South African Communist Party 2003

Chris Hani Memorial Lecture. 15th April 2003.

Delivered: by Z. Pallo Jordan. 15th April 2003.
Transcribed: by Ayanda Madyibi.

Thank You Comrade Chairpersons, Comrades from the People’s Republic of China and other honoured guests, Comrades leaders of the SACP and COSATU, Comrades and friends,

Allow me first to thank the leadership of the South African Communist Party and the central executive Committee of COSATU for inviting me to deliver this inaugural Chris Hani Memorial lecture. I consider it a great honour to have been chosen for this task because Comrade Chris was a close and very dear friend of mine.

The Chris Hani Memorial lecture marks the tenth anniversary of an act of murder. Comrade Martin Thembisile Hani, better known to all by his MK nom de guerre, “Chris,” was murdered in broad daylight in an act of violence that is one link in a long chain of repression that commenced with the illegalisation of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in 1950. The banning of the ANC and the PAC in 1960, the passing of the so-called “Political Interference Act of 1968,” the torture and murder of political prisoners in detention, the banning of 17 organisations in October 1977, the brutal murder of Steve Biko, formal repression through state-employed murder squads and “unofficial” death squads, were all components of diabolic strategy of repression whose aim was to crush the real alternative to racial oppression.

I feel particularly honoured because Comrade Chris Hani in many respects embodied the finest traditions of our revolutionary alliance, which brings together the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Born into a family of ordinary working people in Cofimvaba, in the Eastern Cape, exactly 36 days after me in the year 1942, Comrade Chris Hani at a very early age showed great promise as a bright young person, with an extremely keen mind and a profound sense of perseverance. It was these qualities that enabled him to advance very quickly through high school and university, completing his junior degree at the age of twenty. His brilliance and dedication marked him out as an achiever very early in his life. He excelled in his studies both in high school and at the university. It might strike many of us as odd that a peasant boy from the eastern Cape should have acquired such a keen interest in the classics. Chris studied both Latin and Greek at university — subjects in which out-performed many born into families better endowed than his own. Till the end of his days he enjoyed nothing better than discussing the works of Aeschylus, Homer and Euripides among the Greeks, the writings of Livy, Ovid, Catullus and Pliny among the Romans. In this age of “embedded journalists,” it might be noted that he hated Julius Caesar, probably the earliest example, of what many imagine is modern. In another place, at another time, he could easily have become a great classical scholar!

But it was as a revolutionary that Comrade Chris distinguished himself. At the time of his death he was the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, having risen through its ranks over some twenty nine years. He had served in the National Executive Committee of the ANC since 1967. Because of his outstanding service within its ranks, he rose from a rank and file recruit to the position of National Commissar then Chief of Staff of Umkhonto weSizwe. He was commander of rare quality, one who always led from the front. Within our peoples’ army his personal warmth, humanity and a magnetic charisma had earned him the respect and love of all who had come into contact with him. Despite the regard he had won among his comrades, Comrade Chris Hani never became conceited or arrogant. He was always readily accessible to the lowest ranking MK recruit. He never lost touch with his origins and his commitment to the poor, to the oppressed, to ordinary working people — to the vulnerable and the marginalised, was irreproachable. I remember once teasing him — because we regularly ribbed each other — “the line of work that really would have suited you is that of a village priest.” To which he responded, in all seriousness — “Laddie, its in this job that I feel I am truly doing the Lord’s work!” Some might say that was blasphemous, but if a God exists, I think he/she knows how to count them! If indeed Comrade Chris was performing God’s work, it was because he had read and taken to heart Karl Marx’s eleventh Theses on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have only described the world in different ways, the point however is to change it!”

Chris was murdered before he could savour the freedom he had fought so hard for all his adult life. But even his death served to spur on the realisation of the goals he had dedicated his life to. Within one year of his death, all South Africans had won the right to determine who shall govern them. And the people elected an ANC government in an unprecedented landslide!

The issue I shall be addressing is “The Challenges Facing the Working Class in South Africa and Internationally in Our Struggle for Socialism.”

The Vision of a Just Society.

Socialism, as conceived by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, would be a social order based on the collective ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange. Social production in such a society would be for use as against production for profit. Its objective would be the abolition of all classes, all class divisions, class privilege, class rule, arising from the production of such abundance that the struggle for material needs would be completely eliminated.

The productive capacity of a socialist society, they hoped, would at last free humanity from economic exploitation, from oppression, and from any form of coercion by a state machine. It would enable people to devote themselves to their fullest intellectual and cultural development.

This was a vision of a just social order, but one that would only be attainable through the maximisation of the productive capacity that industrialization promised. Socialism, in other words, would be built on the shoulders of what industrial capitalism had achieved.

When the Communist League requested Marx and Engels to set out in a manifesto the core ideas of their movement, one of the features of the modern bourgeoisie that Marx and Engels stressed was its revolutionary character, explicitly stating in the Communist Manifesto that: “ The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.”

Yet the Manifesto of the Communist Party was written as an intervention by a relatively young proletarian movement to coincide with an anticipated revolutionary wave. In 1848, the year during which it was first published, revolutions broke out in a number of European countries. No one, not even the most optimistic among the early Communists, did not appreciate that these revolutions would be bourgeois democratic in character. It is important that we recall this historical context because there has been an unfortunate tendency among some in our movement to counter-pose the national democratic and the socialist revolution. From its inception, Marxism, as understood by its founders has regarded these two as parts of a continuum, at times anticipating that the democratic revolution would grow into the socialist revolution, at others that the political revolution would evolve into a social revolution.

While they held this view, Marx and Engels nonetheless argued that the Communists within the democratic movement should play a very special role. Thus in the Manifesto they describe the Communists as : “...on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general result of the proletarian movement.”

There are a number of extremely suggestive phrases in that passage. But I will try to unpack only one.

What did Marx and Engels mean by “...understanding the line of march..."? What exactly does “...understanding the line of march...” entail? Does it mean the same thing in every national context? Will the “line of march” be the same in every political environment?

I would submit that it implies that the Communists should have a firmer grasp of the overall strategic tasks and challenges facing the broader movement for change; and that their theory should equip them with a clearer vision of the immediate, the inter-mediate as well as the long range objectives of the movement they are involved in, enabling them to dis-aggregate how these three phases are inter-related.

That suggests that there are no pre-set formulae; that there is no cluster of texts and infallible quotations strategists can appeal to for guidance irrespective of the concrete situation. It implies that in every situation the challenge facing Communist activists is to be concrete: To examine the realities of their society at that particular moment and to act in accordance with their comprehension of them. While such theoretical practice is no guarantor of success, treating revolutionary theory in the spirit of religious dogma, is a sure recipe for disastrous failure.

It is parenthetically important to remember that the upshot of the 1848 revolutions was a number of disheartening defeats. The exile of Marx and Engels to Britain was the direct result of that outcome. Both never returned home, to Germany, and died as exiles.

The Working Class and Class Consciousness.

Because of her profound appreciation of the inter-connectedness of the phases of any real revolutionary struggle, one of Marx’s ablest disciples, Rosa Luxemburg, repeatedly returned to these themes derived from Marx and Engels in her theoretical writings. Unlike the other classes and strata in society, Rosa Luxemburg stressed, the working class is by nature extremely diverse. Such diversity derives from the origins of its many components, the experience and lived existence of its members as well as the highly differentiated social and economic environment its has to work and live in. The very dynamism of modern industrial society requires the working class constantly to adapt and re-adapt to the rhythms of the work place and the productive process. The lived experience of the working class thus makes for a highly segmented class, among whom such divisions may be overlain by regional, racial, religious and national identities and traditions. The dominant capitalist classes will, in the course of even the most rudimentary class struggles, seek to encourage competition, further fragmentation and disunity among the working class as a means of thwarting its capacity for collective action. On such a crowded playing field, Luxemburg understood, it was often well nigh impossible to keep one’s eye on the ball. The theoretical clarity that enables working class militants to do that is what Marx would have regarded as a revolutionary class consciousness. Such consciousness requires a political practice, rooted in socialism, that is at once politically engaged and intellectually rigorous.

According to the classics of Marxism therefore, revolutionary class consciousness is not a given nor is it constant. It is the outcome of ongoing practical and ideological struggles through which the working class will arm itself for its historic mission. But because the terrain on which the class struggle unfolds is unstable and continuously shifting, strategy, and especially tactics, have to be kept under constant review.

In the first joint work they published, “The Holy Family,” Marx and Engels wrote a passage rich in content despite its brevity.

“It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aims. It is a question of what the proletariat is and what, in accordance with its being, it will historically be compelled to do.”

We may derive three important propositions from that passage:

(i) Proletarian class consciousness cannot necessarily be inferred from what the workers employed in the factories, mines or the land think or from their actions at any given moment. (ii) There will be instances when the proletariat, or significant sections of it, may act in a manner that is actually inimical to its interests as a class. (iii) There will be moments, even stretching over many years and decades, during which the apparent interests of the proletariat do not coincide with or are even objectively contrary to its real or essential interests as a class.

Thus Rosa Luxemburg, in her famous pamphlet, “The Mass Strike, The Political Party and the Trade Unions,” emphasised with reference to proletarian class consciousness:

“And what it is, that should it dare to appear.”

Her formulation captured a classic construction of dialectical reasoning, that appearance can contradict essence. In his turn Lenin argued that if societal relations are class relations, they also determine the disparity between appearance and reality. Consequently the proletariat’s potential (what it can be)will not necessarily find expression in its day to day activity or even in its consciousness. Lenin sought to resolve that conundrum with his contention that the revolutionary party will be the custodian of the working class’s revolutionary vocation and will bring revolutionary theory to the proletarian struggle from outside that class though the agency of the socialist intellectual.

These words and the little known references attached to them may turn-off some comrades. Others might dismiss them as so much Hegelian intellectual gymnastics’. I will try to unpack what these words mean by drawing on the lived experience of the movement for socialism in South Africa.

I think we are all familiar with the 1922 Rand Revolt, when militant, highly unionised White miners here on the Rand precipitated a general strike. The cause of the strike was an attempt by the Chamber of Mines to increase the profit margins of the low grade mines by employing African workers in skilled jobs that had till then been the preserve of the White workers. In an incident that has achieved notoriety throughout the world, at one rally the strikers held aloft a banner that read “Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa!”

The White workers’ general strike escalated into pitched battles on the streets of this city and culminated with bombs being dropped on White working class neighbourhoods as the Smuts government ruthlessly crushed it. After the subsequent trials, three White miners, including at least one Communist, were sentenced to death.

On the surface, the Rand revolt was something akin to the 1905 revolution in Russia. But its radical form or appearance, concealed a deeply reactionary content or essence. When one comes down to it, the attempts by the one-year- old Communist Party of South Africa to temper the racism of the White workers was a fool’s errand. There was no way to inject a progressive content into it. In every respect it was a strike waged against the essential interests of the proletariat, Black and White, as a class. Though it was crushed, that strike entrenched the racial segmentation of the South African working class and helped to institutionalise racism as one of the key features of capitalism in this country. The posture adopted by the White miners union, “Solidarity,” in our day is in the same tradition. As is the vocal opposition of some sections of the organised White workers to affirmative action.

What the experience of the 1922 general strike tells us is that a narrow definition of class interest as what will be or is of immediate benefit to one or other section of the working class is not only short-sighted, but has in several instances led to the betrayal of the interests of the working class and of society in general. The sort of strategic vision required of working class revolutionaries demands that they project beyond the immediate moment and anticipate even that which is not immediately visible. In other words, pursuance of short term immediate gains can prove to be a mirage.

The second example I want to quote to illustrate the obscure sounding Hegelian concepts I have employed earlier, relates to the Second World War.

I am certain all of us in this room accept as one of the most elementary principles of trade unionism the principle of equal pay, for equal work. In fact that principle has been so deeply embedded amongst us all that it has been inscribed into our progressive labour legislation. Before and after the 1922 White general strike, the leaders of the White labour unions used this slogan as a means of keeping Black workers in general and all women workers out of certain well paid jobs.

After South Africa entered the war on the side of Britain in 1939, thousands of White male workers were called up to serve in the military, leaving many skilled jobs unattended. The demands of the war in the meantime had led to an exponential growth in the economy and Black workers, African, Coloured and Indian, eagerly filled these jobs, but at wages far below those of the Whites who had previously held them..

Rather than accept these new entrants into the skilled labour market and working with them as equals, racist White union leaders revived the call of equal pay, for equal work.

To all appearances this was an unexceptional demand which no self-respecting trade unionist could object to. And, it might well have been argued that, by demanding equal pay for Black workers the White racist trade unionists were promoting the interests of Black workers who were being paid well below the actual value of their work. But by 1940 African working class leaders had at least four decades experience of the nefarious manner in which this principle had been used to operate a very effective job colour bar to the detriment of Black workers, and consequently the working class as a whole. Rather than submit to the moral blackmail of the racist White unionists, Comrade Moses Kotane, then General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa, put forward the novel idea that instead of allowing themselves to be tempted into the snare so carefully prepared by the racist White unionists, Black workers should take on the new skilled jobs at lower wages so as to establish a firm foothold in these sectors of the labour market from which they had previously been excluded. But once so ensconced, Kotane advised, the Black workers should organise themselves into well run unions, and with that as a springboard, then launch their own struggles for equal pay.

On the surface Comrade Moses Kotane compromised an important and very elementary principle of trade unionism. It was however sound policy which accorded fully with the intermediate interests of the Black workers, and the long term interests of the working class. In this instance, the non-radical sounding tactics — the form or appearance, concealed its radical content or essence.

Had the Black workers, as yet few in number, and scattered in isolated pockets among basically racist White workers, gone out on a limb to demand equal pay, they would have been picked off one by one. The employers would have reverted to White workers and the job colour would have been firmed up. By accepting the need for a tactical retreat, first entrenching themselves in their new jobs, and by steady but sure organisation-building, Black workers firstly tempted the employers into investing in their training and skill acquisition . But once so established, they were in a position to fight for higher wages. In the meantime they had also breached the walls of the industrial colour bar while securing new avenues of work for Black workers.

Moses Kotane’s approach was vindicated in the post war years, when the captains of industry in Johannesburg finally responded to the shanty-town movement and agreed to make funds available to address the scandalous housing shortage in this city. In order to undertake the massive housing projects that led to the construction of the townships that evolved into Soweto, they were compelled to employ African builders, carpenters, electricians and other artisans.

My third example is more recent. Jobless growth is one of the numerous challenges facing democratic South Africa today. Much heat has been generated in arguments about the wisest way to address this problem. The capitalist classes, the political parties that speak on their behalf and the think tanks in their hire have since the mid 1990’s joined in a chorus calling for “labour market flexibility,” which is a polite way of telling workers to accept the concentration of the absolute power to hire and fire in the hands of management and increasing the vulnerability and insecurity of working people. Such flexibility will also erode their hard won rights to a decent wage and to collective bargaining.

Indeed when the government initiated a Jobs summit in 1998 it was the organised workers, acting through COSATU, who came forward with a meaningful intervention. — a job creation fund. Not only was this a novel idea, it posed a challenge to the employers to demonstrate an equal commitment to job creation by taxing themselves, as the organised workers were prepared to do, by matching the COSATU initiative with a job creation fund of their own. Big business still has to rise to that challenge.

The unresponsiveness of big business should however not discourage organised labour from coming forward with new and more exciting initiatives. Later this year, we are due to hold a Growth and Development Summit. Organised labour should be strategising about the contribution it will be making to that summit. The trade unions dispose of fairly substantial pension funds that could be creatively harnessed to generate growth and job creation. By being pro-active on this, as they were on the job creation fund, organised labour will be offering leadership and promoting the class interests of the proletariat as well as a vital national interest. Again, such an intervention might not appear to be radical, but its impact on working class lives and the South economy will be very radical.

How then does this relate to the challenges facing the South African working class in the struggle for socialism?

Virtually every section of South African society is seized with an ongoing debate about the need for and the character of the developmental state. The central issue in this debate is the most effective strategy for rolling back the frontiers of poverty in the immediate term, so that in the intermediate and long term we should be in a position to eradicate it. It is important that one underscores these central challenges because there has been a pronounced tendency to lose focus in the heat of political argument. It is within that framework, rolling back poverty, that we should assess and examine the roles that can and should be assigned to the various players in our economy.

The Legacy of Chris Hani.

Comrade Chris Hani was a Marxist and a card-carrying Communist virtually all his adult life. I am certain there are many shortsighted people who would find difficulty in understanding why he spent all those years in Mkhonto weSizwe and in the ranks of the African National Congress. The answer is rather simple. Comrade Chris never mistook revolutionary consciousness for a clever formula or a set of well crafted slogans. While he was always ready to interrogate the relationship between nationalism and Marxism, he understood that both were part of an existent historical reality. A meaningful Marxist political practice required the steady mobilization of the necessary class, social and national forces that could be yoked to build an alliance capable of striving for and achieving political transformation. Given the interface between national oppression and capitalist exploitation, an alliance between Marxism and African nationalism was essential for such a project. To Comrade Chris, Marxism was not an abstract theory. Its principles had to be applied to concrete revolutionary practice. And while these principles remained unchanged, their translation into practical programmes that galvanised the working people and the oppressed is what made them meaningful. The theoretical practice of those Marxists who have preferred to act outside of and in opposition to the national movement, while it might sound very learned, has in fact been politically irrelevant and divorced from practice. The historic decline of a number of far-left groupescules into political sterility testifies to this. (Cape Town, where both Chris and I began our early political activity, was awash with such groups!)

The strategic importance of the tripartite alliance at this moment cannot be over-emphasised. The sentiments we all share about its longevity aside, the historic mission its components accepted make it an indispensable organisational tool for the pursuance of a progressive national agenda. South African Communists have long recognised that in this country the proletarian class struggle had to be pursued through the national democratic revolution, not in order to hi-jack the national democratic revolution, but rather to actualise Marx and Engels’ conception of the democratic revolution organically growing into the socialist revolution.

In our discussion we have pointed to postures that are left in appearance, but whose essence is right. Within the international movement too one could point to other examples, such as the attitude of certain trade unionists, especially in the United States and Canada, whose role in the anti-globalisation movement is to promote protectionism among the developed economies of the north on the pretext that they are protecting the jobs of their members. Like the White racist trade unionists in our country, this trend very easily shades into xenophobia, racism and national chauvinism.

As we strive to create a national consensus for economic growth and to wage a concerted struggle against poverty, we should be vigilant in negotiating between the reefs of capitulation and those of sectarianism. Socialist forces could easily marginalise themselves and thus reduce themselves to political irrelevance and impotence by adopting unrealistic postures that sound radical but do not in fact advance the cause of the working class and the poor.

Among the challenges that face South Africa’s democratic forces is how to grow and expand the productive forces of our country. There are no predetermined answers and strategies to guide us in defining the role we should assign to state-owned enterprises, the state and the private sector in such an endeavour. We should be prepared to accept that there will be instances where it will be necessary to stimulate strategic partnerships between the state-owned and the private sector; where it might be tactically wiser to permit the private sector to invest in and expand infra-structure where the state is no longer able to assume responsibility.

While accepting the need for such ventures, we should not entertain the illusion that private capital has suddenly become altruistic. The business of business is business. And there is no free lunch! But sometimes, precisely in their pursuit of profits, the private sector can be spurred to create or expand badly required services. There are in fact instances where there will be no other alternative than to harness the resources in the hands of the capitalist classes for our own purposes, but in the full and conscious realisation that their motive is to maximise profits.

Comrade Chris Hani was among those South African Communists prepared to accept that the party had not always had an adequate appreciation of the dialectics of race, class and gender. He was consequently always open to discourse on these matters and did not arrogantly dismiss the views of non- party Marxists. His long stay in independent Africa had forced him to contend with the reality that independence had in many respects failed the ordinary people who had struggled for it. The emergence of rapacious indigenous elites — the wa-Benzis — with their life-style of conspicuous consumption disgusted him more than the colonial arrogance of the settler bourgeoisie. While he understood well the difficulties African states encountered in devising sustainable development programmes, he refused to offer alibis for the abuses and crimes ostensibly committed in defence of hard-won independence. Within the ANC alliance too he would not keep silent about the abuse of power and incipient corrupt practices. There were occasions on which he personally suffered for holding such views.

An instinctive democrat and committed Communist, Comrade Chris Hani was pained by the degeneration of the socialist countries and the corruption of the ideals of socialism he witnessed. He preferred to face up to that unpleasant truth rather than shield behind expedient lies.

The invasion of Iraq, carried out by the United States and its junior partner, Britain, may well turn out to be emblematic of the future course of 21st century history. The hectoring attitude the US is now adopting towards Syria and the other countries of western Asia suggests that the world may well be entering a second era of colonial expansion and imperialist aggression not dissimilar to that of the late 19th century.

This second era, which might well be dubbed the era of Coca colonialism, has for the present targeted the Arab countries of western Asia. But, as I recently remarked in parliament, no small nation can now assume it is safe from the aggressive attentions of the more powerful and technologically advanced powers of the north. The need for co-ordinated resistance by the developing countries should be self-evident. What should be equally self-evident is the need for solidarity among the prospective victims. Such solidarity should commence within each developing nation and expand outward to include as many countries as possible.

What made the US/British invasion so easy was the absence of co-ordinated resistance by the Iraqi people themselves. The reason for that is not too difficult to fathom. Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship had humiliated and demoralised the Iraqi people, such that even an appeal to patriotism was greeted with suspicion and profound scepticism. I am certain that very few, if any, Iraqis bought into the US/British propaganda that this was a war waged for their liberation. But, given the 30 years of Ba'athist misgovernment, they distrusted their government too.

This experience should serve as an object lesson to us all. The best guarantor of independence, national sovereignty and the capacity to resist the blandishments, including diplomatic and military pressure, of the super-power is internal democracy that ensures the widest possible participation in government by the ordinary working people. The limited, qualified democracy that places power in the hands of a self-selected political elite who presume to have a monopoly on wisdom and an understanding of the national interest, effectively kidnaps politics and is the source of fundamental weakness.

The peoples of Asia and Africa waged a century-long struggle — making great sacrifices — to put an end to colonial domination and to assert the right of all peoples to govern themselves. Democracy, civil liberties, human rights and social justice are not privileges to be dispensed or withheld at the discretion of power wielders. These are inalienable rights for which we all struggled, and, if anyone has earned them, it is the ordinary working people of town and country who did the struggling, the fighting and the dying so that we could attain them. It is arrant nonsense to characterise the struggle for democracy in post-colonial societies as an imperialist agenda. I will make so bold as to say, those who suppress the people and abrogate democratic governance, facilitate the anti- democratic and oppressive agenda of imperialism by so going. And the living proof of that assertion is what we have witnessed over the past three weeks in Iraq!

As South Africa approached the dawn of democracy, Comrade Chris was amongst those within the alliances leadership structures who fought for recognition of the pluralism of South African society. Such pluralism, he hoped, would be sustained by a continuing dialogue amongst all political parties and civil society.

Commenting on the turn of events in Russia in 1918 Rosa Luxemburg had reminded her Russian comrades that:

“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when freedom’ becomes a special privilege.”

Those are the values that Comrade Chris subscribed to and fought for.

The day after the death of his old comrade, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels ended a letter addressed to Adophe Sorge with the words:

“The struggle of the proletariat continues. That victory is certain. Well., we must see it through. What else are we here for? And we have not lost courage yet.”

Courage was one quality Comrade Chris Hani possessed in great abundance. If we emulate him in that alone, I am certain, we cannot fail.