SACP Discussion Document
In truth, we have borrowed the title of this article from the remark once made by Karl Marx when he said: “God save us from the Marxists!” Our own appeal to the powers above is occasioned by a treatise issued by the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP). Like Karl Marx in the 19th century, we also probably need the intervention of celestial powers to save us from our own 21st century “Marxists”.
The SACP document to which we refer is entitled “SACP Central Committee Discussion Document”. It was published in a May 2006 Special Edition of ‘Bua Komanisi’, Vol 5, Issue
One of the principal theses of the Central Committee (CC) SACP Discussion Document centres on what it identifies as “capitalist accumulation”. It identifies the approach to this matter as the fundamental issue that has led to a so-called “rupture” between the ANC and the SACP with
regard to the elaboration and pursuit of the goals of the national democratic revolution.
This article will therefore focus on the issue of “capitalist accumulation”, as extensively explained by Karl Marx in his seminal work, “Das Kapital”, and as understood by Marxists who studied and understood this complex scholarly work on political economy.
For now, we will therefore not address the many false assertions contained in the CC SACP Discussion Document that relate to the actuality of our country’s socio-economic development since 1994 and 1996. We will deal with these assertions in later articles.
The CC SACP Discussion Document says that the revolutionary democratic movement is faced with the challenge to decide between two opposing and “basic directions”. It says that these are:
“a restoration of the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation on a new and supposedly more sustainable basis, or
“a revolutionary/systemic transformation of society that begins to resolve the inherent contradiction in favour of the working class and its popular allies.”
The Discussion Document goes on to say:
“The…dominant state project since around 1996 has been the former – to drive a process of restoration of capitalist accumulation. The overriding objective has been to create conditions for a sustained 6% (capitalist-driven) growth path. The assumption is that only such a growth path
will provide the resources with which to address the developmental challenges we all agree are critical (racialised inequality, unemployment, poverty, socio-economic duality, etc.)…Relative to the pre-1994 reality, the restoration project is progressive.
“But relative to the transformational potential of the 1994 conjuncture, this project represents a serious strategic setback for the working class (and the national democratic revolution)…
“The post-1994 democratic state is not inherently capitalist, it is, in fact, a sharply class-contested
reality (which is partly why its bonapartist features have emerged). It is true, however, that established and emerging capital have succeeded in exerting considerable dominance over the state. This reflects the sheer strength of capital, as well as the illusions and emerging class
interests of a leading stratum within the ANC…
“Instead of “lowering the cost to doing business”, (the national democratic revolution) must actively transform the persisting capitalist accumulation path, whose key features remain those set in place over the past century.”
In summary, the CC SACP says that what has driven the strategic orientation of ANC policies since we acceded to political power in 1994, and especially since 1996 when we adopted GEAR, has been the effort to “restore the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation on a new and
supposedly more sustainable basis.”
As opposed to this “reformist (ANC) path”, the SACP stands and fights for a “revolutionary/systemic transformation of society that begins to resolve the inherent contradiction
in favour of the working class and its popular allies”, driven by the commitment to “transform the persisting capitalist accumulation path”.
In this regard, the CC SACP asserts that we have had the advantage of the “transformational potential of the 1994 conjuncture”, which the ANC betrayed by opting for various policies targeted at “restoring the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation.”
It therefore argues that regardless of the “progressive” intent, nature and outcomes of the policies implemented by our government since 1994, these policies constitute “a serious strategic setback for the working class (and the national democratic revolution)”.
The CC SACP argues that this results from what it alleges is the fundamental reality that the ANC has, up to now, 12 years after our liberation, refused to transform the path of “capitalist accumulation” in our country.
It argues that all this derives from the fact that “established and emerging capital” has to all intents and purposes captured state power, assisted by “the illusions and emerging class interests of a leading stratum within the ANC”.
In this context the CC SACP makes the strange statement that, “The post-1994 democratic state is not inherently capitalist, it is, in fact, a sharply class-contested reality (which is partly why its bonapartist features have emerged).”
We believe that the foregoing provides all the information necessary to explain why this article should and will address the critical matter of “capitalist accumulation”, in terms of the understanding of the functioning of capitalism and capitalist societies, including our own.
With regard to this issue, and others, the fundamental problem facing the national democratic movement arises from the stark reality that what is presented as Marxist analysis in the CC SACP Discussion Document is a gross perversion of Marxism.
It demonstrates a regrettable ignorance of the very ABC of Marxist historical materialism. Inevitably, ignorance of Marxism by “Marxists” leads to the vulgarisation of
Marxism, the mouthing of revolutionary-sounding but empty phrases, dogmatism and political adventurism.
A large portion of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” is devoted to the explanation and analysis of the issue of “capitalist accumulation”. This is because this social phenomenon is fundamental to the essence and functioning of capitalist society, and provides the theoretical basis for the projection of the historical inevitability of the socialist revolution.
The issue of “capitalist accumulation” addresses the organic manner in which capital reproduces and expands itself. At the simplest level, it discusses what happens when an individual capitalist, who owns capital, hires workers, who are alienated from the products of their labour, to produce a commodity or provide a service.
Marx argued that these hired workers produce not only commodities and services, but also added value to their production, with their production representing value of greater wealth than the combined inputs, including the cost of the immanent production inputs, the machinery and the
He described that greater wealth as surplus value, produced by workers who were paid a defined wage of less value than the value of the product deriving from the use of their labour power. He then described the wealth created in excess of all production and marketing costs as “surplus
value”, which accrued to capital, and therefore the capitalist, the owner of capital.
At the end of every production and marketing cycle, the capitalist would appropriate this “surplus value”. This would enable him/her to replicate the previous production cycle, and, because of the acquired “surplus value”, expand his/her volume of capital and production.
The “accumulation of capital” referred to by the CC SACP therefore means the addition of “surplus value” to the capital owned by the capitalist, arising from the employment of workers in productive economic activity.
In our conditions, to ‘alter the path of capitalist accumulation’, as the CC SACP demands, would mean that the democratic state should intervene to end the appropriation of “surplus value” by the owners of capital.
This would mean that the democratic state should expropriate the capitalists, and therefore end the inherent reality of “capitalist accumulation” through private appropriation of “surplus value”, without which capitalism cannot exist.
Our 21st century “Marxists” would appreciate everything we have said if they had read and understood what Karl Marx meant in the observations he made in “Das Kapital” when he
“The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the labour-process and the process of creating value, is production of commodities; considered on the other hand as the unity of the labour-process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist
process of production, or capitalist production of commodities…
“On the other hand, however, our notion of productive labour becomes narrowed. Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities; it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore,
that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital…
“But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes again a means for the development of those methods…
“We have seen how money is changed into capital; how through capital surplus-value is made, and from surplus-value more capital. But the accumulation of capital pre-supposes surplus-value; surplus-value pre-supposes capitalistic production; capitalistic production presupposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour-power in the hands of producers of
For well over a century, Marxists have understood that the fundamental class conflict between capitalists and workers was and is based on the objective reality of the pursuit of their different antagonistic interests by the capitalists, the owners of capital, and the workers, the sellers of
At the same time, these Marxists have understood that these two classes share a common pragmatic interest in the continuation of the production processes that bring capitalists and workers together.
In this arrangement, the capitalists necessarily appropriate the “surplus value” created by the workers they employ. In turn, the workers remain interested to retain their jobs, to earn the means of livelihood that derive from the sale of their labour power. At the same time, they combine to wage a common struggle against their capitalist employers, to retain as large a proportion as possible of the surplus value they have created.
For this reason, Marxists have always understood that, within the context of the struggle for socialism, trade union struggles, important as they are, are “reformist” in nature. At the same time, certainly since the 19th and early 20th centuries, the capitalists in the then developed countries have also understood that their respect and interaction with the trade unions is important for their
ability to sustain the capitalist relations of production.
In these situations, the working class struggles have therefore been reformist, to the extent that they did not seek to ‘alter the path of capitalist accumulation’, whatever its specific expression in individual countries.
As opposed to this, the 1917 October Revolution in Russia stands out as the one defining historical moment when a Communist Party led workers in a successful revolutionary offensive, consciously intended to ‘alter the path of capitalist accumulation’, as this phrase would be understood in Marxist terms.
In this context, the CC SACP will therefore have to explain what it means when it speaks of “a revolutionary/systemic transformation of society that begins to resolve the inherent contradiction in favour of the working class and its popular allies”.
One of these inherent contradictions emanates from the fact that ours is a capitalist society. In the context of the logic of its theoretical paradigm, Marxism recognises the existence and possible existence of tribal/communal, feudal, capitalist, socialist and communist societies, each
with its distinct class features.
Abandoning this Marxist logic, the CC SACP says that South Africa “is not inherently capitalist”. If it is not, what socio-economic formation does it represent? Rather than answer this question, the CC SACP makes the absolutely meaningless statement that “The post-1994 democratic state
is…in fact, a sharply class-contested reality.”
(We must presume that what the CC SACP meant to say is that our essentially capitalist democracy is experiencing a sharp class contest for the capture of state power. The
fact of struggle of any kind does not, in any way, define the nature of any state. Rather, such struggles would reflect the social contradictions inherent within the state concerned.)
In reality, the statement that South Africa “is not inherently capitalist” is mere demagogy, with no
scientific, Marxist foundation. Similarly, the notion that the possibility exists, and has existed since 1994,qualitatively to alter the phenomenon of “capitalist accumulation”, is also mere demagogy, incapable of substantiation in terms of Marxism.
Both these false assertions are advanced to create the illusion that our country is ready for a socialist revolution. This lays the basis for the CC SACP to argue that the ANC, rather than the capitalist class, is the main obstacle to the victory of the socialist revolution.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the political offensive of this socialist Alliance partner of our movement focuses more on a struggle against the ANC, rather than an assault targeting the capitalist class.
In this context, it is also not surprising that the SACP directs its anger at the very weak black bourgeoisie, which supports the ANC and the national democratic revolution, rather than the white bourgeoisie, the owners of the bulk of capital in our country.
To express the gratitude of the white bourgeoisie for these positions, sections of the commercial press do not hesitate to give the highest prominence to the statements and activities of the SACP and like-minded sections of the progressive movement, which have defined the ANC as their
The objective truth which the CC SACP seems unwilling to accept is that the victory of the democratic revolution has enabled us radically to alter the conditions affecting capitalist accumulation. It is patently untrue that “the key features” of “the persisting capitalist accumulation
path (in our country)…remain those set in place over the past century.”
Such important interventions as the full protection of trade union rights, health and safety regulations, minimum wages, employment equity and basic conditions of employment, the abolition of migrant labour, the various Charters, the NEDLAC process, the system of taxation, etc,
mean that today’s conditions for the accumulation of capital are radically different from “those set in place over the past century.”
None of this changes the qualitative manner in which capital reproduces and expands itself, as explained by Karl Marx. Such change can only be brought about by the expropriation of the capitalists.
It is only this that would create the conditions for what, strangely, the CC SACP demands of the ANC and the national democratic revolution – the “transformation of society…to resolve the inherent (capitalist) contradiction in favour of the working class and its popular allies.”
In short, the CC SACP is demanding that the ANC should transform itself into a socialist party, and that the democratic revolution should pursue the objective of the defeat of the capitalist system.
Strangely, simultaneously, the CC SACP has stated that, “Domestic, but above all the global balance of forces is such that the realisation of a socialist South Africa is, in all probability, still a considerable distance away.” And yet the same CC SACP denounces the ANC for not “building momentum towards…working class hegemony”.
The socialist movement has always understood that this is its own unique task. Ordinarily the CC SACP should have no problem in understanding this proposition, especially as it regularly proclaims that it is the vanguard party of the working class.
It does not require any special intelligence to understand why the SACP now seeks to delegate its historical responsibility to the ANC, requiring of us to carry out a task that it knows is bound to end in failure and disaster.
Because the ANC continues to insist that it is not a socialist party but a revolutionary national democratic movement, the CC SACP says that our movement has become an instrument in the hands of the old (white) and the new (black) capitalists.
It further states that consequently, the national democratic revolution, as led by the ANC, is unacceptably “reformist”, as opposed to being “revolutionary”. Specifically, the CC SACP document says:
“What the past eleven years demonstrate is not the irrelevance of a national democratic strategy, but that this strategy cannot be reformist. If it is to have any prospect of addressing the dire legacy of colonial dispossession and apartheid oppression, a national democratic strategy has to be revolutionary – that is to say, it must systemically transform class, racial and gendered power (and not just re-allocate, or transfer some power and privilege to a representative racial or female
elite)…(The question to ask is whether it is) building momentum towards, capacity for, and elements of popular power and working class hegemony?”
As understood by Karl Marx and all other Marxists since the elaboration of the socialist project by Marx and Engels, working class hegemony means the victory of the working class over the capitalist class. In classic Marxist literature this is expressed as ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, which would replace ‘the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’.
It is very strange indeed that the South African Communist Party, supposedly a Marxist party, now asks that our national democratic movement should carry out a socialist revolution, to ensure the hegemony of the working class and the elimination of the process of capitalist accumulation!
Because our movement has continued to insist on its historic character and mission as a revolutionary democratic movement, or a movement for national liberation, the CC SACP has discovered “a rupture amongst the leading cadre of our (broad) movement in a shared strategic
assumption…There has clearly been a significant rupture that dates back to at least 1990 (and probably before)…”
Responding to a non-existent “rupture” it has concocted, the SACP therefore seems to have decided that it has an obligation to wage a determined struggle against the ANC.
In this regard it prophesies that the national democratic revolution, as led by the ANC, will fail successfully to address “the dire legacy of colonial dispossession and apartheid oppression”.
Fortunately, the masses of our people know that as much as the predictions of the right wing prophets about our struggle failed to materialise, so will the “left” prophesies, which predict that the national democratic revolution will fail in its central objective to provide a better life for all our people, in a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.
As recently as March 1 this year, the masses of our people demonstrated that they refuse to be persuaded by both right wing and left wing prophets of doom, that the ANC will fail to carry out its historic obligation, actually to help improve the lives of the masses of our people, especially
the poor. The people will not allow themselves to be misled by false prophets!