The SACP’s inconsistencies deprive it of an opportunity to provide ideological leadership on economic policy.
The South African Communist Party’s original reaction to the notorious Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy released on the 14th of June 1996, was as thus, “The South African Communist Party welcomes the government's Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy. We fully back the objectives of this macro-economic strategy and note, in particular, the following key features: Contrary to certain attempts to use the macro-economic debate to shift government away from its electoral mandate, the strategy announced today firmly and explicitly situates itself as a framework for the RDP”.
When the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa was unveiled in 2006, the SACP welcomed the initiative and said, “ASGI-SA calls for an active developmental state, for a comprehensive industrial policy and for integrated local development planning”. On the New Growth Path in 2010, the SA Communist Party said, “A key achievement of 2010 has been government`s consolidation and public release of a New Growth Path perspective. Minister for Economic Development, Cde Ebrahim Patel, presented government`s NGP document to the CC. The CC warmly welcomed the major paradigm shift represented by the NGP and government`s earlier announcement of the Industrial Policy Action Programme 2 (IPAP2)”.
From these cheerful statements, it is evident that the SACP had genuinely, or rather naively believed that they constituted revolutionary socio-economic developmental programme, which had to be embraced by the entire National Liberation Movement in the course of the National Democratic Revolution. This is odd because the social science the SACP claims to use as tools of analysis and guide to action should assist the Communist Party to foresee the massive inequalities, unemployment and poverty that proclaim growth first (increase profits) and the rest shall follow. It is objective reality that the common and underpinning feature of GEAR, ASGISA and NGP is that they move from a premise of growth first and the rest shall follow.
It was only in 1998 where the SACP believed that “the budget deficit reduction targets are arbitrary, based as they are on macro-economic models derived from a largely unreconstructed Reserve Bank. GEAR embodies, in its core fiscal and monetary policies, a neo-liberal approach that is at variance with our reconstruction and development objectives. Much of GEAR and indeed much of government's evolving economic policy has shifted progressively away from ANC economic policy in the first half of the 1990s, which underlined the interconnectedness of growth and development, which envisaged a major emphasis on growth led by domestic and regional infrastructural development. More and more, there has been a shift towards the assumptions of an export-led growth, based on the myth that deregulation and liberalisation, more or less on their own, will make the South African economy "globally competitive”.
Now these features of GEAR, which the SACP noticed two years after its adoption, was in the original text of the strategy identified as point of departure, “Sustained growth on a higher plane requires a transformation towards a competitive outward oriented economy” and further committed to deregulation and liberalisation of trade in its original intention and programme. The assumption is that if the SACP had noticed this component of GEAR earlier, it would have not welcomed the perspective with the exuberance it displayed on the 14th of June 1996. Since the late diagnoses of the ills brought forth by GEAR, the SACP did not only criminalise those who were associated with its implementation, but became the most aggressive opponents of GEAR, derogatively referred to as the 1996 Class Project. It is apparent that the Communist Party’s opposition to the 1996 Class Project was more aggressive than the opposition to Capitalism.
Despite the exuberance that defined the introduction of ASGISA, it was short-lived due to political developments in the Alliance, particularly the outcomes of the 52nd National Conference of the ANC in Polokwane, which was described as watershed by the SACP. The SACP characterised the ANC 52nd National Conference as “democratic wave [that] must be seen against the backdrop of a decade in which the ANC and its alliance partners have been subjected to attempts at marginalization in the interests of using the state to drive through a pro-big business policy package characterized by a blend of neo-liberalism and a subordinate, paternalistic, top-down welfarism directed to the poor”. Now that is a profound observation, particularly due to the fact that SACP’s reaction to GEAR and the policy packages it deplores were not anti neo-liberalism, they were instead reactionary and lacked foresight.
When announcing the New Growth Path (NGP) in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, Minister of Finance Pravin Grodham said that “Our central goal is unequivocal: we have to accelerate growth in the South African economy, and we have to do so in ways that rapidly reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality”. South Africa’s first 17 years of democracy are a perfect illustration that economic growth can simply mean bigger profits for big business, with no plausible sense of sustainable development for the people of South Africa, even when government’s intention was to create jobs. Virtually all developmental indicators, particularly the official 10 and 15 Years Review of Democracy and Freedom in South Africa verified that sustainable development to majority of our people happened where and when the State was playing a leading and more decisive role. This is in recognition of the reality that the private sector (capitalists) does not have developmental interests and intentions for the people of South Africa.
Whilst the New Growth Path and more recently, the 2011 State of Nation Address spelled out clear intentions and programmes to mobilise the private sector (capitalists) behind the noble vision of job creation, including through tax rebates, reality is that capitalists’ interests is not about job creation. The SACP should by now be aware that if it were in the private sector’s interests and wishes, they would admire free labour in the literal sense or government fully subsidised workers with no hope and home. If the NGP identified job drivers will continue to be predominantly in private hands, the decent work agenda will gradually be undermined and perhaps eroded because capitalists thrive on the sweat and blood of the working class. The basis of Marxism is a recognition that in a class divided society, the interests of the two opposing classes are irreconcilable, and they are actually antagonistic. This applies to the South African capitalist State as well.
These are the fundamental political and ideological diagnoses the SACP should notice even when new developmental/growth strategies and paths are being introduced. The enthusiastic acceptance, without robust critique of these interventions does not assist in sharpening their focus. With the pattern that defined the SACP’s approach and response to GEAR in 1996 and ASGISA in 2006, the most foreseeable possibility and practicality is that the Communist Party will after 2 to 3 years be the biggest and most aggressive opponent of the New Growth Path, and possibly give it a new name, “the 2010 Class Project”. This is called hindsight analysis, embedded on a notion of “only if we knew”. This does not do any good in reviving the integrity of the SACP as a Marxist-Leninist formation, whose analysis of society and provision of ideological leadership should forever be grounded on science. If the saying “A wise man always changes his mind” is true, then the SACP is very wise.
On our side, the politics of a New Growth Path are quite simple, i.e. creation of decent work and many jobs in South Africa needs the economy to be labour-absorptive through massive industrialisation, development of infrastructure, agriculture, expanding of the minerals extraction and beneficiation, and various other interventions identified before. This requires the State to be in control and ownership of key and strategic industrial inputs in order to attract industrial investors into South Africa to manufacture goods and services closer to areas of extraction. Tax rebates for big business, like wage subsidies will basically enrich capitalists and not create sustainable jobs. These are some of the systemic and systematic weaknesses of the New Growth Path the SACP will realise in hindsight and like before demonise those who will be its adherents in 2 to 3 years. Maybe that is not surprising for a Communist Party that opposes common ownership of the key means of production like Mines and Land, even when the material conditions for such to happen are existent and the balance of forces in favour of change.
Floyd Shivambu—ANC Youth League Head of Policy, Research and Political Education + Spokesperson