In the early years of the Russian Revolution there was a group of enthusiastic avant-garde artists who called themselves the Constructivists, who went in for a new kind of monumental propaganda along with a new kind of non-representational art. One of their biggest projects was a statue called “The Red Wedge Invades The White Square”, basically in praise of the Red Army during the Civil War. (This was where the 1960s and 1970s British Trotskyite organisation, Red Wedge, came from.) It turned out also to be a useful form of public housing, because a large number of Moscow hoboes made their home in the tubes and cracks which made up the statue. Anyway, Leninism became increasingly repressive, and then Stalin took over and stamped all creative activities flat, so that put an end to the statue and to the Constructivists.
Now, the Creator sympathises with those who want to drive the Trotskyites into the ocean. There has never been a South African Trotskyite who didn’t smell faintly but unmistakeably of class treachery and self-interest. But, all kidding aside, while Trotskyites should be assumed guilty of unspeakable practices unless proven innocent, they are also leftists. Misguided and infantile they may be. Sometimes it may be advisable to shoot them. But . . .
If the claims made by Terry Bell, himself an ultra-leftist of some or other description, hold any substance at all, then the South African left is in bigger trouble than anyone had realised. Bell claims that the SACP is deliberately purging the Western Cape trade unions of their Trotskyite activists, presumably to bring these unions more fully under their control (and also, on occasion, to make quite sure that the unions continue sponsoring SACP activities — without union financial support, the SACP would not be able to pay its bills).
If this is happening, it is tyrannical. It is arguably Stalinist; making use of appeals to the authority of the Party in order to suppress alternative viewpoints. It might rather be called Fascist, for the SACP seems to be doing it in order to secure money, status and power, rather than to build socialism in one country, or indeed socialism in any country. Is there a brown Fascist wedge invading, and ultimately even displacing, the red Socialist square?
The removal of Mazibuko Jara from a media NGO, and his replacement by the SACP Secretary-General’s wife, was reported in the Mail and Guardian by Nic Dawes, a newspaper and journalist without much evidence of credibility, so one must be careful. No doubt the job is a sinecure; no doubt someone (probably the Democratic Alliance) leaked the information to Dawes to damage the SACP. On the other hand, it looks like a worrying development. Nobody has ever claimed that Jara is hostile to the SACP, but he has made alliances with Trotskyites (he was involved in the TAC at one stage) and has criticised the Party’s uncritical support for Zuma. Purging Jara might thus be seen as a blow against the left in the Party (while, pleasingly, striking against intellectuals, of whom the Party appears deeply suspicious, and also getting rid of a troublesome Xhosa-speaker in favour of a compliant Zulu-speaker).
Perhaps all this is special pleading, but it certainly sustains a pattern.
The SACP has never been a particularly democratic organisation, which has been both its strength and its weakness, enabling it to take decisions and impose them upon its membership, which was fine except when the decisions were spinach, as they often, unfortunately, were. The leadership of the SACP, however, was in the past more or less devoted to promoting what they considered to be socialism. This is not so clear at the moment. In fact it is difficult to tell what the current ideology of the SACP is. The public utterances of Party members do not inspire confidence in answering the question; they amount to a firm and forthright belief that the Party knows what is right and that, therefore, it is unnecessary for the Party to ever have to explain what it is up to.
On the other hand, if the SACP is ideologically and intellectually feeble, it is certainly strong in terms of its methodology. Its practice of entering and taking over the ANC, and using this control of ANC structures to gain power in government, is remorselessly efficient. On the other hand, it is a practice which necessarily makes enemies, and in order to counteract those enemies the SACP is obliged to disapprove of dissent. It has to be undemocratic, it has to reject free speech, not only because it believes itself to be right and others to be wrong, and therefore not entitled to free speech; that would almost be understandable. The SACP’s hostility to freedom and democracy is problematic, instead, because it feels itself to be weak and therefore cannot permit open debate, let alone allow public decision-making. Even internally, the fact that its membership has plunged and its intellectuals have been purged is a sign that the current leadership of the SACP feel insecure, and therefore are only prepared to tolerate sycophancy and submissive obedience.
This is particularly interesting because the SACP, unlike the Russian Stalinists, has no actual reason for doing this. The SACP has been an extremely stable organisation. It has not been under any meaningful threat for a long time, and the threat which it was under between 1960 and 1990 was almost entirely a product of its alliance with the ANC. Its beliefs and values ought to be homogeneous — ironically, the present socio-economic situation in the world validates almost everything that the SACP has been saying about capitalism for the last eight decades, and many would argue that the SACP’s socialist alternative could be a valuable solution to South Africa’s socio-economic ailments. McCarthyism in South Africa has not, perhaps, a completely lost cause, but it is certainly hard to believe that anti-Communism has much of a future among the general public, however much the DA and some parts of the business community may huff and puff.
Nevertheless, not only is the SACP paranoid, it has exported this paranoia elsewhere. The Young Communists League, a major Zuma publicity organisation, was recently calling for the expulsion of ANC dissidents from the party, because they were criticising party policy and the behaviour of some leadership figures. This is not altogether new to the ANC — this kind of thing happened before, in response to the Marxist Workers’ Tendency (though this was partly at the behest of the SACP) and again after the 1980s MK mutinies in Angola (though, again, the SACP so dominated MK that the repression, including executions and savage prison sentences for what in retrospect seem often well-justified protests, were largely SACP initiatives). Nevertheless, purges have in the past fifteen years been restricted to the SACP.
This might seem odd to some readers, if there are any. Have there not been purges under Mbeki? No, not really. It has been true that some members of the ANC have been denied preferment in the party, and sometimes they have been publicly criticised. However, they have not been expelled from the ANC, nor even completely sidelined. The Mbeki NEC held regular meetings with the SACP and COSATU even though it strongly disagreed with their views on many issues. Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being equivalent to ZANU in Zimbabwe, yet continued to chair the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport even though he used this position to make (often well-founded) criticism of government transport policy. Pallo Jordan was first sacked and then restored, though his opinions had not changed. The claims now about how cruelly the Zuma faction were oppressed under Mbeki are mostly lies intended to fool a gullible and ignorant right-wing public, and to legitimate the real repression which is happening under Zuma. (In the same way, the alleged crimes committed by Mbeki have been used to excuse the actual crimes committed by Zuma.)
But purges of this kind are new to the post-1990 ANC, and they are happening under Zuma. Public spats between ANC members are much more intense than they have been in the past — but this is because people are genuinely being marginalised, being pushed out of the party. The difference is that the ANC is a bigger organisation, and that while people are disciplined, they are not so rigidly disciplined as they are in the SACP, and therefore people do not, like Jara, meekly accept their fate; instead, like Philip Dexter, they go public about it. In this sense, if in some ways we are witnessing the SACP-fication of the ANC, we may also be witnessing the ANC-fication of the SACP; it is possible that at some stage the SACP leadership may be faced with a revolt of membership, if it ever dawns on the membership that the current SACP leadership has no intention whatsoever of implementing any of its promises. But that will not happen for a long time — if ever.
It is possible that this is simply a mass of circumstantial evidence which should not be taken seriously. The deliberate decision to remove all dissent from the NEC, and subsequently to (so far as was possible) kick out all opponents of Zuma from the Cabinet and from other places, to promote sycophancy and subservience — all this is certainly true, and it is different in degree from the past, if not completely different in kind. On the other hand, one may argue that things will eventually settle down; that the Zuma leadership will make its peace with its opponents, which would certainly be possible, that the corporate-centric figures will ultimately allow the traditions of the ANC to reign, rather than aligning themselves with the thugs of the Youth League and the bullies of the SACP and its allies in order to seize wealth and power.
Yes, that might well happen. But it is not very likely, is it? On the contrary, we are likely to see the ANC becoming more Zumafied. The corporate figures and the SACP figures, or rather the people legitimated through their corporate connections versus the people legitimated through their SACP connections (for many businessmen are SACP members and many SACP members are businessmen) are engaged in low-level war at the moment, jockeying for position. The most likely victims of this conflict are those who are actually engaged in trying to do something for the ANC rather than for themselves or for a Communist Party which appears to exist in name only.
In other words, what will happen will be that the thuggery and intolerance of the SACP will spread and escalate, and become more and more self-validating as more and more enemies are evoked to justify whatever it is they want to do. Down with Lekota and George! Down with Dexter! Down with Tutu! Note that in this chant there is no hint of “Down with our unaccountable finance capitalist overlords!”. Corporatism is perfectly acceptable to the SACP, it would appear. Eventually the flag will be all brown, and the symbolic blood of the workers will be forgotten.
Until, perhaps, the time comes for the Party to shed it — and they will have plenty of allies and time-serving journalists to justify their actions, if that happens.