Political situation in France after the first round of Presidential elections

First beat Le Pen, then fight Macron

By Adriano Vodslon in Paris

The Fifth Republic is on its last legs, and lots of people know this or sense it. The latest illustration of this is how hard the municipal officials organising the second round of the ballot found it to even staff the polling stations.

Repeated scandals and the treachery all governments have shown toward the majority population of employed people and workers have speeded up the Fifth Republic’s decay. It was the great movement against the so-called Labour Law which caused the end of this form of bosses’ government. Even before the campaign started – a campaign which all the media described as “out of the ordinary” – it was clear there would be a political upheaval. In fact, each in their own way, all four candidates with any hope of reaching the second proclaimed a break with the Fifth Republic. Le Pen wanted to do it by making “the Nation” a constitutional priority and instituting State racism towards immigrants; Macron through ruling by decree backed by a parliamentary majority drawn from the Republicans (the rump of the former Gaullist party) the remnants of the Socialist Party (wiped out in this campaign) or from businesspeople, designed to rubber-stamp his plans to break up social provision and pass laws favourable to the bourgeoisie; Fillon for his part was weighed down by his corrupt past and more and more relied upon the more radical wing of Republicans, quite prepared to destroy their party in order to save his candidacy and get a shot at destroying workers’ legal rights; and finally Mélenchon had already spent several years calling for a Constituent Assembly to found a Sixth Republic, while carefully avoiding saying which class should prevail therein.

In short, before 23 April the choice was between moving towards a Republic more and more openly in the hands of the bosses, a pro-bourgeois and anti-immigrant republic, or towards a Republic whose stated objective would be to defend the oppressed. Whatever happens, the whole framework of the fifth Republic will very shortly be a thing of the past.

It was no accident that Mélenchon managed to almost double his 2012 score of 11.1%. He embodied the possibility of a Republic which redistributes wealth through fairer taxes, significantly increases the minimum wage, massively invests in public services and ends discrimination against migrants and French citizens of immigrant origins. Workers and young people glimpsed a hope of a fundamental change in their favour. And it was not only French workers who saw this hope in the extraordinary movement against the El Khomry law launched in workplaces and schools and on the streets. Comrades all over the world have followed their movement and their campaign.

But facts are obstinate things. Mélenchon is not in the second round and in the official media no-one talks about why. The main reason is that there was no alliance between Mélenchon’s “La France insoumise” (Rebellious France) and the sectors of the Socialist Party which supported Hamon. So Mélenchon and Hamon are most to blame for the defeat workers suffered and the fact that the choice is now between voting Macron, voting Le Pen, or abstaining. Hamon did indeed try at first to co-opt Mélenchon’s campaign, but the latter (scared though he was of seeming to block left unity) realised that he stood to lose more than he gained by this alliance because workers didn’t trust the Socialist Party and the weathercocks in it were openly calling for support for Macron. In the end Mélenchon became the candidate of the militant left and Hamon got a mere 6.36% of the total vote and didn’t make it into the second round.

What to do on 7 May

The current situation is that the two surviving candidates, Macron and Le Pen, together took less than 50% of the votes cast in the first round, and many people are reluctant to vote or have already decided to give their vote to neither of the candidates. To go by their speeches, they are diametrically opposed to each other on every issue. Macron is in favour of “globalisation”, business, the European Union. Le Pen seems to be poles apart from him, talking about globalisation being “out of control”, seeking exit from the Euro and for “protection” of wage workers against unfair foreign competition …

The reality is a little bit different.

Both candidates aim to hold the line for the bourgeoisie, to try to unite “the French people” in order to silence social struggles, the class struggles. The only difference is how they hope to do this, but this difference is important too.

Macron hopes to push the liberal policy of global capitalism to the uttermost, continuing to undermine workers’ rights and those of their union representatives.

Macron is the candidate of the financial bourgeoisie which depends on banks and the international exchange of capital and goods. That is why he wants to more or less abolish the ISF (Solidarity Tax on Wealth), further weaken workers’ legal rights (“Code du Travail”), stay in the European Union, make life harder for the unemployed and start governing by decree as soon as he takes office. So his mission is to defend the bourgeoisie by taking to the limit the policy it has been following since the fall of the Berlin Wall. i.e. to atomise the working class so as to bring down the price of labour power. Far from cutting mass unemployment, Macron wants to increase the precariousness of work contracts and reduce the power of the unions so as to deprive our class of the means to defend its interests, to bring us to heel.

In contrast to this programme, Marine Le Pen has recently had no difficulty in positioning herself as the candidate of “the people”. She does so all the more easily because, especially after the first round, she uses the same vocabulary as Mélenchon. Like him she attacks the “elites” and the “oligarchy” who govern France without regard for the “people”. These words serve to mask the reality that workers are sacked not by some oligarchy or abstract elites, but by identifiable bosses who belong, like Marine Le Pen, to the French and international bourgeoisie.

Marine Le Pen presents herself as a candidate close to workers when she calls for a return to retirement at 60 and the abrogation of the El Khomri labour code law. When she turned up at the Whirlpool workers’ picket line on 26 April she spoke against moving the work abroad and the plant closure and said she would put an end to all this, and she gained support among workers driven to desperation. In passing and just before she left, she attacked Macron for meeting union representatives of the workforce away from the factory. More to the point, she insinuated that trade union representatives represent only themselves. No need to read between the lines to understand that if she comes to power, Marine Le Pen will attack the unions and their representatives.

She realises that to win the second round she needs to appear as the candidate who will protect workers from the evils of “globalisation”, i.e. capitalism. In the first round, to secure a solid electoral base, she attacked immigrants more and openly advocated so-called “national preference”. At present, she emphasises unfair competition by foreign workers. She never mentions the exploitation of workers by employers, French or foreign.

In fact she only mentions competition with foreign workers in order to pit worker against worker, French against foreign, French against immigrant. Marine Le Pen doesn’t say so openly, but her conquest of power as prepared by her adviser Florian Filippo aims to divide workers according to their origins in order to maintain the domination of the bourgeoisie in France. Never forget that Marine Le Pen, a fascist from a family of fascists, is above all herself a rich bourgeoise, a member of the capitalist class. Her objective is to unite bosses and “French” wage-workers against “foreigners” and “immigrants”. In this sense she seeks to group “all French people”, without distinction of social class, around “love of country”, a project with distinctly fascist overtones. In her view, which she shares with Macron, the right-left divide is no longer justified. This “classless” vision is xenophobic and racist. The “national priority” will be written into the constitution (and if the constitution cannot be modified it will be cast in law). There will be a 5% tax on hiring foreigners, products coming from abroad will be taxed at up to 30%. These measures will not help wage workers. They will enable employers to put immigrant workers under greater pressure, and consequently French workers too, while trying to reserve the French market for the French bourgeoisie to sell their companies’ products.

So we can confidently predict that Marine Le Pen will put little or nothing of her social programme into effect; it is only a façade. On the other hand, if by ill luck she actually does become head of state, she will legalise a new type of manhunt. A Marine Le Pen in power would put the entire State apparatus at the service of a racist policy of division and social exclusion for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. The oppression of workers as a whole would be ramped up, starting with immigrant workers. Her election would empower every kind of racist and fascist, who would not hesitate to attack immigrants and anyone who looks like them. This vote would trigger a wave of attacks against immigrants and migrants, just as the Brexit vote did in the UK and Trump’s election did in the US.

So yes, on 7 May we wage-workers will only be able to choose between two candidates of the bourgeoisie. But between a bourgeois candidate and a racist bourgeois candidate there is a choice.

Some say they don’t want to vote for Macron because they voted for Chirac in 2002, and were disappointed. But in order to be disappointed one must first have had hopes or illusions. In 2017, as in 2002, while the danger is not the same and the situation is different, it is without any illusions in him that we have to vote Macron in order to prevent Marine Le Pen from coming to power. On the contrary, it is those who decide to abstain on the grounds that Macron and Le Pen are identical who are deluded. Believing that Le Pen is no more dangerous than Macron in the short term is the illusion.

So the 23 April result leaves only one option: vote Macron in order to beat Le Pen while openly stating that we must fight both against Macron and against his competitor’s racist project. This fight will have to be carried forward in the streets and in mass assemblies, but that does not mean that one can afford the luxury of not voting on 7 May, or the luxury of submitting a blank ballot paper to be counted as a “protest vote” against the appalling choices on offer. That might bring personal satisfaction, but a pretty insipid one, since neither blank ballots nor abstentions count as votes. In the end, every “protest” of this type increases by half the chances that the fascist will be in power on the evening of 7 May.

On May Day, one woman held up a placard saying: “First beat Le Pen, then fight Macron. That is the programme for the next few days.

What prospects after 7 May

We must prepare now to fight off the first attacks from Macron or Le Pen.

Macron has already announced that he wants to “reform” the country this summer. He has stated that he will rule mainly by decree and the use of Article 49-3 [of the French Constitution which excludes Parliament from voting on bills to do with financial matters or social security financing if the government chooses to accept responsibility]. While Marine Le Pen will launch a xenophobic, racist coup against the workers’ movement and in particular the unions if she comes to power, Macron has declared his will be an anti-social coup. We should start now, without delay, to convene assemblies and call for demonstrations demanding the withdrawal of the El Khomri law. It is certainly necessary to fight the Islamist fascists in Daesh, but we cannot count on the bosses’ state and its murderous and rapist police to do that. Their state of emergency has served only to normalise the everyday racism of racial profiling controls and to thwart the mobilisation against the El Khomri law. We can only defend our rights by going onto the offensive. The May Day demonstrations totalling 280,000 participants all over France (according to the CGT union) showed that workers are ready to resist. That said, workers need the broadest possible united front. This can only be built around specific demands such as withdrawal of the El Khomri law, the end of the state of emergency, regularisation of undocumented workers, withdrawal of the secondary education reform and retirement for all on a full pension at 60.

In the General (parliamentary) Election, we must make sure that supporters of “Rebellious France”, the pro-Hamon sectors of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party agree on single candidates and do not stand against each other. That will need a reorganisation of workers’ political forces by creating a new party supported by the CGT [the main class-conscious trade union confederation], “Rebellious France”, the Communist Party, sectors of the Socialist Party still in solidarity with Hamon, and the which must urgently abandon its sectarianism. A party that is not “above classes” but entirely at the service of the working class and other oppressed strata. A party which will open up the political perspective that was so cruelly lacking in last year’s struggles. The only real and only possible democratic Sixth Republic; a republic of workers and young people.

2 May 2017




Situation politique en France après le premier tour des élections

D’abord battre Le Pen, puis combattre Macron 

par Adriano Voslon




The United Fishermen No. 5

We are pleased to post the latest newsletter from the United Fishermen




May Day Message from the WRP Namibia

 

The WRP Political Committee greets the workers of Namibia, Southern Africa, Africa and the world on this 1st day of May, Workers’ Day, which symbolizes the bloody struggle for workers’ rights over many, many decades. These rights included the right to organize and belong to unions, the 45 hour week, the right to withhold labour etc.

For Namibians this struggle culminated in the labour rights contained in the 1992 Labour Act.

Since 1992 however, these rights were rapidly eroded in rogue courts, new legislation drafted by corporate business and passed by the new regime, parading as the great liberator.

The Marikana Massacre on 16 August 2012 exploded the Southern African myths of the ‘liberation movements’ defending and furthering the rights of the working people.

NUMSA, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, formalized the concrete fact that the regimes like SWAPO and the ANC were agents of the capitalists against the working class. They stated, “that unless the working class organises itself as a class for itself it will remain unrepresented and forever toil behind the bourgeoisie”.

Now that these regimes have devoured the crumbs thrown to them by finance capital, mining, and commerce to pose as states, the SADC States have declared that they are on high alert after self-manufactured evidence surfaced of imperialist tendencies to destabilize them by regime change. Their trigger fingers are itching for a few more Marikanas to earn bale-outs from their masters.

But, the peace and stability which they claim is being threatened, is threatened by the unrelenting attacks on employment, labour and union rights, which these regimes are spearheading on behalf of the capitalists.

Their paranoid and neurotic threats underline in red the NUMSA declarations and should put the regional working class on high alert.

The Namibian regime is totally bankrupt as can be seen from the abandoned construction projects one month into the new financial year; from the piecemeal payment of teachers at the end of April, etcetera, etcetera.

They wish to make their crisis, the crisis of the working class. Oh!, how they wished they could have made it a tribal conflict of the working class!

The WRP’s message is, dedicate this May of the year of the Great Workers’ Revolution, 1917, to the Unity of the Working Class and to stay alert to build their independent fighting organs to defend itself and the Working People from the Ruin the capitalist ruling classes wish to bring upon the people.

March forward to working class unity in the Southern African Region, Africa and the World.

It is the only way forward to redemption!

Paul Thomas
Secretary of Publicity.

WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY PARTY TO REBUILD THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL
P.O. Box 24064 Windhoek Tel: 061-260647 namab737@gmail.com




From the Archive: The Way Forward in North Africa and the Middle East

Theses by Balazs Nagy,  January 2011

Workers International To Rebuild the Fourth International

Biased, fragmentary and very incomplete as the media reports are, some things are clear:

1. These movements are desperately short of revolutionary leadership. The long years of ruthess dictatorship have strangled even the more or less petty-bourgeois parties. There is no sign even of any bourgeois leadership independent of the ruling authorities, apart from groups and individuals tied to the dictators whom the workers have thrown out.

2. We offer the following considerations to Tunisian, Egyptian Libyan and other groups in Europe and by any means available to people in the countries affected. Workers in those countries are in a real state of confusion, not knowing what to do or how to do it. In general what they want is real democracy.

3. Indeed, that is not a bad place to start. But before thinking about what to do and how to do it, first a few words about the general situation. There is no doubt that this is a revolution, or rather several revolutions. Now, a revolution is a whole process, more or less long, and we are just at the start. That is the first thing we must explain to these workers who clearly believe those who tell them that it is already over. They have got rid of the dictators, but these were merely the personification of a whole economic and social system – imperialism — as it exists in these countries. To maintain its domination almost unchanged (in a different form from the old colonial regime the workers long since rejected) imperialism has succeeded, with the help of reformists and the Stalinist bureaucracy, in turning these young independent states into military dictatorships and medieval monarchies by delegating its direct power of oppression to native political regimes. In its first phase the revolution has thrown out the dictators in two countries and started the same battle in many others (Yemen, Libya, Algeria, etc.). But in these first two countries, the revolution is now marking time. The politico-economic regime remains more or less intact and is preparing, at this moment, to demobilise, push back and repress the workers. It dare not go too far in the direction of bloody repression because it is weakened and does not yet feel strong enough. Soldiers would probably refuse to fire on the people. The army’s apparent neutrality, as the fruit of this uncertainty, forces the generals in power to negotiate with the workers over their demands. The situation is a little different in Tunisia but remains essentially the same.

4. In this situation workers should push forward with their desire to achieve democracy. In continuing the revolution in that way and by concretising their demands, they can transform into facts their obvious vigilance and their distrust of the new people on power – both expressed loud and clear not least by their determination to stay put where they mobilised their movements. But all that is very fragile. If they are demobilised, it would certainly mean the first step towards a defeat and the re-installation of a new dictatorship, possibly veiled for a time.

5. We should propose to them that they continue their movement towards real democracy – a battle that is not even half won yet. Progress in this the only guarantee against a turn backwards in the situation: if you do not go forward you are condemned to retreat. The general slogan should be the conquest and strengthening of real democracy based on winning and securing democratic rights, as well as on the organisation of the movement.

6. We can only sketch several essential points of a democratic programme which workers in those countries themselves, their political and trade union organisations, would need to work out in detail.

a. Immediately lift the state of emergency which has been in force for many years in all these countries (in Egypt, the new – military – authorities have only promised to lift it in 6 months time!)

b. Besides that it is important to demand and secure freedom of speech and of the press; freedom of assembly, freedom for workers to organise together democratically and, finally, freedom to demonstrate. At the moment the masses have spontaneously exercised these rights, but it is necessary to guarantee and codify them.

c. Complete and total separation of the church and the state (of all churches)

d. Immediate freedom for all political prisoners (already started in Egypt)

These are the immediate measures that directly flow from the current situation.

Beyond that, it is important to make progress towards complete democratic freedom for the working masses in the towns and the countryside. For this, political democracy must go hand-in-hand with economic democracy.

  1. It is vitally important for the life of the country to nationalise the factories, mines and banks, particularly those owned by foreign capital.

  2. One fundamental democratic measure is a radical agrarian reform, with the re-distribution of land to the poor farmers and their co-operatives without compensation to the present owners. This is the very bedrock of democracy in the countryside and at the same time it breaks the power of the big landed proprietors who are pillars of support for the dictatorship, as well as of those leaders currently in power. All the generals in Egypt, like Mubarak and his family, are big landed proprietors, and the same is true elsewhere.

  3. Democratic rights for workers at their workplace, codified in progressive social legislation (collective bargaining, defined working times, the right to strike, unemployment benefits, etc.)

  4. Freedom to form trade unions and trade union rights. At the same time democratisation of existing trade unions, holding fresh elections to renew them..

  5. Progressive social legislation for all workers (sickness insurance, laws protecting workers’ housing, etc.)

  6. Confiscation of all the material goods of the cronies of dictators already fallen and yet to fall: land, factories, buildings, businesses, wealth stolen from the people and monopolised during the decades of dictatorship.

But the most urgent task of the day, and therefore the main slogan, is – organise working people

  1. So that they can make progress towards real democracy, guarantee the freedom which has been won and achieve all their demands, the most determined and conscious and therefore the most active elements must set up their political party, a workers’ party, a sort of Labour Party. The job of this party from the very moment it is set up would be to work out and promote in practice the whole democratic programme, raising it in all workers’ movements.

  2. All of these movements in the country should unite in a political process aimed at setting up a new regime in line with the wishes and desires of workers. It would be a terrible mistake to put faith in the promise of elections. The whole country (all the countries), the whole of the working people, have rejected the dictators’ bogus constitution. They need a new one, a constitution of the working people. They need to fix and codify the new order, i.e. the most highly democratic measures, rules and laws, which alone conform to the will of the people and its dynamism. They need also to prevent the possessing class, the pillars of the dictatorship, from cheating the people through a fraudulent electoral farce. Therefore workers need to prepare and hold a Constituent Assembly of the country. It is for the creation of that type of assembly that elections should be held, to select delegates drawn from candidates of the truly democratic parties, first and foremost of the workers’ party.

  3. Both to run the the elections – and to make sure they are run properly – and to prepare the Assembly to bring about their demands and under popular supervision, workers urgently need to form local committees of action and supervision in the workplace and in the local areas. In the countryside, one vitally important task for such committees would be to push forward agrarian reform and land re-distribution energetically. Poor farmers and agricultural labourers would form the majority of these committees in the countryside. Everywhere these committees, with the participation of housewives, should keep an eye on prices at markets and in the shops. This is all the more necessary since the international bourgeoisie could strangle and starve the infant workers’ democracy through present and future speculation in cereals and other agricultural products.

  4. One extremely important political task for workers and their organisations is a radical and immediate break with national isolation. A main condition for the success of their movement is to bring about an effective and living alliance

    1. with the other peoples engaged in similar movements in North Africa and and the Middle East. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, can already form permanent contacts and synchronise their demands and activities through their movements and political parties (once the latter have been established).

    2. also with the workers in the countries of Europe and their organisations, demanding their solidarity and collaboration to establish a broad united front against the forces of restoration in their countries and internationally.

  5. Separately, I would like to make a particular point about the enormous importance of the following problem: Fraternisation with the army soldiers, especially in Egypt, has already born fruit fruit in the apparent neutrality of the army. But this is very fragile. It is necessary to continue and extend this fraternisation (which is a very important task in the other countries too), with the aim of forming stable contacts so that ultimately, at a stage which cannot be determined from here, soldiers’ committees can be set up, especially since the soldiers are workers in uniform, or very often farmers willing to discuss a programme for the re-distribution of the land.

Here in broad terms and hastily sketched, are a a few points, hints rather, to serve as the basis of an programme for these movements. The determination and the dynamism are there. But about the aims of their struggle and the means available to them almost total confusion reigns. That is where we should at least try to help.

January 2011




Hewat Beukes discusses the Past, Present and Future of the WRP Namibia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL76SvAeMcs

Why did the party loose it’s N$1.3 million allowance from Parliament in 2015? Why has the WRP distanced itself from it’s own representatives in Parliament? What type of “communism” does the party stand for and does it have a place in our modern democracy?
Alna Dall speaks to President of the WRP, Hewat Beukes

An interview with Party President, Hewat Beukes




Solidarity Statement with The Socialist Party of Zambia and Comrade Fred M’membe

 We have heard from our comrades in NUMSA that a warrant of arrest has been issued for Comrade Fred M’membe of the Socialist Party of Zambia and that his wife and several workers connected to The Zambian Post Newspaper have been arrested in a violent raid on his house by scores of armed police. 

 This is the result of the Lungu government’s determination to shut down an independent voice of opposition criticizing President Edgar Lungu, his Patriotic Front party and their followers. 

It is an attack on freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of any democratic society. 

 We agree completely with NUMSA, that as a working class party, “We have a responsibility to defend and advance democracy, human rights and full human freedom. We have a duty to defend and advance the interests of justice”. 

 We wholeheartedly support the NUMSA call for workers internationally to show solidarity with workers fighting against tyranny and for democracy throughout Africa, and to boycott trade with Zambia.

 Like NUMSA, we pledge our solidarity with all the working class and socialist forces in Zambia in general, and to the Socialist Party of Zambia in particular and to comrade Fred and The Post newspaper. 

 We support NUMSA in demanding the following from President Lungu of Zambia:

 1. Stop, forthwith, the harassment of Comrade Fred, his wife and workers of The Post.

2. Fred M’membe’s wife and all those detained must be released, immediately and unconditionally. 

3. The warrant of arrest for Fred M’membe must be withdrawn immediately.

4. Ensure that Zambian tax authorities comply with the order to have The Post opened and operating normally, and to allow for the normal resolutions of the tax matters between the two parties.

5. The Mast must operate normally, without hindrance or harassment. 

 Bob Archer

Secretary WIRFI

20 February 

 




Issue 6 of Die Werker out now.

Out now! The latest issue of Namibia’s Proletarian Newsletter.
In this edition:
Land
NUMSA & United Front
International Inquiry
Editorial
Former Judge




What Numsa decided in December 2013

What Numsa decided in December 2013

The Numsa Congress declaration explained: “The African National Congress (ANC) has adopted a strategic programme – the National Development Plan (NDP). The fault of the NDP is not that it is technically flawed, or in need of adjustment and editing … Its fault is that it is the programme of our class enemy. It is a programme to continue to feed profit at the expense of the working class and poor.”(My emphasis – RA)

It goes on to state: “The ANC leadership has clarified that it will not tolerate any challenge” and “Cosatu (the Confederation of South African Trade Unions) has experienced a vicious and sustained attack on its militancy and independence … Cosatu has become consumed by internal battles by forces which continue to support the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) with its neo-liberal agenda and those who are fighting for an independent militant federation which stands for the interests of the working class before any other”. 

Referring to the 2012 massacre of miners at Marikana, the declaration says: “the state attacked and killed workers on behalf of capital”. It goes on to outline a campaign to support the victims of the massacre and punish those responsible, situating the massacre in the context of imperialist exploitation: “Marikana was a deliberate defence of mining profits and mining capitalists!”.

The declaration notes: “The treatment of labour as a junior partner within the Alliance is not uniquely a South African phenomenon. In many post-colonial and post-revolutionary situations, liberation and revolutionary movements have turned on labour movements that fought alongside them, suppressed them, marginalised them, split them, robbed them of their independence or denied them any meaningful role in politics and policy making.”

The declaration summarises a political way forward: “There is no chance of winning back the Alliance or the SACP”; “The working class needs a political organisation”; “Call on COSATU to break with the Alliance!”; “Establish a new United Front”; “Explore establishment of a Movement for Socialism” (“NUMSA will conduct a thoroughgoing discussion on previous attempts to build socialism as well as current experiments to build socialism. We will commission an international study on the historical formation of working class parties, including exploring different types of parties – from mass workers’ parties to vanguard parties. We will look to countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Greece … This entire process will lead to the union convening a Conference on Socialism”

The declaration says Numsa will “set a deadline for this process” and “look for electoral opportunities”. It lays down a number of steps cutting ties with the ANC and the SACP.

It goes on to propose a campaign over the rampant corruption of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, pointing out that this corruption goes hand in hand with “the continuation of neo-liberalism”.

A sizeable section of the declaration deals with the crisis within the union confederation Cosatu, outlining the questions of principle involved.

The declaration also re-positions Numsa as a trade union as “shield and spear of workers”, pointing to the need to confront the fragmentation of the workforce through outsourcing and seeking to organise all workers in given workplaces and along supply chains.

A final section outlines a practical campaign, including taking forward the “Section 77” campaign to reverse neo-liberal policies and “address the plight of the working class and poor”. Cosatu had adopted this campaign but failed to pursue it energetically. Numsa pledged to act against the Employment Tax Incentive Act, and organise a “rolling mass action” with a detailed list of concrete demands, for example: beneficiation of all strategic minerals, a ban on the export of scrap metals and the rebuilding of foundries, an increase on import tariffs on certain goods, nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, exchange controls and other demands culminating in the nationalisation of the mining industry.

(For the texts of the congress resolution and declaration plus material to place them in a historical context, see the Workers International pamphlet Movement for Socialism: South Africa’s NUMSA points the way, ISBN 978-0-9564319-4-3).




A reply to Martin Jensen: The Numsa Moment – Has it lost Momentum?

A reply to Martin Jensen: The Numsa Moment – Has it lost Momentum?
By Bob Archer,  Jan 2017

Since the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s, South Africa has officially been ruled by a Triple Alliance of the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). At its Special National Congress in December 2013, the South African metalworkers’ union, Numsa, called for an historic break with the Alliance and adopted a series of initiatives. What they proposed – and how these initiatives have fared  ̶  deserves serious and sustained discussion, not just in South Africa and the region, but right around the world. To that extent, Comrade Jensen’s article raises important questions which deserve a response.

The decisions of Numsa’s Special National Congress (summarised alongside this article in What Numsa decided) should be studied carefully by all who wish and hope to see a renewal and re-awakening of the workers’ and socialist movement internationally and are seriously considering what methods of political work this involves. Numsa’s initiative urgently requires critical thought about the habits and working methods of working-class and socialist activists, in the prosperous nations of the “West” as much as in Africa and elsewhere.

Martin Jensen hails the Numsa turn but is critical about how Numsa has selected its practical proposals and taken them forward. He also criticises those of us who welcomed and forthrightly promulgated these initiatives.

Workers’ International responded very positively to the Numsa Special National Congress and its decisions. No doubt Cde. Jensen includes us among those guilty of “impressionism”:

“While many socialists correctly supported Numsa’s important watershed political decisions and got directly involved in their realisation, they failed at the same time to recognise the historical and current weaknesses of the union and assist in overcoming them. A combination of impressionism and overzealousness saw many socialists jumping in without critically appreciating the challenges of the period and limitations of Numsa and its leadership”, he says.

What should Numsa have done? Cde. Jensen thinks above all that Numsa should have opened the door to collaboration with the dissident former youth wing of the ANC, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). He also criticises Numsa for failing to get involved in the widespread student unrest this year.

(Just a thought: One group of people identifies the Numsa turn as a politically and strategically essential break and decides to encourage that political development in every way possible, undeterred by difficulties and without setting themselves up to lecture the comrades involved about supposed shortcomings identified from outside. A second group compares the numbers whom the EEF can mobilise for a rally or demonstration with the numbers Numsa can turn out and sets aside the – quite important – question of the class nature of the forces involved in order to give priority to the EEF. Which group best deserves to be described as “impressionist”?)

Cde. Jensen has other criticisms of the action programme which Numsa developed in December 2013, describing it as “hardly the issues that could have captured the imagination and concerns of other workers” and taking Numsa to task for failing to co-ordinate a campaign for a living wage with Cosatu and above all for not timing strike action to coincide with AMCU, the break-away from the South African mineworkers’ union.

Cde. Jensen outlines an alternative set of actions saying: “The 6-phase rolling mass action should have been changed to ensure that issues more important to the working class, with a greater preparedness on their part to struggle around, such as for decent housing and service delivery, jobs for the unemployed, free quality education, etc.”

So Cde. Jensen proposes that Numsa’s carefully-planned campaign to organise and guide workers into becoming the backbone of a defence of their class interests (and of the common interests of the wider masses) should be liquidated into precisely the kind of demagogic generality which EEF practises.

The 1 September 2016 Numsa Press Release (reporting a well-attended meeting of the Steering Committee to form a new Trade Union Federation) soberly explains: “Our country is the headquarters of service delivery protests and sadly the media is no longer reporting these protests. They have been relegated to traffic reports when they disrupt motorists’ travel plans! Sadly despite the occurrence and breadth of these protests they remain fragmented and isolated to the shame of all of us on the left. This is a challenge we hope to address through the creation of the new federation”.

But instead of prioritising the strategic move to create a new federation, Cde. Jensen would prefer the Numsa leaders simply to tail end the demagogues of EEF. Impatiently he waves aside (and distorts) the careful and systematic re-construction of the unity of the workers’ movement which Numsa and its allies have been carrying out, complaining that:

“the Numsa leaders, its allies and former Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi … focused on confining the political battle to the Cosatu CEC, the mainstream media and the courts. It meant that the outset in 2011, the workers of the majority of unions in Cosatu were excluded from the important political battle, isolated and disempowered. As mere spectators they did not grow politically and lacked the confidence to challenge and replace their corrupt leaders. Numsa’s call for a united front and a ‘movement for socialism’ should therefore have fallen on fertile ground if serious and consistent leadership was offered”, Cde. Jensen continues, but: “Alas, this was not to be”.

“Our trade unions are still bureaucratic and conservative lifeless shells, not prepared to fight and participate in broader struggles of the working class”, Cde. Jensen asserts, throwing in for good measure “bureaucratisation… , union chauvinism and not connecting with other trade unions … conservative collective bargaining arrangements … participation in the capitalist economy through its investment company”  and “the social distance of the union leadership from its members…”

And yet it is within and through this “bureaucratic and conservative lifeless shell” that working-class political life (and thought) has actually asserted itself!

Does Cde. Jensen have any real idea about how workers reach decisions and organise  ̶  essentially, how the working class thinks collectively? The flip side of “union chauvinism” is the democratic rights and participation in decision-making of workers who belong to different trade unions. Their membership of this or that trade union and confederation (wherever and whenever it arises, and whatever it appears to be) is not a trivial matter, nor should anyone “over-enthusiastically” try to override the decision-making process of each independent trade union.

Numsa has been in a constant dialogue with the leaderships of other unions and has demonstrated consistently to the memberships of these unions its principled efforts to find the way out of the failure of the NDR

Actually the movement around Numsa has brought together a Steering Committee which this summer claimed a meeting of 31 unions. As representatives of their own rank-and-file membership, the Numsa leadership were right to carry out a systematic and thorough struggle for their rights in what was the central organisation of workers in South Africa – Cosatu.  The middle class radical undertakes splits and schisms in the movement readily, even light-mindedly on the basis of this or that “impressive” news item, some or other theoretical dogma, or more often personal or clique considerations. This is not the way to build workers’ organisations rooted in principles.

The Numsa leaders are precisely providing “serious and consistent” leadership. Cde. Jensen offers a kind of political ambulance-chasing after whatever events appear to be the most impressive at the time.

In arguing his case, Cde. Jensen touches on many important issues. However, he gets many of these issues wrong and in other instances deals rather superficially with genuine problems which require a little more thought.

Let’s start with the really big one:

“Numsa’s biggest impediment that stood in its way and still stands in its way of realizing revolutionary objectives is its history and culture of reformist politics” with “its roots in the formation of the union in 1987 that brought together various radical and conservative trade union political tendencies and necessitated by unification compromises of the unions’ leadership”, says Cde. Jensen.

From the heights of his revolutionary consciousness (or “sober analysis of the overall relation of forces” as he calls it), Cde. Jensen seems to think that the best help he can give Numsa is: “Stop being reformist and start being revolutionary!” No doubt he hopes this advice will fall “on fertile ground”. The more experienced among us may well be less sanguine. Did not Karl Marx himself say of this approach: “If that’s Marxism, then I’m not a Marxist!”

All the same, Cde. Jensen stumbles upon a number of important points when trying to explain why Numsa (indeed the whole trade union movement in South Africa) became mired in the politics of Stalinism and the “National Democratic Revolution”. The thing is, does he really grasp the significance of what he describes?

MAWU and other unions were born in bold, independent struggles by black workers against a South African capitalism embedded in white minority rule and the Nationalist police state. In these struggles these workers naturally asserted their class independence of the bourgeois/tribalist ANC and its Stalinist supporters in the South African Communist Party. Where the ANC and the SACP promulgated the Freedom Charter, MAWU developed the Workers’ Charter with explicitly socialist demands. The Workers’ Charter is not a mere empty dogmatic call to revolution, but it is very far from being a reformist programme. (The two documents are conveniently available for study and comparison at http://www.workersliberty.org/node/1912)

Cde. Jensen rightly identifies the period of the collapse of Apartheid and the installation of the ANC in power as a key moment for the workers’ movement in South Africa. He points to the damage which was being done to the movement even as the apartheid regime collapsed: “By the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc ‘socialist’ regimes and the political reforms of the Apartheid government the union had become seeped (sic) in various reformist approaches to its work that saw it shift away from the radicalism and militancy of its main predecessor, MAWU…”

And yet for all its “reformist approaches”, Numsa was the union which led determined and vigorous opposition to the GEAR plan.

Does Cde. Jensen understand the full significance of what he raises? He returns to the matter (perhaps not seeing that it is the same issue) towards the end of his article, calling for “an honest and thorough assessment of the state of class struggle and balance of class forces” as a basis for deciding “on correct tactics and courses of action to achieve maximum working class unity”.

“Since the Numsa moment and still now” (but in reality since the early 1990s!) “the mass organisations of the working class remain weak or simply non-existent. The general level of class consciousness has remained low. The ‘Left’ is still weak – small, fragmented with limited implantation within the working class. Our trade unions are still bureaucratic and politically conservative lifeless shells, not prepared to fight and participate in broader struggles of the working class”.

Actually this blanket description of trade unions expresses an ultra-left prejudice endemic among petit-bourgeois socialists. It is a hint that Jansen himself is not immune to the “impressionism” he condemns in others.

With that exception, the points raised are important. But the timescale matters: these general political conditions didn’t fall from the heavens in December 2013!

Cde. Jensen soon gets onto this, saying:  “This weak state of working class organisation exist in the context of the continued neo-capitalist ascendency after more than two decades of economic and political attacks against the working class that has created new structural divisions within it”.

In reality, the core of this “continued neo-capitalist ascendancy” has been the assault on the working class, in its most concentrated form on the political leadership of that class.

The collapse of the workers’ states in the USSR and Eastern Europe has gone hand in hand with a sustained and co-ordinated attack on Marxism at every level and from every quarter. This has seen more than a few former Marxists turn their coats and become abject evangelists for capitalism.

Behind the “structural divisions” which Cde. Jensen rather blandly evokes lurks the reality that working-class populations with their organisations and working-class leaderships have been broken up, dispersed and thoroughly trampled upon. Where they could, the bourgeoisie has destroyed these bodies and the social structures which underlie them; where they cannot, they have poisoned the minds of their leaders with the idea that capital is all-powerful and above challenge.

This has left scars on the workers’ movement which will not heal overnight or on the basis of chasing after the numbers of the student movement or the EFF. Numsa’s leaders have been all-too conscious of the effects of neo-liberal policies: – de-industrialisation, the fragmentation in the workforce, the dilution of workers’ organising scope and rights and all the rest of it. The practical proposals adopted at the December 2013 Special National Congress were carefully designed to roll them back. But Cde. Jensen thinks they are “hardly the issues that could have captured the imagination and concerns of other workers”.

What Cde. Jensen says about the “creaming off of several layers of leaders of the mass movement from the early 1990s by the ruling class who offered them lucrative jobs in the state and companies owned by white monopoly capital” is well-put. It must be added that many of the revolutionary workers who had come to the fore in MAWU were at that time deliberately side-lined in the movement and some of them openly threatened with violence and their lives put in danger by ANC thugs.

These questions are central to the whole matter of what has happened to the workers’ movement and therefore how and by what steps it can recover. Cde. Jensen is impatient to unite the EFF and Numsa in a movement which will somehow empower the masses to achieve “decent housing and service delivery, jobs for the unemployed, free quality education, etc.” It’s all so simple! It is also more than a little light-minded. The key question is not adding together numbers to the most possible demonstrators can be called out onto the streets, but how a movement and a leadership can be built in the course of struggle.

There is starting to be a recovery of working-class struggle and socialist consciousness, but it is emerging very tentatively out of the very conditions of the previous defeats and setbacks the movement has suffered. The real danger exists that petit-bourgeois “revolutionary” Marxists sects see these still fragile beginnings   ̶   such as the Numsa turn, Bernie Sanders run in the US Democratic Party primaries,  the movement which put Jeremy Corbyn into the leadership of the UK Labour Party,  Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece – and think they are simply an audience for their dogmas, a sphere in which they can build their own groups. At the same time they are impatient, demanding that the movement should produce better results and move faster than it actually can. They are not able to see the working class going through a stage in its own political development.

The dogmatist insists that every development in class-consciousness has to reflect and follow some abstract ideological purity.

The trade unions in South Africa came under sustained pressure to be “bureaucratic and politically conservative lifeless shells”, but it is within the trade unions that workers have collided head-on with the reality that within the Triple Alliance and the government of South Africa the ANC leadership promulgates the policies of the capitalist ruling class and attacks the rights and the very existence of workers, and that the leading lights in the SACP provide a threadbare theoretical justification for what the ANC leadership is doing.

Cde. Jensen emphasises one side of the matter: workers are held back because of the damage suffered by revolutionary socialist consciousness. But the struggle to overcome that damage is (despite the “impressions” that individual academic Marxists may form) actually taking place through Numsa and Irvin Jim’s insistence that the promises of the National Democratic Revolution should actually be delivered, their obstinate comparing of the results of ANC-Triple Alliance rule with what was promised.

The promises made by the ANC and SACP in the early 1990s were a deception. The tribal elites in the ANC leadership had reached a fundamental agreement with imperialism and the big mining interests that these interests would remain intact. It took a quarter of a century, but over time it became clear to more and more workers and their leaders that they were being conned. The benefits expected and promised from the National Democratic Revolution were not being delivered because there was no move to carry out an NDR. Instead the government has been inflicting neo-liberal attacks on workers and the masses and protecting the interests of big monopolies.

The development in political consciousness reflecting this could not happen in the way a university-trained rationalist might expect, where individuals contemplating the world cogitate about the matter and conclude that the Marxists were right and the National Democratic Revolution is wrong.

The whole dynamic underlying the Numsa turn became very apparent in Numsa General Secretary Cde. Irvin Jim’s Ruth First memorial lecture delivered at Wits University, Braamfontein, on 14 August 2014 (see: http://www.numsa.org.za/article/uth-first-memorial-lecture-delivered-numsa-general-secretary-cde-irvin-jim-thursday-14-august-2014-great-hall-wits-university-braamfontein/).

This is a detailed indictment of the experience of a quarter of a century of Triple Alliance rule. Cde. Jim starts by paying homage to Ruth’s First’s dedication to the struggle as a Marxist who “perfectly understood the necessity to fight simultaneously racial, patriarchal, national and class oppression, domination and exploitation.”

He salutes her as one of those SACP members who helped to frame the ANC Freedom Charter, and goes on to contrast the slogans of the Freedom Charter with the reality of Triple Alliance rule

“The Freedom Charter says:

● The People Shall Rule: I argue that the people are not governing …

●All National Groups Shall have Equal rights
How far have we gone in this regard? Substantively, South African society is structurally incapable of delivering equal rights to all national groups. The system of colonialism, which continues to this day, was based on defining national groups on the basis of race. And so, it came to pass, that Africans remained at the bottom of the food chain …

● The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth!

Nalena abayifuni! There is complete refusal to share the country’s wealth! Some said it will happen over their dead bodies …

● The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!
Estimates are that black people own between 13—16% of agricultural land in South > Africa. Only 10% of the 30% land earmarked for land restitution has been transferred to black farmers, the target date for the 30% is 2014. At this pace, it will take 100 years to transfer 50% percent of the land back to the people …

● There Shall be Work and Security!
In the past 20 years, there has been no work! In 1995 the unemployment rate was 31%, in 2013 it had risen to 34% …

● The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!

… It is estimated only 3% of the children who enter the schooling system eventually complete with higher grade mathematics. 24% of learners finish schooling in record time.
The pass rate in African schools is 43%, while the pass rate in white schools is 97%.

● There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort!
There is no security and comfort in the houses of the working class!”

And so on for all the other demands of the Freedom Charter, what was promised is compared unfavourably with what has been achieved.

Trotskyists (including Workers International) warned beforehand that this would be the outcome.

Is it enough now to stand on the touch-line bragging that we were right and the working class allowed itself to be dominated by an illusion? Surely not.

It is in interrogating the experience of 25 years of Triple Alliance rule that the workers’ movement of South Africa starts to find a way back to its revolutionary roots. It is in the persons of the Numsa leadership and their supporters that this interrogation is taking place. Vague references to “revolution” on Cde. Jensen’s part, far from assisting their development, serve to repel the more thoughtful, organised trade union activists away from Marxism rather than attracting them to it. Practical advice (bad advice) to tail-end the demagogues of EEF will not enhance the reputation of the Marxists who give it, but will bring the science of Marxism into disrepute. As Numsa says  ̶

Following Marx  ̶   it is only the organised class-conscious working class that can lead in making the socialist revolution.

Workers’ International has enthusiastically supported the Numsa turn because it will enable South African workers to test to the limit the theory that the Freedom Charter can bring them satisfaction. And this new movement is standing clearly and consciously against the bourgeois “class enemy” politicians of the ANC.

There is a clear parallel with the British trade unionists (mainly in the United Left group in Unite) who have made up their minds to test to the limit the theory that the working class can find a way to socialism through the election of a left-wing Labour government. Theoretical purists, their eyes fixed on the appearance of the movement, form the “impression” that these workers are “reformists”. And so they are, except that nothing stands still. The determination of these activists to put their convictions into practice in the interests of their class and against the class-collaborators in the trade unions and the Labour Party is the condition for a rebirth of socialist consciousness.

The responsibility of Marxists is thoroughly to support and promulgate and practically advance such developments (usually against sectarians and dogmatists who try to impose their quack remedies and verbal radicalism on the movement).

The conditions exist for unity in action between those of us who are convinced that the future of working people lies in the ending of capitalism and those many people who hope a more limited aim can still bring results, and who certainly are dominated at best by social-democratic and Keynesian conceptions. The basis for unity in action is that these movements are gearing themselves up to fight on the class issues involved. Within that unity in action lies the potential for a development in consciousness.

The Numsa initiative has brought together a Steering Committee to form a new Trade Union Federation. 31 trade unions attended the meeting of this Steering Committee on 30 August this year, which the following day issued a highly interesting Press Release. (http://www.numsa.org.za/article/numsa-welcomes-fawu-decision-leave-cosatu/).

The first thing to say about this press release, which really does deserve attentive study, is that it starts from a thorough consideration of “The Current Political Situation and What it Means for the Working Class: Global Balance of Forces”. This glance around the horizon says in the first sentence: “… conservative forces are attempting to consolidate their power all over the globe and here in South Africa.”

Unlike Cde. Jensen, the leading group in this initiative starts by grappling with the international development of the class struggle.

Turning to South Africa, the Press Release makes the comment reported above about service delivery protest, but goes on to say:

“We remain firmly opposed to corruption by the elite political class. We are however acutely aware that the theft of our wealth, is not just by a few rogue families, but the entire capitalist class”.

It continues: “Despite shifting huge amounts of capital off shore, big business is still sitting on R1.5 trillion in our banks as part of an investment strike, which they conveniently blame on political and economic uncertainties, but is actually to force more neo-liberal concessions from government”.

“Agency” and the EFF
Cde. Jensen points out how “the thousands of EFF members are mere spectators to their leaders’ parliamentary shenanigans and occasional letting off steam mass marches”. It is true that the young supporters of EFF are denied any real role and power in the direction of their movement (in which Marxist rhetoric is mixed up with Black consciousness). For some reason, Cde. Jensen thinks the Numsa leadership could simply rush into a “principled” united front with this EFF.

But Numsa and its allies are actually engaged in a break with the petty-bourgeois politics of the ANC and the Triple Alliance. They are involved in the profoundly important historical job of probing the actual experience of the programme of National Democratic Revolution under ANC rule.

Cde. Jensen believes that the insistence of the Numsa leadership on carrying through systematically the break in the Triple Alliance and Cosatu and the organisation of the biggest possible new trade union federation is a purely conservative reflex which “meant that from the outset in 2011, the workers of the majority of unions in Cosatu were excluded from the important political battle, isolated and disempowered. As mere spectators they did not grow politically … Only during the last phase when it became clear that Numsa would be expelled and Vavi dismissed, did the leaders convene shop stewards council meetings to engage the rank and file about some (!!) of the issues and even then the unions on the other side were excluded”.

Cde. Jensen reveals here a stunning inability to understand vital aspects of actual working-class organisation and consciousness.

First of all, he wants working-class leadership to have as the ready-made starting point of its struggles the worked-out “revolutionary” understanding of all and everything that he, Cde. Jensen, has in his head, when he knows (in his calmer moments) that the whole movement itself has undergone a degeneration from which it must struggle to recover.

He knows that the politics of Stalinism which predominates in the Triple Alliance is wrong, but he cannot see the essential point about the Numsa turn: that it is a break in the carefully-constructed domination of the workers’ movement by Stalinist and reformist conceptions under the pressure of actual events in the class struggle. At one extreme this break is expressed in the killing fields around the Kopje at Marikana, at the other (and this is equally important) at the very top of the trade union movement and in the break-up of the Triple Alliance.

On the one hand Cde. Jensen concedes: “the tasks of Numsa and its allies were enormous”; on the other he criticises “Numsa and its allies” for the slow progress, systematic procedures and careful attention to their own ranks, the body of the rank-and-file Numsa leaders and their development, etc. In the middle of a big political and theoretical struggle, Cde. Jensen urges the Numsa leadership to rush off into an alliance with the EFF who embody the same petty-bourgeois politics with which they are at odds in the ANC and the Alliance.

The 1 September Press Release has a different approach. It expresses extreme concern about “the growing numbers of citizens disengaged with electoral politics. More than 21 million adults of voting age did not even participate in the elections … there is a crisis of political representation, and our people are less clear about who exactly can best represent their interests”.

It confronts frankly the difficulties the trade union movement faces: “In a staggering indictment of Union powerlessness, the employers now set 54% of all wages without any negotiation with workers, either through their union or bilaterally directly with workers” … “The share of wages in the national income (GDP) has continued to plummet well below 50% from 57% in 1991” … “More jobs have been shed. In the last three months of 2015 alone 21,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, with another 80,000 gone in the first three months of this year.” … and: “According to statsSA a staggering 54% of our population lives in poverty”.

From this, Numsa turns toward laying the foundations of a new workers’ movement which “will pay more than lip-service to crucial principles and that will instead offer a vibrant, inclusive and tolerant space for workers to discuss the challenges they face. We hereby pledge that workers will not be expelled for holding different views to the leadership or the majority of other workers! The Constitution that we envisage will not be a throwback to times gone by but will instead be a living document that guides our actions”, including “a real attempt to build women’s leadership and counter both informal and institutionalised discrimination and sexism”.

This path inevitably brings great theoretical and practical challenges which will not be solved by hot air or academic condescension.

In finding its way forward, this movement will need to cast a critical glance back at its own history in order to benefit from the theory and practice, mistakes and triumphs of past revolutionaries as a foundation for its own creative work.

The task is urgent!
Bob Archer, Jan 2017

 

 


The Numsa Moment Has it lost Momentum?

Martin Jansen

This critique is offered for the union ahead of its next national congress in December 2016 as food for thought towards unlocking Numsa’s historical task that present possibilities for unifying the working class in struggle, increasing its confidence and steering us towards socialist revolution.

In an interview last year, Floyd Shivambu, the EFF’s Deputy President, had this to say in response to Numsa’s reluctance to build unity with them, 1 “What we know is that efforts to start a rival socialist or workers’ party will dwindle into insignificance and will not benefit the working class and workers whom our ideological allies claim to represent.” It has been three years since the historic Numsa moment and it appears that the EFF leader’s claim is true. For three years we have not seen any significant mass campaigns or struggles led by Numsa, let alone grassroots mass democratic organisations emerging that have captured working class interests. What are we to make of this?

The “Numsa Moment” was hailed by socialists locally and internationally as the biggest political breakthrough in Southern Africa since the late 1980’s. Numsa’s special national congress held during December 2013 committed itself to fight and campaign for the most pressing political tasks confronting the working class. These included – to fight and campaign for a militant, independent and unified Cosatu that would of necessity break from the Tripartite Alliance and lead in the establishment of a new United Front (UF) that will co- ordinate struggles in the workplace and communities against neo-liberal policies such as those contained in the ANC government’s National Development Plan (NDP) and at the same time explore the establishment of “a movement for socialism”. The latter involved a comprehensive study of working class parties all over the world to identify elements “of what may constitute a revolutionary programme for the working class”. Importantly, Numsa’s organizational break with the ANC and SACP was of huge symptomatic and  symbolic importance and reflected a sharper working class response to the global economic crisis and rising class tensions in South Africa.

While many socialists correctly supported Numsa’s important watershed political decisions and got directly involved in their realization, they failed at the same time to recognize the historical and current weaknesses of the union and assist in overcoming them. A combination of impressionism and overzealousness saw many socialists jumping in without critically appreciating the challenges of the period and limitations of Numsa and its leadership.

By the following year the union initiated a flurry of activities and events to implement its resolutions. This included national and international conferences and a 6-phase programme of “rolling mass action”. The latter focused too narrowly on issues and concerns of the union instead of common issues of all workers and other sections of the working class. The critical Phase 1 of the rolling mass action plan had as its main focus the Employment Tax Incentive Act; beneficiation of all strategic minerals, a ban on the export of scrap metals etc.

These were hardly the issues that could have captured the imagination and concerns of other workers, let alone impoverished sections of the working class. It is hard to fathom why Numsa at the time did not take up the challenge of leading Cosatu’s Living Wage Campaign that, with the right approach, could have won over millions of workers in a common

1 Amandla Magazine, Issue No. 42 October 2015, p16.

struggle. This could have connected directly with the struggle of the platinum mineworkers under AMCU and their demand for R12500 per month. Instead, soon after a five-month strike by the mineworkers, two hundred thousand Numsa members went on strike separately in support of their own wage demands.

This was a missed opportunity for building the UF. Moreover, the 6-phase rolling mass action programme should have been changed to ensure that issues more important to the working class, with a greater preparedness on their part to struggle around, such as for decent housing and service delivery, jobs for the unemployed, free quality education etc. Unsurprisingly, the 6-phase programme has not seen much rolling mass action and faded into oblivion.

Overall, Numsa’s key weakness in attempts at implementing their political resolutions was that it underestimated the tasks at hand and overestimated its own strength and ability. While the fact that it claimed to be the biggest union on the continent with over 300000 members, together with correct political decisions presented great potential for political and organizational advances, this by itself was far from enough to accomplish what is required during this period.

Reform versus Revolution

Numsa’s biggest impediment that stood and still stands in its way of realizing revolutionary objectives is its history and culture of reformist politics. This legacy of reformism has its roots in the formation of the union in 1987 that brought together various radical and conservative trade union political tendencies and necessitated by unification compromises of the unions’ leadership.

By the early 1990’s, with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc “socialist” regimes and the political reforms of the Apartheid government, the union had become seeped in various reformist approaches to its work that saw a shift away from the radicalism and militancy of its main predecessor, MAWU, ten years earlier. By this time the Numsa leadership from the various strands had converged around the SACP as its political home and accepted National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as its theoretical perspective for achieving socialism in South Africa and the need for engaging with white monopoly capital and the state for “radical reform” that would move towards a “mixed economy”, “high skills and high wages” for workers and an internationally competitive South African economy.

The central vehicle for achieving this by Numsa and its leadership was the Tripartite Alliance and deploying much of its top leadership into the state, including senior government posts by the likes of Alec Erwin who became the minister of trade and industry in the Mbeki cabinet that led the anti-working class neo-liberal programme.  In recent years the union and its leadership was even part of the “die for Zuma” bandwagon believing that he would lead an anti-neo-liberal ANC government and revert back to the social democratic and Keynesian RDP and Freedom Charter.

While the 2013 Numsa Moment marked a shift to the left by Numsa, coming on the back of ANC government defeats of Cosatu around E-Tolls, labour brokers, the youth wage subsidy, the NDP and the violent state attacks of the Marikana massacre, the farmworkers’ strike and several service delivery protests as well as the extreme levels of corruption of the state – we did not see a simultaneous fundamental shift away from the reformist politics of the union and its leadership. The union still remained committed to the Stalinist two-stage theory of

socialism in the form of the NDR and views as its programme the vague and reformist Freedom Charter.

The Numsa leadership still yearns for the SACP of the era of Joe Slovo instead of bad man Blade Nzimande (current SACP General Secretary and Minister of Higher Education). And yet it was the very Slovo who led the rejection of one of the key tenets of Marxism-Leninism, the dictatorship of the proletariat as a necessity to usher in socialism. It was the self-same    Slovo who introduced neo-liberal measures of privatisation into the government’s housing policy. It was the same Slovo who proposed the “Sunset clauses” during the negotiations with the Apartheid ruling class that led to the democratic counter-revolution, the results of which are all too clear to see after over 20 years of bourgeois democracy.

Illusions of Restoring the Capitalist Economy to favour the Working Class

The union still believes in “transforming the economy in line with the Freedom Charter objectives” and believes that South African capitalism can be saved by “broad-based industrial development”. It still views as its road to socialism using the failed social democratic politics and method of radical reform through pressurizing and “engaging the employers and the state”. These approaches are reformist efforts to transform capitalism along social democratic lines. This internationally discredited class collaborationist approach has misled working classes of other countries for decades. Not only is this view fundamentally incorrect, it is also misplaced since it seriously misunderstands where capitalism is today that makes widespread significant material reforms in favour of the working class extremely unlikely.

Various Numsa leaders have since the early 1990’s sowed this illusion, promoting  and leading industrial restructuring to ensure that the South African capitalist economy can be “more competitive”. Numsa leaders like Alec Erwin and Adrienne Bird were the  prime movers of this reformist approach and ended up directly serving the interest of capital within the Mbeki government.

Prospects for a return to social democratic measures are at an all-time low. Capitalism cannot be reformed in this period of advanced systemic decay. Reformism is itself an expression of the pressure of the ruling capitalist class on the working class and some of its leaders and the union should not continue to succumb to these pressures. A prime example of this phenomenon was when in the wake of the 2008 – 2009 economic crisis, Vavi in symbolic show of unity with white monopoly capital, jointly at a press conference with Bobby Godsell, called on workers to accept wage freezes in order to save jobs and capitalism.

In line with its “red revolutionary character”, Numsa needed to reject and decisively break from the notion of reforming capitalism since it only serves the interests of monopoly capital and further impoverishes the working class. It cannot be reformed in this period of advanced capitalism. Continuing to hang onto this reformist illusion unnecessarily postpones the revolutionary struggle for socialism. It is only a revolutionary overthrow of the system that can resolve this crisis in favour of the working class.

A thorough Political Review was Required

The union, together with its allies and supporters and involving rank and file members, needed to prioritise having the fullest possible political review of its history and politics. In this way it could have enabled us to learn the lessons and chart forward a revolutionary course that should have informed the mass work required for developing the UF and socialist party.

This review should also have entailed an examination of the union and its own operations and all the factors that inhibit and undermine its ability to direct a revolutionary path for building strong mass working class fighting organisations.

This includes problems such as its own bureaucratization (despite its proud legacy of “worker control”), union chauvinism and not connecting with other trade union and rank and file members and working class communities, its conservative collective bargaining arrangements, its participation in the capitalist economy through its investment company, the social distance of the union leadership from its members with the top union officials earning the salaries of senior managers and top state officials etc.

In fact, three years later and there is still very little evidence of Numsa’s own over 300000 rank and file members having been politically inspired and stirred into action by the Numsa moment.

The Current Period, Numsa and the United Front

In order to give Numsa and its allies a clear idea of the tasks in relation to building the UF, the entire union and its allies, especially the rank and file, require an honest and thorough assessment of the state of class struggle and balance of class forces. This will enable us to decide on correct tactics and courses of action to achieve maximum working class unity and strong mass organisations in the process of struggle at local and national levels.

Since the Numsa moment and still now, the mass organisations of the working class remain weak or simply non-existent. The general level of class consciousness has remained low. The “Left” is still weak – small, fragmented with limited implantation within the working class.

Our trade unions are still bureaucratic and politically conservative lifeless shells, not prepared to fight and participate in broader struggles of the working class. This characterization includes the nine unions that originally allied with Numsa, with some of them still in Cosatu and others like the Food and Allied Workers union (FAWU) that has joined to form a new federation.

This weak state of working class organization exist in the context of the continued neo- liberal capitalist ascendancy after more than two decades of economic and political attacks against the working class that has created new structural divisions within it.

Despite the lower middle class also being severely affected by neo-liberalism, its intelligentsia has become disconnected from the working class and disillusioned with radical politics and even shifted to right-wing and conservative politics.

This loss of this “class ally”, traditionally socially and politically close to the black working class in South Africa during the Apartheid era, has in turn had a detrimental effect on working class politics and its capacity to organize. This came on top of a huge creaming off of

several layers of leaders of the mass movement from the early 1990’s by the ruling class who offered them lucrative jobs in the state and companies owned by white monopoly capital.

But at the same time the capitalist system remains in deep crisis, especially since the economic collapse of 2008. Since then the ruling class has intensified neo-liberal measures against the working class internationally and in South Africa, thereby forcing more and more people to resist and to organize against the attacks on their living standards and to seek radical solutions.

This means that unlike the 1980’s in South Africa, the building material for immediately constructing a mass fighting UF did not exist in abundance and the tasks of Numsa and its allies were enormous. At the same time the Numsa juggernaut had to be politically and organizationally re-orientated to lead and implement the tasks to build the UF and lay the basis for a socialist movement. This could only be achieved through a process of intense organized class struggle and political clarification towards revolutionary Marxism.

The state of the working class during this period can therefore be characterized by a few important features, namely;

  •  Increased structural divisions and atomization of the working class due to the impact of neo-liberalism and a growing insecure precariat constantly in survivalist mode.
  •  Low levels of class consciousness and confidence to consistently engage in class struggle
  •  Weak and low levels of mass based organization
  •  A waning political hegemony over the working class by the ruling tripartite alliance
  •  A growing rebellion against neo-liberalism and deteriorating living and working conditions

But despite this there has been a readiness on the part of the masses to struggle. It is the result of a build-up of frustration over many years with the impact of neo-liberal austerity measures on their lives, deteriorating living standards and disappointment with the corrupt and anti-working class ANC government who they had placed their hopes in for a better life for over two decades.

It is these factors that asserted itself in the revolt of the Platinum miners against the NUM bureaucracy and the wild cat strikes of both the miners and the farm-workers during 2012 – 2013. They are also the underlying cause of the uninterrupted local protests in every part of the country and more recently the #FeesmustFall student movement.

Both this pent up discontent within the working class and the intensification of class antagonisms are intimately linked and were the underlying causes of the constant attacks by the ANC on Vavi and Cosatu at the time, as well as Numsa’s break with the ANC and SACP and its eventual expulsion.

Numsa’s call for a united front and a “movement for socialism” should therefore have fallen on fertile ground if serious and consistent leadership was offered. These were ideas whose time had come but a sober analysis of the overall relation of forces was required. It is within the rank-and-file of the unions that the pent up discontent runs deepest and the Numsa and UF leadership should have organized that this section of organized workers could rub

shoulders with the youth, unemployed and women who have been in the forefront of the township and village protests country-wide.

What was therefore required was a reassertion of working class political and organizational independence through mass united front campaigns around the burning questions of the day. Alas this was not to be since 2013.

  • Missed Opportunities for Building the United Front

The UF approach also meant that Numsa had to do everything in its power to remain within Cosatu and do battle with the reactionary leadership to win over the ordinary members of the other unions to join the UF around the Living Wage and other campaigns. Instead of engaging the rank and file members of the right-wing ANC supporting unions through its  own rank and file, the Numsa leaders, its allies and former Cosatu general Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, instead focused on confining the political battle to the Cosatu CEC, the mainstream media and courts. It meant that from the outset in 2011, the workers of the majority of unions in Cosatu were excluded from the important political battle, isolated and disempowered. As mere spectators they did not grow politically and lacked the confidence to challenge and replace their corrupt leaders. This is where the real battle should have been since these workers had been suffering for more than a decade under their unions’ leadership who instead of leading struggles, covertly sided with the employers for unmandated wage settlements – especially in the public sector – where they appeased their ANC government masters. Only during the last phase when it became clear that Numsa would be expelled and Vavi dismissed, did the leaders convene shop-steward council meetings to engage the rank and file about some of the issues and even then the unions on the other side were excluded.

For the Numsa leaders and their allies in the Cosatu CEC at the time, the old union adage of, what you don’t win on the battlefield will not be won in the boardroom, seemingly did not apply.

  • The Crisis and immediate Possibilities for the mass UF

Why could Numsa and the myriad of smaller left formations that initially formed the “United Front” not have entered into a principled united front agreement with the EFF around common political goals? This would have enabled Numsa and other union members connecting with thousands of militant black working class youth in common struggles and opened up revolutionary possibilities. Instead the thousands of EFF members are mere spectators to their leaders’ parliamentary shenanigans and occasional letting off steam mass marches. With such a mass united front in struggle, both the EFF and Numsa leaders’ anti- white monopoly capital rhetoric could have been tested and advanced.

In conclusion, there can be no doubt that the main tenets of the Numsa moment, i.e. the struggle for working class unity (the UF), for a revolutionary and socialist workers´ government, and the creation of revolutionary socialist or workers’ party (the movement for socialism) remain relevant. They are interrelated and interdependent aspects of the same process: the self-emancipation and liberation of the working class. However, Numsa has not come close to achieving any of the formations it committed itself to in its 2013 congress political resolutions. This, despite many opportunities presented during the past three years.

  • Opportunities for the Numsa Moment to live up to the challenge

The student protest movement that unfolded over the past year signaled the beginning of the end for the ANC regime. Notwithstanding the weaknesses and crudity of their methods, by directing their demands towards national government and activating a national movement, the students have demonstrated tremendous political tenacity. The rest of the working class has taken notice and has drawn this lesson. In future we are likely to see local communities that have engaged in hundreds of militant local struggles around “service delivery” for over a decade, seeking unity with each other and building a national resistance movement similar to the UDF of the 1980’s. This prospect needs conscious intervention and support in order to be realized and currently only Numsa, its allies and the EFF offer this possibility.

The World and South Africa are experiencing deep and widespread socio-economic and political crises and the situation has degenerated beyond barbarism, especially for the working class and poor. Inequality, the concentration of wealth and poverty are at unprecedented levels. The resultant class conflicts have produced wars, extreme violence, terror and suffering by a rampant western imperialism led by the US, without any alternative revolutionary working class resistance and political leadership. The challenges to the working class abound – with on the one hand, US imperialism setting up military basis in all the regions of the African continent and elsewhere and at the same time within the trade    union movement conservative social democracy dominates. South Africa and many countries in the region are faced with political crises, with all the governments of the traditional nationalist parties having lost credibility after years of corruption and repression.      However, no revolutionary alternative exist for the masses to belong to and pursue the struggle in line with their historic interests and mission.

The stakes here are high, with the ANC government facing a crisis and implosion. Their hold over the state has increasingly come under threat. In the context of an economy still overwhelmingly dominated by white monopoly capital and the state being the main instrument of wealth accumulation for the ANC aligned new black section of the  bourgeoisie, they will resort to extreme measures to hold onto state power. It is not coincidental that the discredited Zuma presidency has ensured that the state security cluster is led by his most trusted allies. Failing a mass revolutionary response supported by strong organization, working class resistance and opposition will be vulnerable to violent repression by the ANC government. Time is not on our side. The need for a genuine mass united front and revolutionary socialist movement or party is even greater now than in 2013 and cannot be postponed.

Despite its shortcomings, Numsa and the Numsa Moment remain the only real short-term prospects in South Africa for the struggle to form a mass socialist alternative in the process of struggle in response to the crisis and the right-wing backlash that it represents, pregnant with dangers to the working class on all fronts. The union needs to recognize that the real mass working class united front is on the horizon to challenge neo-liberalism and our rulers. It needs to connect with the student movement and local working class struggles to ensure real revolutionary achievement and realise the full potential of the Numsa moment. For this to happen, its ordinary members will need to drive tectonic shifts in its politics, organizational culture and orientation – towards the masses, a genuine united front, a mass working class party and socialist revolution.

Jansen is the director and editor of Workers’ World Media Productions. He wrote this article in his personal capacity.