The process of class struggle and class formation underway in South Africa has been accompanied by fierce overt and covert ideological struggles through which classes interpret and justify the maintenance or destruction of the capitalist system. This struggle cannot be waged in an idealistic fashion in which we just analyse ideas outside the material conditions within which they arise. In trying to position the YCL in the current ideological war, this paper will do the following:

  • Broadly outline the role, function and significance of the ideological struggles and the class location of the youth in society,
  • Reflect on the current dominant and conjectural bourgeoisie ideologies and how the working class has responded so far,
  • Lastly, the paper will suggest few immediate ideological tasks for the YCL,
    Class struggles, ideology and youth

Marx and Engels correctly pointed out in the Communist Manifesto that ‘the history of hitherto societies is the history of class struggle’. Under capitalism, the class struggle is between the capitalists and the proletariat, and is over the control and ownership of the means of production. In the process of struggle, contending classes use different ideological, political, economic, military instruments to fight for their class interests. Political parties, trade unions, armies, youth and students organisations, media, states and schools are amongst other concrete instruments through which the class struggle is fought. Ideologies have class base; that is to say, they represent the interests of a particular class. Bourgeoisie ideology takes different forms. Racism, sexism, Nazism, nationalism, liberalism, social democracy, and tribalism are amongst other forms of bourgeoisie ideologies, of which some of them are appropriated from the pre-capitalist modes of production.

What is an ideology?

Ideology is about ideas on how a society should be organised. For instance bourgeoisie ideologues accept class inequalities as natural and necessary in society. Bourgeoisie ideologies also use sex, race and sexual orientation as a basis for organising society. For instance in colonial societies racism and gender oppression have been ideological pillars of capitalism.

Before Marx and Engels developed scientific socialism, utopian socialists had their ideas about how to organise society. Utopian socialists who reacted against the harshness of the capitalist system, did not have a scientific understanding of the capitalist system and its defeat thereof. Marx and Engels provided the working class with historical materialism and dialectical materialism as philosophical instruments to wage the class struggle. Historical and dialectical materialism only differ in terms of the objects of their study. Historical materialism is a science of history of society or modes of production, their constitution, specific structure and forms of transition to other modes of production. Historical materialism provides us with theoretical cateregories such as mode of production, class, productive forces, means of production, superstructure, base and relations of production through which we understand concrete societies, viz, primitive communism, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Historical materialism does not only critique the pre-capitalist and capitalist societies, but also suggest a communist future. This future will only come about if the acting subject of history – the working class, is aware that it is oppressed and exploited as a class.

Dialectical materialism’s object studies the history of thought, which provides us with a method to interpret reality, which is different from mechanical materialism or dialectical idealism.

Why should we concern ourselves with ideologies? Ideologies play a key role in reproducing the capitalist system of subornation, exploitation and domination through legitimising the capitalist social class structure. Bourgeosie class domination requires both ideological and repressive apparatus to protect its class interests. Bourgeoisie ideology conceals and distorts reality. Under pre-capitalist class modes of production, social relations of exploitation and domination were overt and the exploiters found ideologies to legitimise the system of oppression and exploitation. Whereas under liberal capitalism these relations are covert. Bourgeoisie political economists present commodities, price, wage, interest, rent and profit as relations between things as opposed to relations between classes. Freedom, equality and democracy are presented as representing everyone, yet we know that that this is not true. A worker under capitalism is not equal to a bourgeoisie.

In South Africa, racist ideology, which justified white domination over black, was beneficial to capital, though it became dysfunctional as the system developed.

Liberals presented the South African problems as a problem of race-relations, not class relations. Yet we all know that racism was a form through which capitalism assumed. Ideology conceals reality, and present appearance as real. Reality is a unity of essence and appearance – the latter conceals, but at the same manifests the former. To put it concretely, racism in South Africa was a manifestation of class relations expressed via national oppression. A white worker may not be conscious of the same social relation she shares with a black worker in relation to a capitalist. This suggests that as we engage in the ideological struggles we should not ignore appearance and other forms of class contradictions.

What is the position of the youth in the class struggle and society, and the ideological struggles thereof? The youth does not exist outside society – it is an integral part of society. As we earlier pointed out that the current capitalist system is composed of two main classes, namely the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the youth is a microcosm of the class society in that it shares certain class interests and loyalties. While the youth is not a class category, but there is class stratifications amongst the youth. That is to say that the youth can be characterised as proletariat youth, students, capitalists, petty-capitalist, intellectuals and peasant youth. Given the legacy of the CST in South Africa, these class stratifications have also assumed racial and gender character in which racist capitalist ideology was used to justify the racial and gender oppression as well the class exploitation. To illustrate, a majority of the proletariat and peasant youth are black in general, though this is gradually changing as this section is being incorporated into the structures of capitalist production and distribution. This has also an impact on the young people’s world outlook. Despite the class, racial and gender character of the youth, it has a certain common features. Firstly young people are susceptible to assimilation of any ideology since they are still at the stage of trying to understand their cosmology, their being, etc. Hence, young people are conscious and unconscious bearers of class ideologies, which could also be expressed, in different forms, including national and sexist forms. Secondly, the youth is the future of any society and is shaped and shapes the outlook and future of that society.

Having outlined the social location of the youth in society, we need to discuss the role of the YCL in relation to different sections of the youth in the ideological struggles. The proletariat youth has objective class interests with the entire proletariat; therefore it is the most consistent fighter for national liberation, transformation of gender relations and socialism. This section like the proletariat has suffered the brunt of the restructuring of the capitalist economy during and after the Apartheid capitalist state. The students youth are at the centre of the ideological state apparatus, therefore they could be mobilise to play a revolutionary role in the struggle for revolutionary ideas. The capitalist youth is the enemy of the proletariat, therefore is interested in the bourgeoisie ideology. The middle class youth is amorphous and unreliable.

What should be the role of the YCL in organising, mobilising and building proletariat class-consciousness for communism amongst the youth? We can only deal with this question if we understand the dominant conjectural bourgeoisie ideologies and mechanisms through which these ideas are spread as well as the nature of the capitalist crisis.

Dominant ideologies in the current phase of capitalism

Different conditions of capitalist exploitation and domination have led to different ideological and organisational responses. For instance, during the early phases of the industrial revolution, workers had individual responses to their domination.. Trade unions and political parties emerged to represent different classes. As capitalism developed it spread to other nations and it reached a monopoly stage. This was an era, which Lenin calls, monopoly capitalism or imperialism. It is in this phase that national oppression, which was a direct consequence of the capitalist expansion, emerged. The emergence of imperialism and colonialism forced the oppressed in the colonies to form their own nationalism driven by nationalist movements. Different national organisations based their claims for independence of different social identities. Religion, clan and tribe were amongst other social identities used to fight for independence. In many instances, movements that moved beyond these identities were successful in gaining political and economic independence. However, nationalism of the oppressed and of the oppressor were embedded within a patriarchal notions of a nation. For instance a mother of a nation were accorded certain gender roles in society, thus perpetuating the unequal gender relations.

In some of the post-colonial societies nationalism was used to bolster neo-colonial settlements in the post-colonial societies. In other post-colonial societies, nationalist ideology was combined with socialist perspectives. National movements would embark on economic models that challenge the logic of capital.

Since the 1970s neo-liberalism has become a dominant way of organising capitalist societies. Liberalism is a bourgeoisie ideology to fight feudalism and entrench capitalism. It is based on individualism and free market. Liberalism assumes that individuals are naturally rational, self-interested and greedy. State involvement in the economy retards the individual interests, according to this perspective. It argues for the ‘non-intervention’ of the state in the ownership, control and distribution of economic resources, and confining the state to a role of a ‘machingilana’ to prevent violence in private relationships and guarantees and enforces the contracts and protect private of ownership of the means of production, thus maintaining the capitalist class relations. There is also a version of liberalism, which recognise the role of the state in relations of distribution of surplus value through welfare state programmes. It is important to mention that this form of liberalism was dominant when the working class was on the offensive against capital epitomised by the Great October Bolshevik revolution.

In response to this ideology there is a re-emergence of ‘left’ libertarians ideology based on pre-Marx utopian socialists and has a significant influence in a number of emerging social movements. It also emphasises the reduction of the bourgeoisie state functions in favour of the voluntary, co-operative and small-scale non-profit community initiatives. A number of young people are found in this sector in which the working class attempts to make ends meet. Furthermore, a number of the contemporary social movements are influenced by this ideological framework.

Social democracy, which was dominant reactionary ideology in the working class movement during the Second International, is also being touted as an alternative to neo-liberalism. This ideology which glorifies reformism is gaining support within the working class movement in South Africa. This ideology accepts capitalism as the only viable way of organising society. It argues for ‘regulated capitalism’ in which workers’ rights social welfare and ‘full-employment’ is guaranteed. At the political level, this ideology uncritically supports bourgeoisie parliamentary democracy in order to regulate capital.

In South Africa there has been a convergence of ‘cultural’ conservatism (through Christian or narrow ethnic fundamentalism and neo-liberalism. This ideology is supported by IFP, ACDP, FF-plus. Of course they have their own distinct and nuances, but share similar capitalist framework. On the one hand, they support neo-liberal economic framework, but want the state to intervene in restricting abortion, institute corporal punishment and prayer in schools, safeguard practical family values.

Concepts are important in the ideological struggles. Concepts are ideological tools that enabled us to explain and enhance our understanding of the world, thus changing it . Concepts can conceal or illuminating the world. Concepts are analytical, descriptive and can inhibit or catalyse political action. For this reason, it our task as revolutionaries to critically look at concepts. In the last ten years of post-Apartheid democracy, old revolutionary concepts acquired new meanings, and new concepts that have replaced our revolutionary concepts. There has been what we call nationalist conceptual populism, which conceals class relations in South Africa. Unlike Marxism, it uses the category of the rich and the poor, elite and the people, minority and majority. We suggest that we should also subject concepts such as people’s power versus people’s contract, African Revolution versus African Revolution, globalisation versus imperialism, class struggle versus public-private partnerships, developmental state versus national democratic state, etc. The ambiguity of concepts allows organisations and the ANC-led Alliance to have many contradictory goals informed by different class forces within them.

Conceptual national populism is mainly used by the middle class to mobilise the proletariat by using an anti-imperialist and uses symbols and language popular amongst the proletariat. The emerging black bourgeoisie uses nationalist ideology of common interests amongst the historically oppressed to legitimise their capital accumulation. In other words, nationalist ideology has strongly re-emerged in South Africa under the rubric of Black Economic Empowerment according to black bourgeoisie capital accumulation is justified.

We would argue the class struggle and formation underway in South Africa, precipitated by the ‘collapse’ of the Soviet Union, which led to the retreat from Marxism as a powerful explanatory theory for revolutionary action has led to the revision of our revolutionary concepts. Those who were Marxists have abandoned Marxism or concoct Marxist theory to justify their exploitative system with a smiling human face. Concepts such as ultra-left are used to chastise everyone who fight against the capitalist system and its ideology – neo-liberalism. On the other hand, erstwhile Marxists intellectuals have also abandoned Marxism in favour of the so-called post-Marxism which is a bourgeoisie ideology using Marxist theoretical categories. Unfortunately, some of us are not within the communist party are not immune from this ideological retreat. For instance, Marxist concept of social capital, which means aggregate capitals, has acquired a new meaning, thus obliterating the notion that capital as a social relation. The new meaning of social capital refers to deferred working class wages (pensions) state capital etc. In addition to this, we have also abandoned the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Liberation theology, which argues, should fight with the poor and identifies capitalism as a source of poverty, and speak in class terms as opposed to the rich and poor, and would accept Marx’s analysis of the capitalist system and socialism as an alternative way of organising society. In other words, they adopt a class analysis as a way of understanding society. Their political and economic practice includes forming consumer and producer co-ops, credit unions and labour unions. Like in all fronts of class struggles, the bourgeoisie has also launched an attack against liberation theology. There is a conscious effort to build different church movement against liberation movement. The religious right as represented by the ACDP, FF plus, UCDP, etc propagate reactionary ideas on abortion, gay rights, patriarchal family structure, and strong opposition to socialism and certain aspects of liberalism to advocate for cultural conservatism. What should be the role of the SUCA and YCS?

In the recent past the patriarchal ideology is still dominant and is perpetuated despite the relatively progressive laws in place to deal with gender oppression. Violence, in which working class young women mainly are serious victims, has used to maintain and patriarchal power relations. Even though access to education is not based on gender, a number of young working class women are less likely to attend schools and university. Of course, this affect the entire working class since education is still a commodity. This is to say that when the black working class is not drawn into the system through NSFAS based on means test, it mainly the male working class youth, which has more access. In many instances young women do not also have a say in their own reproductive rights. They are allowed to decide on abortion, sterilisation, contraceptives partly because of certain ideological constructs embedded within capitalist patriarchal ideology based on nationalism, religious fundamentalism etc. In addition to this, young women’s right to sexual pleasure is also controlled and limited by the cultural conservatism through genital mutilation particularly in rural areas. Objectification of young women and men (but predominantly women) through beauty contests and sexist language in movies are also used to reproduce bourgeoisie gender stereotypes. What should be the role of the YCL in this dealing with both bourgeoisie print and electronic media?

What are the organisations, institutions and mechanisms for the production and reproduction of bourgeoisie ideologies?

It is not the intention of the author to enlist bourgeoisie institutions that reproduce and maintain the bourgeoisie class interests through ideological work. Suffice to say that there are many bourgeoisie organisations and institutions that play this role. They range from educational, economic, political, social, religious, cultural, including the state. The key question is how do we position the YCL to engage in these ideological struggles. Of course, ideological struggles should be linked to concrete struggles of the working class youth.

The tasks of the YCL

In order to position the YCL to engage in ideological struggles in the current conjuncture we suggest the following:

  • Build, enhance and deepen Marxist-Leninist understanding of the YCL cadres. Therefore, the political education and cadreship development should be central in our work,
  • Work with and amongst the Progressive Youth Movement on ideology of Marxism-Leninism,
  • Identify state ideological apparatus for transformation – education, SABC etc,
  • What should be our approach to SETAs,
  • We need to link with the working class institutions – NALEDI, Workers College, Chris Hani, DITSELA,
  • Young organic intellectuals should be recruited to the YCL and the SACP,
  • The YCL should develop its alternative media for youth e.g. YCL newspaper
    Yes, the working class, including its youth component, should engage in the battle of ideas in all centres of power. But the highest form of power is the state. Communists should be elected and participate in the liberal bourgeoisie parliament and other institutions ( of course not all). But we should not have an illusion that socialism will come about through these institutions. In the same way that the bourgeoisie could not use the feudal state to advance their interests, the proletariat cannot use the bourgeoisie’s state to advance its interests because the capitalist state like ours is designed to protect the interests of capital. Any attempt to use the bourgeoisie state would result into a violent counter-revolution like in Chile. Therefore we do all these to ensure that the working class takes state power to build socialism, ultimately communism.