A Report of the NUMSA International Symposium of Left Parties and Movements, August 7-10, 2014
|Comrade Irvine Jim, General Secretary NUMSA, addressing the symposium|
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) held an International Symposium of Left Parties and Movements on August 7-10, 2014 with the theme: “Building Our Movement for Socialism: Learning from the Lessons of Others”. The symposium was simultaneously the Module 4 of the NUMSA Marxist-Leninist Political Schools for its 250-cadre Mbuyiselo Ngwenda Brigade (made up of shop stewards and activists in the NUMSA provincial structures), and a milestone within the programme adopted for effecting the December 2013 resolution of the union’s Special Delegates Conference to establish a revolutionary socialist party, forge a united front of revolutionary and radical parties, movements and groups and build a movement for socialism. On the eve of this path-breaking symposium, three NUMSA activists who were leading shop stewards in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province were shot dead. These were: Njabulo Ndebele, secretary of the Isithebe branch, Sibonelo Ntuli, the branch’s deputy secretary (who were both to have been participants at the symposium) and Ntobeko Maphumulo. While bothered by these apparent political assassinations, the NUMSA leadership was not deterred and dedicated the challenge of moving forward to their revolutionary memory. The symposium thus started with a sober mood of defiance, even at a dark hour.
79 persons, parties, unions and groups were invited from 28 countries. 40 of these accepted the invitation. Communist Parties in governments such as in Cuba and Vietnam turned down the invitation to avoid souring relations with ANC, that of China ignored the call, CGT (the French trade union centre with historic ties to the French Communist Party) stated that it was no longer interested in socialist politics and discourse, some parties like Lalit in Mauritania were very busy with forthcoming elections, while some others particularly from southern Europe said they were on (summer) holidays. The French Left Front comrade was turned back at the airport (France had communicated its displeasure to NUMSA on French citizens participating in a subversive meeting). Eventually 27 persons/groups from 17 countries participated. These were from: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China (Hong Kong), Ecuador, Egypt, El-Salvador, Ghana, Germany, Greece (Syriza sent a 7-page position paper which showed intent to be physically present, though absent), India, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
COSATU, NACTU and the affiliates of these two federations were invited as were ANC and SACP as well as other Left groups in South Africa which included: AZAPO, EFF, WASP, DLF, PAC and SOPA. Not surprisingly, ANC, SACP and COSATU turned down the invitation. EFF also issued a public statement that it would not participate because: its leadership had tried to meet with NUMSA for some months, and; it would not share platform with ANC (and SACP). The NUMSA National Treasurer debunked the first reason that NUMSA’s Special Conference had resolved to give priority to internal discussions on the way forward before engaging with other Left groups. And one of the participants during a break-away session wondered why it would be difficult for EFF to share a symposium platform with ANC while it could seat with the party in parliament.
The symposium included blocs of: plenary presentations, panel discussions, breakaway sessions and meetings of the Mbuyi Ngwenda brigade to reflect on the presentations at both plenary and breakaway sessions.
Presentations at the plenary sessions included: a briefing to international guests by the NUMSA General Secretary Irvine Jim, “The State of the South African Revolution and the Significance of the NUMSA Moment”, opening speech by the NUMSA President Andrew Chirwa, “The South African Working Class, the NUMSA Moment and the Importance of Global Solidarity” and a video presentation by Samir Amin on “The Theory and Historical Evolution of Organisational Formations Struggling Against Capitalism”. There were breakaway sessions to discuss these, particularly that by Samir Amin.
The central panel discussion was a “tri-continental” discourse on social-economic and political developments with emphasis on the struggles and achievements of “socialist/communist political organisations”. Fred Fuentes of the Socialist Alliance spoke on Latin America, Firoze Manji of the Pan-African Baraza on Africa and Andreas Geunther of Die Linke (standing in for the Left Front’s Christophe Aguiton) on Europe. In 6 groups, participant’s discussed the panel’s inputs and each group presented 3 priority questions/comments to the plenary where further discussions took place.
There were 4 “socialist stations” which were working commissions where international participants provided insight of their experiences to Mbuyi Gwenda brigade cadres and other local participants. These were structured to encompass: current socialist/left parties in governments (Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Uruguay); socialist/left groups that have not formed government but have mass following/energy (Germany, Greece, India, Philippines); where trade unions have established workers/labour parties (Egypt, Nigeria, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, Zimbabwe); where there are ongoing “socialist/leftist experiments” but without any party representative of such present at the symposium(Brazil, Peoples Republic of China (Hong Kong), Venezuela).
In socialist stations 1 & 2 where official party officials spoke, there were also “critical voices” from outside the party structures to give alternative views. This was the case in particular with India and Egypt. And in station 4, leadoffs on the Brazilian situation were made by both members of the Landless Peoples Movement MST (a critical ally of the ruling PT) and Conlutas, an alternative trade union federation to the dominant trade union federation allied to the PT, i.e. CUT and with ties to the United Socialist Workers Party of Brazil.
The symposium’s conference documents also included 6 “core reading materials” some of which the MG Brigade cadres had studied in the course of the 3 earlier modules. These were:
· Samir Amin: “Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity”, in Monthly Review, June 2014
· Charles Post: “What is Left of Leninism? New European Left Parties in Historical Perspective”, in Leo Panitch, Greg Albio and Vivek Chibber (2013), Socialist Register
· Ernest Mande: “On Vanguard Parties” Address made at the Marx Centenary Conference – Marxism: The Next Two Decades, March 1983
· Marta Harnecker: “A New Political Instrument to Build a New Hegemony”, Part 3 of A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-first Century Socialism, Monthly Review Press (coming November 2014)
· Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: “The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organisation of Revolutionaries”, Chapter 4 in What is to Be Done?, 1902
· Mao Tse Tung: “Part II: The National Democratic Revolution”, in Revolutionary Thought in the 20th Century, 1980
IN LIEU OF A CONCLUSION
The International Symposium was a milestone within the process NUMSA is unfolding towards establishing a revolutionary working class alternative to the class collaborationist politics of the tripartite alliance. The next major step would be a Conference on Socialism, scheduled for March next year. At the closure of the symposium, the union’s president opined that theorization on the way forward, resting on lessons learnt from the symposium and the lived and living experiences of NUMSA and its membership would inform discussions at this forthcoming conference.
There are great possibilities for the unfolding situation which the NUMSA moment reflects. But these go with huge challenges as well. In conclusion, these are considered briefly, below.
The long shadow of the ANC is obviously tainted by the “four legs good, two legs better” metamorphosis of its napoleons, but it still has many a boxer’s loyalty. Drawing further from animal farm, the Marikana massacre clearly revealed the erosion of differences between the faces of the pigs and former white male masters. NUMSA will have the opportunity of this erosion of confidence in what used to be a national liberation movement. But it could be an uphill task in the short-term; particularly with the older generation that still have a nostalgic attachment to ANC. This would most likely include violent fight back by the dying leviathan.
The united front is a critical element of the thrust of the NUMSA moment. Most of the political groups that appear set to forge such with NUMSA are small and with near negligible influence. The challenge of winning the confidence of EFF fighters, to be actively part of such a front-in-practice, at the very least cannot be overemphasized, if it is to be robust, in today’s South Africa, in my view. NUMSA youths would have a central role to play in appealing to the rank and file “fighters” of the EFF through struggles from below in the communities (and even some workplaces).
“What kind of party do we want to build?” is a question that NUMSA will have to answer in theory and practice. The answer will not necessarily be as simple as it is often posed on the Left in general; “vanguard or mass party?” Luckily, so to speak, NUMSA will not be starting (in either theory or practice) from a point of zero. Discussions at the Symposium, the reading materials circulated and the unfolding reality of crises and revolts we are living through provide nuggets of answers.
In my opinion, something to be guarded against is the tilt towards compromising revolutionary programme with the massification of Left parties as they get sucked into the labyrinth of electoral politics. Avoiding the reefs of reformism on one hand and sectarianism on the other can best be rooted in revolutionary programme that posits reforms not as an alternative to revolution, or part of a National Democratic Revolution, but as rungs in building the confidence and power of the working class as it climbs the self-emancpatory ladder of revolution.
NUMSA’s inclusion of service delivery struggles as a trade union, as part and parcel of its moment, in the rejuvenation of the movement for socialism in South Africa points towards a grasp of this, as does its readiness to debate on the concept of the NDR, while still holding firmly to it.
At this point, I cannot but say like Chinua Achebe that “it is morning yet on creation day”. And, the greatest contribution of revolutionaries in different countries globally to the NUMSA moment might not be the theoretical debate we will engage in as it deepens, but to deepening the revolutionary struggle of the working class to overthrow capitalism across the world. For NUMSA though, while it is correctly committed to a process-driven approach at arriving at the goal of building a mass-based revolutionary socialist party, it would have to take the plunge sooner than later, if the party would be participating in the March 2016 local elections in South Africa, as it has hinted. The dynamics of local elections are quite different from those of national elections where EFF could make a credible showing within just 8months of its establishment. Socialism is the future, and the future starts today.
Abuja, 7th September 2014