Grundrisse (IV): The Voice of the Bought Man.

Yes, one might say, of course the ruling class have bought our politicians. That, surely, is nothing new. Be angry at a skunk for stinking, if you are going to be angry at the ruling class for ruling. It is, perhaps, a little bit new that the ruling class do not know what to do with their politicians having bought them — exactly like the rich kid who buys a Ferrari with inherited money but doesn’t know how to get it past second gear and keeps crashing into things.

However, this does lead to some problems for the public who has to live under the rule of bought men who are not instructed about what to do, except that they are under no circumstances to acknowledge that they are bought men, while naturally making it absolutely clear that they are bought men, obedient, subservient, docile, with no hint of independence from their sponsors. These are difficult tasks; one has to put up a great mass of facades and in order to make those facades function, one has to exercise absolute control of public debate, in order that nobody will misunderstand a statement, nor interpret it in any way other than the way the ruling class wishes it interpreted. Vacuity is performed with terrifying precision, and the result is anaesthetised numbness combined with fear, the only honest emotion which the bought men feel.

This is a much less healthy situation than it has ever been in South Africa or elsewhere; whether or not the erstwhile political masters of nations were bought, they at least created the illusion that they were in charge, were doing something and going somewhere, and that they wanted the public to help.

Let’s consider a recent utterance by Jeremy Cronin on umSebenzi, “The Worker”, something which Jeremy himself has never been, which more recently appeared in Business Day (comrades, workers and capitalists, united). In the Creator’s local rag it appeared under the title “Time to raise the debate”. Cronin is Deputy Secretary-General of the SACP (which means he essentially runs it, since Blade is busy elsewhere) and also Deputy Minister of Transport.

The article kicks off with a quote from a resolution passed at Polokwane, basically saying that something needs to be done about the mining industry. The actual call from the floor was that the mines should be nationalised; the SACP countered by demanding that SASOL be nationalised, and Cronin and buddies managed to water it all down into something meaningless. That was in 2007; five years have passed, and absolutely nothing has been done. There has, however, been a lively debate about nationalisation, which Cronin says served to “dumb down the matter”, without saying why nationalisation is dumb.

Cronin claims that mining nationalisation was a “pseudo-radical” call promoted by “BEE mining tycoons” who were “heavily indebted” due to the financial crisis. It might seem a bit rich for a wealthy white guy to denounce nationalisation as a stupid idea promoted by feckless, lazy blacks, but that is exactly what Cronin is doing. Unfortunately, this claim is false, since the issue was raised in 2007, before the financial crisis happened. It’s also false in the objective sense that Cronin has no evidence to substantiate it, and false in the sense that it’s difficult to see why people making money out of mining would be keen to see their companies taken away from them. This is remarkably like the Israeli argument that the Palestinians are organising the killing of their children by the Israeli police and army, in order to embarrass Israel. Technically, it’s known as “dishonest, hypocritical bullshit”.

Cronin proceeds to call the nationalisation debate the “pseudo-nationalisation” debate. So nationalisation is now “pseudo-nationalisation”. Actually, there is such a thing as pseudo-nationalisation; it’s what the Western capitalist imperialists did for the crumbling banks and big corporations, pretending to nationalise them so that they could pump public money into them, after which the banks and corporations were handed back to the rich people who had wrecked them. However, nobody has suggested that the mines should be briefly nationalised and then given back again, so Cronin is again talking twaddle.

What we begin to see here is that Cronin is opposed to nationalisation of the mining industry, and presumably was opposed to nationalising the petrochemical industry when he called for it in 2007. However, he is not saying so, nor is he saying why. Instead, his task is to smear the people who support nationalisation, and also to try to discredit the concept of nationalisation itself. He particularly denounces the ANC Youth League for raising the issue of nationalisation at the 2010 National General Council. How dare they be so “inelegant” as to attempt to discuss substantive issues?

Whose agenda is this? The SACP could easily trash the ANCYL without trashing nationalisation. Therefore, their agenda must be to attack nationalisation. Why does the SACP wish to do this without explaining why they oppose it (and indeed without making any honest statement about what the issue entails)? Obviously, because if they allowed open debate and declared their interest, this would undermine their position. Self-evidently, they are either terrified of the big mining industries, or they have been bought. Almost certainly it is the latter.

Being bought involves massive dishonesty. Cronin boldly denounces the big mining corporations, and then says “they would have been secretly pleased” at the issue of nationalisation being raised “in this mindlessly narrow way”. In other words, by calling for the nationalisation of the mines, the ANCYL was serving the interests of the big mining companies. Meanwhile, Cronin refuses to say anything about what the SACP wishes to do, because, he says, the ANC has produced a wonderful document which he hasn’t seen (so how does he know it is wonderful?) through which we will “transform this critical sector of our economy”. Yeah, when pigs floss. In other words, the SACP proposes to subject itself to the ANC, something which it never did before, on the basis of a document which Cronin pretends he hasn’t seen (in all probability he helped to write it, but never mind). Massive dishonesty, viva!

We are left with nothing at all in terms of meaningful government policy. Cronin has managed to disseminate lies, misrepresentations and disinformation without clarifying anything or daring to take a stand. However, the substantive parts of this statement are that Cronin does not like black businesspeople, does not like young black politicians, and does not like freedom of expression. It is hard to distinguish this stand from that of AfriForum, but doubtless a subtle observer could do so.

Cronin moves on to the judiciary. It has been widely said, because it is true, that Section 25 of Chapter 2 (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution, which is the Property Rights section, can be used by the judiciary to obstruct the redistribution of wealth. (Also, of course, the government can use this part of the Constitution to excuse its failure to redistribute wealth.) Therefore, it has been very widely said that something needs to be done to amend the Constitution to remove this opportunity, and to transform the judiciary so that they will no longer wish to block the redistribution of wealth. All well and good and splendid, not so?

Not to Cronin. He praises the retired Constitutional Court Judge Arthur Chaskelson, who says that the Constitution is just fine, and so is the judiciary. In brief, Cronin may dislike black people and their calls for change, but when rich white establishment figures speak in support of the status quo, Cronin is the first man to stand up and cheer.

According to Cronin, Chaskelson quotes from the preamble  to the Constitution (which Cronin calls the introduction); this has nothing to do with any problems which anyone may have with the Constitution, since it is a pious list of intentions and pledges. Chaskelson also cites judicial decisions which have been, in his opinion, progressive. This, again, has nothing to do with problems which arise from either the Constitution or the behaviour of judges — nobody denies that judges may be progressive, what is complained about is that they often are not, and most particularly are not when being regressive is to the advantage of the ruling class, from which all judges come and whose interests all judges serve.

Obviously, Chaskelson is trying to defend his political class by defending his industry and the set of rules which his industry enforces. This doesn’t mean that Chaskelson is wrong, it merely means that we should be suspicious. Cronin is not suspicious; he instead basks in the warm glow of judicial rectitude which has been assiduously cultivated in South Africa since the dying days of the apartheid regime. Effectively, Cronin is reassuring the judicial defenders of affluent white privilege that he is on their side. Which should come as no surprise to anyone; almost certainly, the same people who hire them have hired him.

It is true that Cronin admits one twit amid his yips of praise; just as he acknowledged that the mining industry whose rights he is concerned to preserve are brutal, corrupt and exploitative, so here he acknowledges that the mere fact that the judiciary now has a large cadre of black and female agents for the pursuit of ruling-class interests, which Chaskelson says means that the judiciary is transformed, is irrelevant. To transform the judiciary, one would have to do something else, although Cronin carefully refrains from saying what, in order to avoid taking a stand. (Indeed, given his obsequious abjection before Chaskelson’s shallow and irrelevant arguments, it would be very difficult for Cronin to come to any critical conclusion.)

The conclusion which Cronin eventually comes to, and which is contained in the entire essay, is simple: the source of the problem in our society is conflict. People are too inclined to take the simplistic position of “us” against “them”, says Cronin. Thus people foolishly believe that rich people are robbing the workers, and that by preventing rich people from robbing the workers, something better may be accomplished. They stupidly imagine that just because the judiciary uses a Constitution drafted by rich people’s agents in order to serve the interests of rich people, there is something wrong with this. They fail to see that there is no such thing as rich or poor, or black or white. We are all in this together. Let us all harmoniously attend to our duties and everything will be all right thanks to the wise guidance of our dear leaders.

This is the true narrative of the bought man, soothing all conflict which might otherwise threaten the private profits of his principals. Obviously, no Marxist could hold any such opinions; even if one denies the validity of the dialectic, there is no Marxism at all without class struggle, whereas Cronin here denies the existence of classes just as he denies the validity of socialism. He is waving a red flag which has a large corporate logo emblazoned on it. There is a strong whiff of fascism here — not only the racial partisanship (Cronin’s preference for whites over blacks has long been noted) and the corporatism, but also the vicious dishonesty and the fake concern for the poor and downtrodden. Perhaps this is not surprising; strip away the Marxism from Stalinism, and you are left with corrupt power-worship, and since the most powerful force in South Africa is business, Cronin is left worshipping that. (Many American “neocons” and some South African Trotskyites followed a similar trajectory.) This, of course, is simply a pretext, an excuse which Cronin no doubt makes in order to look at himself in the mirror without complete horror and disgust: “I am pursuing an evil Macchiavellian agenda in the interests of my glorious Party; I am not a bought man.”

But he is a bought man, and all the nonsense, lies and wearying verbiage which he generates stems entirely from that fact.



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