Is the South African Communist Party truly a vanguard party?

The purging of intellectuals, its increase in numbers, its dearth of leadership resulting in the dearth of ideas points to an SACP stuck in yesteryear. Ultimately, what its latest Congress concluded was a commodification of the Tripartite Alliance because the SACP wants to eat from the trough and criticise others eating from it as well, writes KHALID SAYED  

As his battle with the South African Communist Party reached its climax and in the eye of the storm, Thabo Mbeki, speaking at the ANC’s 52nd national conference, had the boldness to quote Vladimir Lenin: “better fewer but better”.

He uttered these words as he faced the democratic tide against him at the Polokwane conference. Vintage Mbeki, he tried to corner the conference. If he was re-elected, well then so be it. Yet if he lost, it was because they were dealing with, as he said in his political report: “members who, among other things, will have very little familiarity with the history and traditions of the ANC, its policies, its value system and its organisational practices.” Both ways, he attempted to rewrite history.

Cloaked in Shakespearean irony, Mbeki’s call was directed mainly to his Leninist-Marxist opponents in the form of the SACP and COSATU. While his ex-unionist secretary-general, Kgalema Motlanthe, was pushing a million membership in his organisational report, Mbeki showed no interest in allowing the liberation movement to become one that is essentially pro-socialist and mass-based. He wanted fewer because it was better to manipulate, to become elitist and thus push through policies that would secure capital.

Ironically, like the ANC a decade ago, the SACP finds itself today in the same conundrum. Historically, known as a ‘vanguard’, therefore fewer but better, the SACP boasted at its latest congress, a membership tally of a quarter of a million. The reality of course, as Mbeki tried to project in 2007 and which Lenin fully understood, was concentration on the increase in numbers meant the decrease in content and character. A vanguard, while open to all, is simply not a mass-based organisation.

Referring to his earlier work titled, How We Should Reorganise the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, Lenin cautions readers against thinking that the figures mentioned in that article were too small. Rather he suggests that the measures to be put in place must ensure that “really exemplary quality” is obtained. Ultimately, the establishment of the vanguard is in response to his old-time question: what is to be done?

The reality, of course, is that under the leadership of Dr Blade Nzimande a direct onslaught against the bourgeois intelligentsia, to which Marx and Engels were said to have belonged to, has taken place. Throughout the last two decades, there has been a deliberate purging of leading intellectuals within the party and a move towards one that is mass-based. It is not necessary to name these intellectuals here, suffice to say that anyone who has knowledge of the party would be able to identify them. Today these former intellectuals form a bitter band of badgers.

This dearth in leadership in the SACP has led directly to a dearth of ideas. One such example of the lack of ideas is summed up in the following paragraph: “[The] intention was not to decide on whether the SACP should stand for elections or not (that decision is a foregone conclusion), this is not because of the number of people who attended, but because of the prevailing conditions that arise in…the current phase of the revolution. The decision to constitute a Commission to look into the pros and cons of standing for elections was not a cowing out of a ‘yes we will’ or ‘no we won’t’ response. This is based on the fact that the question was not whether we should, but was whether if we do, how will we do it, when will we do it and how will this affect the Alliance between the SACP with COSATU and the ANC…”

You would be forgiven if you thought this was a summary of the decision by the Party to investigate modalities of participation in elections taken at its last congress held just last July. Sadly, this was a response by the SACP to a Business Day editorial in 2005 after the Party’s Special National Congress. Nearly twelve years to the day, the SACP is stuck in the same place. Where is the vanguard?

In other words, for over a decade now the Party, which portrays itself as the vanguard of the workers, has been threatening to ‘go it alone’ as the Business Day editorial was titled. Since that Special National Congress, the Party has become emboldened to add to its membership, increase to an operating budget of R35 million with R2 million spent just on securing Party bosses alone.

The forty-one-member strong newly elected central committee of the Party boasts no less than five ministers in President Zuma’s cabinet, two provincial premiers, five deputy-ministers, three members of the executive councils, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, eight members of parliament mostly holding senior positions, two members of provincial legislatures, a deputy-mayor, and two senior bureaucrats.

They are all in their positions on an ANC ticket and stand the chance of losing these should the SACP go it alone. No wonder, unlike first deputy general-secretary Solly Mapaila, Nzimande fought for the ‘relook at modalities’ again. He has been playing this card for the last decade in order to buy time at the trough.

However, it is the contention of these comrades that it is through the support of the Party on the ground and their alliance with the ANC that they are deployed to these positions via the ANC. Had the Party, therefore, instructed its deployees to vote in favour of the no confidence vote against President Zuma, it is the contention that these Party members would have to tow the Party line. The Party therefore literally wants its place at the trough but criticises those feeding at it.

Therefore, it is safe to suggest that while there has been a purge of the intelligentsia from the vanguard, which was the Party as its former self, there has also been a push to ensure that certain leaders benefit from the patronage politics that has pounced on the Party. We see this for example in the deployment to university and TVET college councils where members of the Party are deployed, and while these deployees have added very little to these councils, as seen with the #FeesMustFall protests, they continue to draw the benefits that accompany these posts.

This inability to lead University councils during the protests and what was subsequently articulated as the dysfunctionality of university governance is indicative of the poor performance by a communist minister who has done everything possible to prevent higher education from becoming a public good. Instead what we have seen under his watch is the continuous financialisation of our universities, high fees to ensure an elite has access to education and the outsourcing of essential services on our campuses.

Even worse still, the over securitisation of our universities and the securocratic responses to the protests point us to the adage that the state through its security apparatus will always protect the interests of the ruling class. Why were we surprised when the communist minister was calling police onto campuses, when only two years earlier he had condemned the workers at Marikana as murderers.

One is not sure how Lenin would respond to the purging of the intellectuals from the Party in the last two decades and the subsequent dearth of ideas that has prevailed. What is certain is that Marx, together with Oliver Tambo and JB Marks, will definitely raise an eyebrow at the South African Communist Party of today for they have committed one of the treasonous sins: the commodification of the Tripartite Alliance.

Sayed is the Western Cape Chairperson of the ANC Youth League 

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