26 October 2012, Freedom Park, Pretoria

The Young Communists and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat: The South African Conundrum

Thank you for the opportunity to engage with you on the commemoration of “Black History Month” which is held under the theme: “Which way South Africa”. This is a very important discussion for us as the youth as it presents an opportunity to engage with our own future.

History is an important element of determining the future, and given our history as a country, it is important that commemoration and celebration of historical figures and events are accompanied by a dialogue on the wayforward for our country.

I have been asked to talk about “Young Communists and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. As to why it was considered a South African conundrum, and not a global and historical conundrum, I am not certain. But since this is an open ended topic, I will engage with it as extensively as I can with the hope that what I raised will only be considered a discussion, and not a set of controversial issues.

I was guided by W.E.B. Du Bois when he declared in The Soul of the Black Folk that “Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,- criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, – this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society”. I will expect criticism as I speak, but let it be for building our society and determining “Which Way South Africa”

Dictatorship is always associated with the “imposition of the will of the minority on the majority”. It presupposes that those whom this will is imposed upon are not agreeable. It is also regarded as the dialectic of democracy, and that under a democratic society, it is inconceivable that a minority would impose their will on the unsuspecting majority.

In Marxist terms, the dictatorship of the proletariat implied the ruling of society by the working class and its imposition of social, political and economic institutions on the whole of society in the interest of that society.

As to how, as Shumpeter asked, that we can impose on a certain section of society something they do not like even if it is to their benefit begs the usual doubt that Lenin was met with in his discursive titled “The State and Revolution”. However, we are living in a dictatorship of the capitalist class, and whether we call it a democracy or not, and whether we are aware of it or not, it matters not.

Thus, to rally the working class and the poor behind the struggle for socialism in order to reverse the dictatorship by the few in national and transnational monopolies and oligopolies remains the preoccupation of the South African Communist Party and the Young Communist League. Our conception of democracy extends not only into the casting of a vote for our preferred candidates in the elections, for that is not the only institution that society is organised under.

Society is organised in production and distribution of our means of life. It is organised in the factories, in the churches, in the social clubs in our communities, in universities and schools, in health institutions, in the courts and in every facet and aspect that dictates how we live, reproduce ourselves, sustain our lives and the generations to come and also how we eat, get married and even, sometimes, how we die.

Thus, true democracy in any society can only be reflected on how citizens are empowered to make decisions on such aspects of their lives. But more importantly, true democracy lies in how citizens are empowered to question what is given as natural and unquestionable.

Such questions as why there are rich and poor people, or why there are those who die from obesity whilst others die from hunger, or why others have the means to luxurious lifestyles whilst others are condemned to permanent poverty, or why others are born into wealth they inherit whilst others are born to inherit poverty, disease and want; are critical questions that will help shape the kind of democracy.

We must be empowered not to accept the usual neo-liberal dictum that through individual potential, innovation and skill society reproduces these inequalities. And that we acquire these potential, innovation and skill through birth and therefore, what we accumulate through this should remain our individual and family wealth.

We must probe our social fabric to get a better understanding of why these inequalities have to go on and in this way throughout all these generations. These questions are more important to us as the future generations as they do not define and explain why our parents fought against colonialism, imperialism and apartheid only to be in the same social and economic position as they were even when we are told that these systems are gone.

The universally accepted definition of democracy, that is the will of the people by the people and for the people, remain questionable although there can be proper systems to count votes and an independent electoral college to run such elections. The mere power of citizens to determine the facts from fallacy and develop a sophisticated decision making process of who they vote for, is an unequal process in itself.

How we digest information given by political parties, understands their economic policies and how these impact on our lives, understands foreign policies and its purpose, requires certain levels of cognitive knowledge in order to feel empowered that we have voted for the right person.

Today, Helen Zille can just learn how to dance like a township auntie (and look like a monkey in the process) in order to attract the black vote, and on the basis of that, expect that more will flock to her ranks and make her the president of the republic. Such is the folly of democracy in this kind of society.

But worse still, to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat runs the risk of irrelevance where every form of socialism or communism has been blasphemised as a dictatorship. Even the black American president is labelled as communist of having historical communist associations and therefore cannot be trusted. That Americans can trust a black person to make him a president, but can only fault him if he is a communist tells tales (a debate for another day).

Our country became an interesting phenomenon in the discourse of democratic dispensation. The unravelling of political institutions that were imposed for decades over a resistant, albeit not united society, and the process of building unity on the basis of artificial and superstructural projects post 1994 still remains one of the most daunting challenges that this generation and the next will face.

The unity of class forces, that is, black petty capitalists with the peasantry and the working class on the basis of their colour in order to overthrow apartheid (and its attendant capitalism) on the one hand-which was not an easy task as it led to the fragmentation and sometimes further divisions of those who fought against a common enemy-and the pretentious non-racism and rainbow nation project that was to come after 1994, are proving to be disastrous and require that we begin from the beginning if we are to realise a true democratic dispensation.

I refer to pretentious non-racism because we just chose to sheepishly get along with each other, black and white, with the hope that in the process the real issues that led to colonialism, imperialism and apartheid would disappear with the old city names and the old street names. It was pretentious and becoming disastrous because it shielded white privileges from being tempered with, whose accumulation was as a result of the same racism we were pretending to be fighting against and hoping that we can forget by just tagging along.

The proletariat were oppressed through systematic state institutions, legal and judicial institutions, and economic and social institutions. The political form and content of oppression was the most dominant, symbolised with the most ridiculous laws and practises of segregation. The ANC and the entire liberation movement were sometimes supported because of these ridiculous laws, such as separate benches at the parks, separate development, separate toilets or even separate education and work systems.

It was only in so far as they will remove this mad and psychotic symbols of apartheid that were also embarrassing to the other colonisers and former colonisers of (that is, the fact that their fellow whites and Europeans are capable of barbarism) that apartheid was declared a crime against humanity.

Not the capitalist social relations that were embedded in it. Not the continuous exclusion of blacks from the economy. Not the continued dispossession of land and the fruits of labour. Not the mineral resources that were raped by the same individuals and companies opposed to apartheid.

In fact it is they who helped make the final push against apartheid because it did not make capitalist sense anymore and was therefore no longer of use for their profit accumulation. Only if they did not tinker with the cookie jar-the economy-that they could bark as much as possible towards the tree of apartheid.

The pretentious non-racism then led to what The Economist in the past weeks (Cry the beloved Country) celebrated as the failure of yet another black government that walked the same path as other African countries post colonisation. They drew a litany of failures attributed-partly rightly-to post-apartheid South Africa.

They spoke of unemployment, poverty and inequality that have become the order of the day, and forgot to mention that the people who benefit from the ideology The Economist pursues are responsible for this mess. They spoke of the atrocious and condemnable violence in Marikana (a tragedy which Dali Mpofu is now turning into a political cow at the Commission of Enquiry).

But what is it that is disastrous with our country, economy and society? Is it the government? Or, put differently, is it the government alone? Oscar Wilde proclaims in his epic “Socialism and the Soul of Man” that governments are not meant to succeed merely because by their nature they regulate the actions of man and thus constrain their true potential.

As we pontificate on how wrong government is responsible for the bulk of our mess, even those who are mainly responsible for this mess joins in on the chorus. Those who have turned factories into dictatorships blames government even though they pay workers far less than what they require to live.

They also blame government even though they have mobilised most of their private resources to build private schools, hospitals, parks, cinemas, shopping malls, residential areas, security, transport, judicial protection and many other things the proletariat can desire. How many institutions that is supposed to be of public use but have been wrongly preserved for the few? This is the new form of dictatorship.

But even worse, they even dictate to our government. They use rating institutions and withdraw direct investments from production at the slightest provocation or intent to question their looting of private resources.

Of course government, if it is truely of the people, have a lot to do in order to change the discourse in favour of the people. But this is a contested government. Thus, it is important for the proletariat to ensure that they heighten their influence and control of the biggest institutions and highest concentration of power in society-government.

This means that we should move beyond questioning why we are poor and move into questioning who is responsible for our poverty, and what we can do about it. We must ask questions about how the President has such a huge mansion (if it is true that it was built with the tax payer`s money), but we must also question the real wealth that lies in private kitties that is built on the sweat of the proletariat.

We must ask how come Ministers and Members of Parliament (like me) earn so much money, way above average of the ordinary worker, but we must also ask why the CEO of Anglo-Gold, Pick and Pay, Wal-Mart and other multi-national and transnational companies earn on average more than R30 million per annum.

Do we think this is not our money but their well and hard earned salaries? We must ask why SOME sports personalities, artists, TV personalities, CEO`s of parastatals earn so much money whilst workers still struggle to even pay their TV licences or cannot even afford a flight between Johannesburg and Durban. We must ask these questions in order to awaken the sense and consciousness of the proletariat in order for them to arise.

We must ask why is the property clause in the constitution so important for some people, especially those who own massive acres of land (and have turned them into game farms and golf courses), mines and other properties that they derive rent from, and yet tell us that it is in our interest not to temper with the constitution. Before we even get to a true dictatorship of the proletariat, we must hold this contested democracy accountable. This will be the only way we can help determine a future for our country.

And as Du Bois said, “Here is the chance for young women and young men of devotion to lift again the banner of humanity and to walk toward a civilization which will be free and intelligent; which will be healthy and unafraid, and build in the world a culture led by black folk and joined by peoples of all colors and all races – without poverty, ignorance and disease!”

The problem of the 21st Century is not that of the colour line, but that of overcoming poverty, inequality and unemployment for a just society.