Friday, December 19, 2014

NUMSA: Which way forward?

The Marikana miners are the vanguard of the South African workers

NUMSA* broke with the ANC/SACP before the last election. It was then expelled from COSATU to prevent it from convincing the majority in COSATU to break from the ANC. This break however, is not complete. NUMSA President Irvin Jim calls for the return to the Freedom Charter which has been abandoned by the ANC/SACP. He presents the Freedom Charter as in the interests of workers when it was always the SACP inspired Stalinist program aimed at creating a Black bourgeoisie. Secretary General of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi has thrown fuel on this fire in his recent Open Letter to the SACP slamming it for consistently opposing COSATU’s resistance to the neo-liberal policies of the ANC since 1994. While NUMSA calls for a ‘united front’, and a new ‘workers party’, at the same time as a ‘return’ to the Freedom Charter, this will lead to a new ‘popular front’ with bourgeois figures like Ronnie Kasrils, former Minister of Information in the ANC. We look at the stand taken by different currents on the left and put forward our position for a revolutionary workers party and program.

NUMSA Splits from the ANC/SACP*

On the left we note the positions of Socialist Project, the WASP and the WIVP. All welcome the NUMSA break with the ANC/SACP but disagree on how to make this break complete. The most immediate disagreement is whether NUMSA should fight to overturn its unconstitutional expulsion and continue with its fight to get COSATU as a whole to break with the ANC/SACP.

This is important because those like Socialist Project who think NUMSA should not challenge its expulsion abandon any fight for democracy in COSATU, leaving the rank and file of other unions at the mercy of the bureaucratic ANC/SACP dominated leadership. It leaves uncontested COSATU CEC’s unconstitutional action in blocking a special congress where NUMSA could advocate a COSATU split from the ANC. At the same time it writes off the role of COSATU and advocates a social movement perspective outside COSATU.

Second, those who want NUMSA to challenge its expulsion are divided over the use of the bourgeois courts. We say that since NUMSA is a workers organisation and has fought for decades to enshrine workers democratic rights in its Constitution, going to the courts to overthrow an illegal expulsion is not a matter of principle. The principle involved is: that defence of bourgeois rights is necessary when it advances the workers’ revolution. The tactics employed must serve this principle.

We are opposed to taking COSATU to Court over the expulsion under the current circumstances. We don't think it advances the workers revolution. It takes the struggle out of the hands of the rank and file of COSATU affiliates when it is strong enough to challenge the leadership, defend the constitution and overturn the expulsion. It seems that appealing to the Court is a tactic being used by the leadership to foster illusions in the Courts as independent of the ANC/SACP corrupt regime, rather than mobilising the ranks to throw out the corrupt COSATU leadership.

On the other hand, those who argue that NUMSA should abandon COSATU as corrupt and instead build a new union movement, are weakening the mobilisation of the rank and file within the unions to oppose the Irvin Jim leadership in going to the Courts, calling for a return to the Stalinist Freedom Charter, and inviting ‘progressive’ bourgeois factions who are proven enemies of the workers into the ‘united front’.

For example, the NUMSA ‘United Front’, at its small ‘preparatory assembly’ ahead of the launch next April, put the bourgeois politician Ronnie Kasrils, a former ANC Intelligence Minister responsible for collaborating with the CIA and Mossad, on its ‘interim leadership commission’! His ‘workers’ credentials are no more than opposing Zuma, and campaigning for a ‘no vote’ for the ANC. We agree with the WIVP that the NUMSA split is in danger of becoming ANC Mk2 by including corrupt bourgeois celebrities. Who is next: Julius Malema and his personality cult to revive the Freedom Charter?

Break from the Freedom Charter!

All of this points clearly to the main weakness of the NUMSA split from the ANC. It does not split with the Freedom Charter. It does not complete its break with the ANC/SACP program. If the bureaucratic expulsion from COSATU leads to a new bureaucratic labour movement, (despite the ‘united front’, workers’ party’, and ‘socialism’) then the democratic will of the mass of workers moving against the ANC/SACP/COSATU will face yet another bureaucratic barrier to their class independence and the socialist revolution.

The WASP approach to this problem is to ignore the question of program and talk only about organisation. It supports going to court to make COSATU hold a Special Congress. At the same time it calls for NUMSA to press ahead with its ‘united front’ to rally all COSATU and non COSATU unions around a ‘socialist’ program. Yet it neither critiques the COSATU leadership’s illusions in the Freedom Charter nor comes up with a ‘socialist program’ of its own.

It is not possible to build an independent trade union movement on socialist principles without a clear call to break from the Freedom Charter! Given the history of WASP in the Militant tendency, we expect that it to be silent about the ‘united front’ failing to challenge the Freedom Charter and making compromises with the bourgeois politicians like Kasrils which turns a workers ‘united front’ into a bourgeois ‘popular front’.

That is why the WIVP call to replace the Freedom Charter with a Workers Charter is correct.

“In opposition to the Freedom Charter, we propose the consideration of the development of a Workers’ Charter, based on working class demands, both democratic and Socialist, of a programme for working class power and a workers’ government. Let us cast off the old clothes and prepare the basis for a new revolutionary working class party.”

WIVP rejects the Freedom Charter as the ANC/SACP program for the national democratic stage in which the black bourgeoisie comes to power to prepare the road to socialism. The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) did not lead the nation to independence from imperialism and open the road to socialism. 20 years of black bourgeois rule has proven beyond doubt that the rule of imperialism has been entrenched and the working class has been subjected to imperialist super-exploitation.

The Workers Charter as summarised by the WIVP is the Trotskyist Transitional Program. The task of revolutionaries is to raise it in all the ‘united front’ actions along with the call for the formation of a mass workers party. It would become a rallying point inside and outside the unions for a genuinely independent workers movement.

Use the Transitional Method!

Underlying the Transitional Program is the Transitional Method. This is another word for dialectics, the method Marx developed as the basis of his revolutionary critique of capitalist political economy. Dialectics means that society is based on a contradictory unity between objective reality and subjective reality where the latter acts on the former to make a new objective reality. Marxism does not separate theory from practice.

Theory helps us understand how capitalism works objectively as class society and this subjective knowledge transforms our class consciousness to guide our struggle to overthrow class society. The highest expression of this subjective reality is the Marxist Party which uses the program as a scientific weapon to advance the consciousness of the proletariat in its struggle to transform capitalism into socialism!

Is South Africa right now, the objective reality is the ANC bourgeois capitalist regime that oversees the super-exploitation of the working masses in return for a cut in the profits for the new black bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie ‘trickles down’ some of its profits to buy the bureaucratic leadership of COSATU as part of the ‘popular front’ to strangle any independent workers movement from breaking with the regime.

However, for Trotsky, the main task of the unions as "schools for revolution" is: the "...complete and unconditional independence of the trade unions in relation to the capitalist state. This means a struggle to turn the trade unions into the organs of the broad exploited masses and not the organs of a labor aristocracy."  

In South Africa the unions have begun the struggle for independence from the bourgeois state. Marikana expressed the objective reality of poverty in radicalising the subjective consciousness of the miners. It was this radicalising of the base of the unions that has forced the NUMSA leadership to split with the ANC and its Stalinist SACP bedfellows to head off a break with the Freedom Charter. The result is the big fight inside COSATU where the mass membership is moving to break with the Freedom Charter against the resistance of the bureaucratic leadership that is still defending it as the program of the black bourgeoisie.

In the words of Nelson Mandela:

“The Charter is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state...The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes. Its declaration “The people shall govern!” visualizes the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of the country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty-bourgeoisie... For the first time in the history of the country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.”

To activate this change in workers’ consciousness to the point of a complete break from both the bureaucracy and the bourgeois state revolutionaries must raise the Transitional Program in the unions. Replacing the corrupt union bureaucracy with a new leadership accountable to the ranks would prove wrong Socialist Project’s claim that trade unions cannot represent the majority of workers because they are irrevocably compromised by their links to the bourgeois state.

Like the Marikana strike it would prove that corrupted unions like NUM can be replaced by rank and file struggle unions such as the AMCU and that their isolation, as in the recent Platinum strike, can be overcome by a ‘united front’ of all unionised and non-unionised, domestic and unpaid workers preparing for a general strike.

Finally, it would coordinate all united front actions under the leadership of a mass workers party in which revolutionaries would fight for the adoption of a transitional ‘Workers Charter’, for “working class power and a Workers’ Government’, as part of an international struggle of the working masses of the whole of Southern Africa for a Federation of Socialist Republics.

20 December 2014

*Note ANC (African National Congress); NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa); SACP (South African Communist Party); COSATU (Congress of South African Trades Unions); WASP (Workers and Socialist Party); WIVP (Workers’ International Vanguard Party).

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