The Legacy of Chris Hani

Comrade Chris Hani was a Marxist and a card-carrying Communist virtually all his adult life. I am certain there are many shortsighted people who would find difficulty in understanding why he spent all those years in Mkhonto weSizwe and in the ranks of the African National Congress. The answer is rather simple. Comrade Chris never mistook revolutionary consciousness for a clever formula or a set of well crafted slogans. While he was always ready to interrogate the relationship between nationalism and Marxism, he understood that both were part of an existent historical reality. A meaningful Marxist political practice required the steady mobilization of the necessary class, social and national forces that could be yoked to build an alliance capable of striving for and achieving political transformation. Given the interface between national oppression and capitalist exploitation, an alliance between Marxism and African nationalism was essential for such a project. To Comrade Chris, Marxism was not an abstract theory. Its principles had to be applied to concrete revolutionary practice. And while these principles remained unchanged, their translation into practical programmes that galvanised the working people and the oppressed is what made them meaningful. The theoretical practice of those Marxists who have preferred to act outside of and in opposition to the national movement, while it might sound very learned, has in fact been politically irrelevant and divorced from practice. The historic decline of a number of far-left grupescules into political sterility testifies to this. (Cape Town, where both Chris and I began our early political activity, was awash with such groups!)

The strategic importance of the tri-partite alliance at this moment cannot be over-emphasised. The sentiments we all share about its longevity aside, the historic mission its components accepted make it an indispensable organisational tool for the pursuance of a progressive national agenda. South African Communists have long recognised that in this country the proletarian class struggle had to be pursued through the national democratic revolution, not in order to hi-jack the national democratic revolution, but rather to actualise Marx and Engels’ conception of the democratic revolution organically growing into the socialist revolution.
In our discussion we have pointed to postures that are left in appearance, but whose essence is right. Within the international movement too one could point to other examples, such as the attitude of certain trade unionists, especially in the United States and Canada, whose role in the anti-globalisation movement is to promote protectionism among the developed economies of the north on the pretext that they are protecting the jobs of their members. Like the White racist trade unionists in our country, this trend very easily shades into xenophobia, racism and national chauvinism.

As we strive to create a national consensus for economic growth and to wage a concerted struggle against poverty, we should be vigilant in negotiating between the reefs of capitulation and those of sectarianism. Socialist forces could easily marginalise themselves and thus reduce themselves to political irrelevance and impotence by adopting unrealistic postures that sound radical but do not in fact advance the cause of the working class and the poor. Among the challenges that face South Africa’s democratic forces is how to grow and expand the productive forces of our country. There are no predetermined answers and strategies to guide us in defining the role we should assign to state-owned enterprises, the state and the private sector in such an endeavour. We should be prepared to accept that there will be instances where it will be necessary to stimulate strategic partnerships between the state-owned and the private sector; where it might be tactically wiser to permit the private sector to invest in and expand infra-structure where the state is no longer able to assume responsibility.

While accepting the need for such ventures, we should not entertain the illusion that private capital has suddenly become altruistic. The business of business is business. And there is no free lunch! But sometimes, precisely in their pursuit of profits, the private sector can be spurred to create or expand badly required services. There are in fact instances where there will be no other alternative than to harness the resources in the hands of the capitalist classes for our own purposes, but in the full and conscious realisation that their motive is to maximise profits.

Comrade Chris Hani was among those South African Communists prepared to accept that the party had not always had an adequate appreciation of the dialectics of race, class and gender. He was consequently always open to discourse on these matters and did not arrogantly dismiss the views of non- party Marxists. His long stay in independent Africa had forced him to contend with the reality that independence had in many respects failed the ordinary people who had struggled for it. The emergence of rapacious indigenous elites – the wa-Benzis – with their life-style of conspicuous consumption disgusted him more than the colonial arrogance of the settler bourgeoisie. While he understood well the difficulties African states encountered in devising sustainable development programmes, he refused to offer alibis for the abuses and crimes ostensibly committed in defence of hard-won independence. Within the ANC alliance too he would not keep silent about the abuse of power and incipient corrupt practices. There were occasions on which he personally suffered for holding such views.

An instinctive democrat and committed Communist, Comrade Chris Hani was pained by the degeneration of the socialist countries and the corruption of the ideals of socialism he witnessed. He preferred to face up to that unpleasant truth rather than shield behind expedient lies.
The invasion of Iraq, carried out by the United States and its junior partner, Britain, may well turn out to be emblematic of the future course of 21st century history. The hectoring attitude the US is now adopting towards Syria and the other countries of western Asia suggests that the world may well be entering a second era of colonial expansion and imperialist aggression not dissimilar to that of the late 19th century.

This second era, which might well be dubbed the era of Coca colonialism, has for the present targeted the Arab countries of western Asia. But, as I recently remarked in parliament, no small nation can now assume it is safe from the aggressive attentions of the more powerful and technologically advanced powers of the north. The need for co-ordinated resistance by the developing countries should be self-evident. What should be equally self-evident is the need for solidarity among the prospective victims. Such solidarity should commence within each developing nation and expand outward to include as many countries as possible.

What made the US/British invasion so easy was the absence of co-ordinated resistance by the Iraqi people themselves. The reason for that is not too difficult to fathom. Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship had humiliated and demoralised the Iraqi people, such that even an appeal to patriotism was greeted with suspicion and profound scepticism. I am certain that very few, if any, Iraqis bought into the US/British propaganda that this was a war waged for their liberation. But, given the 30 years of Ba’athist misgovernment, they distrusted their government too.
This experience should serve as an object lesson to us all. The best guarantor of independence, national sovereignty and the capacity to resist the blandishments, including diplomatic and military pressure, of the super-power is internal democracy that ensures the widest possible participation in government by the ordinary working people. The limited, qualified democracy that places power in the hands of a self-selected political elite who presume to have a monopoly on wisdom and an understanding of the national interest, effectively kidnaps politics and is the source of fundamental weakness.

The peoples of Asia and Africa waged a century-long struggle – making great sacrifices – to put an end to colonial domination and to assert the right of all peoples to govern themselves. Democracy, civil liberties, human rights and social justice are not privileges to be dispensed or withheld at the discretion of power wielders. These are inalienable rights for which we all struggled, and, if anyone has earned them, it is the ordinary working people of town and country who did the struggling, the fighting and the dying so that we could attain them. It is arrant nonsense to characterise the struggle for democracy in post-colonial societies as an imperialist agenda. I will make so bold as to say, those who suppress the people and abrogate democratic governance, facilitate the anti- democratic and oppressive agenda of imperialism by so going. And the living proof of that assertion is what we have witnessed over the past three weeks in Iraq!

As South Africa approached the dawn of democracy, Comrade Chris was amongst those within the alliances leadership structures who fought for recognition of the pluralism of South African society. Such pluralism, he hoped, would be sustained by a continuing dialogue amongst all political parties and civil society.
Commenting on the turn of events in Russia in 1918 Rosa Luxemburg had reminded her Russian comrades that:
“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when freedom’ becomes a special privilege.”
Those are the values that Comrade Chris subscribed to and fought for.
The day after the death of his old comrade, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels ended a letter addressed to Adophe Sorge with the words:
“The struggle of the proletariat continues. That victory is certain. Well., we must see it through. What else are we here for? And we have not lost courage yet.”
Courage was one quality Comrade Chris Hani possessed in great abundance. If we emulate him in that alone, I am certain, we cannot fail.

Z. Pallo Jordan. 15th April 2003.

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