Politics: “Of cats, factions and a revolution”

“Of cats, factions and a revolution”Woody Aroun

Amidst allegations of tensions, conflict, splits and differences within the tripartite alliance, Joel Netshitenzhe’s (JN) paper “Of cats, factions and a revolution” has cast the spotlight on the issue of factionalism and its implications for party politics, political discipline and social change. In dealing with the issue of factionalism, JN raises the case of the Queensland Cat Protection Society and the brutal death of its president Kathleen Marshall –

“Around what fundamental issues, one may ask, could members of a cat protection society so differ that some of them could decide to take the life of one of their own? If so eccentric an organization with so little at stake could go this far, what should be expected from institutions dealing with huge resources, political power and social prestige”

But the issue of factionalism isn’t simply about disagreements and dissent. It embodies all that is ideological and could wreak havoc in organizations that appear to be highly stable. JN argues that it is normal for factions to exist in social institutions but “that differences of view do not per se constitute factionalism”. According to him differences of a political nature, as is currently the case within the tripartite alliance, must be evaluated historically. In other words the political, social and cultural traditions under which the ANC developed are critically important when analysing present day tensions within the alliance.Drawing on the experiences of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union), China and even leadership squabbles within and amongst Britain’s primary political contenders, JN illustrates that there is hardly a political party that is immune to factionalism – the Australian Labour Party is a more recent case in point. How did the CPSU respond to the crisis of factionalism? The CPSU put the lid on factionalism and anyone who disagreed with official party policy faced expulsion from the party.

So where does this leave democratic centralism, political tolerance and space for free and candid debate within the structures of the tripartite alliance? Is the tripartite alliance not by its very “nature” prone to the formation of factions? For JN the only way to counter factionalism lies in the historic traditions of the ANC:* political tolerance: differences of views permitted, but subject to the political discipline of its cadres* maturity of leadership across the alliance – ANC/SACP/Sactu* the enemy (apartheid regime) would seek to sow divisions – so the alliance could not allow the formation of factions as this would mean playing into the hands of the enemy

Times have changed!JN cautions against factionalism – in his view the formation of factions could only impede the alliance from achieving its revolutionary objectives. However, times have changed and careerism, political opportunism, corruption and succession are likely to fuel and create factions, sometimes under the pretext of deeper ideological differences.

ChallengesFor JN the key challenges for the alliance is to refocus on the historic traditions of the progressive revolutionary forces, encourage free and open debate of ideas without necessarily imposing a “single ideology upon its members”, maintain party discipline and strengthen the national collective.

Conclusion JN’s optimism speaks for itself – he is confident that the ANC will succeed in its historic mission “to build a better life for all” so long as we are able to leave our “personal egos” aside.