SOUTH Africa celebrated two centenaries this month, says Terry Bell in his lastest Labour Wrap: 100 years since the birth of the struggle icon, Oliver Reginald - OR -Tambo and the centenary of the Russian revolution that, because of differences in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, actually took place in November.
This is also the month when the South African Communist Party (SACP), generally supported by Cosatu, stages its annual “Red October” campaign.
The campaign is named in honour of the events in Russia in 1917 and this year the theme was opposition to violence, especially against women. But, being the centenary of what author John Reed called Ten Days that Shook the World, this year is special.
As a result, says Bell, there will be a Russian Revolution Centenary Festival in Johannesburg’s Newtown from November 10-12. It should bring together most of most of what tends to be regarded as the Left in local politics.
But it is a quite disparate grouping. On the organised political front it features everyone from the SACP and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to the various “Trotskyist” groupings whose origins lie with the opposition to the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin. Also listed to speak are a number of human rights and community activists such as Pretoria’s Anglican bishop, Jo Seoka.
Bell thinks it significant that the only leading trade unionist on the published speakers list is Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the SA Federation of Trade Unions where the most important affiliate is the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa). Both Vavi and Numsa were expelled from Cosatu and both have been to the forefront of arguing that “progressive” unions should act as catalysts for the formation of a new workers’ party.
This issue, says Bell, will almost certainly feature at the Newtown festival. However, Cosatu has already accepted the SACP as the workers’ party and the SACP leadership has characterised the EFF as “fascist”. He wonders if, with such a multiplicity of divisions, any form of unity, led alone the foundation of a workers’ party is possible.