Open Letter to a South African Socialist: Reply to a Regional Representative of WASP on the South African Elections

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 5.5.2014, www.thecommunists.net

 

Dear comrade,

 

On 26 April, you sent us, as well as other socialists including the WASP leadership, a letter in which you elaborated a number of criticisms on the RCIT’s statement on the South African elections issued on 25 April. (1) In this statement we expressed our tactic of giving critical support to the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) in the upcoming elections in South Africa. In your letter you deepened the criticism which you had already previously expressed regarding our document on South Africa published on 5 February. (2) In the present open letter, I wish to reply to your criticism and explain the analysis and tactics which the RCIT advocates.

 

What is the Character of the DSM/CWI?

 

Your first criticism of the RCIT’s analysis is that you reject our characterization of the dominant organization in the WASP’s leadership – the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the South African section of the CWI – as a “right-centrist organization”. You say: “To characterize the DSM in South Africa as right-centrist is to not understand anything about the character of left organizations in South Africa. The DSM was the only left wing tendency which read the contradictions and developments of the impending crisis and located themselves politically on the mining belt at least two years before the massacre at Marikana. (…) the DSM led the 2012 mine workers strike movement because of the work they had been doing amongst mine workers. In terms of the actual mine workers struggle no one can fault their revolutionary approach and the successes that came out of this struggle. AMCU today organizes workers in their many thousands because the DSM realizing that workers needed to be organized in unions directed them there. The DSM and WASP is leading the struggle to democratize AMCU. The WASP is a direct product of that struggle and emerged from the mine workers committee and the DSM. The DSM today leads the WASP, and the WASP is growing in leaps and bounds. The DSM though WASP is regarded by NUMSA as the only socialist organization standing in the coming elections, we are the ‘friends of NUMSA’. Many NUMSA leaders and workers are canvassing on behalf of WASP in spite of the official position of not supporting any other party in this election. In that sense in spite of all you have to say, the DSM is in the leadership of the revolutionary struggle in South Africa, and they are conducting it in a revolutionary fashion! If your characterization of them flows from their participation and membership of the ANC during the anti-Apartheid struggle then at least be honest enough to characterize this as a mistaken view of revolutionaries who wanted to fight amongst the mass of militant fighter attracted to the ANC. The newspaper of the then MWT, Inqaba Ya Basebenzi provided an advanced critique of the politics of the ANC during the 1980’s and 90’s. The differences between those who struggled to build an independent workers party and those who tactically entered the ANC was based on different appreciation of what would further the struggle of the working class – they were not enemies of the working class, nor were they your ‘right-centrists’. In 1994 they like the CWG called for a critical vote for the ANC in order to defeat Apartheid. While we had a different view on the matter, this did not disqualify them and the CWG from being comrades in struggle and definitely not ‘right-centrist’ or reformists. In the class struggle there are many tactical issues which are to be considered. Real revolutionaries are those who come to understand that the positions they have taken were wrong and they make the necessary change. The MWT broke from the ANC in 1996 when they adopted the policy of GEAR and started propagandizing the need for an independent Mass Workers Party on a socialist programme.

Comrade, with all due respect, your defense of the DSM/CWI is completely wrong. We never denied that the comrades of the DSM played an active role in the Marikana miners struggle. Neither have we ever denied the heroic role of many ANC militants in the liberation struggle during the 1970s and 1980s. Equally, Trotskyists have always recognized the heroic struggle of the soldiers of the USSR’s Red Army and the partisans in World War II in the struggle for the liberation of their countries from the Nazi occupation. However, recognition of these sacrifices does not exempt revolutionaries from assessing the overall character, program, and perspectives of these forces. Such a character is not determined by this or that episode of the class struggle but by the theory and practice of such a group throughout its entire history.

Unfortunately, in order to defend the DSM/CWI you start to belittle the political crimes of this organization. You speak about “a mistaken view” when you deal with the “critical” participation of the DSM predecessor organization (called “Marxist Workers Tendency”) in the popular front ANC during more than one and a half decades! Since you consider yourselves a Trotskyist, you should be aware that Trotsky condemned the POUM in Spain as a “centrist organization” for participating in the popular front for only a few months in 1935/36 (!) and consequently broke with it. In order to belittle the political crimes of the DSM/CWI you don’t mention that the ANC – while at the same time the DSM’s predecessor organization was part of it – conducted a democratic counter-revolution in the early 1990s by saving the rule of South Africa’s monopoly capital in exchange for abolishing formal Apartheid. This is all the more surprising since this is a view which you yourselves hold – at least you have until recently. It was only the logical conclusion of this political crime that the DSM’s predecessor organization called for a vote for the ANC in the elections in 1994 which consolidated the democratic counter-revolution. (3)

All this betrayal by the ANC leadership and the objective help for this betrayal given by the DSM predecessor organization with its “critical” support and participation in the ANC for so many years, including the time of the open counter-revolution, are a sufficiently long historical period to allow evaluating the political character of this organization.

The trap of the MWT/DSM/CWI right-centrist support for the popular front was not something which could not have been foreseen. Authentic Marxists in South Africa and internationally already condemned the ANC strategy as well as the opportunistic policy of the MWT/DSM/CWI at that time. (4)

You say: “Real revolutionaries are those who come to understand that the positions they have taken were wrong and they make the necessary change.” But the DSM/CWI never officially and publicly admitted that their capitulation to the popular frontist ANC for one and a half decades was wrong! They broke with the ANC in 1996 when the government’s neoliberal policy had become too obvious, and when the workers vanguard began to become more critical towards the ANC. The DSM/CWI just tailed the ANC and the trade union bureaucracy. This tailism was just a reflection of their opportunistic approach in general, something which also found expression in their attitude towards the social democratic parties in Europe. For decades they participated in these parties as a “left” wing and withdrew from them in the early 1990s but, until today, have not expressed any self-critical evaluation.

 

The DSM/CWI’s Reformist Strategy of a Peaceful Road towards Socialism

 

You also reject our critique of the WASP Manifesto for its reformist position on the state question. In our statement we wrote: “However, such electoral support – lest it be seen as opportunistic – must be combined with sharp criticism of the WASP program and leadership. WASP’s electoral manifesto does not explain that socialism can only be achieved via a workers’ revolution. It tirelessly repeats the old reformist slogans of ‘democratization of the police’ instead of openly calling for armed self-defense units of the workers and poor to defend the working class against massacres similar to Marikana. All this reflects the rotten program of the DSM/CWI which is based on the illusionary dogma of a peaceful transformation to socialism, and their equally reformist notion that police officers are ‘workers in uniform.’

To this you comment: “The entire manifesto is a transitional programme for the South African revolution and the underlying message in the manifesto and in various documents is that socialism is not attainable via the electoral process and parliament but through the revolutionary establishment of working class power. It is spiteful nonsense to say that WASP is not orientated towards the revolutionary struggle for working class power and has a reformist approach. Ironically it is the DSM comrades who have drawn up the draft document after various inputs by the affiliates and nowhere do they advocate a ‘peaceful transition to socialism’. (…) The question of ‘democratisation of the police’ as well as the idea that the police are ‘workers in uniform’ was not thoroughly debated because of time constraints in preparation for the launch of the Manifesto. This question is a very controversial and contradictory one because of the role the police play in defending capitalism while on the other hand they have been unionised in POPCRU and other union formations which led the fight against the Apartheid and Bantustan police in the latter days of Apartheid. The majority view of the various constituents of WASP supports the position as outlined in the Manifesto. This does not mean that the question has been resolved once and for all, as the Manifesto was drawn up very hurriedly and much more debate and important changes may still be effected [sic] at the Conference of WASP which is scheduled for June.

Again, comrade, we believe that you are completely mistaken. Trotsky once remarked that centrism is “being characterized much more by what it lacks than by what it holds”. (5) The CWI has expressed a number of times their opportunist illusion of a “peaceful transition to socialism”. You claim that this view is not expressed in the WASP manifesto. But, comrade, this is a rhetorical trick! The CWI’s pacifist and reformist program is the underlying method of the manifesto, and is expressed in the fact that it lacks one of the most fundamental pillars of the Trotsky’s method for the Transitional Program: the slogan of the organized arming of the working class in order to oppose bloody state repression and to smash the capitalist state. This is the only road to a socialist revolution.

There is not a single word in the 25,000 word long manifesto about the need to build armed self-defense units to fight back against the police thugs who murdered dozens of miners in Marikana and in many other incidents. There is not a single word in the manifesto which prepares the workers vanguard for the unavoidable armed clashes in the process of the socialist revolution. Indeed, it is symbolic that even the words “socialist revolution” are mentioned only twice in the wordy manifesto and both times it is only in the context of the international arena, i.e., outside of South Africa, but not concerning South Africa.

Instead, the only form of alternative organization to the bourgeois repression apparatus which the DSM/CWI leadership of WASP is shamefully propagating in its manifesto is the so-called “genuine community policing forums.” These community policing forums are nothing but an institution of unarmed deputy sheriffs which the capitalist state of South Africa has introduced to improve its control over the popular masses. (6) It is an outright bourgeois institution subordinated to the police forces. It is in no way an alternative organization for arming the working class against the police!

It is politically criminal that the centrist DSM/CWI leadership fails to prepare the working class for the need to arm itself against the South African capitalist state. This is even more absurd because – as we both agree – since the Marikana strike in August 2012, South Africa has entered a pre-revolutionary phase.

The same tailism of DSM/CWI leadership to reformism is expressed in its failure to criticize the NUMSA leadership for its praises for the “Freedom Charter” and the role of the UDF of the 1980s. Again, you do not mention this political capitulation of the DSM/CWI leadership with a single word!

 

On the Role of Moses Mayekiso

 

You also reject our criticism on the DSM/CWI leadership to have chosen Moses Mayekiso as their “presidential candidate.” We criticized this choice because Mayekiso – after playing an important role in the trade union movement in the 1980s – integrated himself in leading positions of the ANC and the SACP in the early 1990s. We noted that later he became a corrupt capitalist involved in shady deals. As an example we cited that Mayekiso “served as CEO of Sanco Investment Holdings which in 1999 received R2.5 million for its service in a huge arms deal with the Swedish corporation SAAB, something Mayekiso himself has admitted.

Against this criticism, you defend Moses Mayekiso and reply to the RCIT: “Comrade Moses Mayekiso was a great hero of the anti-Apartheid struggle, probably amongst the leading working class revolutionaries at the time, the one who led the struggle for COSATU to adopt the idea of an independent working class party. With the defeat of the Left in the early 1990’s, comrade Mayekiso like many others, capitulated to the pressure of the time and joined with the ANC. This capitulation was not unlike many others – the entire WILSA majority adopted the view in 1990 that the task was to change the ANC into a socialist party. While we condemned this we also understood that we numbered a few and that the ‘tactical’ shift by the others was a result of the pressures coming from such defeat. Comrade Mayekiso was one of these. Comrade Mayekiso joined the ANC and then later COPE. However he broke with these organisations and formed CONSACOM which is the new and fastest growing Civic Movement in South Africa. Furthermore comrade Mayekiso has been rehabilitated by NUMSA who welcomed his return to working class politics at their Special National Congress in December.

The various allegations of ‘corruption’ and ‘shady deals’ were put to comrade Mayekiso. He has a simple response – if you have the evidence of this please be free to put it before the organisation so that it may be investigated and dealt with. If there is one shred of such evidence he will resign immediately. All these allegations were investigated at the time they were made, both internally and even by the police. Not find a single piece of evidence implicating him in any way in corrupt activities was proven. It is spiteful nonsense by those intent on rubbishing WASP who are spreading these rumours. If you have any evidence please feel free to bring it to the attention of WASP.

The election of comrade Mayekiso to the number one position in WASP came out of a democratic process to which the different affiliates contributed. Comrade Mayekiso was proposed as the leading candidate by CONSACOM which is the preeminent Civic affiliate in terms of membership and spread through the country. CONSACOM has affiliated Civic structures in all the provinces of South Africa, the most well known being Abahlali in the Western Cape. It goes against the very democratic processes in WASP to call for his removal without a single good reason for this. Comrade Mayekiso has leant great weight to the WASP campaign through his popularity as a great working class fighter – it is amazing how the working class has a memory of those who served them with distinction.”

Again, comrade, this is rhetorical trick. Yes, Mayekiso unsurprisingly denies that he was involved in corrupt activities. But we have given a concrete example and a concrete source. According to the Mail & Guardian, one of the big weekly newspapers in South Africa, Mayekiso neither denies that he supported SAAB’s bid for the arms deal, nor that his company received R2,5-million from the arms dealers. The only thing which Mayekiso denies is that his organization’s support for Saab’s bid was influenced by the payment.

Here is a large excerpt from a report about Mayekiso’s corrupt activities.

The South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) received millions of rands from Swedish arms manufacturers who were bidding for the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal. The Mail & Guardian has found that R2,5-million was pumped into the coffers of Sancoa’s investment arm by Swedish arms company Celsius.

The South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) received millions of rands from Swedish arms manufacturers who were bidding for the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

The Mail & Guardian has found that R2,5-million was pumped into the coffers of Sanco’s investment arm, Sanco Investment Holdings (SIH), by Swedish arms company Celsius, which was later taken over by Saab, the Swedish aircraft manufacturer.

A Saab consortium won the contract to supply the South African Air Force with Gripen fighter aircraft five years ago. In 1999, while the government was negotiating with the Saab consortium, Sanco very publicly endorsed Saab’s bid. The arms companies pampered Sanco because of the civic organisation’s tantalising proximity to power and its knowledge of how the ruling African National Congress works, as Sanco is an ANC ally.

Moses Mayekiso, former CEO of SIH, this week confirmed that SIH received the R2,5-million from the arms dealers, but denied that his organisation’s support for Saab’s bid was influenced by the payment. Mayekiso said SIH supported Saab’s bid “because we understood their approach. We knew they wanted to do business in South Africa. We understood that they also wanted to support developmental projects and we had programmes we wanted funding for,” he said. He said the R2,5-million was given to SIH as a loan. SIH, had used the money to establish “approximately” 30 small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) projects in Johannesburg and in the Eastern Cape.

However, the projects — allocated amounts ranging between R2.000 and R20.000 — had all collapsed, Mayekiso said. Sanco had used the balance of the R2,5-million to cover administration costs. The “loan” has, meanwhile, effectively become a donation. A Saab spokesperson, who asked not to be named, this week said the R2,5-million to Sanco “has been written off internally in connection with Saab’s takeover of Celsius”. The spokesperson said: “It is also worth noting that at the time it provided the loan, Celsius was a competitor to Saab within the defence procurement.” Celsius, according to the spokesperson, was “offering submarines, and Saab’s partner BAE Systems was offering submarines”.

This is not the first time Sanco has been embroiled in questionable “donations”. In 1995, the organisation was investigated by police following charges that the civics body had accepted bribes from developers in the Free State. Former Free State minister for safety and security, Papi Kganare, at the time instructed the police commercial crime unit to investigate corruption charges against Sanco and the developers. It was claimed that the developers had paid, or promised to pay, tens of thousands of rands to Sanco at a time when it could have influenced tender decisions. Saab’s spokesperson said Sanco “had no influence over the [arms] procurement”. He added: “Saab consulted Sanco and others in search of feedback on the appropriateness of its offset and social responsibility programmes. It was these programmes Sanco expressed support for.”

Sanco president Mlungisi Hlongwane said his organisation’s national executive committee (NEC) was not aware of the relationship between SIH and arms manufacturers. “I know because I was already president by then. No one in the NEC knew about that relationship,” he said. Sanco has moved to contain the fallout from the report in last week’s M&G that raised questions about the disappearance of millions of rands when Sanco’s investment arm was liquidated. The organisation announced that it will convene a meeting of its NEC on Saturday to discuss the affairs of SIH.

The M&G reported last week that more than R50-million worth of assets and investments belonging to SIH have vanished. In the report, Sanco president Mlungisi Hlongwane also raised concerns about the allegedly irregular transfer of some of SIH’s investments to former directors of SIH. There are indications that the returns from SIH’s investments did not reach communities. The organisation said in a statement that it had no evidence that “any of our officials has been involved in acts of fraud and/or corruption”.

However, Hlongwane said last week that former SIH CEO Moss Mayekiso had irregularly transferred Sanco’s shares in a company called Hlano Investments to himself and two others, named by Hlongwane as national organising secretary Bonisile Malindi and the late Sandi Mgidlana, the organisation’s former head of housing, without the company’s approval. SIH once owned a 19% stake in Hlano, listed as one of South Africa’s top 300 empowerment companies, with an annual turnover of R100-million. It appears that SIH now holds less than 5% of Hlano. Mayekiso has admitted acquiring the shares, but said he had done so legally and in line with SIH’s policy.” (7)

We ask you, comrade: is it true or false that Mayekiso admitted the payment from the arms dealer? And is it true or false that Mayekiso admitted that he supported SAAB’s bid for the arms deal? If these things are false we can assume that he initiated a libel suit against the Mail & Guardian for this report. If this is so, we ask you to refer us to the source which documents such a suit. If no such suit has been undertaken, we can only conclude that Mayekiso was involved in corrupt and shady deals with the imperialist corporations.

I should add to this that the article also quotes Trevor Ngwane, a well known activist in South Africa for social justice, that he denounced Mayekiso’s company: “The organisation had now chosen to ‘stand with the exploiter. ’

You say that Mayekiso was supported and chosen democratically by the WASP membership. We are not familiar with the internal mechanism of WASP, nor exactly how Mayekiso was selected as its “presidential candidate.” But this does not in any way alter our criticism that it is impermissible for a so-called “Trotskyist” organization to promote as a “working class representative” a person who not only joined the Stalinists as a leader and supported their democratic counterrevolution in 1994 but who has also been a corrupt businessman who made deals with imperialist corporations. Unfortunately, this is precisely what the DSM/CWI leadership is doing and what you are defending. A truly socialist organization would have opposed the selection of Mayekiso and, if this organization remained a minority in the democratic selection process, would have accepted the decision but would have continued to express its criticism.

 

Should Socialists Leave the WASP?

 

You query the RCIT by your maintaining that: “I am sure you are not advocating that we leave the WASP because of this position.” Our reply is “No.” But, we ask you to act as revolutionaries inside WASP and openly fight for a revolutionary program, as well as against reformist and centrist positions and those – like the DSM/CWI leadership – who promote them. In fact, you yourselves argued last year – picking up our suggestion – that socialist should act inside WASP the following way: Within WASP, distinguish yourself from the DSM politically, establishing a revolutionary pole of attraction by publishing a regular paper/bulletin as well as launching a revolutionary platform.” And where are you now? You have launched neither any platform nor any paper/bulletin. Instead of becoming a revolutionary pole of attraction which is politically independent of the DSM/CWI, you act as their defenders.

We are of the opinion that your current policy is short-sighted. The centrist policy of the DSM/CWI leadership will ultimately lead to a crisis. The task of revolutionaries is to prepare the workers’ vanguard for the political challenges in the period ahead. An essential precondition for this is to speak openly and honestly about the failures and dangers of the reformist and centrist leaderships instead of defending them. Naturally, this must be done not in a sectarian way but in a way which class-conscious workers can understand. This is the only path to building a revolutionary organization in the tradition of the Bolsheviks and Trotsky’s Fourth International.

We therefore maintain that authentic socialists in WASP should form a revolutionary opposition against the DSM/CWI leadership and publish their own paper or bulletin. They should openly fight for a revolutionary program and argue against the reformist positions of the DSM/CWI leadership. In short, comrade, we ask you to do what you yourselves already promised to do last year.

 

Revolutionary Greetings,

Michael Pröbsting (International Secretary of the RCIT)

 

Footnotes

(1) RCIT: Elections in South Africa: No Vote for the ANC! Critical Support for the WASP! Forward in Building a Mass Workers Party! 25.4.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-election-tactics/

(2) RCIT: South Africa: Forward to the Building of a Mass Workers’ Party Based on a Revolutionary Program! NUMSA’s break with the ANC is an important step forward. A strong revolutionary organization is needed to overcome mis-leadership and to avoid yet another betrayal of our struggle for liberation! 5.2.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-workers-party/

(3) See on this e.g. our documents Michael Pröbsting: South Africa: Revolutionary and Centrist Tactics against the ANC’s orchestrated Democratic Counterrevolution in 1994. A Reply to Socialist Fight and the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International 7.11.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/tactics-vs-anc-1994/ as well as LRCI: South Africa: contours of a counter-revolution? in: Trotskyist International No. 12 (September-December 1993), http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-counterrevolution-1993/

(4) See e.g. the article “South Africa: The Crisis of Leadership” which was published by the predecessor organization of the RCIT (Workers Power (British section of the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International) in 1986. http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/crisis-of-leadership-south-africa-1986/ as well as the LRCI resolution: South Africa: No to a negotiated settlement! Fight ANC betrayal! (Spring 1990), http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-fight-anc-betrayal-1990/

(5) Leon Trotsky: Centrism and the Fourth International (1934), in: Writings 1933-34, S. 232

(6) See e.g. “The Role of Community Policing Forums”, http://www.microdotsa.info/?p=48 and “Bigger role for community policing”, http://www.southafrica.info/news/cpf-210207.htm

(7) Mail & Guardian: How arms dealers pampered Sanco, 08 Apr 2005 http://mg.co.za/article/2005-04-08-how-arms-dealers-pampered-sanco