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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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Jeremy Cronin

'Dreaming of the final showdown: A reply to Jordan & Nzimande' by...

In this paper I will look at the underlying logic of recent interventions by cdes Pallo Jordan ("Strategic Debate in the ANC"), and Blade Nzimande ("Let us take the people with us: a reply to Slovo").

My intention here is not to elaborate tactical options for the present. In general, I am in agreement with the detailed suggestions made by cde Joe Slovo ("What room for compromise?") and by the document from the ANC Negotiations Commission ("Strategic Perspective").

Insofar as there is a major shortcoming in these documents it is that they only (of course deliberately) deal with a negotiations strategy. They do not present an overall strategy, a point to which I shall return briefly at the end.

A threat of opportunism?

Is there a threat of opportunism in our ranks?

It would be surprising if there were not. Opportunism always hangs over any revolutionary movement. In a period like our own, in which the regime is relatively strong, but in which there are real prospects and many temptations dangling before our own leadership (whether it is national, regional or even branch leader-ship), opportunism is likely to be a factor.

Opportunism is, essentially, the abandonment ofone's basic goals, in the interests of short-term gains, whether those gains are collective, or just personal.

The main merit of the interventions of Jordan and Nzimande lies in their reasserting the fundamental goal of the ANC-led alliance (a national democratic revolution), and our fundamental strategic approach to that goal (a multi-pronged strategy according to Jordan; a mass-driven struggle according to Nzimande).

But what characterises both interventions is a fundamental silence about how concretely, specifically, we move from the present situation towards our fundamental goal. Their attempt to defend our movement against opportunism is, therefore, virtually useless. Unless we are able to offer a principled, revolutionary perspective on the correct tactics and strategy for the present, we will leave the field wide open to the regime, to its allies and (if there are such) to our own opportunists.

This weakness in the interventions of Jordan and Nzimande is not accidental. It is deeply rooted in the whole logic of their approach.

Jordan: negotiations - a strategy or a tactic?

Pallo Jordan's intervention contains many useful insights. In particular (and completely in line with Slovo, as it happens) he correctly characterises negotiations as neither a tactic nor a strategy but "an aspect of strategy" (p.9). Later he adds that "Negotiations are a key aspect of ANC strategy at this time." (p.15)

This kind of characterisation is a step for-ward from both:

     the detractors of negotiation who treat it as a defeat for ourselves, or as a more or less cynical tactic while we prepare for a seizure of power (a view encouraged in Nzimande's paper, see p.20); and

     those who tend to erect negotiation into virtually the sum total of our strategy, and who seek, therefore, to preserve the present negotiations almost at any price.

But Jordan fails to be consistent with his own valuable characterisation of negotiations.

Industrial negotiations and political negotiations - Is there a fundamental difference?

Jordan develops at some length the example of industrial, work-place struggles to illustrate some general points about negotiations and struggle. He develops parallels between industrial negotiations and our present political negotiations. But, in the end he wishes to argue that there is an important difference. In the case of industrial struggle, he tells us:

"Matters sometimes reach a flashpoint - say astrike. Both sides to the conflict however recognise that, unless they have decided to go for thefinal showdown, they must compose their differences. Negotiation then is the manner in which these differences are composed, and each side chooses to enter into negotiations at a moment which it feels will give it greatest advantage." (pp. 9-10) All of this is absolutely correct. Curiously, what Jordan is perfectly capable of grasping for this level of struggle and negotiation, he is incapable of carrying over into the present political negotiations. In fact, he insists on a fundamental difference:

"In the case of the national liberation struggle, one or other party to the dispute must go under. Negotiations, in such a situation, are not aimed at composing differences, but are aimed at the liquidation of one of the antagonists as a factor in politics." (pp. 10-11)

In order to argue this difference between shop-floor negotiations and the present political negotiations one of three equally incorrect assumptions must be made:

     either, one, the relationship between workers and bosses is not inherently contradictory;

     or, two, the present political negotiations in South Africa are the "final showdown";

     and that is because, three, the immediate aim of political negotiations should also be our overall aim ("political liquidation" of our opponent).

Let us look at each of these in turn.

[1] If, as opposed to the inherently contradictory relationship between ourNLM and the apartheid ruling bloc, the struggle between workers and capitalist bosses were merely and inherently competitive, then obviously there would be a decisive difference between the two kinds of negotiations. Jordan himself correctly agrees that this "free market" view of capitalism is absolutely wrong (see p9 ).

The contradiction between the working class and capital is not ultimately resolvable within the capitalist mode of production. Jordan's argument that our national liberation struggle is "explicitly about the striving for power" (p.10) whereas this is often not explicit in factory floor struggles, is neither here nor there. In fact, Jordan argues that proletarian shop floor struggles are about "achieving as much control as is attainable over the conditions of its reproduction" (p.9). Is struggle for control, not a struggle for power?

If this can't be the reason for the difference between these two kinds of negotiations then perhaps the difference is that

[2] as opposed to industrial negotiations, the present political negotiations are "the final showdown" between the two main antagonists. Unfortunately this is simply not true. Obviously, the present political negotiations are of a much greater potential significance, a great deal more swings on them, than on the average industrial negotiations. But are they, realistically, "the final showdown"?

This second false assumption is made possible only if:

[3] the present political negotiations are simply confused with THE strategy, rather than being seen as an aspect of our overall strategy to defeat the apartheid ruling bloc. In other words, only if you conceive the immediate objective, and the immediate possibility inherent in the political negotiations to be our ultimate objective ("liquidation" of our opponent), could you believe that the negotiations were "the final showdown". To make this error is to confuse an aspect of our strategy (negotia-tions) with the overall strategy itself.

This is the irony of Jordan's intervention. One of his most fruitful points is, as we have seen, precisely his argument against such an elevation of negotiations. But it is just such an implicit elevation, that underpins much of his argument.

The present negotiating process holds out the very real prospect of democratic elections for a sovereign constituent assembly. These elections will probably mark a very important qualitative shift in the balance of forces. But neither the elections, nor the CA, nor the resulting democratic constitution (assuming all of this happens) will mark the "final showdown" with the political and structural legacy of the apartheid state. Winning elections gives you the right to rule, but not the power.

To affirm this basic truth is not to recommend abandonment (or "adjustment") of the overall strategic goals of national liberation. Nor is it to recommend the abandonment of the present negotiations. But unless we recognise this basic truth, we will be elevating negotiations no less dangerously than the opportunism Jordan intends to criticise.

The logic of the "final showdown"

When he discusses shop-floor struggle, Jordan captures accurately enough struggle as a process, and negotiations as part of that process. He is perfectly capable of conceptualising struggle as, very often, a "war of position" ("each side chooses to enter into negotiations at a moment which it feels will give it greatest advantage.")

In other words, in a struggle between two fundamentally antagonistic forces, struggle at each moment is not necessarily a matter of allor-nothing. The two forces might actually, as he shows, temporarily "compose their differences", each side hoping to improve its advantage, its strategic initiative.

But when he shifts to our national liberation struggle, for some reason, Jordan can no longer think like this. He shifts into a "final show-down" mentality, an "all-or-nothing" logic.

I am not arguing that there are never all-ornothing moments in political struggle. But if you are not in a final showdown, it is absolutely unhelpful to strategise as if your were. Above all, you leave the door wide open to the very opportunism you are trying to counter.

Why? Because you are unable to chart a concrete, specific course between the hereand-now and your ultimate objective. The all-or-nothing approach, when it is not an all-or-nothing moment, means that all you can offer is next to nothing.

Nzimande - hypeing it up

Nzimande is an even greater victim of this "final show-down", "all-or-nothing" logic. At the heart of this logic is the tendency to confuse ultimate objectives with immediate possibilities.

Now, Nzimande knows very well that in the coming year or two we are not about to have the "final showdown". But this admission is something that the logic of his position finds hard to swallow. He is quick to castigate others who face up to this basic fact, and he easily implies that facing up to this fact is an abandonment of all revolutionary principles. But how, then, does he deal with the coming period himself?

The only way in which he can project into the short-term future is by greatly hypeing up the possibilities:

"Our immediate goal should be the total defeat of the National Party and the apartheid regime...The first step towardsthe total abolition of apartheid is the total and decisive defeat of the National Party

...if we decisively defeat the National Party and its surrogates in a democratic election let them become the opposition or disappear from the face ofa democratic South Africa." (p.22 - my emphases, JC)

Everything is "total", "decisive" and, above all, "immediate".

One is reminded of Engels: "What childish innocence it is to present one's own impatience as a theoretically convincing argument!"

("Programme of the Blanquist Communards"). One is also reminded of Lenin's sharp rebuke of the "infantile 'Leftists"' of his time who, he said, "have mistaken their desire, their politico-ideological attitude, for objective reality"; who "have naively mistaken subjective 'rejection' of a reactionary institution for its actual destruction by the combined operation of a number of objective factors."

There are many ways in which Nzimande's hyped-up, all-or-nothing approach distorts his vision. I would like to deal with two fairly typical examples, the one relates to armed struggle, and the other to the question of the "moral high ground".

Armed struggle

Jordan remarks, in the course of his paper, on the tendency for some comrades to "confuse non-violent struggle with negotiations" (p.11). He is, of course, absolutely right that the two things are not identical (until 1961 negotiations were hardly a central feature of our entirely non-violent struggle; in Vietnam the armed struggle and negotiations continued together).

But the converse also applies - the abandonment or collapse of negotiations does not necessarily imply a return to armed struggle. If there is a tendency to simply equate negotiations with non-violent struggle, there is an even greater tendency to equate failed negotiations with a return to anned struggle, with a "going back to the bush".

Nzimande does not quite make this assertion, but he comes close to it, when he calls for:

"tactical flexibility, such that the movement could negotiate with the regime whilst at the same time not ruling out the possibility of rapidly setting in place a strategic path towards a seizure of power if negotiations fail." (p22)

In general, although neither Jordan nor Nzimande is particularly guilty of this, there is a major tendency in our ranks to confuse:

     the need for effective self-defence structures, with

     the strategic deployment of violence (armed struggle), with

     an insurrectionary strategy for the seizure of power, with

     the need for a coherent military strategy.

Although these four things may connect up, they are absolutely not the same thing at all. You may wage armed struggle, for instance, with the strategic objective of forcing the other side to negotiate with you. Effective, and well armed self-defence structure are perfectly compatible with the suspension of armed struggle. A coherent military strategy may have nothing to do with waging armed struggle, etc.

If Jordan and Nzimande are not specifically guilty of these conflations, they at least flirt with strategic options in this general direction without asking any of the hard questions.

Moral high ground

The practical bankruptcy of the all-or-nothing approach is perhaps best illustrated in what Nzimande has to say about the struggle for the "moral high ground":

"There is a fundamental contradiction between the morality of our constituency and that of the ruling class and its imperialist backers. Whilst it is important to occupy the moral high ground all around, this is in most cases impossible." (p.21)

Of course there is a fundamental moral contradiction between our enemies and ourselves. Of course all manner of opportunisms might be "justified" in the pursuit of the "moral high ground". But that does not make a principled pursuit of the moral high ground either wrong or, "in most cases", futile.

In the first place, we need to remember that many black working people in our country do not necessarily share completely or even partly our own broad moral perspective. Millions within our own natural constituency are under the influence of a range of backward, corrupt or reactionary moral outlooks. The struggle for "moral high ground" is not a struggle to win Ken Owen's approval, it is a struggle to win moral hegemony.

The struggle to occupy "moral high ground" can also serve to divide those who are, in principle, opposed to us. Indeed, this near "impossibility" (if we are to believe Nzimande) is precisely what our national liberation movement achieved consistently on the international front, and for a protracted period of some two decades. Occupying international moral high ground did not mean that Thatcher and Reagan suddenly became enthusiastic backers of full anti-apartheid sanctions. But it did mean that their unceasing attempts to sabotage and undermine sanctions were embarrassing to themselves.

It is also precisely because we occupied the moral high ground internationally on the issue of the release of all our political prisoners, and on the issue of who deadlocked CODESA 2, that international (and specifically imperialist) pressure was maintained on De Klerk. Together with mass action, it was this pressure that produced the September26 summit break-through.

The tactics of 'sheer negation'

Occupying the "moral high ground" is not about trading moral principles, it is about making the morality and general aspirations of the national democratic movement hegemonic. It is precisely this kind of hegemonic project that the all-or-nothing logic cannot begin to grasp. It cannot think moral leadership, it can only think "liquidation", "smashing", "disappearing off the face of the earth".

In other words, it can only think in terms of what Lenin called "the tactics of the sheer negation". This, incidentally, also might explain why "consulting the people" is virtually the only practical step that Nzimande can recommend.

We certainly must consult every step of the way. But as we all know, shouting "Viva MK!" or "Death to De Klerk" at a rally is a lot more popular than asking sober questions about the state of MK, or our ability to defeat the apartheid regime in one fell swoop.

As Lenin remarks "I have repeatedly observed something similar to this in the history of the BolshevikParty...it is easier to approach the masses with tactics of the sheer negation. This, however, is not an argument to prove the correctness of such tactics."

A counter counter-revolutionary strategy

I said at the beginning that the major shortcoming in the interventions of Slovo and the ANC Negotiations Commission was their one-sided (but deliberate) focus on a negotiations strategy, rather than on an overall strategy. In the latter document under paragraph 6, for instance, all that is suggested to minimise the threat to stability and democracy is the possibility of addressing "job security, pensions and a general amnesty" for incumbent security forces and civil servants.

Of course, a counter counter-revolutionary strategy would have to develop a much wider range of strategic and tactical options, appropriate to a whole range of different potential institutional and social bases for counter-revolution. The struggle for the "moral high ground" is, incidentally, one significant component of such a strategy, in which we might hope to win over tens of thousands of black police and soldiers. But there are many other components, besides those suggested by the Negotiations Commission.

Having said that, let me return, finally, to the all-or-nothing logic. For here, once more, we find just how unhelpful is this logic for any practical politics. Criticising paragraph 6 of the Negotiations Commission document Jordan tells us:

"I find it alarming that the authors seem to think that the motivating factor in the action ofpotentially subversive civil servants is their individual pensions, job security and perks...If they act they will act as a corporate body, on behalf of their perceived interest as a group..." (p.13)

Why? They may, or they may not. In the absence of the physical capacity on our part simply to smash the apartheid state apparatus, we have to do everything to "dismember" it (Jordan's term). This will require a diverse and multi-pronged strategy, including the ongoing development of our mass power outside of the state; the rapid promotion of progressive, black officers; the general restructuring of the armed forces with the long-term objective of complete demilitarisation of our society; and some of the measures (amnesty, pensions, etc.) suggested by the Negotiations Commission. Combined pressures and carrots might indeed either persuade, tempt or compel potential counter-revolutionaries to become atomised individuals, not an organised corporate body.

It is absolutely characteristic of the logic of "all-or-nothing" that it is at once grossly over-optimistic about what we can achieve, more or less immediately, in one fell swoop, and profoundly pessimistic about what we can achieve in a protracted struggle.

The all-or-nothing approach wishes away apartheid structures. But because this wishing away does not happen for real, the approach can only dream.

It dreams, not of "riding into the sunset together" with De Klerk, of course, but of an equally romantic film-script. Revolution becomes, not a difficult and often protracted process, but an event, a show-down, OK Corral, High Noon and...a loud bang.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.