The unspeakably tawdry claptrap presented to the public by the ANC and the Democratic Alliance as manifestoes, tripping over each other’s shoelaces in order to promise six million jobs and eight percent growth rates without any proposal at all by which such goals might be realised, arouses disgust among most of the public. The grim fact is that both parties are no better than Agang; the only difference is that one is mismanaging the country and the other is mismanaging the Western Cape whereas Agang mismanages only itself. They are intellectually, morally and politically bankrupt. They have no ideas, not even old ones, which could arouse the attention of the public. Nor is there any other political party which is not moribund, embedded in a dead past to which even when it was the present, that party had neither the intention nor the capability of responding.
Into this vacuum surges something positive; the manifesto of the Economic Freedom Fighters. This has been widely denounced by all the usual reactionary suspects from the Free Market Foundation (who contributed their illiterate screed to the neo-Nazi website Genocide Watch) to Professor Stephen Friedman, reactionary pseudo-leftist at the University of Johannesburg and enthusiast for both Jacob Zuma and the Workers And Socialists Party which has no party organisation, no worker membership and no socialist policies which it has not stolen from elsewhere. If we are to judge them by their enemies, the EFF must be good guys.
The media has made a mistake in publishing some of the EFF’s manifesto and reporting on Julius Malema’s speeches, because this appears to be what the EFF desires. The reason is clear: the manifesto, and the EFF itself, is a direct assault on conventional wisdom. Both the party and its platform represent precisely the kind of thought and behaviour which the South African ruling class has been struggling to suppress since — well, forever, but particularly since the 1980s when ideas like these first strutted into the public gaze after having been first presented in the 1920s by white supremacists and again in the 1950s by the Communists. It’s not new; it’s never new; it’s the return of the repressed. The desire for us all to get together and sort out our problems, rather than bending over and permitting the ruling class to fuck us in the arse, has been incoherently present from the beginnings of time. All that the EFF has done has been to lay things on the table.
The response from the ruling class is that the EFF’s proposals are fantasies, impossible, inconceivable, unworkable, although naturally this response incorporate no analysis or facts. (The obvious rejoinder should be that these observations are much more clearly and demonstrably true of the ruling class’s proposal, the National Development Plan, so even if the ruling class were correct, it would only mean that we have no valid proposals to choose from.) Besides, this is the same response which we hear from the ruling class whenever anything is proposed which in any way contradicts their immediate momentary interest. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the ruling class response is not worth considering. Besides, even impractical and utopian projects may provide some basis for discussing what ought to be done, and over time may grow more practical and less utopian. The object of the ruling class is not to point out the flaws of the EFF proposals, but to discourage their listeners from discussing the issues.
So, let’s discuss the issues.
The EFF Manifesto kicks off with two rather similar documents: an introductory statement by Julius Malema, which in the midst of some florid criticisms of the established order presents a long list of the failures of the present government, and a list of the problems facing the country at the moment, many of which repeat in different phraseology what Malema says. These two documents are more or less bullet-proof truth; they incorporate some exaggerations and mix comparative trivia with undeniably important issues, but they direct our attention to the fact that the present system is failing the majority of the population; it is not providing jobs, social services, social equality, political power, self-respect or virtually any of the rights purportedly guaranteed in the Constitution, and there is no sign that things are going to get any better.
Moreover, it is pointed out that all parties have pledged themselves to providing these things and have failed to do so and are entering the election with the promise, yet again, of providing the things which they have consistently failed to do. The only way to deny these things is to deny reality, which is the favourite habit of our politicians. It is not, therefore, just a political party which needs to be changed, or a set of plans which need to be revised. The system is not serving the people, and that being so, the system needs to be changed. Only a servant of the ruling class will deny this.
The Manifesto does not waste much time, however, on identifying the ruling class or any other forces threatening the state. This is interesting, for virtually all other attempts to put leftist ideas forward have devoted most of their energy to denouncing the ANC and, if there were any energy over, to criticising big business and global imperialism rather incoherently presented. The EFF don’t take much account of this; they call themselves Fanonists, meaning that they are anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist socialists with an Africanist bent. However, they assume that their audience know that if you are a socialist and an anti-imperialist, then you have a pretty good idea of who your enemies are, and the main issue is how to deal with them.
Even so, what the EFF presents is a series of goals to be aimed at:
Nationalisation of the mining and financial sector and of state-owned industries privatised by previous governments;
Promotion of domestic industry and domestic agriculture through subsidy and tariff and import-substitution policies;
Establishment of strategic state-controlled industries (especially light industry);
Establishment of a state development bank and nationalisation of the Reserve Bank;
Establishment of norms for higher wage levels for workers;
Establishment of a national health insurance system;
Improvement of transport infrastructure, specifically roads and railways;
Doubling the size of the social grants payments and increasing public servants’ salaries;
Increase taxes and tighten exchange controls;
Elimination of outsourcing in government by providing government with skills and tools required to perform its functions independently of consultants and private service providers;
Establishment of new cities through the use of Special Economic Zones;
Promotion of trade with countries sympathetic to the ideal of an independent South Africa within an independent Africa, rather than those which use trade to subordinate the country and the continent;
Rejection of Western domination of South Africa and Africa, and hostility to AFRICOM, Botswana, Swaziland and Israel, and promotion of ties with BRICS and Latin America.
A lot of this stuff is either in the Freedom Charter, or in the constitution of COSATU, or has been adopted as policies by ANC Conferences (especially at Polokwane) or by the SACP. Some of it is even the nominal policy of the Zuma administration, or was the policy of the Mbeki administration. It’s just that this stuff is usually more honoured in the breach than the observance where it is honoured at all. Putting these issues front and centre, as the EFF are doing, forces us to ask whether we really want them.
It’s immediately obvious that these things are not going to be easy to do. For instance, the EFF specifically talks about nationalisation without compensation, which is not only going to bring down the wrath of the international financial community, but is also forbidden by our corporate-drafted national constitution (all rise and uncover, please). It’s obviously going to be possible to introduce a national health insurance system within a few years — the US managed it — but it’s clear that the currently-proposed system is fatally flawed as the US system is. Mammoth increases in social grants, along with massive infrastructure investment and massively increased subsidies and tariffs and increase in government capacity are all going to cost a hell of a lot, and taxes and exchange controls, and income derived from nationalised industries, are probably not going to be enough to pay for it all.
Of course the biggest problem is going to be the hostility of the ruling class and of the international financial agencies who essentially control the American, EU and Japanese governments and their sub-satellite states. They could have the EFF leaders assassinated, or they could impose an investment strike and a lending freeze which would throw South Africa into a Zimbabwe-style crisis which could then be exploited through Ukraine-style destabilisation or even a Syria-style civil war. Presumably the EFF leaders are aware of that; they are, however, not publicly preparing for it. (Whether they are privately preparing for it is uncertain.)
However, these are in a sense details. The big issue is, are these potentially practical steps to take? The answer is that they are steps which have been taken in the past, and not always the distant past. Russia, for instance, has nationalised privatised industries. China has an exchange control system which is extremely tight. Taxes used to be a lot higher than they are now. Things like the national health system and the infrastructure development programme are actually under way right now — what the EFF proposes to do is to turn these things from corrupt scams pouring cash into the pockets of rich elites, into projects which serve the interests of the country and its people in the way that similar projects did in South Africa in the past, and are doing in other less poorly-run countries today. Empowerment of the government and promotion of new industries were activities routinely performed under the apartheid regime, when South Africa was poorer and weaker than it is now. Increasing the purchasing power of the working class is an obvious move to accelerate economic growth and promote industrial development; it is basic Keynesianism.
In fact, the EFF Manifesto is anything but radical. It is, very largely, a social democratic programme which might have been developed by the left wing of the British Labour Party or the Indian Congress Party in the 1970s, had they wished to do so. There is no plan for class war or race war; just a plan for fair shares for everybody in the wealth of the nation. This requires that the ruling class be stripped of its political dominance, but that has been promised by almost every new government since 1910.
What’s amazing, therefore, is not that the Manifesto exists. What’s amazing is that we should be encouraged to think that it’s unworkable and weird and intolerable and dangerous. It shows how far we have come to accept the diktat of our ruling elite, that anything which does not immediately pour cash into their pockets and slip silken cushions under their fat arses must be repudiated as evil and wrong and those who support it should be taken out and shot.
Oh, and the other amazing thing is that anybody thinks it might be advisable to vote for anyone else except the EFF.