The left is being left behind

2011-06-04 10:09

The independent left has become so sadly insignificant in South African politics that the recent local government elections took place without any questions about its absence.

Other than a few attempts in the 1994 and 1999 national elections, and the 2001 and the 2006 local government elections – the results of which were miserably poor – the left outside the tripartite alliance has been reduced to little or nothing.

The key questions that need addressing are: what are the reasons for its total absence from these elections?

Is it a lack of money, leadership, support, the fact that there are serious organisations to contest with for power?

Each of these factors have probably played a role to varying degrees, but where does it leave the future of this left, especially the social movements which, up until a few years ago, presented a promising prospect of real opposition to the ANC.

The left had a sizeable constituency, with some very strong activists and a number of good intellectuals leading its movements.

It also had the important advantage of a good theoretical grasp on why communities had such serious problems with the most basic services in the first place.

In fact, it predicted, in the face of such conditions, many years of struggles by these communities for the meaningful realisation of a “better life for all”.

But it never had as good a grasp on how to build organisational alternatives within black, working-class communities and use those platforms to contest elections.

What this means in practical terms is that all the wonderful theories and analyses it produced in its writings and lectures is wasted on a failure to build bridges between those good ideas and criticisms, the struggles taking place on the ground and participation in elections.

What prevents its participation in elections is the lack of unity within their own ranks or the little, organisationally, that remains of it.

But even if it were to unite its disparate forces into some credible organisation, unless it comes to terms with the dominant reality of electoral politics, there will be no serious future for it.

It is most unfortunate that activists and intellectuals within this left are nowhere to be seen, especially since their voices for social justice are what we urgently need if we are to build and sustain a truly meaningful democracy.

Those who want to build a new society and believe that they can do much better than the ANC must enter the elections because it is the biggest, if not only, arena today that determines which party or parties exercise political power.

Elections may not be the only game in town, but right now it surely is the most important one.

»?Harvey is an independent political writer 

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