Nationalisation and the Struggle for Socialism
By Weizmann Hamilton
The Democratic Socialist Movement/ Izwi labasebenzi will in June publish a pamphlet looking at the various aspects
of South Africa’s nationalisation debate from a socialist perspective, analysing, amongst others, the development of
the ANC’s economic policy from the Freedom Charter to Gear, and now the NGP. We will show what drives ANCYL’s
intense campaign for nationalisation and Cosatu’s failure to rally workers for nationalisation even when the situation
facing workers spells it out right in front of their noses, as in the threatened closure of textile factories not compliant with
minimum wage determinations or the disastrous Aurora take-over of the Grootvlei and Orkney mines. It will also analyse
the global economic crisis and the effective nationalisation of banks through bail-outs by capitalist governments make the
argument for socialism. Below follows a brief edited extract on the debate between the ANCYL’s Julius Malema and the
SACP’s Jeremy Cronin:
The main protagonists of South Africa’s nationalisation debate, African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema
and South African Communist Party deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, each appears dressed-up in the other’s ideological
costume. The unapologetically pro-capitalist Malema argues for nationalisation – normally a left policy. Supported by National Union
of Mineworkers general secretary and SACP central committee member Frans Baleni, Cronin opposes nationalisation – a position
normally of the right.
Whilst there is an aspect of comedy to this, for the working class it is in fact a tragedy mixed with farce. The debate has failed to
clarify the class issues or to locate the issue in the context of capitalism’s deep global economic crisis. At a time when the economic
crisis has also undermined the capitalist class ideologically, neither the elected trade unions leaders nor the SACP, which poses as the
official voice of the working class, have used the opportunity to make the argument for socialism and to develop a programme for the
overthrow of capitalism.
Way out of capitalist dead-end
Despite claims of an economic recovery by various analysts, the economic crisis is not over. Mass social deprivation is the
nightmare facing millions not only in the former colonial world but also, increasingly, in the advanced capitalist countries. Given
this perspective, working class leaders should place the crisis of capitalism at the centre of the nationalisation debate, providing a
theoretical analysis and programmatic solution for their constituencies on how society in South Africa and internationally can find
a way out of this disaster. Instead the debate has been polluted with pseudo-radical rhetoric and playground insults which may have
generated much heat but very little light.
On the basis of the SACP’s claims to stand for communism, the responsibility to provide a programme of action to overthrow
capitalism and bring about the socialist transformation of society should be pressing particularly sharply on the shoulders of its
Pro-capitalist ANCYL champions nationalisation
Yet it was the unashamedly capitalist ANCYL that stormed the stage at the ANC’s September 2010 National General Council (NGC),
in an attempt to force the adoption of nationalisation of the mines as official policy. The leadership succeeded in sidestepping the issue
at the NGC referring it for research and debate at the ANC’s 2012 conference. This has enabled them to reassure big business that
economic policy means unchanged for now. However in itself this decision represented an important turning point in the debate. The
fact that even Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe openly supports nationalisation of the mines is
perhaps the clearest evidence that the ANCYL’s position on this question represents that of an increasingly dominant faction within
the larger ANC. The debate was deferred because it can no longer be suppressed.
However, anti-communism that is now a major feature of the League’s ideological profile, as reflected in its strident opposition
to the ‘communist takeover’ of its mother body, the ANC. So it supports nationalisation not as a step towards the expropriation of
the capitalist class and the socialist transformation of society. It supports nationalisation, in other words, from the right not the left.
Despite BEE, black-owned shares make up less than 10 percent of the JSE. Representing the impotent black capitalist class, which
has failed after 17 years even to get a permanent seat at the capitalist table let alone dislodge white capital, the League’s call for
nationalisation is not the bellow of the powerful, but the bleat of the meek. The very class that loyally repeats capital’s demand for
social spending cuts, wants the state to hand over to them what they cannot win by competing against white capital in the market
SACP blocks route to socialism
The SACP leadership’s ideological cowardice, in contrast, goes beyond its offensive against nationalisation as expressed by the
Young Communist League’s Buti Manemela, who describes the idea of any attempt at advancing towards socialism now, as suicidal.
As Cronin confesses in the Sunday Independent (17/04/11), the SACP abandoned socialism as a revolutionary objective not long after
its birth in 1921. As long ago as the late 1920s, Cronin informs us, the SACP, after ‘self critically interrogat[ing] its own tendency
towards a narrow “workerism”’ embraced, in the place of socialist revolution, the ‘national democratic revolution’, instead.
When the SACP today champions the idea that ‘socialism is the future’, and calls on us to ‘build it now’ the party means that
socialism can be achieved through incremental reforms over an undefined period, renouncing the necessity for a socialist revolution.
This explains why the SACP supports black economic empowerment; why its leaders sit in a capitalist cabinet; why it is opposed
to separating itself from the capitalist ANC and operating as an independent political entity; is committed to the preservation of the
Tripartite Alliance and to subordinating itself to the ANC within it. The SACP’s socialist rhetoric is a mask to conceal its real role – to
block the path to the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. When the working class rises up to overthrow
capitalism, the logic of the SACP’s present policies means that it will play a counter-revolutionary role, siding with capital against the
working class. The condemnation of the actions of the public sector workers during the 2010 strike is a sign of the role the party will
play in the future.
Socialist argument for nationalisation
For any communist worthy of the name, the capitalist crisis provides, more than ever, ample ammunition to demonstrate that society’s
problems cannot be solved on capitalist basis. Capitalism itself proves that the permanent eradication of poverty and war require the
reconstruction of society on the basis of a democratically planned economy laying the foundations for prosperity for all, genuine
equality and social solidarity where production is for social need and not for private profit.
Neither the ANC /YL nor the SACP/YCL is putting forward such a programme in the nationalisation debate. Their battle is, in the
final analysis, a phoney war between the rival capitalist factions they represent. There are no fundamental ideological differences
between them. Genuine socialists on the other hand raise the demand for nationalisation, understood to mean placing ownership and
control of the means of production distribution and exchange in the hands of the state under workers democratic control, to point to its
potential as an absolutely indispensable first step in the construction of a socialist society.