May 1993

From Central Committee Discussion paper for SACP Conference

The socialist transition is opened up at the point at which (as our party’s Manifesto notes) there is a decisive “development of popular democracy to a position of dominance in all spheres – political, economic, social and cultural.

In this regard our Manifesto lists:

In speaking of social control of the economy the Manifesto notes that:

There is no magic blueprint for socialism. Socialism is also not a foreign country. If we are to build socialism in South Africa, it will have to be rooted in our own realities, our own rich experience and traditions of revolutionary struggles.

But is socialism possible “in one country”?

Socialism in One Country?

When the Bolsheviks began the socialist revolution in 1917, they saw their own revolution as a precursor, even as a holding operation, for a major socialist revolution that would sweep through the more advanced capitalist countries of western Europe in a matter of years, if not months. Traditionally, socialism had always been seen as an internationalist task.

When, by the early 1920s, it was clear that the revolution in the West had been rolled back, an isolated Soviet Union was faced with a terrible choice: deepen the process of socialist democracy, with all the risks of possible defeat, or embark on a forced march of industrialisation to catch up (at least militarily) with the imperialist powers. It was this latter course that was chosen, not without an extended and bitter inner-Party (and indeed intra-Comintern) struggle.

This choice and the circumstances under which it was taken has had much to do with the subsequent history of the former Soviet Union – the outstanding achievements and the terrible distortions and ultimate stagnation and collapse.

Under the banner of “socialism in one country”, and at huge cost, a backward feudal country was transformed, ... The question we pose here is: Is the path of “socialism in one country” a possibility in South Africa?

We believe it is highly improbable. Among the major factors permitting a “socialism in one country” path of development in the former Soviet Union were:

These factors do not apply to South Africa, or to the world in which we live. This is not to say that we cannot make major revolutionary advances towards socialism within our own country. But the construction, deepening and defence of socialism is, at best, highly improbable within our own country on its own. The cause of socialism is not advanced (it is discredited among the working masses) by premature announcements of its implementation.

This is not to preach passivism or defeatism. But it does point to the absolute necessity for an internationalist revolutionary perspective and practice. Despite its dominance and its resilience, the world capitalist system is presently in deep structural crisis. There are major dislocations between the so-called North and South. Within many of the main capitalist centres, internal structural contradictions are sharpening.

More and more capitalism shows itself to be without answers .... The advance to socialism within our own country depends considerably on the regrouping and resurgence of left forces world-wide in the face of these challenges.

Our Critique of bureaucratic socialism

In our Manifesto (and also in the earlier Path to Power) we rejected the administrative command economic systems of bureaucratic socialism.

We have also committed ourselves in our Manifesto and in our Constitution to:

Our criticisms of distorted socialism and our positive commitments to certain democratic values will, however, simply remain piecemeal or, even worse, look like belated concessions, defensive attempts to prove our democratic credentials” ... UNLESS THEY ARE RELATED TO a coherent approach to the kind of socialism we are trying to build.

Indeed, our criticism of the administrative command system, bureaucratism and our support for representative and participatory democracy ARE implicitly part of a coherent approach to socialism. But we have not adequately developed this.

Positive lessons from the critique of bureaucratic socialism

...equation of this with democracy has meant in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe the withering away of any mass democratic movement (including effective trade unions). There is no place for wage bargaining, for instance, let alone trade union involvement in policy formation, if everything is centrally (and bureaucratically) planned.

In turn, the administrative command system went hand in hand with:

Our party has already condemned these errors and injustices. But our condemnation, so far, has often tended to be a moral criticism. There is nothing wrong with a moral criticism, but clearly we need to carry through a more far-reaching Marxist analysis as well.

What are the implications of all this for the socialism we should be trying to build in our country? Among the major implications are the following:


Implications for party building

The character of the South African working class presents special challenges and difficult organisational strategic choices for the SACP.

In 1990 we took the strategic decision to emphasise the building of our party in the main industrial centres, focussing on organised, industrial workers for recruitment. There were a number of reasons for this choice, including:

The marginalised 70% of the working class is, precisely, very often the most difficult to reach and the most difficult to organise, except perhaps in periodic mobilising drives; or through systematic development work (literacy training, co-operative projects, etc.). Industrial workers are partially organised and skilled by the (capitalist) production process itself. But the rural poor, unemployed youth, rural labourers, etc, are characteristically scattered, disorganised and unskilled.

How then, as a party, do we take up the challenge of work in this area?

If we go for the option of throwing all or most of our resources on organising these marginalised sectors into the SACP, do we risk falling between two stools? We might dissipate our limited resources and lose our core strategic cadreship.

An alternative emphasis would be to use the SACP to stimulate efforts in the direction of the marginalised working class. In other words, the SACP should struggle for an ANC, with all its resources, that is biased in this direction. We should be in the forefront of efforts to empower MDM structures and developmental efforts directed at the marginalised, without seeking to take over or organise these ourselves. We should espouse, as a central component of democratisation, a reconstruction process that addresses the needs of the marginalised.


Inner working class differences and anti-democratic projects

... there is the “liberal” project (“Low Intensity Democracy” – LID) which seeks to detach organised, skilled and semi-skilled industrial workers from the broader popular masses. This project is connected to big business’s version of a social contract or accord. An elite stratum of industrial workers would have improved work and social conditions in exchange for higher productivity and greater labour peace ...

There is also the possibility of a right-wing, counter-revolutionary force. The likely active, organisational centres of such a project are fairly obvious reactionary elements from bantustan administrations, the organised neo-fascist and extreme right groups, etc. But for this project to have an enduring potential it would need to have a broad social base as well.

This social base would need to be drawn, amongst other things, from the broader working class. In fact, the target would tend to be largely at other end of the working class from those workers targeted in the “LID”.

In the counter-revolutionary xxx the social base would be sought among the most peripheralised, the most disorganised and desperate – the unemployed, the migrants, anarchistic youth and rural people (here the example of the MNR, and our own local contacts with vigilante forces of all kinds are instructive).

These two anti-democratic projects (the liberal and the ultra-right) underline the need, from our side, for a politics that is neither blind to the real differences within the working class, nor neglects the crucial need for a pluralistic, working-class and popular unity. Both the neglect of differences and the neglect of unity building can open up space within the popular masses for “liberal” and right-wing projects.

A new Hegemonic Bloc

It is in developing a hegemonic project that the working class will best be able to unify itself and counter alternative anti-democratic projects.

In part, this means that the SACP and broader workers’ movement must avoid confining themselves to mere denunciations of the evils of the capitalist system – although such denunciations are, of course, essential. We must also avoid confining ourselves to purely rearguard struggles in defence of workers’ interests – although again, such struggles are important. If, however, the workers’ movement limits itself to denunciation and defence, it risks isolating itself, locking itself into a restricted and unmanoeuvrable position.

The SACP must, with all allied formations, seek to develop the working class in our country as the hegemonic, the leading class. In other words, we seek to develop the working class as a force which is capable of leading our society in every respect, capable of solving the crisis that reaches into every aspect of our society’s fabric – economically, culturally, morally and politically.

Amongst other things this means that, in a situation such as our own, in which the South African capitalist system is in deep crisis, the workers’ movement needs to be, not a factor for dissolution, but the leading force for reconstruction and renewal along lines that open the road for a socialist transformation. We must reject “the worse the better” type notions. Socialist oriented development will not spring from the total collapse of the capitalist economy.

We must intervene in the crisis of capitalism not to rescue capitalism, but in such a way as to develop the leading role of the working class, building around it a bloc of social forces, giving South Africa a new political leadership and initiating a process of profound renewal and transformation.

It is around a major reconstruction process, driven jointly by a national democratic state, the NLM and by a wide range of mass democratic formations, anchored among the broad working masses of our country, that the correct way forward can be charted.