It was apparently Albert Einstein who said that a simple definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result to materialise. Since Einstein devoted the last thirty years of his life to trying to find the same flaws in quantum theory, perhaps he was himself crazy as a shithouse rat. However, perhaps the most conspicuous zone in which such madness takes root is in the deranged and unimaginative landscape of politics. It isn’t so very long ago that the Socialist Workers Party, that landmark of Anglophone radicalism, split down the mid-Atlantic; apparently the workers of Britain were going to be different socialists from the workers of the United States. More recently, the Socialist Workers Party of Britain, building socialist unity by all means possible, were able to join in a vast coalition called RESPECT, based loosely on the Stop The War Coalition (which had of course failed to stop the war, or even prevent it from starting), electing the first radical British MP since the 1940s. Needless to say the SWP soon withdrew from RESPECT, taking its own RESPECT with it and denouncing the rest of RESPECT as counter-revolutionaries, splitters, etc., etc. Lately, RESPECT (now sans SWP) managed to get its MP elected again in a different constituency. Ho, hum. Immediately, the SWP announced its irrevocable admiration for the cause of socialist unity by all means possible. Let us put the past behind us, let us not allow our differences to divide us in the cause of the joint struggle against the neoliberal tyranny which now threatens the very survival of life on this planet, etc., etc. Having done this, it was absolutely no surprise to see the leading non-MP in the RESPECT movement almost immediately march off (to the cheers of the SWP), complaining that she could no longer tolerate the party’s MP because he had made some ill-chosen comments about the ladies accusing Julian Assange of ravishment. Indeed, unity is all very well, but one can’t have unity if people are free to say what they think, can one? One holds one’s head in one’s hands, moans briefly at the catastrophic state of the Left in the world, and then turns to the dear Republic of South Africa, where everything is going along just fine, isn’t it? Alas, egregious left-wing blunders are all around us. As anticipated, the COSATU Congress decided to endorse Jacob Zuma, and therefore we can expect no successful contestation of the present calamitous path on which the ANC is set. So we cannot expect that the ANC can be changed so as to reverse course and save us and the country. Somebody else is going to have to do it. Somebody on the Left, and obviously not the Communists, so who? A few years back a group of South African Trotskyites got together along the lines of the Socialist Workers’ Party. They were mostly self-appointed socialist activists working at universities, funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (whom God preserve) and they banded together and conferred, calling themselves the Conference of the Democratic Left. (Not that South African Trotskyism has ever been democratic, but wotthehell.) After they had conferred for a while, they decided to confer on themselves the title of the Democratic Left Front. Obviously, this organisation is very small and lacking in general public support. On the other hand, since it is based at universities its membership has considerable leisure (and can get official funding for its political activities by claiming that it is investigating important social issues). So it has a certain amount of potential — provided that it can overcome the obvious danger that the academic separation from lived reality might lead to political ineffectuality. Unfortunately, since most Trotskyites are already separated from political lived reality (having been failing to accomplish anything of note since the 1930s when Trotskyism became a significant force in Cape Town leftist politics), the danger is extremely real. Where the Democratic Left Front has a problem is that it lacks a campaign. The ideological essence of Trotskyism is permanent revolution against capitalism, a fine phrase which means nothing because Trotskyites can always find ways of avoiding having to actually practice such revolution. The grievance which Trotskyites have against capitalism is the practice of uneven development, which actually means that some people are richer than others because the system is rigged. This all gets turned into an extremely complicated set of philosophical principles which you can read endorsed in the Monthly Review if you want to, but which boils down to little more than opportunistic Stalinism plus verbiage. So: what is the Democratic Left Front’s solution to the current problem? Revolution, obviously. Unfortunately, there is no prospect of revolution. The Democratic Left Front does show up at service delivery protests and sometimes manages to shoulder aside the actual protesters and hijack the press conferences which ensue. Unfortunately, this annoys the people who actually participated in the protest and find themselves shoved to the rear of the photo-opportunities by earnest middle-class people in besloganned T-shirts. Even more unfortunately, these episodes are very often used by individual Trotskyites to get their own names and faces in the papers, in the hope of enjoying organisational preferment thereby. This just breeds conflict. Meanwhile, service delivery protests are not revolutionary. The DLF denies this, but it has thus far failed to accomplish anything by its support for these essentially reformist actions, in part because a service delivery protest does not have any substantive transformational content; it is, generally, an opportunity for charging around and smashing things up while demanding the immediate provision of stuff you are already going to get.. The DLF therefore has also decided to work with the workers, who must be the vanguard of any Trotskyite revolution, setting up trade unions, although these unions have shown a lamentable lack of worker membership. Luckily, with the rise of sweetheart unions like AMCU, the DLF and Trotskyites generally have been able to throw their weight behind these. In effect, this means that the Trotskyites help the journalists working for the mining industry to couch their support for the sweetheart unions in vaguely Marxist terms. At Marikana itself, AMCU actually ended up sparking a worker uprising which led to massive salary increases, but it is not clear whether this uprising will go anywhere, and it certainly does not seem to be under the control of any Trotskyites, least of all the DLF. However, this does not seem to matter to the DLF. They do not, at this stage, need a long-term programme under which they patiently work towards their ultimate goal of a socialist workers’ paradise, the nature of which seems never to have been made clear by anyone. This is because the DLF’s principal goal is to weaken the other left-wing organisations in South Africa — specifically the SACP, from which many of the DLF’s members emerged after Blade Nzimande’s coup, COSATU (against which the Trotskyites were working at Marikana and Rustenburg) and, of course, the ANC. These, to the DLF, are organisations which must be eliminated before anything meaningful can be done. Therefore, there is no need for a campaign or a programme until the DLF is the sole survivor of this Titanic struggle, and meanwhile, since the best allies for the DLF in this struggle are big business and the white ruling class . . . you can guess what follows. Meanwhile, also in Cape Town, there is the re-launch of the UDF. This should not be confused with the re-launch of the UDF which happened five years ago under the auspices of Zackie Achmat, the Trotskyite prince of corporate whores. This new re-launch of the UDF is being promulgated by some figures involved in the “Proudly Manenberg” campaign (that is, again, some people on the left of the SACP who are marginalised under Nzimande) chief among them a man called Mario Wanza, who is not an operatic tenor. This, by the way, is a corporate branding campaign disguised as a community project, so it seems like a rather dubious exercise. These people have also been involved in the “Occupy Cape Town” movement, which was basically a picnic with some political posters waved in the course of it — something that might have seemed daring under the State of Emergency in the 1980s but is far from impressive now. And they have been involved in the campaign to piss off the suburban middle class by demanding that Rondebosch Common be turned into a squatter-camp. Basically, a crowd of waterheaded publicity junkies. The UDF, when launched, consisted of a cluster of affiliated organisations with membership in the hundreds of thousands, and the launch in Mitchell’s Plain in 1983 was the biggest political gathering seen in Cape Town since 1960. The new, consecutively re-launched UDF, has no affiliated organisations and, whatever its membership is, nobody has seen more than ten people gathered together to celebrate the launch (which has not actually happened). There is something rather pitiful about this discrepancy in numbers; at least the DLF admits to being Left, and is therefore by definition a small and feeble organisation, like all leftist organisations in South Africa these days. Another major problem is that the original UDF was set up using organisations which had been created to combat the Orderly Movement and Settlement of Persons Bill (that is, to struggle against a fresh wave of racist forced removal) and thus began with a clear agenda, which was then expanded into a campaign against the racist 1983 Constitution and the tricameral elections ensuing, which were aimed at dividing coloureds and indians from africans. The whole point about being united and democratic was that the enemy was out to divide people, and was preserving the tyranny of the white minority so that it was clearly undemocratic. Therefore it was unnecessary to be more specific than this; the establishment of the UDF had such clear enemies that its support was a given among anyone who wasn’t actually being paid to oppose it. (Except for Trotskyites, who opposed it and everything it did because it was not Trotskyite.) Nothing like these present conditions exists today. We have a united and democratic country. The problem is that we are united and democratic under corporate masters dominated by neoliberal imperialist governments elsewhere. Therefore, relaunching the United Democratic Front accomplishes nothing of political substance because there is no clear political agenda behind it which will unite people in a consistent and resolute struggle. Of course, relaunching the UDF is simply an attempt to play ahistorical politics, trying to wrap oneself in the winding-sheets of a dead political culture and pretend that it is alive. This is precisely the kind of mistake one would expect from people who do not live in the real world, but in a rhetorical world of their own fantasies. Needless to say, the corporate media has welcomed this, recognising in it another way to sling mud at Charterism and its history through an organisation which will be — unlike the real UDF — pitifully easy to co-opt. And if this is all we have to hope for from the Left — a bunch of hysterical, incompetent loonies incessantly pulling the same failed stunts over and over again while masturbating into political mirrors — then perhaps we should just jack the whole liberatory project in and go off and vote for die ware Jakob at Mangaung.
Einstein’s Definition of Madness.