Inside labour: Will the wounded left unite for workers? | Fin24
 
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Inside labour: Will the wounded left unite for workers?

Oct 29 2017 06:00
Terry Bell

There are two centennials being celebrated in South Africa this month: the birth of struggle icon OR Tambo and the Russian revolution of 1917. Lessons will hopefully be drawn from both.

There are two centennials being celebrated in South Africa this month: the birth of struggle icon OR Tambo and the Russian revolution of 1917. Lessons will hopefully be drawn from both.

However, the debates surrounding the first Red October in Russia – due to differences in the Julian and Gregorian calendars it actually took place in November – should again bring to the fore speculation about a new “workers’ party”.

The question will almost certainly be raised at a Centenary Festival in Johannesburg’s Newtown from November 10 to 12 at which South Africa Communist Party (SACP) deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila is a speaker.

This should be a gathering of most of what is regarded as the left in local politics.

However, the only prominent domestic trade union leader listed to speak is Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the recently formed SA Federation of Trade Unions, of which the country’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), is an affiliate.

Both Vavi and Numsa have been at the forefront of promoting the idea of a “workers’ party”, with “progressive” unions acting as “a catalyst”.

However, a fly in the ointment here is the fact the SACP is officially regarded by Cosatu as the existing workers’ party. And, of course, both Numsa and Vavi were expelled from Cosatu.

But the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), also claiming to be “Marxist-Leninist” and represented at the festival by Advocate Dali Mpofu, has indicated that it could collaborate with “fellow communists”.

The problem is that the leadership of the SACP has already dubbed the EFF “fascist”.

Then there is the question of the groups whose origins lie with the opposition, led by Leon Trotsky, to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. They have traditionally opposed what they term the “Stalinist” communist parties that looked (or continue to look) to the former Soviet Union or China for inspiration.

Among these “Trotskyist” groups is the International Socialist Tendency (IST) headed by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) in Britain. The SWP has sent three of its senior members to the festival to join four of their South African supporters and one from the IST group in Zimbabwe as speakers.

Also on the published list of speakers is Pretoria’s Anglican bishop Jo Seoka, various academics, human rights workers and campaigners such as Trevor Ngwane.

Two members of the Workers and Socialist Party – affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International – are also listed, as is at least one representative from a group affiliated to what is still largely referred to as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

What apparently unites this disparate gathering is the fact that there is a clear and growing demand for an alternative to economic decay and the ongoing crisis in a corruption-riddled political environment.

This raises the possibility that unity could be forged by a coalition of the wounded, united only in their desire to be rid of President Jacob Zuma and his faction in the governing ANC.

But this would be a far cry from any real alternative. It would also be a far cry from the far-reaching ideals flagged during the first Red October or the hopes expressed during the uprising – crushed by Russian tanks – by workers and students in Hungary in October 1956.

Both these Red Octobers were recognised by Cosatu in the immediate aftermath of the federation’s formation in December 1985.

A Cosatu “workers’ diary” noted that the workers of Hungary demanded “the right to strike, democratic political participation, independent trade unions and workers’ self-management of industry”; demands that still seem just as pertinent today.

sacp  |  cosatu  |  eff
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