How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Let’s assume, because it is true, that the policies and personnel of the present Zuma government are a disaster. Let’s assume, because it is probable, that the present Zuma government has sufficient control of the ANC to prevent an internal uprising against their policies and personnel. Therefore, only two obvious alternatives appear plausible: to establish a counterforce against the ANC’s current policies and personnel which is powerful enough to consistently change those policies and personnel into something more South Africa-friendly, or else, to establish an alternative to the ANC which can oust it, either through revolution or the ballot-box.
The former looks easier, but this is probably an illusion. In South Africa under apartheid, we had a tremendous anti-state movement which eventually became so powerful an organization that it forced the apartheid government to the negotiations table. It is thus tempting to assume that it is easy to develop such an anti-state movement. (This assumption is reinforced by the assumption, often made by Left critics of the ANC, that the enormous power of that anti-apartheid movement was betrayed by the ANC.)
But that anti-apartheid movement resembled the resistance movements which arose in Europe during the Nazi occupation. Those resistance movements were easy to establish because the experience of Nazi occupation was so awful, and competing class or ethnic priorities could be disregarded because nothing seemed more important than getting rid of the Nazis. Even then, however, the active resistance was a comparatively small portion of the population, and without the assistance of the British and Soviet governments it might not have accomplished anything.
Once the Nazis were expelled, the solidarity of European resistance disintegrated. In Eastern Europe the leftist resistance enjoyed the support of the Soviet occupiers and helped to crush the rightist resistance (who received support from the Anglo-Americans). In Western Europe the rightist resistance enjoyed the support of the Anglo-American occupiers and helped to crush the leftist resistance (partly because they received no support from the Soviets). In both cases those original objectives of resistance which went beyond simply kicking Hitler out were distorted in pursuit of sectarian political goals.
Isn’t this very much what has happened in South Africa since 1994?
What, therefore, needs to be done is to establish that there is a clear and present danger to South Africa which the public needs to resist, and therefore a united front is possible. This danger exists on some levels. However, the different segments of South African society have such different priorities that they may not be altogether eager to cooperate against the present government.
To take a simple example, the unemployed want jobs, whereas the employed working-class want better jobs (or better conditions with the jobs they have). Providing employment for the unemployed is a completely different policy choice from providing better jobs or conditions for the employed. There is probably not enough money to do both at once. As a result, either one must choose, or one must pursue a policy choice which fails to satisfies both – and the danger of this is alienating both, if both workers and the unemployed believe that they are being betrayed.
There is, admittedly, another alternative. This is to find some issue not directly related to socio-economic need which appeals to both employed and unemployed people, and persuade them that this is more important than their actual need. This is essentially what the Republicans in the United States have done, and to a lesser extent what various other organizations have done in Western Europe and (for instance) India under the BJP. The goal is to either persuade people that some conveniently demonised policy or group is the source of their problems, or that attacking this policy or group is more important than resolving their problems. Ideally, the target of such campaigns should be people whom the mass of the public has been told to detest, such as homosexuals, foreigners or people of different skin colour or religion.
This works extremely well as a tool of mobilization. After several decades of experimentation, many of the politicians engaged in this particular pursuit have learned how to play this game without conspicuously appearing guilty of racism, sexism, xenophobia or general panic-mongering.. (For instance, the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, although its chief mobilization tool is hostility to black people, continually denies that it is hostile to black people.) In societies in the West where it is considered dangerous to promote too much hatred, this is an important issue because unduly obvious reliance on hate-promoting propaganda could backfire on the propagandists.
Even where the propagandists can escape responsibility for promoting hate, however, the problem is that promoting such hate makes it difficult to mobilize the public in support of desirable goals. If it were true that the Romani were responsible for the European economic crisis, or that blacks and homosexuals were responsible for the American socio-economic meltdown, then the current campaigns against them would make sense. Since the real problems lie elsewhere, however, this is not the case, and the people who have run those campaigns have gained power at the price of not being able to do anything effective to resolve the problems. (It is a price that the North American and European conservatives are happy to pay, since they are not interested in resolving those problems but rather in exploiting them for private gain.)
None of this means that groups or even individuals associated with malign practices cannot be targeted (even unfairly) for mobilisation purposes. During the apartheid era, for instance, it was easy to focus hostility to the apartheid state on Botha, or to the tricameral system on Heunis, or to militarisation on Malan, or police repression on Vlok. Likewise, it was easy to focus hostility to the apartheid state through condemning its minions or its supporters. However, this could only be made productive through the knowledge that the apartheid state itself had to be stopped, through knowledge of what the apartheid state was doing wrong, and through the belief that there was a workable alternative. In other words, one could hate policemen or bureaucrats or soldiers or racist propagandists and this contributed to one’s challenge to apartheid — so long as one’s hate was ultimately directed against apartheid. But hate for Afrikaners, and even hate for whites, usually lead to the ethnic hatred becoming dominant over the political context, which was one reason why white English-speakers and the PAC generally found it difficult to evolve effective political action.
Hence, the proper place to start, in order to establish a counterforce, is with the problem. We know what the problem is; it is unequal distribution of resources. Anyone who understands economics knows that this is a problem in practical terms; where the rich are too rich and the poor too poor, the economy suffers. (The entire goal of neoliberal “economics” is to prevent people from understanding economics.) Meanwhile, almost everyone understands that it is unfair that some gain enormous wealth for little effort while others are impoverished through no fault of their own. (The entire goal of neoliberal and neoconservative politics is to obscure natural morality and fairness.)
It is not enough to know these things. It does not mobilise people on a large scale to know that wrong is being done. What is needed is to have a clear, easily-comprehensible, accessible method of challenging the wrong that is being done, and if possible, to get the mass of the public excited about it. This would entail a clear plan for changing the distribution of wealth, through changed economic policies and social projects. Some of these could be incorporated into popular existing concepts such as a desire to wean South Africa away from its dependence on fossil fuels, to head off the impending urban water crisis, and to provide better public transport within and between urban areas.
However, it is not enough simply to say what needs to be done. It is also important to say how it should be done. It is also important to explain why it is important. For instance, the reason why light rail networks within cities could become a much more efficient system than buses needs to be combined with the fact that building such a network would employ a large number of people. But it is also necessary to explain how this can be done without instantly destroying the taxi industry (this is important not for the sake of the taxi industry, but for the sake of the people who might otherwise fail to energetically support such a plan out of sympathy for the taxi industry). This is complicated stuff — not so complicated that one needs a matric certificate to understand it, but complicated enough that it cannot be presented in simple soundbites. Soundbites are not for explanation, they are for chanting in demonstrations, so long as one understands what one is really chanting about. The problem is that too many organisers move directly from the problem to the soundbite without taking political education seriously.
In effect, the creation of a political force to challenge the ANC from the left — the apparent project being conducted by the Conference for a Democratic Left — has to begin with a massive programme of political education. It will be necessary to develop and explain the project — what needs to be done, how it is to be done, what effect doing it will have. This is desirable in the sense that it represents a project which must also be democratic, in the sense that some of the details will need some discussion. On the other hand, if there is to be so much discussion that nothing gets done, then the project will fail. Meanwhile, if getting down to business means riding roughshod over the minority because the clever people in charge of the project — the “vanguard”, in Stalinist rhetoric — have their own agendas, then the business will either fail, or will lead to something potentially undesirable, a dictatorial system.
The problem is that one does not simply want to bring about the change in the economic system (which in itself requires a massively disciplined organisation struggling against the ruling class and their dupes who are widespread in our society). One also wants to bring about a more democratic form of government. This is almost certainly what many of the people involved in grassroots left-wing politics also want. However, they don’t want democracy at the expense of accomplishment, and they don’t want their enemies to seize control of the system. Somehow a structure has to be built up to make the project work without being taken over by its enemies — inside and outside the left — or derailed. And all this without the disastrous problem of individuals becoming dominant within an organisation and using it for their own purposes, or else, using it to further their personal corruption which, when exposed, leads to the discrediting and shattering of the organisation, as happened with CoPe.
It’s not easy to do but it has to be done, and pretending that it is easy, or pretending that these problems don’t exist, is simply not an option if you want to accomplish anything.


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