Limping towards the socialist revolution

2011-09-24 00:00

THERE are few functioning economies where there could still be a serious discussion on the inevitability and desirability of a socialist revolution. That it remains a topic of earnest debate is testament to South Africa’s arrested mental development.

This week it was John Kane-Berman, head of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), who reignited the debate over the African National Congress’ commitment towards a so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

In terms of this “colonialism of a special type” thesis, western imperialism is in South Africa translated into white and black, with “white” wealth the result always of exploitation, never enterprise.

“This makes white wealth illegitimate in the eyes of the NDR, a fact ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema understands perfectly,” says Kane-Berman. Consequently, the government’s attacks on the media and the judiciary are “predictable” moves to realise the ANC’s “master plan” — developed during the sixties Soviet era — to overturn the Constitution.

As evidence of this, Kane-Berman cites the erosion of property rights — proposals to abandon the willing seller/ willing buyer principle, cadre deployment, moves towards nationalisation, and Correctional Services Deputy-Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who believes that the Constitution is but a “staging post on the way to the NDR”.

Kane-Berman revives old nightmares. Prior to 1994, the NDR rhetoric, with its commitment to “continuing struggle” and calculated exploitation at the right moment for the “balance of forces” to achieve its redistributionist aims, featured large in white society’s view of the ANC as a dangerous, communist stalking horse. Following the relatively painless adoption of a largely market-driven liberal democracy in 1994, most opponents of the ANC came to assume that the NDR was the kind of harmless ideological relic that one found in the constitution of many left-of-centre parties elsewhere. In that sense, the ANC would be no different from Britain’s New Labour, whose old-fashioned socialist rhetoric was made redundant by the realities of global capitalism.

Kane-Berman dismisses this as naiveté. Earlier this year he laid the fault for a lack of public discourse over these designs of the ANC, at the door of the media. The press is foolishly paying “little attention” to the NDR, “whether through ignorance or political correctness”.

The response from the ANC has been predictably dismissive. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe this week accused Kane-Berman of relying on Cold War perceptions of the ANC as a Soviet surrogate. Moreover, the SAIRR had historically always been “opposed to the forces of change”.

Aside from his dishonest portrayal of the SAIRR, which can point to a proud history of exposing, with academic precision, the flaws and horrors of apartheid, Mantashe may have a point. The NDR is far from imminent.

While there undoubtedly are staunchly socialist ideologists within the Tripartite Alliance, they are far from united on goals and strategy. There are also influential countervailing voices within the alliance who challenge the NDR as outdated and advocate jettisoning it. That the suggestion can even be made indicates a gradually waning influence of ideology. That is, admittedly, in President Jacob Zuma’s ANC, not in ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s corner of the party.

And while the critical components of democracy, the media and the judiciary, are taking political strain, they have withstood these pressures well. An example is the stalling of the proposed media legislation in response to civil society concerns and disagreements within the ANC. Most crucially, as the habits of democracy become stronger, the ANC and its alliance become politically less able to exercise unchallenged power. With every year that passes, it is less likely that hardliners could achieve the authoritarian exercise of power that a NDR would demand.

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