] Sourced from the Baseline Document for the Youth Input into ASGI-SA, January 2006
[14] ASGI-SA Background Document
[15] Blade Nzimande, A welcome shift, but Asgisa’s devil lies in the detail, Sunday Times 09 April 2006.
[16] Loc cit.


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