Supposing South African Socialism? (III)

May 12, 2008

One area in which the Creator and Patrick Bond agree entirely, is in doubting the value of capitalism as a tool with which to develop South Africa.

In the past, it was assumed by many, including Marx, that capitalism was an immensely productive force for creating marketable manufactures. The seemingly unstoppable, continuous, radical transformation of life in the developed part of the world between the late eighteenth century and the late twentieth century was a tribute to this. South Africa’s development between the mid-nineteenth century and the 1970s was a part of this capitalist transformation.

However, South Africa’s transformation, like that in countries such as Brazil, was distorted. Governments passed laws to ensure that the benefits of capitalist development would be enjoyed by only a few whites, while the duties of capitalist development — backbreaking labour — were passed on to the black majority. As a result, capitalist development in South Africa was limited, by restraint on the market for goods. Instead of rising up and demanding a free market, however, South African capitalists appeared content with a tightly-regulated capitalism which, while slowing the rate of growth, ensured that the fruits of growth were shared by a few extremely rich people.

Hence, while capitalism may provide rapid economic growth, it certainly does not guarantee it (which is the lie at the heart of neoliberalism). Where capitalism generates rapid growth — most conspicuously in east Asia — it does so under tight regulation. In those places, where regulation relaxed, the growth was destabilised — as in the “Asian crisis”, nominally of 1997-1999, but actually still persisting.

Capitalist development is here defined as the development of goods, manufacturing and services potentially of direct benefit to most people. The manufacture of diamond-encrusted shoelaces might be profitable, but it does not fit into this category. A major trouble with capitalism worldwide appears to be a tendency towards this direction, in the form of financialisation.

Financialisation means that capitalists find more profitable to invest in companies which manipulate money, or trade in the value of goods which they do not make or sell — such as banks, insurance, medical aid, commodities exchanges and property agencies — than in companies which make or sell things. Over twice as much money is traded on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange in a year, as the value of South Africa’s gross domestic product, and this disparity is increasing. The big earners are the money manipulators. This promotes the unproductive use of capital, which generates the most personal profit. This then increases inequality.

Greater concentration of wealth is itself dangerously unproductive. A millionaire will arguably spend more on manufactured goods than a person with only ten thousand rand a year, contributing more as an individual to the growth of the economy (though not as much as would be contributed by a hundred people with ten thousand a year). A billionaire, however, will only spend a small amount more than the millionaire; certainly nowhere near a thousand times more. The rest of the money is invested, probably in unproductive financial activity. Hence billionaires are proportionately vastly less economically useful than millionaires, and every billionaire eats up a thousand potential millionaires. Crudely, the richer you are, the less actually productive, past a certain point. Unfortunately capitalism requires that you get richer without limit regardless of merit.

Socialism seems a more logical alternative; a democratic state, decentralised so far as possible, yet regulating the economic activities of everyone in the state to ensure that nobody is excessively rich, nobody is excessively poor, and everybody labours for the benefit of all. It doesn’t sound difficult. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult because almost everybody, in our present cultural context, asks themselves “What am I getting out of it that he or she isn’t?”. Greed and selfishness, being universal, will torpedo socialism unless they are overridden and ultimately eliminated altogether in favour of altruism. This is not impossible, but wherever socialism has failed, these have been the sources of the problem (along with cruelty and paranoia, of course).

Imagine that these problems can be solved; that somehow the public of South Africa were gradually persuaded that in the end the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, that famous philosophical game, is true, and that the most positive results are achieved through mutual cooperation. Imagine that somehow South Africa were allowed to pursue this path without foreign interference, destabilisation or invasion. Finally, imagine that this happened in 1960 (which could not have been — even had the apartheid state been crushed, meaningful socialism would not have arisen in South Africa under the conditions of the 1960s). How might South Africa have developed?

The place to start would have been very much where the “Asian Tigers” were starting at that time; ensuring that capitalism was fully regulated by the state, with tight controls over credit. Temporarily, at least, capitalists could have been bought off by opening up the suppressed african market to commercial penetration, which in the 1960s would have led to a spurt of economic growth far greater than what actually took place in that decade of rapid South African development. This would have provided money for a modest expansion of spending on the poor, but as part of an explicit longer-term plan to do them more good later. This would be illustrated, in part by improved access to health-care, but chiefly by greatly expanded education. Unlike the expansion of education which happened under apartheid in the 1960s, socialist education would not be the narrow technical education permitted in the Asian authoritarian states, but would have been a critical education to promote citizens to participate fully in the work of the nation, encouraging citizens to challenge the state’s errors in the name of patriotism, but accepting their own sacrifices in the name of a genuinely better future.

While this was happening, the state would gradually have taken over major industries. It would have been relatively easy to take over mines and large manufactures, and not much more difficult to gradually absorb or compel banks into a national credit structure. The more powerful the state became in the economy, the easier it would be to grow.

However, taking over a corporation runs the risk of being captured by its goals. The object of taking over a mine would not simply be to garner its profits; the object would be to make working in the mine more bearable, while at the same time making the production of the mine serve the interests of the nation. The government could not be so generous to the mineworkers that the mine started losing money (if this happened to all nationalised industries, the national economy would stall) nor try to make as much money out of the mine as possible (as with British nationalised industries, this would be little better than if the mine had remained in capitalist hands). Likewise, if the structure of the corporation remained the same, with unaccountable directors and senior managers earning vast amounts, then the advantages of socialising it would be insignificant. There would have to be proper planning, democratisation, and a small but growing meaningful degree of worker participation.

By the end of the 1960s, however, this would probably have been resolved, and a budgetary surplus would be available in time for a massive investment in other areas. The SASOL oil-from-coal programme would have been needed to respond to the oil price rise. There was an urgent need to develop housing in the growing cities. Meanwhile there would have had to be considerable development in the former homeland areas — widespread and effective development, in communications, transport and other infrastructure, to make it more bearable to stay in these areas, especially where there was support for rural agriculture.

Both subsistence and commercial agriculture would have to be brought under national control. The logical structure would be the marketing and credit structures already existing under apartheid. However, the object would be to gradually socialise private commercial farms (so that the farmers became managers rather than owners, obliged to follow the government’s lead but also benefiting from technical assistance and advice). Meanwhile, subsistence farms in rural areas were mostly already communal; with considerable capital assistance it would have been relatively easy to turn these into state farms, accommodating traditional leadership and methods, but facilitated by the government and gradually producing materials for the market.

Another important urban project would have been providing public transport, both between centres (upgrading heavy rail) and within centres (light rail, perhaps sometimes underground in centres like Bloemfontein and Pretoria). This would have improved urban conditions and would have been a vital addition to the growth of housing in the urban areas. Meanwhile, there would have been the need to improve access to water, both by building dams and by building water recycling systems, first in major centres and then in all centres, along the lines of what was actually done in Windhoek.

By the early 1980s, after twenty years of progress towards socialism, there would probably have been concrete effects on the psychology of society. The spirit of cooperation, planning and mutual aid would have been promoted and, with a government open to criticism and responsive to requests, and which provided everyone with the information they needed about events, a spirit of trust would have evolved. No doubt future planning for this period would have focussed on a further move away from fossil fuels, with a growth both of nuclear energy (very likely in the pre-Chernobyl period, partly because even democratic socialist governments are fond of large central projects) and of renewables.

However, the socialist society would have been particularly affected by the unexpected; the appearance of HIV/AIDS. Part of the problem which AIDS represented in the actual 1980s was caused by the irresponsibility of individuals and of the government. Individuals refusing to accept that their own actions were placing their futures at risk — or not caring, because the culture promoted a contempt for not only the lives of others, but even of oneself. Governments refused to take action, and where they did, they gained little cooperation because almost nobody trusted them. (In South Africa this was exascerbated by the government’s vague hope that AIDS would wipe out the blacks.)

In a democratically socialist society this could have been different. The culture of responsibility for the individual, and caring for others, would have encouraged individuals to acknowledge their status for the sake of their potential sexual partners. The state would have done what it could for HIV-positive people, but would also have promoted universal HIV testing and penalised failure to seek help. Those whose behaviour served to secretly spread the disease would have faced civil actions from those whose lives they damaged. Obviously, once the first antiretrovirals were developed, the government would have made these available to all, regardless of capitalist greed. Under such conditions, possibly by the end of the decade the disease would have been brought under control, and would not have posed the grave threat to social stability that it does now, affecting far fewer people and harming them less. Indeed, the disease would have provided an opportunity to promote non-sexism along with non-racism, which was only partly grasped by the South African government in the real world.

In which case, from the 1990s, South Africa, with its reduced disease and crime burden, full employment and rapid, sustainable, widely-shared economic growth, could have pursued an agenda of further reducing its output of carbon dioxide and methane, of recycling manufactured material to a great extent, and of promoting an informed and cooperative society which could serve as a model for the twenty-first century.

We did almost none of that, of course. But there is no reason why we cannot make a start now.

The Soul of Liberalism Under Apartheid.

March 23, 2008

In the 1970s there really seemed to be only one game for liberal white English South Africans to play, and it was a Parliamentary game. For a child growing up in a liberal white English household, it was a matter of natural course to support the Progressive Party (PP), which merged with the Reform Party to become the Progressive Reform Party (PRP), and then after it got a new Afrikaans leader, became the Progressive Federal Party (PFP). No accident that the party’s acronyms pronounce remarkably like the sound of belches and farts.

18 was the legal voting age, so that child could not vote, but could at least go to political meetings and discover that parties which were not Progressive — the gangrenous fragments sloughed off by the disintegrating United Party, lovely ironic name — were awful. The National Party, the party of apartheid, was unacceptable. There were a few little white groupuscules, such as the National Union of South African Students, who were playing left-wing games, but nobody official took them seriously. The media represented black South Africans as irredeemable haters of whites. No, the best way to show one’s liberalism would be to support a Parliamentary opposition which, best of all, had no prospect of success, even after it became the “Official Opposition”. (That ridiculous term had been invented by the National Party to justify ignoring the Progressives, who had spent a decade and a half in the wilderness before gradually overtaking the UP at the polls.)

There was a small problem with this liberal party. Officially, the government presented it as being more or less aligned with the anti-apartheid movement represented by Biko and, eventually, the ANC. Unofficially, however, the government connived with it under various conditions (such as the invasion of Angola) and they all seemed quite polite to each other when they weren’t shouting across the Parliamentary floor. The problem was that the PFP was a whites-only party, because that was the law under the “Prohibition of Political Interference Act” which had destroyed the old Liberal Party.

Being a whites-only party, it had to somehow sell liberalism — freedom for all — to white South Africans who had no interest in seeing liberalism implemented. It did this in two ways; one was by being too small to accomplish anything, so that you could vote for them knowing that your vote did not threaten your interests. The other was that the Party’s new Leader, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, had come up with a brilliant idea under which change could happen without affecting white interests.

This idea, which endured in various forms for nearly twenty years in South African politics, was “federalism”. Essentially, the country would be broken up into self-governing fragments. Some of these fragments would be mainly white and rich, some would be mainly black and poor. Each fragment could set its own rules, within a broad framework. Does this sound like the Bantustan system? Excellent point; in fact, the Progressive Party originally split from the United Party because the Progressives wanted to give the Bantustans a chance. In this system, whites would hang onto their power and privilege but would no longer be in any way responsible for blacks’ lack of power or privilege. It was a pipe-dream, but one which P W Botha seized on in his “constellation of states” policy, which the PFP initially endorsed.

If you were going to an English university out of an English community, it made sense to join NUSAS (especially since at most English universities membership of NUSAS was compulsory, as a sop to counter the government’s smearing and bullying of campus politicians). NUSAS hated liberals with a passion, and NUSAS were in peripheral touch with actual black people (though at this time very few blacks were allowed to study at white campuses). However, it was only the heaviest NUSAS people who were engaged in real political activities of this kind, and they tended to turn off new recruits by their self-important asceticism (which was often the purest put-on). As a result, people drifted out of NUSAS again.

But this was the early 1980s and now there were real things going on which were not just Parliamentary. The UDF was getting going; interestingly, the liberal Black Sash tended to distrust it as a reformist organisation. The Detainees’ Parents’ Support Committee was another liberal grouping which grew increasingly as more and more people ended up in the jug, and the DPSC was non-racial and sufficiently activist so that one could stand around with a placard if one so chose without compromising one’s liberal principles.

But all this seemed like little more than play, at least in the white community. In the black community it seemed a little more than play; people were actually doing things. Sebokeng exploded in September ’84 and the army was photographed rumbling through town. A student riffling through second-hand bookshops might suddenly come across banned publications discussing the implications of this activity, and wonder why the newspapers and the politicians weren’t discussing this.

Then came March ’85, and at Langa, the main township for Uitenhage, an industrial satellite of Port Elizabeth, the local UDF organised a march to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre. The local police had their own method of commemorating the massacre; they fired into the crowd with shotguns, using SSG ammunition (extra-heavy buckshot) instead of birdshot, and killed 21 of them. Possibly they hoped that since it was only a third as many as had been killed at Sharpeville, nobody would care very much, but if so, they were mistaken.

The masses were up in arms, and the PFP organised a meeting which a liberal young adult would be inclined to go to. (How were the really responsible liberals going to sort this out?) The meeting was poorly attended, but that was nothing compared with the fact that the PFP had absolutely nothing to offer apart from writing a letter to the Minister of Police, Louis le Grange, who had already shown himself to be something like Jimmy Kruger without the compassionate side. When confronted with the real world, instead of fantasies of Parliamentary rhetoric or imaginary homelands, the PFP was completely without ideas, let alone capacity to implement them.

But the extraparliamentary universe had answers. The solution was to support the revolution; it was never quite clear what the revolution would be about, but what was clear was that it would be televised, and if you wanted your name in lights, you had a chance to get arrested, beaten or killed while the cameras rolled. Mobilise the people, even in the white community, in the name of resistance to oppression. It was perfectly possible for liberals, and even PFP supporters, to get on board such a policy, and such a policy was also a ticket to a journey to township rallies where one could hear people singing about the weapons they wanted, but did not have. (This made PFP people queasy, however.) In effect, the PFP, because they were so lacking in ideas, and so wishy-washy in action, had been marginalised.

Well, they fought back. First they got rid of that Dutchman running them (Slabbert resigned, coincidentally, about the time the Challenger exploded) and then, O joy, they saw the State of Emergency declared. Now, they explained, with the extraparliamentary movement out of action, it was time for the Parliamentary party to show what it could do in the 1987 election. The PFP decided to make a massive leap towards gaining power by abandoning all their liberal principles, embracing the Suppression of Communism Act and endorsing political repression. Coincidentally, NUSAS called for a white boycott of the election, which doubtless had all the impact of a very small custard pie dropped in private.

But oddly enough, it appeared that many people had voted for the PFP because of their principles, so when they abandoned them, those people failed to show up at the polls. Also, those people who really supported political repression knew perfectly well that P W Botha could do it better, and with more panache, than Colin Eglin. Hence the PFP’s support-base collapsed, and the far-right Konservatiewe Party became the Official Opposition, to the hilarity of the National Party.

As good liberals, Eglin and Co. took stock of the situation. First they got rid of Helen Suzman, that dangerous leftie, replacing her with a reactionary corporate lawyer named Tony Leon who had close connections with the military and police. Secondly, they had to explain their defeat at the polls, and since it couldn’t possibly be there fault, they blamed the awe-inspiring power of NUSAS, who had betrayed South Africa’s true liberal freedom fighters (under orders from the white master of the Soviet plan to conquer Southern Africa and enslave us all, KGB Colonel Joe Slovo of the SACP). Yes, that was what was being said. The PFP swallowed the apartheid state’s line absolutely uncritically, and set about marginalising anyone within the Party who disagreed with it. Within a few months the liberals in the Party decamped, becoming independents.

What all this meant was that, unbeknownst to many white South African liberals, (the term “boneheaded” is far too polite), NUSAS and the other leftist critics of Parliamentary liberalism had been correct all along. The moment the PFP faced a real problem they ditched their principles and all that went with them, and became almost indistinguishable from the parties of apartheid. Ugh! The fact that the press went along with this merely helped to show that the white establishment which pretended to be anti-apartheid was far more reactionary than anyone on the outside had fully realised. (This was the harbinger of the full-on reactionary stance which the press has taken ever since.)

Gradually, even the Eglinites began to realise that they had made a small error in calculation. To save the liberal Parliamentary opposition from total destruction, in 1988-9 they made a huge fuss about their plans to reunite the party (negotiating with the people they had driven out only a year or so earlier) and to suck up to Afrikaners. (With perfect timing, they called the Afrikaners who supposedly backed their party the “Third Force” — the name applied by the anti-apartheid movement to the government-sponsored terrorists who were provoking conflict between black political organisations in that period!)

So there came the 1989 election. By this time it was obvious that things were changing; De Klerk was not the same as Botha, and the times were no longer so propitious for the Conservative Party’s white racist psychotic garbage. The new party was going to be called the Democratic Party, which sounded awfully nice and which at least didn’t seem as exclusionary as its predecessor.

On the other hand, at a time dominated by the red, yellow and black of the United Democratic Front and the black, green and gold of the ANC, the DP chose for its colours blue and yellow — which just happened to be the colour-scheme of the South African Police. Ouch! But perhaps that was just ignorance. If you were an experienced activist, you might have wandered into a DP election rally in your neighbourhood, in a venue which you were still not permitted to use because your organisation was technically banned. And you might then have seen the local candidate, an air-headed female corporate media crony, sitting around while her helpers set up the microphones and decorated the stage. And you might then have noticed, because you could not help it, that those helpers were former members of the National Student Federation, which was a far-right-wing organisation set up by the apartheid secret police to spy on and disrupt anti-apartheid student politics, and that some of the people helping set up that DP election rally, the vanguard of white South African liberals, were paid apartheid police spies.

And you might ask yourself: How did I get here?

And you might ask yourself: My God! What have I done?

Supposing South African socialism? (I)

March 17, 2008

It appears likely (though the Creator would be happy to be wrong in this) that there is now no actually existing political organisation devoted to promoting socialism in South Africa. Let’s pretend that we agree that this is a bad thing. How could one possibly be set up?

The usual South African way for setting up a political party is for some very large organisation to fill a grain silo with hundred-rand notes and hand this over to some definitely dishonest political hack, for the purpose of temporarily fooling the public into supporting him or her. This was, more or less, what happened with the African Christian Democratic Party, the United Democratic Movement and the Independent Democrats. Note that the very names of the parties stink of corruption and desperation. They are marketing tools, not political signboards.

Obviously, a real Socialist Party will not be in any danger of any large organisation giving it money. No large organisations exist in South Africa with any sympathy to socialism. On the other hand, a real Socialist Party will be in big danger of being given money to pretend to be socialist; for the purpose of drawing left-wing support away from the ANC and thus giving more power to right-wing parties whose agendas large organisations actually support. This must be avoided at all costs. Hence it will be inadvisable to start, as other politicians with less to lose do, by going around big businesses with a hat held out and a signboard, MANSION, DRUG HABIT AND POLITICAL PARTY LOGO TO SUPPORT.

There is also a problem with going around the left asking for volunteers. A few years ago that might have seemed like a good idea, but today there are plainly problems. For one thing, many of the leftist political parties and organisations appear to be irredeemably corrupt and therefore a lot of their membership must be corrupt too.

Specifically, what seems to have happened is that in many of these parties the older active membership is devoted to the existence of the party rather than to the values and ideology which the party was set up to serve. Therefore, when the party abandons that ideology and they must choose, they unhesitatingly choose the party. Meanwhile, the newer members have often joined, the way one joins any other secret society, in pursuit of money, power and status; access to corporate information and bribes. These people often sound very impressive — they have learned their jargon parrot-fashion and can deliver it in style — but have absolutely no commitment to any cause, least of all the truth.

It would be dangerous to say that no member of a current “left” party could ever be trusted in a genuine socialist party, but it is probably true that such people should be viewed with deep suspicion.

So this means that a Socialist Party would have to start from scratch with no money worth mentioning. That is a tall order. How could it be accomplished?

If it were possible to gather together a hundred leftist activists, preferably experienced, junior in their organisations, and disillusioned, it would probably be possible to begin something. The object would be to assemble some idea of how much left-wing support could be obtained anywhere, and how it could be made use of in practice. Then it would be possible to try to draw on that support and obtain some membership for the proposed party.

A lot of those activists would probably be academics. In consequence, a portion of that membership — initially, perhaps as much as half of it — would probably be drawn from universities, mainly students. This would be a dangerous temptation. Students are passionate and have, relatively, a lot of free time. For this reason, however, they unbalance an organisation, making it appear both more radical and more energetic than it actually is. (Also students tend to be short-term thinkers, and a Socialist Party would have to be in the game for the very long haul indeed.)

Therefore, the organisations set up on campuses would have to be very tightly-structured to maintain discipline. Discipline within a Socialist Party would have to be very carefully monitored; any public indiscipline could damage the party’s image, any private indiscipline could lead to conflict and splits. However, with care, the campus activists could be used predominantly off-campus, for door-to-door work.

The object of this would be to establish a party presence in areas known to be sympathetic to leftist views; to find people interested in socialism and unsympathetic with the leadership and style of the present “left” parties. Therefore the methods would have to be careful and non-confrontational. There would be no denunciation of other parties, apart from observing that they were not doing their jobs as well as a potential Socialist Party would do so. Meanwhile, expense would have to be pared to a bare minimum; one would spread cheap fliers, go door-to-door assessing sympathies and obtaining possible recruits, and gradually move from there to house-meetings at which members might be recruited.

This would be tricky. Most parties are unhappy about other parties moving in on their turf. This is another reason why it would be inadvisable to be too confrontational. It would be bad for the party if recruiters were intimidated or even assaulted. On the other hand, many of the biggest parties have almost given up on left-wing recruiting and therefore it might be possible to get at least a small membership in place without any fracas erupting — and once the membership was there it would be possible for it to protect itself.

One advantage and disadvantage of an initial dependence on students is that many, probably most, of the students would come from bourgeois areas. Socialism is not necessarily unattractive to the bourgeoisie, at least in theory, and recruitment in these areas would certainly be possible. However, bourgeois socialists often tend to skew their ideology drastically towards overly theorised and highly authoritarian structures which would not be healthy for the organisation of a Socialist Party. Therefore it would be vital for recruiters to get out into working-class areas.

Suppose that this worked. Suppose that the party established a membership of a thousand people, with plenty of potential for growth. It would then be possible to set up the party as a more formalised structure. Until this point it would have been a temporary structure, running largely on donations from the self-appointed leadership and enthusiasm from the rank and file. However, the experience of setting up the membership would undoubtedly have shown who were the strong, and who the weak, figures in the party. Thus it would be possible to hold a national congress to approve the Socialist Party’s constitution and rules of governance and to elect national and provincial leaders.

The party would be largely supported by membership fees. The old SACP rules that one had to pay a certain proportion of one’s income into the Party coffers were sensible ones; thus some money could be obtained. Expenditure would have to be kept as low as possible; you would probably have an unpaid Executive in order to have money to pay organisers and clerical staff, and these organisers and clerical staff would have to have a lot of volunteer support. The bulk of the money would go towards hiring and equipping a few offices and providing stationery and costs for a few public meetings. (You gotta have banners, of course.) It might well be possible that some relatively wealthy enthusiasts could chip in more money, but initially, with only a thousand members, administrative support would be strictly limited.

You might ask how it is that other leftist organisations manage to accomplish so much more? The answer is outside funding; the SACP is largely funded by COSATU, while many of the Trotskyite groupings enjoy foreign funding (and some pretend to be academic research bodies, tapping into another source of external funding). This is unsustainable practice in keeping with the general opportunism of these organisations’ current leaders.

But again, if membership could be made to grow reasonably fast, it’s not impossible to hope for ten thousand members. That would actually put the Socialist Party up there with the SACP in terms of real membership. The Socialist Party would not be vanguardist — that is, it would not be a tight-knit elite of whom total sacrifice was expected — but would rather be more democratic and flexible. It could be easy to make it attractive; many members need only be expected to sacrifice a couple of evenings a week and a modest amount of money. (If 10 000 members coughed up an average of R50 a month, that would probably see the party through, financially.) At this point the Socialist Party could also try to expand a little into small towns in poorer provinces such as Limpopo, North-West and Eastern Cape; the danger of remaining an urban party would be as great as remaining a bourgeois party. Let’s not overvalue the proletariat!

Now, what would the Socialist Party do with ten thousand active members? Let’s say that a thousand of those are activists who devote a lot of their time to building the Party, honing its organisation or its ideology, and so on. Some of these are ensuring that the Party’s records are continually up to date and that every possible opportunity is taken to respond effectively to events, whether real or media-generated. Nine thousand are prepared to devote a lot of their time at least over a short period to helping the Party win an election. For this is the object of the exercise: to get somewhere in a national election.

In a national election, there are, say, 12 million voters. The object would be to get 600 000 of those to vote for the Socialist Party. If 10 000 members each visited 1 000 potential voters over a month (and that’s less than 40 visits a day, per member, although members would probably canvass in pairs or even larger numbers — still, it’s not impossible) as many people would have been covered as were likely to vote. It’s very likely that, assuming the canvassers were well prepared and well briefed (and also, of course, well-disciplined and well-supported), a lot of possible voters would be found. Half a million? Possibly. In a time of intense work like this, however, it might also be possible to boost membership at least temporarily and make canvassing even more effective. (A special category of temporary, or candidate, member might be established for this purpose.) As a result the election could serve for long-term recruitment as well as for violent bursts of canvassing which leave the member exhausted at the end of it.

But, perhaps, happy. Because South Africa has proportional representation, there is no deposit to be lost; there is no capitalist plot against parties of the poor. Hence the Socialist Party would be restrained in its success only by the extent and energy of its membership, and the validity of its message. (Assume for the moment that it has a good message.) There is, thus, no real reason why it should be impossible, even without the support of the media and against the hostility of every other political party (although some of the right-wing parties might give it a soft time, hoping that it would draw votes away from the ANC, and the ANC is decreasingly a grassroots organisation) to get half a million votes. About 5% of the electorate. Enough for a number of MPs and Members of Provincial Legislatures. Enough to get the party’s voice across, and to get the party access to state funding so that in the next election it would do better. Unless the party split, or was co-opted, or corrupted, or any of a dozen other problems — if it could negotiate the dangers arising from success, there would be a real left-wing alternative on the South African political scene again.

But this is a pipe-dream, isn’t it?