SO, the ANC begins its most political year ever this week with a policy conference in Midrand. There's lots to talk about - nationalisation, a second transition, organisational change. Most of it, I am afraid, would be gobbledygook to the general public. The ANC in conversation with itself is the equivalent of an undergraduate seminar on dialectical materialism - and if you ever thought you understood what was being said at one of those you were kidding yourself.

What we have to understand about the ANC, or the people who run it now, is not that they are communists (though they mostly think they are), but that the various forms of socialist ideology they hold to were seldom well taught or well learned. These guys were never students in the way the European left of the 1960s were. They read pamphlets, seldom books. They were hungry, or drunk; far from home, lonely, sad and distracted.

Now they're running the country and eager to put the lessons they think they learned into practice. Events and history and sheer fact get in the way far too often, but when all you are is a revolutionary, well, you gotta keep going. So be prepared for lots of noise and some spine-chilling decisions out of our ruling party this week.

As we all know, all the ideological windbaggery is meaningless. President Jacob Zuma says he wants a "second transition", but I doubt he could sustain a reasoned, logical argument for it.

What he really wants is to get re-elected. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe says he doesn't understand this stuff about a second transition. "What's it for?" he (quite reasonably) asks.

The fact is, the ANC is in the throes of a huge internal war. Under Zuma, the party has, arguably, become a menace to its own country and, certainly, to its own revolution.

So twisted have its values, its logic, its strategy and its sense of common purpose become that it is barely recognisable as a functioning political unit at all. It is, but it is at that point at which all big political parties begin to fail. The point is power - the ANC has it all and has been able to do miserably little with it. That, of course, is because they've been trying to so hard not to upset the established economic applecart. Just wait, we are now being told, until the second transition, when we get to see some serious ideology translated into action. Isn't it exciting?

Fortunately, as I say, there's a fight. Not that this ought to be of much comfort. The sides in the war are separated only by degrees of madness. One wants the state to command the economic heights and quite a lot of the slopes. Another wants us to be more like the Chinese. In terms of control, not necessarily productivity. There are probably others.

Still, it is heartening to hear Motlanthe chirping back at the self-serving, icky, saccharine, sanctimonious prattle of Jacob Zuma. People keep urging Motlanthe to have a run at the presidency of the ANC, as if he were somehow reluctant. But he is running. He's probably the best the country could hope for now, but in a way I hope Zuma is indeed re-elected in Mangaung in December. He is so bad at his job another seven years of him will surely hasten the end of the current ANC's political dominance and, thus, its eventual renewal and, hopefully, salvation.

I AM reading Christopher Hitchens's autobiography, Hitch-22, in which he traces his journey from brilliant left-wing writer and thinker, to brilliant conservative writer and thinker (if he cared and was still alive, I fully appreciate he would unstitch that description of himself with ease). But if anyone knows what it feels like to believe truly in a cause, it is Hitchens and he helps us understand why, in the face of everything we know about communism or socialism or any of their derivatives, they are still clung to so grimly by the ANC. Writing of his time in the Socialist International in the 1960s, Hitchens says: "If you have never yourself had the experience of feeling that you are yoked to the great steam engine of history, then allow me to tell you that the conviction is a very intoxicating one".