Inside Labour: Pessimism pervades our thought

2014-12-26 07:00

As another year draws to a close, the advice usually attributed to Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci comes to mind: “Exercise pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the will.”

I must admit, it has become a great deal easier over recent months to exercise pessimism of the intellect, and increasingly difficult to exercise optimism of the will to do something about changing things, domestically or globally.

If we take a cold, hard look at our situation in the global context, it is very difficult to retain much optimism.

Household debt, just about everywhere, is at dangerous levels. As a result, all the tills in all the towns of South Africa and in many other regions might not be ringing out very loudly this festive season. And that, in turn, will have repercussions on the economy and on jobs.

Globally, the situation remains fraught. For us in South Africa, the past year has been perhaps the most worrying since the 1994 transition.

Amid the economic traumas, load shedding and tales of corruption, we have observed the rise of cold war imperialism and of lethal religious fundamentalism.

At the same time, our traditional bulwark of democracy – the labour movement – is in turmoil, much of it seemingly bent on a course of at least fragmentation if not self-destruction.

This at a time when that crucial public service, the Post Office, appears to be in a state of terminal collapse and a combination of Eskom bungling and government parsimony promises us months, if not years, of darkness.

Then, of course, there are the numerous revelations of corruption at various levels, both at home and abroad.

That self-styled home of democracy, the US, has also been shown to have cynically embarked on a policy of kidnapping and torture in which our own government was apparently implicated.

These are dark clouds indeed, hovering over our hard-won democracy.

Yet there is a silver lining because we now know at least some of the details of what transpired.

The media remains relatively free but threats are looming, not least of which is the long held-over Protection of State Information Bill (the “Secrecy Bill”) that awaits only the president’s signature.

But perhaps President Jacob Zuma will not need to bring into force this law to ensure the need for “patriotic reporting”.

Already, as several unions have been quick to point out, the public broadcaster, the SABC, is largely the voice of the ANC and government.

Then there is The New Age newspaper and the ANN7 television channel, sustained to a large degree by parastatal funding and both owned by the Gupta family, which shares business interests with members of the Zuma family.

The latest move on the media front, following the purchase of Independent Newspapers by that controversial and politically connected self-publicist, Iqbal Survé, is his proposed partnership with China’s state propaganda channel China Central Television.

The oxygen of democracy – media freedom – is clearly threatened.

But at the same time, there is growing evidence that the working and nonworking majority of the world’s population is starting, largely through forms of union organisation, to exert its collective will to resist a system of continuing oppression and exploitation.

In South Africa as well, there seems to be a growing sense of living in a system well beyond its sell-by date.

There is little clarity as yet. And many muddled attempts towards a pathway to a better future.

But connections are being made and debates opened up, down to the shop floor level with groups such as Union Solidarity International.

It is the strengthening of this will, combined with a clarity of purpose, that may well push the clouds of doom and gloom beyond the horizon forever.

So here’s to a more hopeful year ahead, and to a better future.

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