[DEBATE] : Here's my take on it
lsifuentesore at gmail.com
Fri Dec 21 07:17:12 GMT 2007
A useful compensation for your self-restraint yesterday during the
Skype-based international conference, set up by the Centre for Civil
Society, Durban, yesterday.
Cutting to your concluding para, a couple of points.
I wonder whether 'left-left' is a helpful conceptualisation of the kind of
people who spoke during the conference yesterday. To start with, it suggests
the extreme left of yesteryear (revolutionary vanguardists, Maoists,
insurrectionaries), who were thin on the ground - or in the air. Would not
'libertarian', 'emancipatory', or 'radical-democratic', 'autonomous' all
come closer to what was represented there?
Secondly, the 'common cause'. On the one hand, this is both necessary and
inevitable. However, the terms on which such a common cause is shaped, and
the ground on which it is build, require specification. Small and marginal
as the autonomous left in South Africa might be, I think it has innovated in
numerous ways, having to do with issues, means and ends. I would hate to see
such things being bargained or compromised away. I do see this happening
with the left union tendency within the World Social Forum (the
Globalisation and Labour group formed at the Nairobi WSF). Here, it seems to
me, an anxiety for closeness with the institutionalised left (the
traditional trade unions), has meant so much trimming of the sails that any
challenge to the left hegemons is hard to discern.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Patrick Bond" <pbond at mail.ngo.za>
To: "debate at vodamail.co.za:SA discussion list" <debate at lists.kabissa.org>
Sent: Friday, December 21, 2007 5:39 AM
Subject: [DEBATE] : Here's my take on it
> Zuma, the centre-left and the left-left
> by Patrick Bond
> Congratulations are due Jacob Zuma – apparently far more Machiavellian
> than even his arch-opponent since 2005, Thabo Mbeki – and the tireless
> band of warriors from the Congress of SA Trade Unions, SA Communist
> Party and African National Congress Youth League who kept his political
> life support on when everyone else declared him dead.
> But after his election as ANC president on Tuesday, the disintegration
> of his voting bloc is not far off. As Brian Ashley of Amandla magazine
> explains, Zuma commands “a broad coalition of disgruntled elements
> within the ANC. A period of political instability awaits. The 'dreaded'
> two centres of power have materialised and given rise to a lame duck
> This is promising indeed, after 13.5 years of unrelenting neoliberalism
> mixed with triumphalist nationalism (often, in turn, flavoured with
> 'Breshnevite Marxism', as the ANC's left discourses have been termed in
> rare moments of autocritique). Indeed amongst the general public, there
> is a widespread conviction that a new balance of forces within the ANC
> presages a genuine left policy turn. To make this impression more
> palatable to bourgeois society and those near-mythical foreign
> investors, a seductive – yet incorrect - line of analysis also arises
> now to explain the logic behind Zuma's landslide victory. The first
> period of ANC rule (1994-2001) required 'macroeconomic stabilisation',
> so the argument goes, and subsequently a 'developmental state' with a
> strong welfarist bias has been under construction. Hence Zuma's victory
> will not change anything, really.
> Actually, Zuma's huge (nearly 20%) margin reflected not a heroic new
> ruler, but rather a ruling regime out of touch with the misery
> experienced by its mass base, no one denies. The SA Police recently
> revealed that the rate of social protests has risen from 5800 in 2004-05
> (when it would have been the world's highest per person, I reckon) to
> more than 10 000/year since, and no doubt even higher numbers will be
> released for 2007/08 given the long public workers' strike.
> Zuma wasn't an instigator of more than a few of these, such as when
> disgracefully in May 2006 he let his rape trial devolve into an orgy of
> misogyny, with effigies of his victim burned outside the courthouse. No,
> indeed, the grassroots protests were largely against the ANC's
> neoliberal economic policies, prior to and after Zuma's firing as deputy
> president in mid-2005 in the wake of his friend Schabir Shaik's
> conviction on corruption charges.
> Zuma was subsequently harrassed no end by Mbeki's vindictive state. This
> meant that at the ANC conference and in the words of commentators, the
> angry rumble from below was readily channeled away from structural
> critique of neoliberal nationalist rule, and into the song Umshini Wami
> ('Bring me my machine gun'). The prodigious venality of the Zuma-Mbeki
> squabble threw copious amounts of toxic dust high into the air, blinding
> most to what's really at stake here: class struggle, to borrow a worn
> but potent phrase.
> Indeed the tone of the internecine battle with Mbeki was sufficiently
> vicious as to require cries of 'unity' immediately from both camps
> immediately afterwards, as well as from Zuma's speech on Thursday
> afternoon. But like much that happens in this party, the lovely rhetoric
> concealed yet more brutal power plays.
> The other major ANC vote – for 80 positions on the ANC National
> Executive Committee – confirmed that the Zuma majority took no
> prisoners, leaving Mbeki's most trusted allies in the political
> wilderness. Although six cabinet ministers were elected in the top 20,
> those who lost their NEC places and are now ANC outsiders include some
> formidable names: Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (who replaced
> Zuma), Mbeki's top state official Frank Chikane, his top political
> advisor and hatchet man (and Minister in the Presidency) Essop Pahad,
> Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, the man who served as ANC
> chairperson until Monday, Terror Lekota, the head of the Mbeki's office
> at ANC headquarters Smuts Ngonyama, and Safety and Security Minister
> Charles Nqkula (formerly SACP chairperson).
> The top vote-getter was veteran and often flamboyant populist Winnie
> Madikizela-Mandela (ex-wife of Nelson), who gets counted out as
> irrelevant by the mainstream media periodically and makes comebacks
> worthy of the Zuma camp.
> There really has been a change of the guard. But is it a move left? SACP
> intellectual leader Jeremy Cronin - who was #5 in the ANC vote - offers
> this spin about the party's ideological direction. The ANC conference
> just complete witnessed a “deepening and consolidation” of the
> progressive trajectory already underway, says Cronin. Hence under a
> President Zuma, “There would be no dramatic U-turn” on matters already
> under contestation: Pretoria's tight monetary policy, chaotic credit
> market regulation, and the liberalised trade and industrial policies
> which have killed a million jobs. For those like Cronin, the recent
> revival of the “National Democratic Revolution” is already undermining
> the neoliberal bloc within the ANC.
> Is it? In reality, many on the centre-left – Cronin too - have been
> rather lukewarm about the Zuma campaign, because as national deputy
> president starting in 1999, Zuma was nowhere visible with workers and
> the poor (or women, needless to say) pulling against Mbeki and the other
> weighty neoliberals: Trevor Manuel (finance), Alec Erwin
> (trade/privatisation), Tito Mboweni (central bank governor), Geraldine
> Fraser-Moleketi (public service) and Sydney Mufamadi (local government).
> Of these, only Manuel retained an NEC seat, voted in at #57 after having
> been #1 in the 2002 vote.
> In his first speech to the ANC as president today, Zuma himself intoned
> that there was “no reason why the business or international community or
> any other sector should be uneasy.” Quite so; after all, a mealy-mouthed
> Zuma made this clear last month in closed-door meetings organised by
> officials of two New York banks, Citi and Merrill Lynch, which are
> themselves making the world markets rather uneasy with their financial
> Still, even Manuel, in a Mail & Guardian interview last week, condemned
> the private outsourcing of state services, something he himself has
> promoted harder than anyone since 1996 as keeper of the ever-tightening
> SA fiscus, notwithstanding that this 'New Public Management' technique
> is the root cause of many a fierce protest. Bizarrely, Manuel even
> endorsed the core legal argument put forward by the Soweto left-left in
> their constitutional case earlier this month against Johannesburg Water
> (whose policies were products of Paris-based Suez's eco-social
> engineering during a failed 2001-06 outsourcing), namely, that the key
> water problem for the poor is the inordinate access that rich people
> enjoy at a too-cheap price.
> With such rhetoric in the air these last few days, South African society
> does indeed feel like a 'post-Washington' semi-liberated zone. Free
> marketeers, who still run many a Pretoria ministry's policy units and
> finance departments, have had to hunker down.
> But like so much other 'talk left walk right' activity here, that's
> precisely where the problem of seduction emerges, in illusions that
> Zuma's long and winding road to the country's presidency in 2009 (when
> Mbeki must retire) will generate conditions for social change along the
> route. We all witnessed how most of the US progressive movement fell
> flat on its face in 1993, suckered by Bill 'Slick Willy' Clinton – whose
> defeat of an elite incumbent (George Bush Sr), rural roots, home-boy
> humility, traditions of Southern patriarchy (and promiscuity) and
> apparent empathy for ordinary people presaged Zuma's own character flaws
> – and I think this is probably going to be the fate of a large portion
> of the SA centre-left.
> South Africa's left-left forces don't buy it, though. No one from the
> new social movements believes that a small increase in anti-poverty
> grants and other social wage improvements – amounting to less than 3% of
> GDP over apartheid-era stats – represents more than tokenistic welfare.
> With a 14% increase in electricity prices set for next year, and
> privatisation of 30% of generation capacity also on the cards, any
> suggestion of expanding basic services runs up against a contrary,
> commodified logic.
> And then looking at the vast ($60 billion) spending planned for a small
> herd of white elephants – once-off 2010 soccer stadia, big dams largely
> for mining houses, dicey nuclear power plants, aluminum smelter
> co-investments, speedy trains for the rich (who won't use public
> transport) and the rearmaments craze replete with corrupting German,
> French and British weapons dealers – it is hard to see anything
> 'developmental' about this crony-capitalist state.
> Because of this week's momentous events, though, the centre-left's hard
> reality check lies a couple of years away, after Zuma takes power (if he
> is not in prison for bribe-taking, a distinct possibility, according to
> the National Prosecuting Authority in a statement on Thursday) and
> reverts to his militarist roots. Those who are championing his cause now
> may have reason in 2009 to renew their disgust at what we thought was
> 'Mbekism' – as Ashwin Desai has termed local neoliberalism - but can
> soon be renamed Zumism. We could well see the deepening of macroeconomic
> policies that do not deliver 'stability' (the currency has crashed four
> times since 1996 after all) but instead one of the world's highest
> current account deficits (trade shortfalls and financial outflows) at 8%
> of GDP, and hence repeated hikes in interest rates to draw in global
> financial assets, which are in turn making the credit-saturated
> middle-class scream in pain.
> Unless I'm mistaken (and I really hope I am), there's simply no basis
> for believing Zuma is lying to Citi, Merrill or his audience when he
> says none of Mbeki's economic policies will change. So the root cause of
> the rebellion against Mbeki's malgovernance of the ANC – which is
> described too often as haughty style but which is grounded in a
> commitment to a haughty new class apartheid socio-economic structure –
> will reassert itself within weeks or months.
> Only then will South Africa enjoy the possibility of a fully liberatory,
> post-Mbeki set of politics, not personalities, as the far-sighted
> left-left makes common cause with serious comrades in labour and the
> Communist Party, egged on no doubt by increasingly angry feminists and
> other democrats. This week's Polokwane theatrics will be looked back
> upon as a bit of distraction, at that stage in the making of South
> Africa's real history.
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