The South African Communist Party (SACP) appears to be at a political and ideological crossroads if its policy documents released this week before its national congress in July are anything to go by.
Since the election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president in Polokwane in 2007, the SACP has been accused by some in the tripartite alliance of being ideologically inconsistent and drawing closer to the government. It did not help after SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and other communists such as Ebrahim Patel, Rob Davies and Jeremy Cronin became members of the Cabinet and seemed to agree with the government on almost every issue.
In its defence, the party argues that the deployment of communist cadres has helped change the character of the state, and that the organs of the state have taken on a revolutionary posture since it occupied positions in the government.
Nzimande also says the party has advocated many key changes, including a paradigm shift with the new growth path, the industrial policy action programme and the multibillion rand, multiyear, state-led infrastructure programme. To this he adds the rolling out of the National Health Insurance scheme and the rejection of the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach to land reform.
But Zuma’s government has failed to abolish labour broking and intends to implement the youth wage subsidy budgeted for by the treasury, a thorny issue rejected by the third alliance partner, Cosatu.
The battle over these issues and the nationalisation of the mines has also created deep divisions in the alliance, largely as a result of the SACP’s ambiguity over them.
In its discussion documents, the party accuses former president Thabo Mbeki and his administration for the deepening social crises – mass unemployment, poverty and racialised inequality – by pursuing the growth, employment and redistribution policy and other neoliberal policies to produce economic growth.
The party also blames Mbeki for the rise of the Democratic Alliance.
“The eventual relative defeat of the 1996 class project from within the ANC in around 2007 was partially a result of the many ideological illusions and internal contradictions within the project itself.
“The key ideological illusion was precisely a neoliberal illusion, namely that neoliberal macroeconomic policies would connect South Africa to a dynamic globalisation process that would promote growth, and growth would in turn create the conditions for significant black capitalist advancement and for a top-down redistributive delivery of services to the majority of citizen consumers,” the party states in its South African Road to Socialism document.
But the basic tenets of neoliberalism remain in place under Zuma’s administration, which has been noted by Cosatu. There is also still trade liberalisation, central bank independence, a constrained fiscal deficit and inflation targeting. Overarching all of that, the private sector remains a leader in terms of economic growth and development.
“With so many communists in government, there is a serious crisis of leadership and ideological consistency,” a Cosatu leader said this week.
“As it is, the SACP is ideologically pulling to the right. If you have a trade union that advances the interests of the poor without the active support of a vanguard party [the SACP], you are not going to go far.
“The ANC, too, cannot be consistently leftist without a vibrant vanguard party. The ANC must be leftist in a Marxist-Leninist sense and it must be inspired ideologically by the vanguard party, the SACP.
“How can they do that when they are in government?” the Cosatu leader asked.
Nzimande has been under intense pressure from the alliance, particularly from Cosatu, to step down as higher education minister and assume his full-time position at the party’s head office in Johannesburg.
Central to Cosatu’s concern is that, since Nzimande’s move to the government, the SACP has abandoned its working-class programmes and has taken a softer stance on major issues affecting the poor.
But, if anything, Nzimande has strengthened his grip on power and remains a dominant force in the party.
In its discussion document, the party talks about the strengthening of the organisational capacity of the SACP as a vanguard party of socialism. It says that over the next five years the SACP hopes to grow its membership to 500000 by recruiting workers, the rural and urban poor, the youth, professionals and the black intelligentsia.
But Cosatu believes this is impossible if Nzimande remains in government. Cosatu insists that the SACP needs to re-establish its focus and ensure that it has full-time leadership whose primary commitment is to drive the organisation forwards.
Another major concern raised by Nzimande’s detractors is that the voice of the left in the tripartite alliance has been weakened since he joined the government.
On Monday this week, Nzimande called for the review of black economic empowerment (BEE), established by Mbeki to deracialise the economy, but with little success.
The discussion document does not provide any alternative, except to criticise BEE for creating what it calls a highly dependent section of the capitalist class – capitalists without capital who were allocated shares on loan, on the assumption that, with dividends and share-price rises, the debt would be repaid within a matter of years.