An open letter to
Cde Blade Nzimande
South African Communist Party
110 Jorissen Street
Dear Dr Nzimande
I KNOW you are a busy man, but I would like to issue you with an invitation on the occasion of your 13th national congress this weekend, and in exchange, I would love you to explain something to me.
What I want to know is this: what is the nature and content of the influence that the South African Communist Party (SACP) has on the African National Congress (ANC) - if anything, and does this influence help or hinder the organisation in becoming the modern, integrated, effective political party it could, and should, become?
But allow me to begin with my own confession. When I was at university in the 1980s, at the University of Natal, nothing interested me more than Marxism.
My sociology lecturers were Marxist . obviously. My African politics lecturers were Marxist . naturally. Many of my law lecturers were Marxist. What is slightly surprising, is that most of my English lecturers were Marxist, and my wife still jokes that I cannot understand Jane Austen except as a faintly subversive, but ultimately reformist force in the broader class struggle between emerging capital, the working class and the landed gentry of late 18th century Britain.
If that weren't enough, what may be very surprising is that my music professor was a Marxist: Mozart was a reflection of the declining aristocracy and rising popular culture, hence the austere, regal formalism of his early work and the pantomime-like frivolity of his late operas.
Beethoven was the bombastic representative of new bourgeois confidence, etc, etc.
There were several aspects of Marxism I found attractive: its ability to present a holistic and complete explanation not only for society as it exists, but also the way it unfolds. In that turbulent era, when apartheid was in its death throes - with states of emergency, detentions without trial, state clampdowns and endless protests - this holistic and complete explanation was like manna from heaven. I loved the way Marxism drove deep into the economic heart of the machine in fabulously intricate search for a science of society.
More immediately, Marxism was the door through which we as privileged students could enter the heady politics of the day, finding a common cause with black students in an era where the pull of Black Consciousness was declining and the push of Congress politics was coming to the fore. It was a time of horror and loss, but it was also vital and exciting. It was fabulous to feel part of a grand force for social change. I graduated with what was called a Bachelor of Arts, but actually what I got was a Bachelor of Marxism.
Over the years, I gradually lost my faith. It wasn't just the failure of the Soviet system, although that was obviously part of it. It wasn't just that communist governments were almost indistinguishable from suppressive autocracies.
It was something much more devastating: observable facts turned out more and more at odds with the grand theory. The more you knew about the theory, the more obvious the distinction between fact and theory became. Marxist theory, it turns out, is not only wrong but diametrically wrong. It's not only not true; it's the precise opposite of truth.
Take, for example, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, the big contradiction that supposedly lies at the heart of capitalism which is absolutely sure to tear it apart. Turns out, globally speaking, rates of profit have been generally increasing ever since Marx predicted they would start to fall. Capitalism began producing wealth at a rate faster than any social system previously known. Likewise, the labour-theory of value was pretty useless. It was a useless notion when Adam Smith invented it, and even more so when Marx took it up. Far from being critical, it meant nothing at all in a world focused on exchange value.
If that's too esoteric, what about class struggle? All history, as we know, consists of class struggle. Turns out that far from pressing the working class into poverty, capitalism has achieved the opposite, lifting billions of people out of squalor. Many remained poor, but the middle class exploded and even workers began to own TV sets, cars, washing machines and homes. It turned out - though none of my Marxist lecturers noticed at the time - that the average earnings of the bottom decile of Americans was close to the top decile of Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese or any of the other countries that chose the communist route.
Oddly, the countries more desirous of social peace, and were, therefore, averse to "class struggle" in the post-war era (West Germany and Japan) did best. "Class struggle" wasn't inevitable, it was just destructive, and countries that indulged in it, like Britain, paid the price.
Dialectical materialism? Fit Islamic or Christian fundamentalism into that if you please.
What about economic determinism? All that "base and superstructure" stuff? Bunkum. When working-class Britons voted for Margaret Thatcher, it became clear there is no inevitable connection between your "class position" and your politics, never mind your ethics or your taste in esoterica and art.
The world even contrived, as Niall Ferguson has noted, two controlled experiments: one divided east and west (Germany), and one divided north and south (Korea).
East Germany produced the Trabant, a slow, dangerous, exhaust-spewing rattle-trap.
At the same time, West Germany produced, well, everything, including the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
South Korean cellphones are used by millions around the world. North Korean rockets can hardly reach the shore before exploding.
The depressing thing is that while we were footling around in this absorbing blind alley, we were missing out on fine-tuning the somewhat rusted and overused engine we had. Financial literacy, entrepreneurism, capital efficiency, work-processes, brand building, inventory management, all got lost while we indulged in revolutionary fantasies. We were, in a sense, making things worse by not only studying the wrong thing, but not studying the right thing. We were revolutionary, except in our own thinking. In that respect, we were absolutely rigid.
So here is my invitation: please join us in the world. The real world. The world in which people live, and not some twisted fantasy world of a German romantic who lived a century and a half ago.
It's a fabulous, inventive, creative, rich, fun place. It has all the freedom your party promises but never delivers. By all means, bring your sense of social righteousness and the commitment to build a better world. But please, stop pretending you have an "intellectual" contribution to make to the ANC.
Social structures are not the mechanical box you claim they are. They are much more complicated and diverse than the strictures determined by your failed theories.
You are, literally, history.
I HAVE no evidence to prove this, but I'm willing to bet one of the ways the SACP has affected government policy has been tipping the scales against corporate internationalism. We the public, and we the shareholders of Telkom, have not been graced with an explanation, but what we know is that the proposed deal to sell a minority shareholding in Telkom to South Korea's KT Corp is now definitively off.
Scrapping the talks was the result of a Cabinet decision.
As no real explanation has been provided, it's impossible to know whether the sale was cancelled because the purchase price KT offered was too low, or because of some ideological issue.
My guess is the latter, mainly based on a guess at what arguments took place. The nationalists in the Cabinet would have argued that selling a 20% stake would reduce the government's combined voting power to less than 50%. The communists would claim that Telkom is a "vital national resource" and that Korea's investment offer was an example of exploitative, rapacious, imperialist, international capital.
The result is a national telephone company, in a desperate struggle to maintain its earnings against tough competition from hugely profitable cellphone companies, being denied the kind of strategic help that could have evened up the odds a bit.
The market recognised this: Telkom's stock price was over R36 a year ago; now it's a little over half that. The company itself recognised this. Even the Department of Communications recognised this. Those with ideological blinkers didn't.
THE European crisis remains the biggest global uncertainty at the moment, and most of Europe is now pushing for a more stimulus-orientated approach to solving the endemic problem of high levels of debt.
There are good arguments against making a fetish of austerity, one of which is demonstrated by French borrowing rates. When Francois Hollande was elected president, there was a worry that rolling back his predecessor's pro-austerity position would harm French borrowing rates.
In fact, French borrowing rates have just collapsed. When Hollande took office on May 15, France was borrowing for two years at over 0,7%. This is now down to 0,109%, Business Insider reports.
Hollande has managed to convince the market that France is a "core" rather than a "periphery" country, and money is rushing in.
But there is a flip side. What if European countries opt for a fiscal stimulus and it doesn't work?
There is recent evidence for this too, on the other side of the Atlantic. US President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.
The projection was that the act would reduce unemployment in 2012 to about 5%. The cost of the stimulus package was estimated to be $787bn at the time of passage, later revised to $831bn - about 10 times SA's gross domestic product.
The year 2012 has now arrived and unemployment in the US is nowhere near the targeted level; it's currently about 8,2%. In fact, it's higher than the level at which it was when the package was introduced.
Clearly, deciding to stimulate and actually stimulating are two quite different things.