8 May 2019 — Internationalist 360°
With the slogan “Equality, Work, Land!”, the newly-founded Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) of South Africa is set to contest the general election scheduled on May 8. The party aims to use parliamentary institutions to complement mass struggles, with the slogan “socialism and nothing else”. It has unveiled a radical agenda for the country, including abolition of private property rights and free education and healthcare.
The Marxist-Leninist party was launched at a congress held on April 4-6 in Johannesburg, and is driven by the country’s largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). The decision by NUMSA to form a party stemmed from a long debates within the union regarding the failure of the tripartite alliance of the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) to protect the interests of the working class. As NUMSA’s special congress pointed out in 2013, “The leadership of the ANC and SACP is protecting the interests of white monopoly capital and imperialism against the interests of the working class.”
In the coming elections, the SRWP has gone to the people with the slogans of nationalization of major industries and restructuring of the tax system. This is especially important considering the high degree of income inequality in the country. As the party’s manifesto notes, “About two-thirds of South Africa’s wealth is held by the top 1% and about 90% by the top 10%.”
Meanwhile, the average salary in South Africa has been declining. As on June last year, a 2.4% decline was reported in comparison with June 2017. The unemployment rate has also increased, and reached 27.2% as on last year. If the category of “discouraged work seekers” is included in the unemployment rate, the figure is as high as 37.2%.
It is in this context that tax restructuring will ensure that the rich pay sufficiently to fund programmes for elimination of unemployment, poverty and inequalities. A “general anti-avoidance tax act” will be passed to strengthen tax collection.
The SRWP has also promised to ensure that “all the basic services necessary for a healthy and happy human life” shall be made the monopoly of the state. These include housing, water, electricity supply etc.
In order to halt the falling wages and bolster the purchasing power of the working class, SRWP has promised to “abolish the current National Minimum Wage and replace it with [the New Minimum Wage].. linked to the actual cost of production of the life of a worker and their family.” The party has also committed to a reduction of working hours to ensure that rapidly increasing productivity due to technological advancement does not lead to greater unemployment. Through a number of such measures, the SRWP promises to abolish unemployment within five years.
Towards an educated and healthy society
In the fields of education and health too, the SRWP promises vital interventions. The party has called for universal access to free education at all levels, and adequate funding for decent wages for education workers, including teachers. The party also envisions a qualitative shift in the education system. “The children and youth of the working class are educated to prepare them for exploitation and oppression by the system. We will get rid of capitalism in education and in all of society,” the party has declared.
In the field of health too, the party has vowed to ensure free access to primary and advanced healthcare to all people of South Africa.
In order to facilitate this, SRWP proposes to “rapidly increase the supply of well trained nurses, clinicians, doctors and all other health specialists,” and build new hospitals and clinics, in particular to cater for the healthcare needs mothers and children. The party has also stressed that free access for treatment of HIV and AIDS will be ensured.
In line with the focus of socialist parties on the land question, the SRWP has dedicated a full page in its manifesto to the issue. Inequities in access to land, carefully engineered by the previous apartheid regime, have not been effectively rectified by the ANC-led governments since 1994.
In rural areas, the government has failed to provide lands to women, which has reinforced patriarchal discrimination. Traditional leaders continue to claim ownership rights based on customs. Lack of title deeds and tenure among rural communities further endangers their claim to whatever land they currently possess.
The issue is equally dire in urban areas. “The land question.. has often been assumed to be a [solely] rural question.. But it is in the cities where there has been sustained conflict between impoverished people and the state, as well as private landowners,” states a dossier by the Tricontinental: Institute of Social Research.
This dismissal of the land issues in urban areas has led to concentration of land in the wealthy urban areas in the hands of a small elite. The poorer sections are marginalized in desolate places with little infrastructure, located far away from the urban centers, which denies them many opportunities.
SRWP plans to address this “apartheid geography” by replacing such settlements with “integrated communities with advanced modern social facilities” which are within the reach of all South Africans. The party notes, however, that “without the working class abolishing the private ownership in land, and therefore abolishing capitalism, none of the changes we desire to make on land can succeed.” The party thus seeks to “abolish the private ownership of land.” Land will then be allotted by the socialist government to “guarantee quality housing and high standard services for all.”
On foreign policy, the SRWP has declared its commitment to internationalism and vows to ”eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and all weapons the capitalist system uses to cause the working class to kill itself in wars.” The manifesto declares that the party will ”work for a Socialist world with all the workers of the world.. We are determined to fight US imperialist aggression against Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and all Socialist countries of the world.”
Parliamentary politics vs mass struggles
A unique feature of the party is its approach to parliamentary politics vis-a-vis mass struggle. The party, in a document titled the SRWP and the Marxist-Leninist Theory of the State and Bourgeois Elections, takes a clear stance on the role of parliamentary politics in its overall political strategy. Participation in elections, the party notes, is “not only a contradiction for us… if we use it correctly, it can also be a contradiction for” the capitalist class.
In order to deal with the risks of mass struggles being diluted in the process of participation in electoral politics, the party has taken concrete steps. The effort is to ensure that participation in electoral processes complements rather than supplements the revolutionary commitment of the party.
Members of the Central Committee (CC) and the Polit Bureau (whose members are elected from among the CC) are barred from contesting in parliamentary, provincial or local elections. Thus, members of the highest bodies will not be part of “bourgeois state structures.” The decisions and work of the elected representatives of the party in parliament will be determined by the CC, which can also ask a elected representative to resign.
All MPs and members of other provincial or local legislatures are required to hand over their salaries to the party. The party, in turn, will pay all its functionaries – be they MPs or CC members – a common amount that matches the average wage of a skilled worker. “The workers of Marikana have given us a benchmark figure of twelve thousand five hundred rands ($885)!”, the document states. All other perks given to the MP by the state – be it a car or a house – must be rejected by the party’s candidate.
These promises and an organization based on Marxist principles give the young and growing party a strong foundation to change the political landscape of South Africa. As Irvin Jim, general secretary of NUMSA and national chairperson of SRWP, declared at the 2016 congress of the trade union, “We believe that the time has come for the working class to stop voting for its worst butchers into the state.. time has come for the working class to organise itself as a class for itself.”