On 24 – 28 July, more than 1000 delegates will gather in Johannesburg for the 11th national congress of the South African Communist Party (SACP). To find out about preparations in party branches, Dinga Sikwebu spoke to Numsa activists who are also SACP members on the East Rand . They spoke about their expectations of the congress.
It will be the middle of Joburg's winter. To keep warm, delegates will expect red-hot political speeches from the podium. They will also try to chase away the cold by stoking heated exchanges from the conference floor. Judging by what Numsa activists who are also members of the SACP say. workers' expectations of the congress will extend beyond climatological considerations. They expect congress to develop strategies that will make those in government realise that "increasing levels of poverty and joblessness are a sign of a national crisis". They also expect the gathering to outline a plan on how to build the party into a strong organisation, while "taking for
Numsa's SACP members will be active participants at the SACP's 11th national congress. W MATLALA ward campaigns on banks and building co-operatives".
According to Nelson Kiyane, a Numsa member and SACP activist in Katlehong "building the party is a difficult job". Many of the branches on the East Rand are weak – with paid membership hovering around 50. The branches are also detached from emerging struggles and movements around evictions and cut-offs of services such as water and electricity. Until recently, there has been no push to build industrial units of the party despite this having been resolved in previous congresses. "Currently, party branches are not influencing society at a local level", says George Choshane, an activist in the Daveyton branch of the SACP and Numsa Wits East regional secretary.
Of concern also, is the weakness of the party in the countryside. According to Ike Phaahla, a shospteward and chairperson of SACP Thokoza branch, "the party is too urbanised". For Phaahla, unless the party reaches the downtrodden in rural areas, it cannot be the parry of the future.
But it is not only organisational and party-building questions that working class activists are concerned with. They are also pre-occupied with questions of socialist strategy and theory. "Do we want to get to socialism through the ballot or will we do it the communist way through the dictatorship of the proletariat: ". Being grappled with are questions such as:
at which point does the party take over and lead the transition to socialism: the correctness of the strategic line captured in the slogan: "Socialism is the future! Build it now."
Kissing the revolution goodbye
Although at the time of speaking to them, pre-congress discussions had not commenced in earnest in branches, the comrades from East Rand had some views on what has to be done and what resolutions II are to emanate from the Congress.
Phutas Tseki. a full-time Telkom shop steward and chairperson of the Vosloorus branch has no doubt in his mind that see-ing to those who are destitute is the respon-sibility of the state. "The party congress must come up with ideas on how WC Call realise our campaigns for job creation and the basic income grant".
While agreeing, Kiyane cautions against seeing the basic income grant as a solution to growing poverty in the country. For him the grant is a temporary mea-sure. The key to the lie problem of unemployment is a faster land redistribution programme "The SACP mid the alliance as a Whole should not respond to landlessness when there are incidents such as the Bredell land Occupation. Access to land can be an alternative to those who lose their jobs and those who can't find work".
Oil organisational questions the comrades retreat into what the draft political programme going to the congress at the end of the month warns against. "to describe the type of party we seek to build preponderantly on the basis of size by counterposing a mass and a vanguard party , ". There is also the tendency to see organisation-building Outside of taking up campaigns around bread and butter issues. Despite these weaknesses. the comrades feel strongly about the issues that they have put on the table.
According to Choshane, failure by congress to address the above issues and concerns will be tantamount to "kissing this revolution goodbye".
Room for disappointment
Looking at the draft political progranune to be debated at the congress in July, these activists from the East Rand may be disappointed. l Unless raised from the floor. many of the issues that they expect from the congress are not mentioned in the draft political programme Except the sections dealing with co-operatives and local economic development. the draft programme is silent on what is to be done in relation to growing poverty and unemployment Poverty is at the root of the struggles being fought [In different communities By not devising ways of dealing with growing impoverishment, the party not onlv side-steps what are hurning issues for the masses bill also robs its activists of an important compass for relating to ongoing struggles in the townships
When asked what the attitude of branches was to emerging struggles, many of the activists spoken to, felt that the part , "had to intervene to give direction and avoid a situation that these strugglcs are hijacked by other elements". For them intervention was not because the struggles are genuine, but is a way to block those who may gain credit for taking up the issues.
The fact that issues of poverty and unemployment go to the heart of macroeconomic strategy may tic the reason why the party is mum on the issues. Having avoided discussion on GEAR at the alliance summit, issues such as unemployment and poverty have been shifted to the Growth and Development Summit mooted by government. Unfortunately,. the draft programme does not even call for suggestions cm what the party will have to take to the summit
The draft political programme is in the main a defence of strategic positions taken by the party over the last few years. It conWills large sections on v'hy the slogan. socialism is the future- build it now, is correct. There is also a section "affirming the legitimate independent role and profile of the SACP". Having these sections in the programme is Understandable. The party has rcccntly come under attack front leading ANC leaders for wanting to "build socialism in the womb of capitalism". For many of the "graduates of the Lenin school" building elements for socialism now is a "departure from classical Marxism". For them socialism requires a break from capitalism.
Other hot issues
Judging by discussion with the East Rand comrades. tile question of leading SACP members who are in government portfolios driving government programmes, will be one of the hot issues to be debated at the congress Although the majority of comrades spoken to felt that the issue w as more of 110W to influence the ANC " than that of individuals serving in government, Choshane strongly feels that the issues must feature ill the congress' agenda. "Is the fact that SACP leaders are driving unpopular programmes and policies perceived as anti-working class. not one of the factors contributing to the party's weakness on the ground; "
Despite previous attempts to deal with the matter, the issue is on the agenda of the coming congress file draft political programme while declaring that "the SACP is very proud that thousands of communists serve in many leading positions in government". poses the following questions:
how is the party (o ensure accountability of communists deployed in gov- ernance to the broad policies and other positions of the SACP whilst at the same lime expecting communists to respect the mandate of those government structures in which thev are deployed is it enough to say thin communists should simply implement government mandates irrespective of SACP positions is it feasible or desirable for the party to seek. in one way or l he other, a distinct SACP role in g o vernance structures within the framewor k of an ANC mandate: how does the SACP strengthen accountability of its members in government without sliding into entryism or irrelevancy?