Buti Manamela, VIEWPOINT, ANC Today, Johannesburg, 4 March 2011
Two issues ago the ANC Today published an article by ANC Youth League Spokesperson, Comrade Floyd Shivambu which in our view fails to contribute qualitatively towards: (1) the national and internal alliance discourse on questions such as the role and unity of the alliance, (2) the role of the SACP and working class parties in South Africa and the world, (3) the autonomy of the communist youth movement within the revolution, and (4) the national growth path and seizure of economic power.
After careful reading of Cde Floyd's article, I asked myself: SO WHAT? This is because I had just read a small piece of factional propaganda that is extremely paranoid (such as "lies and conspiracies being spread against youth leadership...at the forefront of the revolution" and extremely anti-communist). This is very unfortunate.
Yes, the youth were mobilised to overthrow Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. So what does this have to do with the so-called neo-liberal nature of the communist party lately or some adventure that Cde Floyd calls a revolution? Yes, the South African Communist Party's (SACP) initial reaction welcomed and fully backed the objectives of GEAR...so what? And what about the SACP's role in relation to GEAR going forward thereafter? Why is that revolutionary role downplayed? What are the intentions of that downplaying?
Yes, some youth leaders in their time and prime made an impact in participating in transforming society from oppression, imperialism and anti-capitalism...so what - more so that there are other young leaders who either became a bag of cabbage or were used by leaders such as Hitler under a so-called National Socialism (read fascism, which ultimately inspired organisations such as the AWB).
The ANC is the leader of all forces towards the attainment of the main objectives of the National Democratic Revolution...now what does this have to do with the role of young people in Egypt' or any of the fantasies propagated by Cde Floyd?
There are also some matters of fact and of ideological inconsistency abused or scorned by Cde Floyd either to claim easy victories and score cheap political points, or to bestow solely the tasks of our current revolution to himself and some within the ANC Youth League in order for them to be in the hall of fame as mentioned in the extract from Cde Malema's Political Report to the last ANC Youth League National General Council.
These matters of fact and ideological inconsistency relate to what we mean by autonomy and whether a stratum or a class can drive revolutions. Even the word revolution is itself abused as a single action by the youth in having participated in activities that led to the resignations of Mubarak and Ben Ali in Egypt and Tunisia.
I raise these points as the main pillars of the article by Cde Floyd because each time he advances a point to justify his factional and anti-communist rhetoric he closes his eyes before the truth, and then proceeds to another dreary pontificating. Let's take each in turn.
Firstly, elementary political education teaches us that revolutions happen when the revolutionary class overthrows the ruling class and assumes power. Importantly, revolutions are completed after destructing the old order" including the old state and when "revolutionaries help build a new state (and not just government) that adheres to the emerging social relationships. This is why we characterized ours as a breakthrough and a transition, not necessarily a revolution, and has since been implementing (regardless of disagreements of this or that tactic) the National Democratic Revolution (which is a process and not an event).
Without undermining the advances made by young people in Egypt, it is important to point out that the military (very much part of the state that has been and is still in place) they seized power and are in the process of determining the transitional rules (the constitution and election date) as a result of the breakthrough (the forced resignation of Mubarak). This, unlike what happened in our country in the late 80's and early 90's is not an inclusive process but a military-handled process.
The millions who filled the Tahir Square are not involved in the negotiations process towards the breakthrough, but the military council which seized power and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt is yet to fulfil the basic characteristics of a revolution, let alone Tunisia. This is introduction to political education that I expected Cde Floyd to appreciate since he refers to himself as a revolutionary (and is responsible for political education in the ANCYL).
To forget that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle" and to fragment the antagonistic classes in terms of age is the neglect of elementary political education.
The thrust of Cde Floyd's argument is that "it is the youth in South Africa and everywhere else that are the seed of the revolution" and not the working class or its party. Thus, he commits another negligence of the elementary political education in reducing the Party to the Class, and the ANCYL to the youth (strata). In doing this Cde Floyd conflates many misconceptions. In the first place you can't counter-pose "youth" (a generational category) and "class" as if we have to choose between them.
Cde Floyd also refers to militancy. In the second place, militancy and a revolutionary position are not necessarily and universally the same thing. Yes, young people are often in the forefront of militant democratic action (as we have recently seen in Tunisia and Egypt) - but militant action is not necessarily and inherently progressive or revolutionary. Demagogically mobilized youth have been the street-fighters on behalf of emergent fascist regimes in Germany and Italy, and martyrs on behalf of reactionary fundamentalist movements, mouthpieces and militants or youth militia of reactionary forces as partially indicated earlier.
Cde Floyd might also want to reflect on the fact that the prime target of popular revenge in Tunisia was a youthful playboy relative of the deposed President Ben Ali. This particular relative was lynched in the course of the uprising, and he was especially unpopular because of the extravagant parties that he threw, flaunting his wealth in a society beset with mass youth unemployment.
In the third place, Cde Floyds potted history tells us that revolutions are led by the youth Lenin was young in 1917, Fidel was young in 1959, etc. But Lenin in 1917 did not think of himself as a "youth" per se. His break with the Mensheviks was not based on a generational divide or ageism, but on principled ideological politics. Yes, Fidel was young in 1959. But did he cease being revolutionary as he grew older?
What about leaders who were more mature at the time of the revolutionary breakthrough in their countries, say, Ho Chi Minh? And what about those who led us to our 1994 revolutionary breakthrough - Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Slovo, Hani and so forth, who never ceased to be revolutionary once they had lived beyond their youth. In fact, when Mandela spoke about, for instance, nationalization as a policy that the ANC should advance, he was more than double the age of Cde Floyd and did not qualify to be called youth.
Of course, the youth question in our country and throughout, particularly, the Third World is of paramount importance. The capitalist agrarian revolution in the South is uprooting millions of former peasant households, leading to rapid and squalid urbanization and wage-less proletarianisation. The protracted global capitalist crisis (that dates back to at least the late 1990s) has further impacted on Third World workers and lower-middle strata. Unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment (a massive 74% in Egypt) is at crisis levels and the recent events in the Arab world need to be analyzed contextually and taken into consideration as well. Those bearing the brunt of the crisis are, essentially, working class youth - which is why it is so misguided to counterpose youth and workers.
It is also factually wrong to underestimate the critical role played by the employed and unionized working class in both Tunisia and Egypt. In the latter case, for instance, a general strike involving transport and other workers were central to the demise of Mubarak. Of course, we should also not assume that there would always be a spontaneous alliance between youth movements, and trade unions and left-wing parties. The relative defeat of the youth and student uprisings in France, Germany and Italy in 1968 is a case in point. By contrast, successful revolutions (as in Cuba) succeeded in uniting trade unions, the youth and student movements, the peasantry, a national movement and a communist party in a common programme of action.
An attempt to rewrite history
Also, selectively pointing out to the immediate reaction of the SACP towards GEAR as constituting neo-liberalism by the Party and judging its capacity to lead the working class towards a revolution constitute weak intellectual opportunism and an attempt to rewrite history.
Cde Floyd deliberately chooses to forget, young as he is and recent as the facts are, that it is the Party that came to characterise the pre-Polokwane internal ANC and Alliance crises as being caused by the 1996 class project. He also selectively forgets that immediately after that statement, the SACP has and still remain committed to opposing the macro-economic paradigm as imposed by GEAR.
It was the SACP that introduced the critique of neo-liberalism into our movement in the early 1990s, and from the middle of 1996 it was the SACP that LED a consistent struggle against GEAR. Of course Cde Floyd holds his breath when he is about to tells us about the role of prominent ANC YL leaders who, long after 1996, without exception supported GEAR and maliciously attacked the SACP and COSATU, portraying their anti-neoliberal stance as an "attack on the ANC".
The SACP has never regarded these mistakes by the ANCYL leadership as a reason to write off the ANCYL as "inherently neo-liberal". We cannot also say because in the first bilateral meeting between the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) the former dismissed the latter's campaign for the expropriation of mines and free education as outdated and failed USSR socialism - then the ANCYL is neoliberal.
New Growth Path
The only current issue that Cde Floyd appears to disagree with the SACP on is its "general" support for government's New Growth Path. He is not interested in explaining why the SACP's "general" support for New Growth Path is wrong. He simply throws this and a whole lot of garbled potted history into the fray.
As a matter of fact, and not fictitious imagination, the SACP welcomed the tabling of the New Growth Path as marking a paradigm shift and resolved to deal with its details through a thoroughgoing internal process of consultation in order to respond comprehensively to the details. Cde Floyd's engagement is not a critical engagement with any particular perspective emanating from the SACP, or from comrades within the SACP, but an attack on the SACP in general.
Indeed in seeking to advance his half-baked anti-communism Cde Floyd begins to write off communist parties all over the place - whether in Venezuela in the present, or in Cuba prior to 1959, or Latin America over the past decades. The SACP and no doubt various other communist parties are not infallible. But the spirit of Cde Floyds piece is not to point out mistakes (real or imagined), but to factionally condemn the Party.
Obsessed with factional aggression
Instead of being obsessed with factional aggression against the SACP, let us focus on a militant programme of action that unites all our youth formations premised on the challenges of unemployment, and especially the crisis levels of youth unemployment in our society.
Finally, the youth-wing of the SACP, the YCLSA, remains committed to and is involved in practical programmes that raises the profile of the struggle that young people face. The YCLSA has overtime managed to ensure that some of these struggles are addressed in the immediate or long-term policy interventions are put in place to address them.
This year, for instance, the ANC-led government has prioritized jobs creation as central to its programme, targeting in particular youth unemployment. It is the YCLSA that invited more than 80 youth formations last year to discuss and make proposals on both the ideological, structural and socio-economic issues that causes unemployment. The Summit's resolutions characterized this as the crises of capitalism and the neo-liberal paradigm as adopted in the 1996 macro-economic policies.
The unity of these youth movement under the banner of the YCLSA has never been seen lately, and we never had to threaten people that we will ‘kick them out of office' or labeled them as this or that if they do not prioritise job creation. We opted to engage in what any ‘revolutionary youth formation' does before making empty violent or electoral threats - we engaged into a militant but yet qualitative debate and persuasion, and thus, we made progress.
Our popular demand for free education
There are many other things - including our popular demand for free education, now becoming a reality (when the then leadership of the ANC YL had dismissed this demand of the YCLSA as an unrealizable, communist pipedream); provision of free sanitary towels; the closure of shebeens next to schools and many others which we managed, the creation of a state bank, we are beginning to see movement in this regard. We can label these as reforms, but so is nationalization of mines, which are qualitative demands of a revolution in the making. And this revolution is through influence, and as Cde Floyd argued elsewhere (heaven knows where), "autonomy is elementary to the successes and extent of influence a youth movement can impact in a revolution"
For Cde Floyd to suggest that the YCLSA is "nowhere near being revolutionary, because it is not ideologically and politically autonomous" and to not further substantiate this justifies no further response except this. The YCLSA is a Marxist-Leninist formation of young people and it is the youth wing of the SACP that established it. Its conduct and perspectives are drawn out of a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. In this, both society and history are not static but require appropriate adjustments in accordance with constantly occurring change in the interest, not just of the youth, but "importantly of the working class.
We can only assume that for the YCLSA to justify being ideologically steadfast, consistent and fearless" in the eyes of the self-imposed revolutionaries means it has to shout empty slogans in the ears of the leadership of the SACP in order to catch the eager ears of newspaper sub-editors or to be seen to be involved in a sound-bite contest with the leadership of the SACP.
This is not the mettle of a revolutionary. Only true action - and not revolutionary sounding phrases not backed by results but by insults. That is not being "fearless or militant" it is merely seeking fame. We are not angels or saints, but so are most of the revolutionaries.
- Buti Manamela is National Secretary of the Young Communist League of South Africa