South African CP, Message to the COSATU Central Committee
As delivered by the General Secretary, Dr Blade Nzimande
Tuesday, 21 September 2021
We bring revolutionary greetings from the Central Committee and the entire membership of the SACP, during this year, our 100 years since the SACP was founded. It is indeed a centenary we are proud of—a hundred years of unbroken struggle for national liberation, women’s emancipation, and socialism. We are also proud of the fact that it has been a 100 years of building the progressive trade union movement in South Africa, and no other political party can claim such in our country!
In our centenary we say, ‘Put People Before Profit’ as our theme and a call to action for our whole working-class. We say, ‘Socialism is the Future—Build is now’.
We also wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere condolences to the families of the public servants in the healthcare, safety, and security sectors, to workers in the agricultural, food retail and other essential goods and services sectors, to mention but a few sectors, who lost their lives because of COVID-19 while serving our people. We express our heartfelt condolences to all the unions that lost their members, leaders, and staff because of COVID-19.
Your Central Committee takes place during one of the most difficult situations facing the national democratic revolution since our April 1994 democratic breakthrough.
The jobs bloodbath and the need to drive mass empowerment
We are faced with the global COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social impact and consequences. The pandemic has worsened pre-existing high levels of unemployment, poverty, and inequality in our country. Just in one quarter, from April to June 2020, over two million jobs were lost. Capitalist bosses mainly retrenched the affected workers. Their priority, as always, was on protecting profits. The jobs bloodbath however continued beyond the second quarter of 2020. In the face of the crisis, many workers were compelled to take wage cuts in lieu of retrenchments.
In the public sector, entities such as the SAA and the SABC retrenched workers. The SAA was first placed under business rescue. In fact, certain quarters wanted it to be liquidated altogether or wholly privatised. We had to confront that agenda, partly motivated by our centenary theme: Put People Before Profit: Socialism is the Future—Build it Now. But also, we defended the SAA and the SABC because we did not want them to become pilots for full or part privatisation. We also did this because as the SACP we strongly believe that workers’ struggles are indivisible, and that we cannot, for instance, elevate job security for workers in some sectors whilst abandoning workers in other sectors.
While we succeeded to save the SAA, so far, or for now, we lost a part of it to the so-called strategic equity partners. At SA Express, it seems a fait accompli, that those who wanted to finish off the entity through liquidation appear to have won. At Mango, workers have been battling with receiving their wage payments. We pledge our solidarity with all those workers as their interests and struggles are indivisible!
We need to continue and intensify the battle for public ownership not only in the aviation sector, but also in other key and strategic sectors of our economy. However, we need to draw lessons from our own struggles against privatisation and state capture. We went to the ANC Polokwane Conference in 2007 united on the need to fight privatisation and to keep our state-owned enterprises in the hands of the state. Yet we have subsequently discovered that some amongst us wanted those enterprises in the hands of the state so that they could facilitate their looting and not to drive a developmental agenda to advance the interest of the workers and the poor. We therefore need to clearly define the role and agenda to be pursued by SOEs!
We also need to advance more radical forms of ownership, including co-operatives and worker ownership. This must also include fighting for a truly broad-based BEE, rather than a BEE that concentrates on advancing the interests of the small elite. Frankly, these are tasks and struggles that must be led and advanced by a close working relationship between the SACP and COSATU, and broadly the Alliance, and other progressive forces.
We also need to work together with COSATU to confront and roll back the ideological agenda that argues the private sector is the saviour, and the public sector cannot advance the interests of society, especially the workers and poor. What the private capitalist agenda conveniently ignores is the important role played by thriving public entities in a number of countries worldwide. For example, the Forbes’s 2021 Global 2000 List has the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China at the top spot, number one. This state-owned bank alone employs 434,798 workers. Number four on the list is the China Construction Bank, a state-owned bank which alone employs 347,156, while number nine is the Agricultural Bank of China, in which the Chinese Ministry of Finance owns about 40 per cent and National Social Security Fund has a stake as well. The Agricultural Bank of China alone employs 459,000 workers.
While neoliberals and their hangers-on in South Africa both in and outside the state are opposed to our call for a developmental state bank and public banking sector, the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has acquired a stake in the order of 20,1 per cent shareholding in Standard Bank South Africa. Given the abject failure of the big banks in our country to support co-operatives and small, micro, and medium-sized enterprises, for example, more than ever before we need a developmental state bank, public banking sector, and thriving co-operative banks. With the African Bank currently owned 50 per cent by the South African Reserve Bank and 25 per cent by the Public Investment Corporation, it is surely a ready-made candidate for not just effective public ownership, but for social ownership and a strategic public interest mandate.
The idea that public ownership is inherently destined to fail is nothing but an ideological drive to advance the monopoly of private ownership control and push privatisation, a policy instrument used in many cases to facilitate the capture of public assets by private interests. The industrial scale looting of our key state-owned enterprises has, unfortunately but predictably, now become an argument for further moves towards privatisation.
We should, in contradiction, for instance, welcome the proposal for Eskom to do a debt swap for green fund financing to deal both with its crippling R400-billion-debt but, of equal importance, to enable this critical public asset to become the strategic leader in our country as our region shifts towards renewable energy production. Without such a shift, Eskom will be left with stranded assets in the face of very rapid and necessary global moves to address the dangers of unsustainable global warming. Without a public sector lead in greening our economy there will be no just transition.
We should not forget that the crisis of Eskom and other state-owned enterprises is not a result only of looting, corruption, and associated governance decay. It is also a crisis of the neoliberal policy regime that was introduced in our democratic dispensation through the imposition of GEAR in 1996. It is for these reasons, at least, that the SACP has made it clear: Neither neoliberalism nor state capture is the solution to our economic challenges. Both are problematic and must be confronted.
By neoliberalism we include things such as the macroeconomic policy stances, fiscal as well as monetary, that deprived the publicly owned sector of adequate capitalisation and investment. We include the austerity that is suffocating our economy. It is the austere fiscal stance that underpinned problems such as the National Treasury-led refusal to honour Resolution 1 of 2018 in public service and administration bargaining. This undermined collective bargaining not only in the public sector—as capitalist bosses also saw this as an example for them to squeeze workers’ wages further and sought to weaken collective bargaining in industrial sectors.
For a long time now, we have defined the SACP and COSATU as the socialist axis in our movement, including the Alliance. We need to strengthen, rather than weaken, this perspective and approach as the basis upon which we should strive to ensure and guarantee the working-class as the leading motive force of our national democratic revolution. We call upon the Central Committee to resolve to practically strengthen this socialist axis, through a clear joint programme of economic and broader social transformation and development and building each other’s capacity.
Without closing ranks as the socialist axis, we will find it more difficult to overcome the now highest unemployment rates we face in many decades. We are faced with an unemployment rate of 34,4 per cent by the narrow definition, affecting, 7,8 million active work-seekers. Our total unemployment rate is 44,4 per cent, affecting close to 12 million active and discouraged workers, in a national population that is now approximately 60,143 million strong. Going hand in hand with unemployment is poverty, inequality, and the associated crisis of social reproduction, which is characterised by many households struggling to support life.
An even closer working relationship between the SACP and COSATU is of absolute necessity! Let us, amongst other things, resuscitate our joint political schools and joint programmes of action in defence and advancement of both the immediate and longer-term interests of the working-class!
An emergency response to the tsunami of unemployment, poverty, inequality, and the crisis of social reproduction
We need a rapid emergency response to the structural economic crisis we face. This must include more decisively driving the COVID-19 vaccination programme to achieve population immunity and ensure an economy-wide full capacity utilisation as soon as possible.
The SACP has called for a minimum income support structure, including grants for productive activities that people can engage in to make a living. In the same vein, to act against the crisis of social reproduction, we have joined the wide array of trade union and social movement forces in calling for the introduction of a universal basic income grant at a reasonable level. We do not need the false binary that has been drawn between a universal basic income grant and employment, between social security and economic growth.
A universal basic income grant can, and will, act as an economic stimulus not least for the millions of South Africans working in the informal and small, micro, and medium-sized enterprises sectors that have been most severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The unemployed and under-employed poor, who will be the major beneficiaries of a universal basic income grant, are precisely those who live on basic food and other necessities. This is unlike the wealthy one-percenters whose savings go into off-shore speculation, and whose consumption patterns favour imports. All major international studies in basic income grants in other countries indicate important economic multiplier effects with such grants!
The current Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant can and should be used as the basis for expanding into a universal basic income grant. This must be phased in as rapidly as possible and form part of our wider effort to build a comprehensive social security system (towards which we committed ourselves as the ANC-led Alliance in our 2019 general election manifesto). The question is not ‘Can we afford it?’ The reality is that as a country we cannot afford the current crisis-high levels of unemployment and inequality. This is simply unsustainable and poses a threat to the National Democratic Revolution. We therefore welcome the indication given by President Cyril Maphosa, here yesterday, pointing to a consideration to extend the Special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant beyond the current date that has been set to end it.
The second emergency response to the unemployment, poverty and social reproduction crises must be a significant and rapid expansion of a range of public employment programmes. The Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme, focused on community health care workers, and school assistants, underlined the possibility of rapidly scaling up on these kinds of programmes, in addition to the long-running Expanded Public Works Programme including Community Works Programmes. There are millions of South Africans who are desperately willing and able to work, and there is a wide range of work that needs to be done: maintenance of community resources and infrastructure, community safety and neighbourhood protection, environmental rehabilitation to build resilience, community food gardens, school sports coaching, early childhood care, and much more. All these require public employment intervention as the private sector is incapable of providing for these.
Another key challenge of our revolution is that of confronting and defeating the scourge of gender-based violence. But an integral platform for both men and women to fight this is to intensify the struggles for gender equality, whilst strengthening women organisation, especially working-class women. Organised workers in general, and COSATU in particular, have a duty to promote women organisation both inside their ranks as well as in many other sectors where working-class women are—stokvels, burial societies, the churches, school governing bodies and in many other such sites. The struggle for gender equality must be streamlined in every effort, not to mention the imperative to overcome the capitalist system crises of unemployment, poverty, inequality, and social reproduction, and the goal of the necessity to overcome the exploitative system itself.
Organisation of women and intensification of struggles for gender equality is also important because it is women who bear the brunt of the structural crisis in our economy. They are poorly paid and are often the first to be retrenched when capitalism hits moments of its crises. In line with the persisting legacy of colonialism of a special type, black/African women are the worst affected.
It is crucial to intensify our struggle to end racism and racial inequality in our society. The persisting legacy of colonial and apartheid capitalist inequality, including uneven development and under-development, remains articulated along racial lines. This is the context in which the crisis-high levels of unemployment, poverty, and inequality, as well as the crisis of social reproduction, continue to affect the black/African population the worst. Redressing the racial imbalances created under colonial and apartheid oppression and now reproduced daily by the capitalist market must find profound expression in our efforts to achieve structural transformation, towards completing the National Democratic Revolution and a socialist transition.
The two urgent interventions—a universal basic income grant and public employment programmes—are, themselves, not silver bullets. They need to be part and parcel of a broader systemic and structural transformation of our economy. This means that our macro economic indicators must be premised on fighting unemployment, especially youth unemployment and privilege these considerations rather than narrowly focusing on inflation targeting.
The affordability of critically required interventions should not swing narrowly or entirely around taxation. Certainly, strategic taxation needs to be part of any public sector armoury, not least in the context of the huge windfall profits by mobile network and pharmaceutical companies in the midst of the pandemic.
However, there is a range of other interventions that need to be used to deal with our economic crises. The South African Reserve Bank should purchase primary state bonds rather than these being passed on to the private banking sector as a profit-making indulgence. Investment of these bonds should be ring-fenced and tightly monitored to ensure their productive use for key infrastructure build programmes, for instance.
Instead of the generalising idea that South Africa has good policies and what it needs is only to implement them, we need to join forces to achieve policy change in a number of areas where these are required. We urge COSATU and other worker formations to not go with that idea, which may at the end of the day prove to be useful for conserving the neoliberal substance we are yet to overcome in our policy terrain. We need to strengthen our unity of purpose as the socialist axis and strive for policy changes where they are required to achieve a breakthrough against the triple challenges.
That means other integral parts of a systemic economic response to our all-round crisis, needs to include a shift in macroeconomic, trade and industrial policy framework. This must prioritise the development of our national productive capacity, through adequate support for innovation, research, and skills development, geared to support industrialisation. We need a well-resourced, high employment creating impact trade and industrial policy to take the centre stage. This means we need to review the employment impact of all our sectoral master plans, and others, to strengthen them. This must include a major focus on skills development programmes, opening the workplace as a training space to massify workplace learning and training.
Critical co-ordination of the initiatives we need to advance, particularly through the District Development Model, should include a focus to systematically eliminate uneven development, with a strong focus on rural development as a key priority.
We have argued many times for the things just outlined. It is time now that we are just not satisfied with these as resolutions, but to come up with a concrete programme of action to campaign for the realisation of these, including intensive engagement in the battle of ideas. Again, this Central Committee is being called upon to come up with such concrete programmes and campaigns. No one will take up the fight for the working-class except the working-class itself!
Reconfiguration of the Alliance and building strong organisation
Above all, there can be no social revolution without revolutionary organisation. We need to strengthen our efforts to reconfigure the Alliance. As the COSATU Secretariat Report to this Central Committee states, Alliance relations at the national level have improved, but we still have a long way to go to achieve complete reconfiguration both at the national levels and equally importantly at sub-national levels. Our conception of Alliance reconfiguration is however not a narrow electoralist one, notwithstanding the importance of building a successful Alliance electoral campaign and platform. Neither is it a tactical manoeuvre. Alliance reconfiguration is a strategic organisational, political, and ideological imperative to rebuild and strengthen our movement to be capable of moving the National Democratic Revolution into a second radical phase of our transition.
When we discussed the important question of state power at our SACP 14th National Congress and the 4th Special National Congress, we agreed that engagements with worker formations, first and foremost with our ally, COSATU, were an apex priority. Why? Unlike other political organisations, the SACP is not a party merely for its members and leaders but a Marxist-Leninist, working-class party. Every step that the SACP takes as a Marxist-Leninist, working-class party must be with and for the workers and poor as a class.
Besides the questions of state power and Alliance reconfiguration, we resolved to build wider worker unity and a popular Left front. These are all interrelated strategic considerations. Those who compartmentalised the state power debate to mean that the SACP will be in competition with COSATU, and the ANC fail to understand the issue of state power correctly. We would like to suggest: Let our first few resuscitated joint political schools deal with this matter.
By the state and state power our understanding correctly includes the question of electoral strategy and tactics, but it goes far beyond that. It includes all the branches of the state and the entire forest of its organisation, establishments, institutions, agencies, and at all spheres, and the legal doctrine that guides them, to mention but a few elements. It is comprehensive on what the state is and where it derives its power. We include in this the many authorities, to name but a few, such as judicial officers, other office bearers in state authority, organs of state supporting our constitutional democracy, and other state officials, officers, the whole army of people who did not stand for elections but are entrusted with and exercise decisive state power.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of building our unity as the socialist axis within our movement and wider working-class unity to drive the National Democratic Revolution towards socialist transition. We need to pursue a strategic framework, not least in the policy space, that accords with our nature and character as the socialist axis. This is what must guide the minute details that we must push.
Among others, we need to bolster our efforts to strengthen our trade union movement in the industrial sectors. At the same time, we need to deepen the hegemony of our trade union movement in public service and administration and grow it further. As the SACP, we need a strong COSATU on all fronts.
But overall, both the SACP and COSATU have a duty to build and defend the unity of the ANC. This must be foremost in our minds as we campaign for an overwhelming ANC electoral victory on 1 November!
On the internationalist front, we call upon COSATU and all other progressive forces to unite to defend the Cuban revolution, which is facing one of its most challenging periods since the victory of that revolution in January 1959. We condemn the continuing criminal embargo by the United States and we call for its immediate lifting. We urge COSATU to join all other forces to provide emergency concrete support to Cuba at this point in time.