Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SASCO Ideological Debate Revisited

SASCO Ideological Debates Revisited: A brief overview of Marxism-Leninism as SASCO’s guide to action and tools of analysis
October 2006

The South African Students’ Congress (SASCO) uses Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action. Since SASCO’s adoption of Marxist-Leninist telescope to view and analyse society and its transformation, there has not been a thorough and convincing argument on what this exactly entails for the organisation. The ongoing debate on SASCO’s ideological orientation and inclination is virtually eternal.

Almost all congresses and gatherings of SASCO at branch, regional, provincial and national levels continue to engage on the debate, and it presently seems far from closure. This is not a healthy situation, since an unequivocal position on what categorically guides SASCO should be unpacked and the debate thence altered to ask whether the organisation is on a pathway with its adopted and agreed upon principles. This could reflect and mainly assess on whether certain SASCO positions reflect the principles and/or revolutionary theory which the organisation should agree upon.

On a deliberate guide to sway this debate towards a tangible direction and final conclusion, it is perhaps important to clarify some conceptual, semantic, dogmatic and strategic mistakes and blunders committed on the course of engaging around the ideological character and orientation of SASCO. More often there has been obfuscation around the whole debate, a calamity that could have been avoided, since this debate requires a sober perspective and environment to engage, since it speaks directly to the spine and nerves of the organisation.

The importance for an ideological discussion cannot be overemphasised within SASCO, since it constitutes a vital strategic vision, which for some time has been subsided in rhetoric and slogans, which do not necessarily pronounce which direction the organisation should take. SASCO consciously and correctly chose to be a revolutionary and militant student organisation which aims inter alia to “organize students to play a meaningful role in the transformation of South African Society, the Southern African Region, the African Continent and the International Community[1]”. For this particular responsibility and others, SASCO chose Marxism-Leninism as a revolutionary theory that will guide the organisations’ deeds, whilst serving as its tool of analysis, and this needs to be clarified. This text will attempt to do that in an open and frank way, which will necessitate further reflections.

How SASCO adopted Marxism-Leninism as guide to action and tools of analysis?

It is particularly interesting that SASCO adopted Marxism-Leninism in the 21st century, where virtually everyone, even amongst the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), is either proclaiming the triumph of neo-liberal imperialism and its invincibility or ringing the knell of socialism (Oh history ended in 1990). How could a student movement, with relatively minuscule organisational, political and ideological influence within the MDM choose Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action? Despite the distortions and misapplication which different perspectives might give unto this, a correct application of Marxism-Leninism will necessarily lead to a socialist future en-route communism, and SASCO adopted Marxism-Leninism fully aware of this reality. This should be given context.

Indeed, the 12th National Congress of SASCO adopted Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action. Even though, the insertion of a Marxist-Leninist perspective into the existent and somewhat outdated Strategic Perspective on Transformation (SPOT) of SASCO has not been executed with the level of clarity and understanding it could have required. This is due to a variety of reasons, main being the fact that a document which is largely used in SASCO cycles as a SPOT is actually an analysis or its extension of SPOT by the former Secretary General of SASCO, Comrade Mxolisi Mlatha titled “What is the Strategic Perspective on Transformation”, prepared for the National Political School of SASCO 2001 in Northern Cape. Despite the sentimental attachment to ‘SPOT’, which typify many within SASCO; it would be necessary and important that at a certain stage, its ideological inconsistencies, conceptual faults and lack of political foresight is exposed, and somewhat this text shall conveniently do that.

The ‘SPOT’ states in its opening sentence, “Our Strategic Perspective on Transformation (SPOT) of higher education adopted at the fourth annual Congress, inter alia, noted…” The immediate next paragraph states, “The SPOT as adopted at the fourth Congress in 1995[2], correctly asserted…” The third paragraph asserts, “Our SPOT has historically articulated a view that locate our vision and struggles within the broader conceptualisation of the National Democratic revolution”. From this foundation, SASCO “SPOT” goes on to present what is more of a assortment of Left rhetoric and MDM jargon on transformation of society and mixes different understandings of the National Democratic Revolution (this will be explained below). Nevertheless, “SPOT” helps to highlight the important aspect of SASCO’s strategic vision and outline the pillars of the struggles the organisation should wage in society, but where is the SPOT document, which noted, asserted and articulated?

What seems to a conceptual fault from the 13th National Congress amendments on ‘SPOT’ was an inclusion of what was termed a fifth pillar, “building a popular movement for transformation”. From the existent pillars, it seems as if the initial drafters of ‘SPOT’ intended to define pillars as sights of struggles (such as international work, policy work, campus work and community work) and ‘building a popular movement for transformation’ is conceptually more of a principle than a pillar. Besides, this ‘fifth pillar’ has always been in the ‘SPOT’ document as Popular Movement for Transformation (PMT) prior to the 13th Congress of SASCO. PMT is a desirable principle, yet cannot be a pillar.

Perhaps a discussion around “SPOT” matters less in this particular framework and focus should be diverted to what is an avowed intention of this text. For such an intention, a recount of the environment within which SASCO adopted Marxism-Leninism would assist to clearly locate the whole debate on the strategic vision of the organisation. Virtually all Congresses and gatherings of SASCO had lengthy discussions around the ideological character and inclination of SASCO, with milestones of such discussions recorded in Congress discussion documents of the period 1996 to 1999. The 11th Congress of SASCO laid a very firm foundation on a shift towards the Left, while the organisation had been indicating towards the left since its launch in 1991 through its adoption of working class biasness and working class leadership principles.

The preamble of SASCO Constitution commits the organisation to a “society free of exploitation and national oppression[3]”. Unless there’s pretext of oblivion on these issues, a society “free of exploitation” is a society where surplus value of the labour that working men and women sell for survival will not be extracted by the bourgeoisie. Whilst avoiding simplicity, it would only be fair to state categorically that it is only a socialist society that can be free of exploitation. In “SPOT”, there is an unequivocal assertion that “NDR is conceptualised … as providing a unilinear progression (not without twist and turns at times) that would usher into a … society where contradictions inherent in the capitalist system will be eliminated and all forms of injustices…[4]”.

These references and many others are almost everywhere in official organisational documents and continue to form part of SASCO resolutions, and it would only be polite to take that those that adopted these were fully aware of their meaning and implications, and those that have always recited ‘SPOT’ know of their existence. On the contrary, it is interesting to note that searching for any official SASCO position and/or resolution that connects the organisation to neo-liberal ideology and thinking is tantamount to searching for the proverbial pin in a haystack. This does not mean whatsoever that there is absolutely no bourgeois orientated thinking that has crept into some organisational documents and resolutions.

Throughout its history, SASCO had been defined by a very resounding ambivalence towards the Left political paradigm, with the dominant organisational discourses and rhetoric laden with Marxist-Leninist and working class emphasis and literature. Certainly, there were certain levels of vacillation and zigzagging concerning various roles SASCO would define and execute along the way, yet the Left outlook has not been eroded in SASCO’s organisational cultures and practices. The outlook usefully sustains the character and strategic vision of the organisation.

In the 2001 National Political School, SASCO acknowledged that the struggle in South Africa is a class struggle. But the nature of the class struggle was described as that which compels the intelligentsia at the cutting edge of knowledge production (noting that all knowledge has class content) and social production to play a role either consciously or unconsciously[5]. The document further states, “Consistent with one of the fundamental principles of the organisation that of working class leadership, our programs continue to emphasise the notion of the working class leading the transformation discourse, as the motive force of the revolutionary forces both in process and content. This is also what informs SASCO’s engagement in the student worker alliance[6]”.

Sprinting to the 2004 12th National Congress, on the discussion of the Commission, which was ultimately the only one to report to plenary in Congress, debates and discussions therein were a culmination of a process that was started long time ago. It was actually logical for a revolutionary and militant student movement to adopt a revolutionary theory that could ensure that SASCO indeed builds “a society free of exploitation and oppression”, as envisaged by the Constitution. Areas of emphasis in the Congress discussion was that adopting Marxism-Leninism was necessary and long overdue for SASCO, since all revolutionary organisations needed revolutionary theories to guide their deeds. This was premised on Lenin’s observation that “"There can be no revolutionary action without revolutionary theory[7]." In the end, Congress anonymously agreed that Marxism-Leninism is the only revolutionary theory that can assist SASCO’s analysis of society and concurrently guides its actions.

Additional to the resolution on adoption of Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action was an emphasis that political education should be intensified in all structures and organs of the organisation to ensure that there is an overall understanding of what Marxism-Leninism is. The 12th National Congress acknowledged that throughout, SASCO’s outlook was predominantly Marxist-Leninist, with very insignificant elements that could have swayed the organisation in different periods and epochs to certain angles and direction.


In earlier documents of SASCO, there was a rather frank acknowledgment that it is vital to acknowledge that commonly, the relationship between higher education and ideology reflects the nature and level of class and contradictions in society. This view was reinforced in the reality that the history of education struggle in South Africa is a testimony to the class contestation of higher learning institutions. Concretely, the struggles in higher education cannot be differentiated from the struggles and the continuous conflicts between labour and capital in the broader society.

The then apartheid regime systematically applied racist, supremacist and unpopular policies in education system for class and racial privilege and benefits. In the early twentieth century, the twin concerns of the South African state were guaranteeing capital accumulation based on cheap unskilled labour and consolidating the structures of white political domination and privilege[8]. Consequently, training and education of blacks was not priority. This largely informed the segregationist education policy, institutionalised in the political and social spheres of apartheid and colonial society. Practically, apartheid education policy meant, inter alia, limited funding and access, and inadequate provision of education and training facilities for blacks and Africans in particular[9].

Throughout colonial/apartheid period, social relations in South Africa continued to be fundamentally structured along lines of race, class and gender, whilst shaped by the articulation of racism, capitalism and patriarchy[10]. It is however important to note that whilst the ideology of racism and racial prejudice were predominant in determining social relations in South African society, the various changing historical forms of national oppression and racism in South Africa are organically linked with and have provided the fundamental basis for the development of a capitalist economy[11].

Post apartheid, Higher Education remains a very significant non-cohesive instrument for class rule and perpetuation of the class divides necessary for a capitalist society. Financial exclusions, academic exclusions, democratisation of higher education, access and success, welcoming learning environment and curriculum content are but some of the class struggles SASCO is waging in campuses. In a non-dogmatic fashion, it is vital to locate and understand SASCO struggles in Higher Education and society within the conflict of the producing and appropriating classes in society.

Marx and Engels correctly pointed out in the Communist Manifesto that ‘the history of hitherto societies is the history of class struggle’. Under capitalism, the class struggle is between the capitalists and the proletariat, and is over the control and ownership of the means of production. In the process of struggle, contending classes use different ideological, political, economic, military instruments to fight for their class interests[12]. Political parties, trade unions, armies, youth and students organisations, media, states and schools are amongst other concrete instruments through which the class struggle is fought[13]. Ideologies have class base; that is to say, they represent the interests of a particular class. Bourgeoisie ideology takes different forms. Racism, sexism, Nazism, nationalism, liberalism, social democracy, and tribalism are amongst other forms of bourgeoisie ideologies, of which some of them are appropriated from the pre-capitalist modes of production[14].

Revolutionary Movements and forces for change adopt different ideological guidelines and theories to inform and direct the kind of battles they wage in different situations and under different circumstances. This is largely and desirably done in a non-dogmatic fashion that acknowledges and understands both subjective and objective factors within the revolutionary struggles and the environment within which the revolution has to eventuate. SASCO has after careful analysis of both subjective and objective factors adopted Marxism-Leninism as its telescope and/or ideological lenses through which it analyses society and guides its deeds.

What is Marxism-Leninism?

This term is generally used to describe what are considered revolutionary Marxists (those who see that the present system must be replaced by a new one), as opposed to reformists (those who believe that the capitalist system can be made "kinder and gentler" - which is not possible!). Leninism is really nothing more than the extension of Marx's ideas into the age of imperialism (the age of the domination of finance capital and monopolies, and the total subjugation of the colonial world to the will of the major powers)[15].

Marxism-Leninism is SASCO’s ideological perspective, since used as tools of analysis and guide to action. What is an ideology? Ideology is about ideas how a society should be organised. For instance bourgeoisie ideologues accept class inequalities as natural and necessary in society. Some of the bourgeoisie ideologies use sex, race and sexual orientation as a basis for organising society[16]. For instance in colonial societies racism and gender oppression have been ideological pillars of capitalism.

Before Marx and Engels developed scientific socialism, utopian socialists had their ideas about how to organise society. Utopian socialists, who reacted against the harshness of the capitalist system, did not have a scientific understanding of the capitalist system and its defeat thereof. Marx and Engels provided the working with historical materialism and dialectical materialism as philosophical instruments to wage the class struggle[17]. The set of ideas and systems developed by Karl Marx and Engels are collectively referred to as Marxism.

Historical and dialectical materialism only differ in terms of the objects of their study[18]. Historical materialism is a science of history of society or modes of production, their constitution, specific structure and forms of transition to other modes of production. Historical materialism provides us with theoretical categories such as mode of production, class, productive forces, means of production, superstructure, base and relations of production through which we understand concrete societies, viz, primitive communism, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Historical materialism does not only critique the pre-capitalist and capitalist societies, but also suggest a communist future. This future will only come about if the acting subject of history – the working class, is aware that it is oppressed and exploited as a class. Dialectical materialism’s object studies the history of thought, which provides us with a method to interpret reality, which is different from mechanical materialism or dialectical idealism.

An important acknowledgment is that Marxism-Leninism is meant for and will necessarily lead the realisation of socialism en-route communism. It would be very important that those who engage in these debates do not become dogmatic about the character of socialism en-route communism in South Africa. It must always be emphasised though that socialism is but a revolutionary and democratic transition towards communism, characterised by a workers state that will socialise production and distribution. Central elements of a socialist state include discontinuity of private ownership of production means, and in South Africa there should be characterisation of what such entails in mechanical terms. The Freedom Charter and recently some resolutions of the 9th Congress of the Congress of South African Trade Unions give expression to this, as elements of consolidating a socialist project in South Africa.
Lenin emphasised the ideological content of the transition from capitalism to socialism, and he says; "To confine Marxism to the theory of the class struggle means curtailing Marxism, distorting it, reducing it to something acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat[19]”. 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[20]."

What about the principle of a SASCO as a Broad Church?

The principle of a broad church for a student movement is very important. Broad church basically refers to the organisational character and composition, viz. that an organisation must be a mass organisation accommodative of a variety of constituencies. However, broad church must never be confused with the strategic vision of the organisation. SASCO strategic vision is Marxist-Leninist, and this does not mean whatsoever that it cannot be a broad church. Broad church and Marxism-Leninism do not stand in opposition to each other as would have been argued in the past. They are actually mutually beneficial, in that although individuals who are not necessarily Marxists and/or Leninists are allowed to participate fully in the organisation, yet acknowledge its standing resolution of using Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action.

In a real sense, it is theoretically misplaced to could believe that broad church can be a strategic vision or ideological direction of the organisation. Broad church simply speaks to the composition of the organisation and its mass character. Broad church is not an ideological telescope that can give an organisation an understanding of society and the direction it should take on revolutionary struggles. In essence, SASCO is a broad church that utilises Marxism-Leninism as a guide to action and tools of analysis. Broad church is not a strategic vision; it is a characterisation of the organisation’s mass and popular front. Those that justify their linkage to neo-liberal and conservative perspectives within SASCO as consistent with Broad Church, simply misunderstand SASCO, and are misallocated.

Can SASCO lead a socialist revolution?

Majority of students by their very location in capitalist production do not constitute a class. The working class is best suited to lead a socialist revolution. It is precisely the social nature of capitalist production, the collective nature of production that brings workers together in a common struggle. The working class, unlike the petty bourgeoisie (small business people, small land holders, intellectuals isolated form the masses), develops a collective consciousness and that is precisely why Marxists base themselves on the working class[21]. It is the only class that can develop such a consciousness, precisely because of its position in production. Of course, without organization, as Marx explains, the working class is only raw material for exploitation.

Majority of students, like children and unpaid spouses can be accommodated within an orthodox class schema by means of a mediated class position, that is, they derive their class position from other individuals on whom (typically) they are directly dependent economically[22]. This form of class positioning is mainly applicable to the populations that are neither proletariat, nor bourgeois in orthodox terms. This is however not absolute, and should be understood within the South African Communist Party conceptualisation of the working class comprising of virtually all economically disadvantaged communities, not only those that trade their labour for wages.

Now, to accomplish a socialist revolution in any country is the historical mission of the modern working class/proletariat (working men and women). But the history of all countries has shown that the working class, exclusively by its own effort and day-to-day experiences, is not able spontaneously to develop a consciousness any higher than trade union consciousness, the need to unite in unions for economic struggle against the employers and the government[23]. The trade union consciousness is bourgeois consciousness. Unionism in and of itself does not challenge the capitalist mode of production but only seeks to better the immediate conditions and wages of the workers in struggles with individual employers.

The founders of Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and their followers like Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky, in fact most of the Bolshevik leadership, all came from the educated classes. As such they were the bearers of scientific socialism into the workers movement because they were educated and were able to study history and study economics and put together the understanding of historical materialism. These revolutionaries were the instruments for bringing the theories of scientific socialism, and they constitute what Lenin calls “Revolutionary Intelligentsia”.

As long as the working class is not mobilised by a party based on revolutionary theory, its consciousness remains determined by bourgeois ideology and culture, leading it to see capitalist society as fixed and not open to fundamental change by workers revolution. In Leninist or Bolshevik theoretical framework, a revolutionary Communist and/or Workers’ Party should lead the socialist revolution, whilst other vital and strategic sectors and sections of society constitute part of the leading formations, in the form of what is called the Vanguard Movement.

Within this complex, SASCO cannot and should not attempt to lead the socialist revolution; it must however form part of the leading formations and cadre (revolutionary intelligentsia) in the transition towards socialism and communism. It is not the singular role and revolutionary task of SASCO to lead a socialist revolution, yet that does not prevent it to constitute part of the leading formations in the transition towards socialism and daily reformist and revolutionary struggles necessary for a socialist revolution. Whether being part of the leading formations towards socialism makes SASCO a “socialist student organisation” is a conceptual factor that has systemic and systematic consequences. It is a matter though, which SASCO could decide upon, yet considerate of the dominant aspects of its struggles and battles in society presently.

SASCO’s dominant character is that of a revolutionary, mass and militant student movement whose main objective is transformation of higher education in particular and society in general. This is clearly articulated in the four pillars (International work, policy work, campus work, and community work[24]); of the organisation, that gives a very broad yet workable scope within which the organisation addresses issues. These pillars are underpinned in the Constitutional principles of Democracy, non-racialism, African leadership, working class leadership and academic excellence. As argued above, building a popular movement for transformation would be more suitable as a principle than a pillar.

So within this context, SASCO should conceptually be characterised as a revolutionary, mass and militant student organisation, which is not indifferent towards the struggle for socialism, and is actually part of the leading forces towards socialism. Correct utilisation and application of Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action will lead to nothing, but socialism en-route communism. This socialist aspect and objective within SASCO, should not be conceptually applied to define or explain the organisation for strategic and tactical reasons, because is not a dominant aspect and objective, at least in SASCO.

SASCO, the NDR and Marxism-Leninism

Recent debates on the South African State and transition theory in the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have at least exposed the fact that the understanding of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is not common in South Africa. There are indeed various conceptualisations and understanding of what exactly the NDR is, what it seeks to achieve and which classes in society lead it. There is not even a consensus on such basic questions of whether the NDR is a national, democratic and revolutionary programme. Various conceptualisations and schools of thought contend that the NDR is not purely national, some say it is currently not democratic, and neither revolutionary.

The debates about and around NDR are indeed ongoing, and SASCO’s ‘SPOT’ made mention of the NDR “as a theory of our revolution properly dissected in the 1962 program of the South African Communist Party (SACP), which recognized the intersection and dialectical connection between the struggle against race, class and gender oppression”. ‘SPOT’ acclaims to have derived the theory of the NDR from the SACP’s 1962 “Road to Freedom” yet ironically defines it by quoting the African National Congress’ Strategy and Tactics, which speaks of the NDR as destined towards a “creation of a non racial, non sexist, united, prosperous and democratic Society, which in essence means the emancipation of Africans in particular and blacks in general from political and economic bondage[25]”. Such questions as the meaning of a united and prosperous South Africa need further clarification, because in class terms, unity and prosperity can be very subjective.

Admittedly, SASCO’s conceptualisation of NDR is no where near coherent, if existent. The conceptualisation as hinted earlier lacked political foresight that at a particular point in history, there will be a need for an unequivocal understanding and formulation of the NDR. It is conspicuous that the inherent incapability of capitalist accumulation in South Africa to economically liberate majority of Africans in particular and blacks in general has reached a stage where an honest review and understanding of South African revolution has to be put in clear terms. It has indeed emerged recently that contrary to what the SACP always thought, the NDR as conceptualised by the ANC does not seek to resolve class contradictions and its motive forces is not only the working class, but black workers, the rural poor, black middle strata and the black aspirant or real capitalist class [26].

It is always instructive to indicate that the first time the expression NDR was used in the Marxist tradition was at the Second Congress of the Communist International under the leadership of Lenin. (The Communist International is an international organisation which represented Socialist and Communist organisations in the world). In the Communist International, national-democratic “or” national revolutionary replaced the expression “bourgeois-democratic” referring to the liberation movements in colonial countries[27]. The reason for this was to emphasise the fact that the bourgeois and nationalist forces in the colonial countries were becoming more and more linked up with imperialism and increasingly afraid of the potentially dangerous consequences of a revolutionary movement of the masses against imperialism.

The nationalist bourgeoisie in the colonial countries was more afraid of the revolutionary potential of the masses and was therefore no longer prepared to lead a genuine anti-imperialist movement. This is how Lenin explained it at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920: "A certain understanding has emerged between the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and that of the colonies, so that very often, even perhaps in most cases, the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries, although they also support national movements, nevertheless fight against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes with a certain degree of understanding and agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie, that is to say together with it[28]."

Therefore, the Communist International resolved that in colonial countries, the National Democratic revolution should seek to address simultaneously (at the same time) national oppression and class exploitation. Specifically, the NDR was conceived as a multi-class revolutionary path, which could be only led by the proletariat or working class. This again was because it is precisely the social nature of capitalist production, the collective nature of production that brings workers together in a common struggle. The character of the NDR was in this sense meant to be non-capitalist in that it would not be destined towards a consolidation of a capitalist society. Its character was to retain the working class as the main motive force, since this class is the only class that stood to objectively gain out of the revolution.

The African National Congress (2006—Umrabulo 25) maintains that the motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) include black workers and black capitalists. The ANC emphasises that “the NDR does not and is not meant to resolve class contradictions”…. The ANC asserts that it “therefore should be expected that contestation between these two contending classes will continue, in turn affecting the state and the leading organisation in the process of change, the ANC…”. It is important to highlight though that the dominant conceptualisation of the NDR within the ANC refers to the objectives of the NDR as creation of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, and united South Africa, which is an antithesis to apartheid state. This antithesis to apartheid state is not defined in class terms, but it is conspicuously a capitalist state with superficial alterations effected to benefit inherently small elite, from previously nationally oppressed communities.

The SACP has predominantly conceptualised the NDR as a non-capitalist revolutionary programme, which although not necessarily leading to socialism, will address the class contradictions in society, in acknowledgment that there was a dialectical relationship between gender, class and national oppression. The SACP General Secretary noted recently (October 2006) that “One critical issue that has emerged as a significant area of difference within our Alliance in the debates, since the release of the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document, is our understanding of the concept of the national democratic revolution (NDR), the motive forces and 'policy package' of such revolution in contemporary South African[29]”. In the same document, the GS asserts that “SACP is arguing for a socialist oriented NDR as the only form that will ensure that indeed our revolution is able to achieve its objectives[30]”.

Whilst still at this, it is important to highlight that in the 1962 SACP’s “Road to Freedom”, non-capitalist NDR entailed “strengthening of the State sector of the economy, particularly the fields of heavy industry, machine tool building and fuel production[31]”. “Road to Freedom” emphasized on the “control of vital sectors of the economy through nationalization of the mining industry, banking and monopoly industrial developments[32]”. Post apartheid, the Party has not vigorously called for nationalization in an emphatic manner than it could have and perhaps SASCO having adopted Marxism-Leninism in the 21st century should categorically re-sound the call for nationalization, joining the progressive labour movement as represented by COSATU, and possibly the SACP as of the 12th National Congress.

Within this significant area of difference, the SACP position is not unambiguous, since its emphasis on addressing class contradictions entail discontinuity of private property, expectedly for socialization of production, which the SACP has not stated in unequivocal terms. The SACP State and Power document, according to the ANC’s response “posits an outdated proposition that South Africa could have had or should have a "socialist oriented" or "non-capitalist" path to socialism”[33]. The ANC asserts that “this contradiction in terms arises from the Party's own historical assertion that SA is primarily an industrialized capitalist society with a large working class[34]”. A conclusion of the ANC response is that “from the strict application of Marxist-Leninism about transitions to socialism, you cannot have a non-capitalist path in a capitalist society and that the "Socialist orientation" is a variant of the same category[35]”. Whether this is true continues as an area for debate.

COSATU asks a critical question in its discussion document for its 9th National Congress… “Does fostering a black bourgeoisie advance the National Democratic Revolution and concretely how does it contribute to transformation, notwithstanding their role as the new donors for the democratic movement?” Furthermore and importantly, COSATU asserts that the federation “concur that for many years there was a shared perspective that the National Democratic Revolution as the shortest route to socialism….” This shared perspective, according to COSATU “became dominant in the 1950s and was crystallized in the Freedom Charter, the SACP 1961 Programme and the ANC 1969 Morogoro Strategic Perspective[36]”. COSATU also supports most of the Party’s characterisation of the post 1994 era, including its characterisation of the state and the democratic movement. It raises important questions which echo a number of positions taken by COSATU that require discussion in the movement as a whole.

COSATU 9th National Congress resolutions have reinforced the Left political programme and strengthened the long overdue calls for a socialist alternative. COSATU resolved that “working class must re-direct the NDR towards socialism and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies that are attempting to arrest it from achieving its logical conclusion that is socialism[37]”. The resolutions further calls for definition in more “practical terms the political economy of the NDR in the current epoch as articulated in the Freedom Charter[38]”. COSATU further adopted an “official position that rejects the separation of the NDR from socialism and asserts that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only guarantee that there will be a transition from NDR to socialism[39]”. Nothing is equivocal about these resolutions and indeed, SASCO ought to begin conceptualising education and other societal matters within a socialist South Africa.

Nonetheless, the positions of the ANC, COSATU, SACP and various Mass democratic movement structures and cadre reflect that there is no absolute consensus on what the concept and practice of “NDR” entails, and what objectives it seeks to achieve. Despite reflecting that there is no consensus, the debates illustrates and indicates quite clearly that there cannot be consensus due, amongst other things, to vast ideological differences, which up to so far have not been categorically expressed within the Tripartite Alliance. At some stage, it would be important for the alliance to acknowledge the simple fact that what was termed the National Liberation Movement is not in pursuit of similar objectives post apartheid. In actual fact, various components and individuals within the National Liberation Movement are in pursuit of not only dissimilar, but contradictory objectives.

How useful is the Concept of NDR?

It must be acknowledged that the usefulness of the concept “NDR” is a rather fresh although not original debate, which requires special attention and thorough discussion. Within this fresh debate, the questions of whether the NDR seeks to manage capitalist relations or not; take us towards socialism; return to the ideals of the Freedom Charter or consolidate capitalism are neither here nor there. The major question how useful is the concept “NDR” is conceptualising, defining, understanding and charactering the struggles that the working class is waging and/or supposed to wage in South Africa in the present conjecture. A specific question should be asked with regards to SASCO (using Marxism-Leninism) that how useful and effective is usage of the highly contested concept of the NDR in defining and understanding the nature of the struggles and battles we should wage in South Africa today?

In all sincerity, the concept NDR whether in practice or not has been used for various reasons in different contexts—it is actually a multi-purpose concept. Its multi-purposes are often dissimilar and contradictory, depending on who is defining NDR for what purposes. How useful would it be to continue using a concept which will be permanently contested to define our struggles? To what extent are we going to understand and have a sense of the direction of our revolution (if it is a revolution) within the multi-purpose NDR? Should SASCO even dare develop a working definition of what NDR is and what it is not, and further venture into the classical debates of who constitute the motive forces for the NDR? In mechanical terms, how do determine the leadership of the NDR? Do we even such thing as NDR?

In the wake of SASCO Marxist-Leninist approach, the organisation should consider such brave steps as dropping and eliminating the usage of the concept NDR in assessing, defining and understanding our struggles for a society free of exploitation as envisaged in the Marxist-Leninist spectrum. If such brave step is taken, SASCO could within unequivocal Marxist-Leninist terms define and characterise the type of society the organisation aspires to see in South Africa. Further than that, SASCO could lead a very concerted and focused campaign within the Left political forces within the Mass Democratic Movement to eliminate the concept of NDR and define South African revolution in Marxist-Leninist terms. Such action would fit in very well to our implied commitment to discontinue private property, exploitation and alienation for more socialised production and redistribution system.

SASCO should take firm resolutions in the provision of free education, as envisaged in the Freedom Charter, and/or call for practicalisation of the Freedom Charter. Although not inherently socialist, a call for nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry could lay a very basis for a socialist South Africa. For SASCO to take such resolutions, it would mean that the organisation begin to understand and organically partake in working class struggles and theorisation of the South African revolution. Such organic intercourse with the Vanguard of the working class movement could avoid a situation comparable to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in the 1917 Russian revolution, wherein progressive forces took radically divergent positions in their understanding of socialist transition, with the latter wallowing in dogma.

Is SASCO a toddler in the South African revolution?

The forbearers of SASCO, such as the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), South African Students Organisation (SASO), Azanian Students Organisation (AZASO), and South African National Students Congress (SANSCO) had far much larger influence and impact in the National Liberation Movement and played a bigger role. Globally, the struggles of students in revolutions and radical reforms have never been insignificant. Post apartheid, the student movement has shifted to the margins of revolutionary political engagements, and focuses with even lesser impact on the reformist struggles in Higher Education Institutions. At times, there is an apparent fear within SASCO to take militant resolutions and political action, which asserts its political presence as a revolutionary, militant and independent student organisation. Somewhat, SASCO has surrendered itself to political Guardianship of the ANC, and whenever this debate is raised, perceptions arise that there are those who want to take SASCO out of Luthuli House (ANC Head Quarters).

SASCO has in many occasions abdicated its revolutionary responsibilities as a militant student organisation to the ANC. Having adopted Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action, it could have been more suitable for SASCO to demystify the complications in the ANC, which somewhat suggest that imperialism is invincible. There were moments though, such as the resistance against the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro economic strategy, wherein SASCO attempted to stand its ground against neo-liberalism. The inability of the progressive student movement to speak out against neo-liberalism would haunt South Africa.

Whilst resolutions of SASCO are more militant and revolutionary, implementation and practical programmes are radical diversion of such. Actually, SASCO somewhat politically duplicates and follows on what the ANC says and looks up to the ANC or government as some sort of panacea. This is so predominant except on few insignificant matters that do not systematically and systemically relate to the revolution and South African property relations. At a certain stage, SASCO should begin to debate the extent of the ANC political Guardianship, which has, without declaration, defined SASCO politics in virtually all years of its existence. Such questions should be asked as to the extent at which the organisational, political and ideological outlook of SASCO is influenced by the ANC. This does not suggest whatsoever that ANC influence should be looked into and debated as a simplistic wrong or right debate, but as a debate that will begin to pitch a more sustainable and workable relationship between SASCO and all MDM structures as led by the ANC.

Now that there is an emergence and existence of the African National Congress Youth League in campuses, which addresses the same issues as SASCO, including contesting SRC elections, what hegemony could SASCO claim in being the rightful representative of students. What distinguishes SASCO from the ANC YL within the context of the ANC political Guardianship over SASCO? What is SASCO independently and militantly saying on the conceptualisation of the South African revolution? Is SASCO, using Marxism-Leninism, guided by what the Party says or by the ANC or do what different schools of thought contend within the organisation? To what extent is SASCO independent?


At Marx's grave, Frederick Engels stated that his friend's (Karl Marx) great discovery was that "mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore work before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion etc.[40]" Further than this materialistic assertion, Engels presaged that ‘Marxism is not just content with understanding how the world works but seeks to give people the ability, collectively, to change it more effectively’; the view expressed by Marx himself. Furthermore Marxism sets out not to be just a theory, and Engels thereof made a very important acknowledgment, that “Our theory (i.e. Marxism) is not a dogma, but a guide to action”[41].

Karl Marx would always maintain that although he had great sympathy for the working class, it was not for this reason that he developed scientific Communist views and perspectives, but it was through a thorough study of history and the political economy. Marx maintained that any person free from private interest, class prejudices and biasness would necessarily reach the same conclusions if they thoroughly study history and the political economy.

Reflections above are meant to redirect in an educational manner the debate about the theory and practice of transition South African by raising critical questions that directly link to SASCO’s adoption of Marxism-Leninism as tools of analysis and guide to action. Let’s engage!

Nyiko Floyd Shivambu

The views expressed do not yet represent official positions of any structure of SASCO, but meant for robust and frank discussions and debates.

[1] SASCO Constitution as amended by the 13th National Congress in University of Limpopo (Turfloop Campus), December 2005
[2] This is the first Congress were SASCO adopted its strategic perspective on transformation.
[3] SASCO Constitution, as amended by the 13th National Congress in University of Limpopo (Turfloop Campus), December 2005.
[4] SASCO’SPOT’ amended and adopted by the 13th National Congress, December 2005.
[5] Mxolisi Mlatha, What is Strategic Perspective on Transformation (SPOT), SASCO National Political School, Northern Cape 2001
[6] SPOT Document
[7] Comrades must read and find out which document this quote comes from.
[8] Badat, S. (1999), Black Student Politics, Higher Education and Apartheid: from SASO to SANSCO, 1968-1990. Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, page 48.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Dvies, R. O’Meara, D. & Dlamini, S. (1984. The Struggle for South Africa: A reference guide to Movements, Organisations and Institutions, Volume 1, page 2
[12] Masondo, D (2006), Young people and the ideological struggles in South Africa, Unpublished
[13] Loc Cit
[14] Masondo, D (Op Cit).
[15] Marxism FAQ, see http://www.newyouth.com/archives/theory/marxismfaq.asp
[16] Masondo, D (Op Cit)
[17] Loc cit.
[18] The formulation of Historical Materialism by Masondo, D (Op Cit).
[19] 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. 261 262
[20] 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. 261 262

[21] Marxism FAQ, (Op Cit).
[22] Nattrass and Seeking, Class, Race and Inequality in South Africa, UKZN Press, 2005.
[23] Magri, L. Problems of the Marxist Theory of Revolutionary Party, New Left Review I/60, March-April 1970.
[24] SASCO Constitution and SPOT document as amended by the 13th National Congress in University of Limpopo (Turfloop campus, December 2005
[25] ANC Strategy and Tactics
[26] See Nethistenhdze, Joel, Understanding The Task of the Moment, Umrabulo 25 and ANC, Managing National Democratic Transformation: ANC Response to SACP Discussion Document, ANC TODAY, 19 June 2006
[27] Martorell, Jordi (2002). SACP Congress: Return to the Ideas of Lenin, see http://www.marxist.com/Africa/sacp_congress_2002.html
[28] Lenin, V.I., Preliminary Draft Thesis on the Nation and Colonial Questions, Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966
[29] Umsebenzi Online, Volume 5, No. 66, 18 October 2006
[30] Ibid.
[31] SACP, Road to Freedom, 1962
[32] Loc cit.
[33] ANC, Managing National Democratic Transformation: ANC Response to SACP Discussion Document, ANC TODAY, 19 June 2006
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] COSATU 9th National Congress Discussion Document (Possibilities for Fundamental Social Change), September 2006
[37] COSATU 9th National Congress Resolutions, September 2006
[38] Loc cit.
[39] Loc cit.
[40] Brooks, Mick: What is Historical Materialism, see http://www.marxist.com/Theory/study_guide2.html
[41] Tony Cliff, "Introduction," in A.Y. Badeyev, Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma (Chicago:_Bookmarks, 1987), 37


Thembhi said...

This is the true reflection of what SASCO is, as well as what it seeks to stand for. indeed SASCO produce organic intellectuals with whom we would forever consult for progressive thoughts, I love the manner within which you articulate upon issues, forward with that progressive spirit.


Anonymous said...

why not...