Very well. We accept that the ANC government in South Africa is unlikely to bring the people much good. We have seen the past and the present and the dirty future is reflected in both. The sky is sour; the elephants are being butchered; the flies rule.
But how can we change this?
There are too many easy answers. Their easy nature makes one suspect that they are wrong. At the moment, in fact, few are even offering them, because those easy answers have been supplanted by the universally-acknowledged command to bow down and submit or worship. Let us turn our backs on the easy answers and ask the fundamental question again: what did we on the Left do wrong which made all this so terrifyingly possible?
Well, what is this Left? It is difficult to see the SACP or COSATU as the Left. It is difficult even to see the APF or other Trotskyite agencies, so small and insignificant have they become, but if we could see them, would they really be the Left? Have the Trotskyites, in the end, a more genuinely Left analysis and policy and practice than the SACP or COSATU? It would seem that they do not. Ideological purity is a delusion caused by inexperience. As for the liberals, there is nothing Left about them any more.
And yet, overwhelmingly, South Africans desire and pursue Left agendas. There may be no “Left” in “we on the Left”, but there is undeniably a “we”. The mass of the people desire justice and redistribution — “a better life for all”. The shadow of the Left majority looms over every politician. Every politician has to find a way to steal and defuse the weapons of the Left. Luckily, the organised Left is always prepared to do that for those politicians, in exchange for a handful of silver and a ribbon to stick in one’s coat.
That’s a bitter thing to say, so let’s get specific about the problems. Firstly, the Left is horribly dependent upon lies. By lies the Creator means things which would be recognised as lies, and other things which are less obvious — half-truths, as well as the state of uncertainty where ideology breeds the confident assertion that one knows what one is talking about when one does not. Like the constant confident assertion that an economic crisis is the collapse of capitalism when it isn’t — or hasn’t yet been, thus far.
Why tell lies? The Left is a highly isolated body at the moment. This is mainly from choice; whether it is political patronage, or financial subsidy from abroad, the Left has a small amount of valuables to distribute. The leaders of the Left want to stuff those valuables in their pockets. That is why Blade Nzimande and Siphiwe Nyanda are where they are now.
As a result of this isolation, the Left is easily fooled. The leaders of the Left fool themselves. Yet even the membership are willing to be fooled. The Left has grown accustomed to defeat and therefore is happy to hear lies about how powerful and corrupt the enemy is. In its heart it believes that it is the only organic political grouping, the only one responding to reality (like all the other political groupings around) and therefore it also believes that it must win; historical inevitability. Therefore it wishes to see victories and triumphs where these do not exist. Furthermore, when the only thing which you can hear is the sound of your own voice, there is no check on what you believe and what you say. So Leftists can tell lies to each other without even knowing that they are lies.
And yet, what is the biggest obstacle to political action in broader society? Surely, it is the systematic disinformation projected by the ruling class onto us all which demobilises the people and slots everyone into the status of submissive and passive consumer of products and services and ideology. Attempting to challenge disinformation with counter-disinformation is a futile effort in the long run, whatever benefits it might bring for the moment. Furthermore, it opens up the probability of co-option; that the lies one tells will not benefit the Left but someone else. The enormous advantage of trying to tell the truth is that there is some kind of external control on what one is saying. So the Left should abandon telling lies.
The Left should also accept democracy. Internal democracy goes without saying. (No Left organisation at the moment is internally democratic, as the eternal unchanging persistence of their leadership clearly illustrates.) But the Left is supposed to be aiming towards a democratic life for South Africans. Hence it ought to accept that the general public, the people of South Africa, are not gullible, imbecilic goofs to be led by their noses towards the New Jerusalem with fancy propaganda, slogans and hectoring.
The the general public does not consciously hold Left views although it is undoubtedly more sympathetic to the Left than the Left acknowledges. This is entirely the Left’s fault. The Left speaks in jargon to people who barely understand plain language. The Left focuses on abstractions rather than on the concrete. It is necessary to see the big picture, to recognise the importance of the abstract in one’s understanding. But the average person understands poverty, unemployment, crime and violence, poor living and working conditions, unsatisfactory social services. This is where the Left needs to begin, but it is also not where the Left needs to end. These things must be used as a way to open the public’s eyes to develop their understanding of how these things can be brought to an end — and “developing an understanding” is not the same as “getting people on message”. The Left does not simply need people who chant slogans and march in step. It is much better to have people who ask what the slogans mean and where they are supposed to be marching to. The trouble is that the Left has, for too long, pursued mobilization and neglected conscientisation. The fact is that you cannot have the one without the other, not for long, and this is why the Left has simply promoted and facilitated demagoguery.
Respect for the people should be the starting-place of the Left, and demagoguery is the reverse of respect; it is exploitation. In the Western Cape, the Right has used racism to divide coloureds and whites off from blacks — and that’s the Right of Mcebisi Skwatsha as well as the Right of Helen Zille. In both cases, people are told a) that you are poor and oppressed (even wealthy whites can be persuaded of this by choosing the proper framework in which oppression means “threatened with having to pay your gardener a living wage”), and b) that this is because all the resources are going to the blacks (or the coloureds). Therefore the coloureds, to protect themselves against the corrupt black government, have voted in the whites, while the blacks, to protect themselves against the threat of coloured dominance, have allowed the whites to get a majority. Almost everybody in the Western Cape actually believes in Left principles, but thanks to clever propaganda and unimaginable dishonesty on the part of the leadership, racial prejudice has been used to turn these principles into serving the cause of the Right. This is not something which could never happen anywhere else, even though the Western Cape is most vulnerable to such things.
Truth and democracy; that’s a fair enough starting point. But what makes the Left significant is that it has a moral sense combined with an analytic framework which is uniquely valid in serving South Africa’s needs. The moral sense is a consciousness of oppression and a desire to bring it to an end; the analytic framework explains where that oppression comes from and, therefore, what should be done to stop it. This is what, for instance, the SACP had the potential to provide.
But it is easy to be deceived by history. Under apartheid, consciousness of oppression was ubiquitous. Everyone was either an oppressor or an oppressed, and some of the oppressors were themselves oppressed. Also, the National Party served as a focal point of the oppressive system, having created it and been quite open about that. The system was oppressive on many levels. Yes, there was also the question of whether big business was not a part of the oppressive system, but there were strong grounds for arguing that if the National Party were taken out of the equation, big business would be enfeebled and unable to resist the power of the people. It was all crushingly simple.
This is why the Left today loves to pretend that nothing much has changed since apartheid. The alternative would be to examine the moral basis of the Left in an era of democracy when oppression is much more insidious than before and in some ways no longer exists. This appears to enfeeble the simple purity of the Left, so the Left is reluctant to adapt to circumstances for fear of losing authority. In addition, if the situation is more complicated, the analytic framework in response to the situation must also be more complicated. However, the Left is terrified that changing its analytic framework may lead to compromise and to ultimate betrayal of its basic principles — every Left organisation accuses every other Left organisation of some degree of compromise and betrayal, which almost certainly means that every Left organisation has a bad conscience about its own willingness to betray its basic principles. So the Left sticks to its analysis, under conditions in which that analysis no longer holds up — the classic example being COSATU’s insistence on condemning the GEAR economic policy five years after that policy had been abandoned.
In fact, for the most part, in the 1980s the South African Left analysed society, economics and politics with greater subtlety and acumen than it does in the twenty-first century, just as in the 1980s it was more truthful and more democratic than it does now — even though now there is enormously more intellectual and political freedom and more right of access to information than ever.
Step back for a moment. What the Creator is saying is that there is enormous potential for a Left organisation to develop the support of the mass of the people, even if by vanguardist methods so long as these methods are respectful of the will of the people and responsive to the needs of the members of the organisation. This is because the situation in South Africa is in crisis because of skewed socio-economic redistribution of wealth and resources due to capitalism and its associated corrupt practices, and due to a lack of democratic rights on the part of the people despite their possessing the vote. The Left has the analytic tools with which to study the universally-acknowledge problem, tease out its precise causes and provide answers to them. The Left has the moral basis for pursuing this, having critiqued precisely these issues for hundreds of years. Nobody else can do these things, and the vast majority of those who claim to be able to do these things are doing so not because they believe they can do them, or even want to do them — but because they want to fool the public into refraining from supporting the Left’s way out of the crisis.
That should be tremendously heartening. However, it is completely obvious that the Left has systematically failed to meet its potential because of a broad, systematic, structural set of intellectual and organisational flaws which cannot easily be remedied within the present Left system in South Africa and elsewhere. If we want to radically change South Africa for the better, we must first radically change the Left for the better. This, unfortunately — because it is a difficult task — must be the starting-point for any campaign to rid South Africa of the ZUMA curse.