Discussing the ideological direction of the ANC
Nyiko Floyd Shivambu
The Peter Mokaba Commemoration rally in Polokwane on the 7th of June 2009 resuscitated a necessary debate on the working class leadership and ideological character of the African National Congress, and consequently what its relations should be to working class struggles in this era of economic recession. In his message of support from the Young Communist League, the National Chairperson Cde David Masondo said there is nothing inherently contradictory in the ANC’s support for mass strikes against employers as these are destined towards the emancipation of the working class which the ANC accepts should, as a matter of priority, be liberated from economic and social bondage.
In response, former ANC YL President Cde Fikile Mbalula said that the ANC should not be dragged into a struggle for socialism or class wars, since the ANC remains a multi-ideological movement which pragmatically responds to challenges of society, including but not confined to the interests of the working class.
In the same rally, ANC YL President Julius Malema said that ANC YL structures should be in the forefront of working class and poor communities’ struggles for a better life. He specifically made mention of the reality that the incumbent leadership of the ANC YL has on more than one occasion, openly associated with struggles of the workers in pursuit of better remuneration and working conditions. He made a clarion call to all structures of the ANC and ANC YL to lead community struggles, even against government and private employers, as this reinforces ANC’s leadership of society and prevents opportunistic counter revolutionary forces from hijacking genuine workers, community and service delivery protests for narrow political gains.
The pronouncements of all these leaders at the Peter Mokaba rally in Polokwane were not substantial, but drew the necessary attention of virtually all participants in the rally as to what truly is the ideological direction of the ANC. It is a possibility that variant interpretations were given to what the Speakers said, but the fact that there was such a discussion opens space for a deeper interrogation of the ideological direction of the ANC. Borrowing from previous texts, here we discuss the ideological direction of the ANC.
The interchanges, necessarily around the character of the ANC, are somewhat reminiscent of the debate that occurred between former ANC YL President Peter Mokaba and SACP Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin in the early 2000s. Similarly, the precursor to the debate between Peter Mokaba and Jeremy Cronin was the mass strikes COSATU (with support of the SACP) held against privatisation of state entities and job losses, and the economic fundamentals laid in the Growth and redistribution strategy. The debate was not new then and will not end now in the alliance, it is a central question that the ANC itself can never ignore to raise, ponder and respond determinately to.
Amidst these debates, there are certain acknowledgments which should be categorically made in order to properly understand the ideological direction of the ANC and the alliance, particularly post 52nd National Conference of the ANC in Polokwane. Various and at times contradictory meanings are given to what Polokwane entailed. The ANC 52nd National Conference achieved many re-revolutionising aspects of the ANC, including a definite re-affirmation of the Freedom Charter as the strategic objective of the ANC. The ideological character of the ANC is indeed perpetual debate, at least since the adoption of the Freedom Charter and Progressive forces’ ascendance to political power through democratic elections in 1994. It is a debate rooted in the dynamic material conditions characteristic of each juncture, one that assists reaffirm our strategic objective, and revisit where necessary tactical manoeuvres towards that objective should be made.
In a previous document, I argued that “The ANC matured in the revolutionary struggles to understand and accept the reality that no struggle for national liberation can be class neutral. The maturity of the revolutionary alliance came to an objective recognition that the intention of revolutionary democratic forces can never be about construction of some National Democratic Society of inherently contradicting classes whose antagonistic interests would be managed by a democratic movement and government, somehow not dissimilar from the biblical heaven, where lambs and calves will supposedly graze alongside lions and hyenas. A thorough study of hitherto existing society and interrogation of history reveals that such can never be the case, as irreconcilable contradictions are inherent in any class society”.
This observation remains accurate, and its detailed enunciation should constitute a central task in all discussions about the working class character of the ANC. In the contemporary alliance politics, the Freedom Charter remains the glue that holds the ANC/SACP alliance together. It is commonly accepted in the alliance that the National Democratic Revolution which should achieve Freedom Charter objectives is to the SACP a minimum political programme and to the ANC a maximum political programme. The attainment of Freedom Charter objectives will translate in the ANC to attainment of NDR objectives; where black and white live in harmony with equitable access to economic, political, human, gender and social liberties and rights.
It should be emphasised that the Freedom Charter is certainly not socialism; hence the SACP characterise it as a minimum uninterrupted programme towards socialism. Nelson Mandela observed this in his 1957 discussion of the Freedom Charter, and argued:
“The Charter does not advocate the abolition of private enterprise, nor is it suggested that all industries be nationalised or that all trade be controlled by the state…All people shall have the right to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions', says the Charter. The right to do these things would remain a dead letter without the restoration of the basic wealth of the country to the people, and without that the building of a democratic state is inconceivable”, (Mandela, 1957).
A glaring acknowledgment Mandela makes is that although the Freedom Charter did not advocate for absolute discontinuation of private ownership of the means of production, it maintained that there should be restoration of the basic wealth, i.e. mineral wealth, banks, land, monopoly industry. And this restoration of mineral wealth, monopoly industry, banks to the ownership of the people as whole, and land belonging to all who work on it, if realised, is certainly a basis for a socialist transition. What concerns Mandela, is not the fact that calls in the Freedom Charter, for example the one we cite above on restoration, is directly linked to the socialist programme; but that if this restoration does not occur as envisaged, ‘the new state will, with a great deal of justification, be able to say it cannot ‘afford’ to provide education, to do away with slum conditions, and so on’ (op cit.). Surely, justifications would not deliver the better life for all that the ANC has since worked hard for.
A question that remains, then, is whether the Freedom Charter and adherence to it as a maximum programme posits for the ANC a working class biased, socialist orientated or multi-ideological character. My firm conviction is that the ANC and all its activists should accept the reality that, to a greater extent and within South Africa’s capitalist framework, the Freedom Charter is anti-capitalist, but does not call for the total discontinuation of the means of production. This does not in any way contradict what Socialists aspire to realise in South Africa, since Socialism does not mean total discontinuation of private property, but a phase leading towards total discontinuation of private ownership of the means of production.
Mediating the discussion between Peter Mokaba and Jeremy Cronin, Jordi Mortorell says, “There is no doubt that even under socialism there might be some room for the private sector. But the main sections of the economy would be nationalised, under workers' control and democratic planning. In the case of South Africa this would involve the mines, the main industries (steel, auto, transport, building, etc), the banks and insurance companies. In fact the South African economy is highly monopolised and it would take only the nationalisation of a few monopoly groups for democratic planning to be effective”.
The attainment of the Freedom Charter objectives will disrupt capitalist property relations as it has to transfer the ownership of mineral wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industries and banks to the ownership of the people as a whole. The ANC should be explicit about this reality and pursue a programme embedded in mass mobilisation of the working class, the black majority and Africans in particular.
The developmental state under construction should be underpinned by an acknowledgment that the Freedom Charter will at some stage lead to the discontinuation of private ownership of the key means of production within South Africa’s dependent capitalism. As spill over immediate benefits, the discontinuation of private ownership of the key means of production could lay a firmer basis for industrialisation, beneficiation and differentiation of South Africa’s economy to be durably labour-absorptive. Whether the industrialisation and beneficiation should be State or market driven is a discussion that requires detailed attention elsewhere. And such a discussion should be in full recognition that hitherto, all successful industrialisations in what is currently considered as the developed world were State driven.
Often, a lame excuse is given that South Africa’s productive forces are not adequately developed to could ponder a political and ideological disposition that calls for discontinuation of private ownership of the key means of production. That is lame since that observation that “The development of the world market and the monopolisation of production clash with the basic units of capitalism and development of capital in underdeveloped and semi-colonial economies” rings very true. South Africa’s interconnectedness to the global economy can be correctly characterised by dependency theorists as dependent. So other reasons should be given on why South Africa cannot discontinue private ownership of banks, mineral wealth beneath the soil and monopoly industries, as the one of development of productive forces is in our context, very lame. The other reasons could be what Cde Masondo called in the Peter Mokaba rally, “nonsensical investor confidence”, and threats of global finance capital.
But what is the Character of the ANC?
It is a historical reality that at formation, the ANC was not totally dissimilar to a middle class pressure group lobbying for rights of civilised black men, in full recognition of and somewhat legitimating the racist semi-colonial administration of the few. The ANC leadership in the first two to three decades were mainly engaged in sending petitions and deputations to the Queen in Britain, pleading for rights and freedoms for sections of black South Africans within a semi-colonial framework. This method was contextually radical, in the face of a predominant white domination and fragmentation of the African population.
The ANC Youth League founding generation was amongst the first within what later became the Congress movement to accept the characterisation of South Africa as Colonialism of a Special Type (CST). The generation subsequently recognised that for genuine liberation, the national liberation struggles necessarily had to resolve the interconnected national, gender and class contradictions, through what is called National Democratic Revolution. The Freedom Charter subsequently within the same era (late 1940s to mid 1950s) drafted in a mass guided and embedded process and later adopted as the clearest and most correct articulation of the aspirations of the National Liberation Struggle and National Democratic Revolution in South Africa. Indeed, the Communist Party of South Africa and the then reconfigured SACP played a critical role in shaping these perspectives.
Post democratic dispensation, there is an almost theatrical characterisation of the ANC’s ideological orientation as multi-class, a supposed character summed up in the mantra of ‘a broad church’. But multi-class can only be descriptive of the composition and cannot be an ideological direction. The ANC is certainly a Broad Church—, yet that label is void of a strategic vision and/or orientation, and remains merely a descriptive conceptualisation. When asked what the ideological direction of the ANC is, it would be total folly to respond by saying “Broad Church”, as such is similar to saying nowhere. The reality that there are two class forces and various strata within the ANC really qualifies it as a broad church, yet does not entail whatsoever that it has not agreed on an ideological direction concerning the manner in which it aims to organise the State and society. The strategic direction and vision of the ANC is attainment of NDR objectives (Freedom Charter). This role is neither class neutral, nor ideologically elastic, vulnerable to multi-directional expansions. It is instead based on a firm ideological disposition that private ownership of the key means of production does not, as Mandela pointed out, present a viable case for total emancipation of the black majority and Africans in particular, from both economic and social bondage.
In correct Marxist-Leninist terms, we should say that the ANC’s composition is bi-class and multi-strata—a composition summed up in the concept of broad church— and therefore contested. The ANC is constituted amongst others of the owners of the means of production (bourgeoisie) and the producers of wealth (working class), and various strata, such as peasants and segments of the inherently unreliable middle class. The S&T adopted in the 52nd National Conference re-affirms this reality in asserting that “The primary task of the ANC remains the mobilisation of all the classes and strata that objectively stand to benefit from the cause of social change”. Mobilisation of all classes and strata does not entail that there is no direction which the ANC is headed to, it means that all the motive forces, primarily the working class and the poor, stand to objectively benefit from the attainment of the ANC’s strategic objective, which is the Freedom Charter. This is delicately summed up in the 2007 S&T as the need to “to build a truly united, democratic and prosperous South Africa in which the value of all citizens is measured by their humanity, without regard to race, gender and social status and where all enjoy equal rights and access to opportunities”.
The ANC Post Polokwane
Post 52nd National Conference, both the ultra-Left forces and right-wing opportunists converge on repudiating the reality that the ANC 52nd Conference resolutions ideologically represented a leftward restoration, relative to its ideological direction 10 years towards Polokwane. This again confirms the reality that the ANC’s ideological direction and outlook are contested. Within the ambits of its commitment to open the democratic space for mass participation in policy formulation and deployment of those who should implement the policies, the ANC Conference agreed on a variety of progressive policies, including provision of free education, exploring the State's active involvement in the provision of medical and healthcare, and halting the willing-seller willing buyer principle in land restitution, within an economic policy framework whose primary focus is redistribution to spur growth, not vice versa. There was further commitment to an industrial strategy, which could significantly eradicate the thus far vivid colonial features of the South African economy.
The Progressive Left and Communist forces’ observation was that pre-Polokwane, the space for democratic and inclusive participation in policy formulation was significantly eroded by what the SACP characterised as the '1996 class project', whose neo-liberal interest, aspirations and programmes could only be realised through technocratic centralisation of power. The project’s ideological predispositions and programmes were carried and hoisted as absolute truths, whilst those who dared question them faced dismissals, labelling and slander. The democratisation of the ANC happened in Polokwane and was witnessed in all the electoral decisions and processes embarked upon by the ANC since that 52nd National Conference. This represents a progressive turnaround, which should be guarded and intensified in the course of fundamental social transformation, advanced daily in all sites of power.
To understand the leftward restoration, we perhaps should highlight the key elements of what transpired in Conference. Firstly, the outcome of the electoral process reflected a total rejection of the neo-liberal project, which the rejected leadership overtly stood for, represented in their over-emphasis on reducing the cost of doing big-business whilst majority of our people are condemned to abject poverty. Secondly, provision and intensification of democratic principle in the internal organisation and management of the ANC is certainly a leftward restoration, characteristic of all true Left principles.
Thirdly, the overt commitment by the ANC in its economic transformation resolutions, to place more emphasis of redistribution and provision of social wage as a basis of economic growth is a cause for celebration. The emphasis in the same resolution that the Freedom Charter, which remains the beacon of hope for the people of South Africa, will guide ANC's economic transformation perspective is a leftward restoration. These resolutions and various others have indeed rescued the ANC from the bourgeois and neo-liberal orientation which it was being dragged to by the 1996 class project.
Towards Polokwane, the ANC YL’s position on the draft Strategy and Tactics, which was adopted with fewer amendments said that “the present draft does not make a clear analysis of the evolution of the strategy and tactics with regards to the role of the ANC, and as such it makes fundamental distortions, through omission, on the ideological disposition of the ANC. The document is very quiet about the role of monopoly capital which has always been characterised as the enemy of the revolution”. This correctly reflected the militant outlook of the ANC YL and a correct recognition that monopoly capital cannot be the movement’s partner in the construction of a better Freedom Charter South Africa.
This schematic historicisation, although acknowledging the multi-class composition of the ANC, instead emphasises its working class character and bias, embodied more accurately in the Freedom Charter, the minimum programme of the SACP and the maximum programme of the ANC. The multi-class composition, posits the ANC as contested, continually redefined in line with both the alignment of classes and strata within it, and the shifts in the material conditions prevalent in society at a given time.
From these observations and open acknowledgments, the ANC leads all classes and strata in society in the construction of a National Democratic Society, whose features are not dissimilar from the Freedom Charter ideals. Within the same context, the ANC acknowledges leadership role of the working class and re-affirms in the 2007 S&T that “The vision that the ANC pursues is informed by the morality of caring and human solidarity. The kind of democracy it pursues leans towards the poor; and it recognises the leading role of the working class in the project of social transformation” (2007 S&T).
These observations are neither invented phenomena, nor Communist-infiltration, but ideological realities that are acknowledged in the current (2007 adopted) ANC S&T, specifically that “the ANC is a disciplined force of the left, organised to conduct consistent struggle in pursuit of a caring society in which the well-being of the poor receives focussed and consistent attention …. The S&T further says that the ANC contrasts its own positions with those of: neo-liberalism which worships the market above all else and advocates rampant unregulated capitalism and a minimalist approach to the role of the state and the public sphere in general; and ultra-leftism which advocates voluntaristic adventures including dangerous leaps towards a classless society ignoring the objective tasks in a national democratic revolution. Our emphasis here is that inevitably, pursuit of the Freedom Charter (the strategic objective) will disrupt the logic of capitalism.
If Polokwane represents a leap towards the achievement of the Freedom Charter, both the ANC and the Alliance have a responsibility to defend the advances made, and to daily, through mobilisation for social transformation within and outside the state, expand the horizons to deepen these advances. For as the Strategy and Tactics adopted in Polokwane reassert, the working class, comprised mainly in the Black and African majority, remain the main and leading motive force, who shoulder the responsibility to lead “in the definition of a common vision and in implementing a common programme of action among all the motive forces and the nation as a whole”.
Towards that, progressive resolutions of that Congress, and all historical resolutions that reassert the centrality of the Freedom Charter as a content base for the National Democratic Revolution, should be translated into concrete programmes towards a developmental agenda whose ultimate objective is the liberation of the poor and the workers from social and economic bondage. The working class, and their vanguard party, cannot be idle in that definition, and translation into reality the aspiration of a better life for all. Aluta Continua!
 Alliance Past, Alliance Future, the ANC and Socialism, Umrabulo Number 30, November 2007. And The NDR and Socialism – an indispensable debate, African Communist, Issue 174—Third and Fourth Quarters; 2007.
 Jordi Mortorell; The Policies of the South African Communist Party and its Alliance with the ANC government, In Defence of Marxism, 17 May 2002.
 See Strategy and Tactics, 2007