Political organisations die; political ideas do not, although they become dormant. Leftist organisations in South Africa have become necrotic because their ideas have become dormant. The question is whether the idea of leftism can be resurrected in the near future.
The EFF’s success, standing on a leftist platform, is ambiguous. There is no doubt that the EFF’s long-winded and rather incoherent manifesto is leftist — probably the most leftist position taken by a South African political party since the 1930s at least. However, most people will not have read the manifesto. To a large extent, people have voted for the EFF not because they supported its policies — we have no idea whether it would have implemented them if it had made any substantial headway — but because they disliked the ANC and had nobody else to vote for. In other words, a protest vote. This is a weak basis on which to reconstruct leftism.
In addition, the EFF is very much a lash-up. It is at present more of a social club for ex-Youth League members than it is a political party. Its behaviour in the run-up to the election was highly opportunistic, although much more cleverly so than any of the other opportunistic parties which attempted to exploit the same opportunities. It has no internal democracy at present.
The logical move would be to call an elective conference to ratify a constitution and establish a systemic structure for the party, rather than the quasi-military interim structures which exist at present. There is little doubt that if this happened in an honest way, the current leadership of the party would be affirmed in their positions and the current ideological current within the party would be confirmed. The danger of such a conference, however, is that it might be flooded by ANC supporters out to disrupt it. Malema and his allies have a great deal of experience in curbing such problems, but all too often the way to avoid disruption is through rigging — meaning that you have to destroy actual democracy in order to save the forms of democracy.
Alternatively, of course, once such a conference had happened effectively, the party would be much more structurally coherent and in a strong position to poach ANC low-level leadership in the run-up to 2016, when the EFF could expect to do much better in urban areas than it did in 2014. The risk of disintegration through destabilisation by its enemies must be balanced against the risk of disintegration through procrastination and illegitimacy. The biggest danger of all, of course, is that once the leadership of the EFF is in Parliament they would be tempted to stay there, like the bollards of CoPe, without taking any real action outside Parliament. If this happens, then the EFF will die of gangrene just as CoPe did, and it will not be a potential source for resurrection. We must wait and see what the “Commander-in-Chief” decides; if he wants to be a five-year blowhard or if he really wants to change the country in a positive way.
Outside the EFF is the mysterious NUMSA. NUMSA has been criticising the ANC and the SACP and COSATU for some time and threatening to hive off and support other parties. It has also been criticising the EFF (until the EFF did well in the polls, when suddenly NUMSA reversed course). It has also been closely collaborating with WASP and the “Democratic Socialist Movement” in Johannesburg, although the dismal showing of WASP in the elections shows that few, if any, NUMSA members took this collaboration to the voting-booth.
NUMSA and the EFF have, nominally at least, almost identical policy stances. NUMSA, nevertheless, unlike the EFF, is nominally democratic. Yet NUMSA’s collaboration with WASP has not been canvassed in the organisation. What has, instead, been canvassed is a nebulous hostility to the ANC, to neoliberalism, and above all to the campaign against Zwelenzima Vavi and other anti-Zuma forces within COSATU, which has been associated with Dlamini and the other COSATU Zumatics.
This is problematic. WASP is not a democratic organisation, nor can it be called seriously leftist; it is a clique of bourgeois opportunists seeking the illusion of power. If NUMSA allows itself to be led by the nose by a small gang of Johannesburg intellectual poseurs, it will not be likely to accomplish much and all its work may run into the sand. Meanwhile, the grim fact about NUMSA’s avowed leftism is that it arises very largely out of a desire to pretend that support for leftism is equivalent to support for Vavi — which is most definitely not the case. There is certainly serious leftism within NUMSA, but it is not enough to be anti-SACP to be a leftist; one needs real alternatives, and it is far from clear that NUMSA has bothered to construct these alternatives itself. (Much of its reason for aligning with WASP lies in its need to borrow someone else’s rhetoric and intellectual constructs — even if these constructs are largely based on falsehood and are not aligned with praxis — rather than develop its own ideas.)
All this suggests that NUMSA is as yet not a political force to be reckoned with. (It is impressive that it has come so far, considering that trade unions and political activism are seldom to be found in the same stable, however much the former might pretend to be activists.) Unions are by their nature reformists and compromisers — the South African habit of declaring that unions are bound to have politically valid concepts simply by virtue of their being made up of workers is a habit arising out of the long-standing opportunistic exploitation of trade unions by both Charterists and Trotskyites.
But it could become such a force. There is really no reason why NUMSA has to piss away its potential.