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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Is a retreat from National Democratic Revolution to National Bourgeois Revolution imminent?

The need for both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forms of struggle during the period of IGNU and GNUR.

by Jabu Moleketi

OVER the years the ANC, the SACP and all other allied forces have held firm the national democratic banner with its strategic slogan "Amandla ngawethu" "Power to the people". This slogan captures the essence of the Freedom Charter in a very dynamic and popular way. The Freedom Charter advances a form of democracy wherein governance is inextricably linked to an uninterrupted programme of mass empowerment, social, economic, cultural and political empowerment. It is this vision of a new South Africa that goes beyond just a mere extension of "bourgeois-democratic rights" to all South Africans, irrespective of race,colour or class origin, that has rallied millions of our people behind the ANC-led alliance. Given the current political conjuncture, in which you can lose on the table that which you have won on the ground, and vice-versa, the crucial question is "how do we drive this process forward in a manner that will ensure that the socio-economic content of our national democratic revolution (NDR) is not lost or undermined?"

In the history of national liberation movements in the third world there have been many unhappy endings. Many national liberation movements set out with the noblest of intentions but, due to a variety of factors, they failed to sustain the momentum of the NDR. Obviously good intentions on their own are inadequate. Even the magnificent contributions of selfless altruists come to nought if not backed and informed by a myriad of people's organisations mobilised around issues of common concern. The South African ruling class is currently waging a fierce struggle, both inside and outside the negotiations venue at the World Trade Centre to ensure that, when everything is said and done, the existing economic power relations are not threatened.

The coming period will be marked by the intensification of efforts by the ruling class and certain petty bourgeois elements to reduce the national democratic revolution to mere ascendancy to political office of people's representatives. Most of the socio-economic objectives of the national democratic revolution will be deemed unattainable by these forces and their allies internationally, given the framework of a "viable market driven economy".

The ruling class is poised to engage the forces of national liberation in a series of battles, particularly in the economic sphere, to reduce the impact of political changes on this area. This they aim to achieve through a vast variety of complex measures undertaken and implemented by a host of forces located in different camps the rightwing, liberal capitalist and the petty bourgeoisie under a national democratic cloak. Their objective, among others, is to ensure that an election of a majority rule government is not perceived as a milestone but rather as the final and ultimate goal of the NDR. In short, the proprietor class is trying to execute its historically acclaimed coup de grace of reducing the objectives of popular struggles into nothing more than the attainment of representative democracy, thus reducing the autonomy and sovereignty of the people. The extent and level of our preparedness to consistently wage a national democratic struggle will determine whether South Africa joins the league of the Kenyas or not.

The outcome of struggles for democratic space within which forms of direct democracy can and must develop, can lead to the broadening and deepening of democracy. This is a phenomenon that is bound to be resisted by the capitalist class and forces that are advancing a "neo-colonialism of a special type" project in South Africa. Taking over state control is one of the key tasks in the NDR, but the democratisation process must not be state or parliament centred.

A trend that has characterised the forces of national liberation globally is the blurring or distortion of the relationship and differences between the state, political party, elected representatives and organs of civil society when the national liberation forces take political power. This must under no circumstances be allowed to take root in our country.

History has proved that this trend plays directly into the hands of capital. Instead of stretching capital to its limits, it creates a situation where a democratic state becomes the only opponent and, in a majority of instances, capital has emerged victorious under such circumstances. Our approach should be one that seeks to engage capital in a whole range of class battles. This can be achieved through building and strengthening mass democratic formations andorgans of civil society.

Is the National Democratic Revolution at stake?

The Freedom Charter encapsulates the goals and objectives of the NDR. Over the years, depending on the concrete conditions prevailing in our country, different forms of struggle were undertaken in pursuance of these objectives. In the not so distant future we will be entering the most complex phase in the NDR. A phase which was characterised by Lenin as a make or break phase. That is when the forces of national liberation and democracy take over state control.

It is an era seen by many an activist/revolutionary as an era of popular rule (the people shall govern). It is a period in which a reconstruction plan will be put in place to redress the ills of colonialism of a special type. It is a time in which consistent struggles are waged to neutralise all backward political and social formations.

But questions such as the following beg honest answers: Is the leap between a democratic constitution and effective popular rule possible? Is the implementation of a thorough-going reconstruction plan that will ensure socio-economic upliftment of the oppressed majority possible ? If the answer to both these questions is negative we might as well kiss the NDR goodbye and hope that we see it later. And if the answer is affirmative then we must without any waste of time ask how these objectives can be achieved, given our situation. Clearly, given the limitations imposed by transitional arrangements (five years of power-sharing in a Government of National Unity) and the legacy of apartheid state machinery and its economy, mean that a new democratic government can never bring about substantial change on its own.

The power of the masses expressed through struggles and dynamic organisational indispensable to ensuring going democratic and socio-economic change. If we cannot, at this point understand fire (extra-parliamentary struggles) and water (parliamentary struggles) except as opposites, then the NDR is definitely threatened.

Parliamentary Struggles

The deep-seated crisis of apartheid capitalism engaged, particularly in the late 1980s, a whole range of social and political formations with varying class backgrounds, and interests in a search for a national political consensus with a variable democratic content. The strategic objectives of these formations is to influence (directly or indirectly) the future path of the new democratic government in their favour. A tug of war in the coming period between national liberation forces engaged in the struggle to implement the programme of reconstruction and the efforts of the proprietor class to submerge class contradictions and struggle in the name of "national economic interests" is unavoidable.

We know that society can never be changed by parliament only, and that parliamentary struggles are not primary in the struggle against capital. Yet what is it that makes the new democratically elected parliament/ national assembly all the more important? We must give our people a clear and unambiguous answer as to the role of parliament and the changes that an ANC-led government can effect in the immediate term. We must be unequivocal on how governmental forms is thorough power can be used in the interest of the oppressed and exploited.

A democratically elected parliament would mark a strategic political change in the history of South Africa. For the first time political power within parliament will be exercised by those who were previously excluded. Almost overnight parliament will be transformed from an institution of minority rule to that of majority rule. The government led by a worker biased ANC would definitely increase the capacity and the speed with which socio-economic reform programmes are undertaken. This will also mark an end of capital's hegemonic grip over parliament.

Extra-parliamentary struggles

The socio-economic conditions that gave rise to the NDR still exist and the role of extra-parliamentary struggle to curtail the perpetuation of apartheid power relations in the next five years cannot be over-emphasised. The power of the ANC led front would, to a great extent, be located outside of state structures. Hence the necessity to mobilise and organise the masses and keep them in constant political motion, now and in the future. Our greatest challenge in the coming period is to ensure that forces that were born out of struggle and built through great sacrifice are not neutralised and ultimately destroyed.

Through mobilisation, organisation and struggle our people have in the past determined the course of events. This will continue.

The Reconstruction Accord - an organising tool

Used correctly, the reconstruction accord has the capacity to build and consolidate forces that will wage a consistent struggle until all objectives of NDR are realised. The accord must not be used to popularise our elections platform only. It is important that it also be used to build and strengthen sectoral organisations. Like the Freedom Charter, each and every clause in the accord must find organisational expression. In short, the accord must become a weapon in the hands of the working class with the aid of which consistent class battles are waged.

Through the accord we must also endeavour to rally and consolidate all social forces that are interested in real democratic change. Slogans such as "free and compulsory primary education for all", "fight poverty, disease and squalor, decent housing and jobs for all", "towards a national health system", have the capacity to build a mass movement outside parliament. It is the growth of this mass democratic movement which will further tilt the strategic balance of forces in our favour.

Elections and organs of civil society

The ANC-led alliance remains committed to ensuring the success of the NDR, whose main objective is the transfer of all power to the people, not to a state. Clearly the transfer of power to the people will not be a single event, but rather a process whose first major step is a decisive election victory of the ANC-led forces. As indicated earlier, the reconstruction accord links the electoral process and the ongoing revolutionary task of building and strengthening autonomous and dynamic organs of civil society. It is an approach that seeks to build organs of civil society not only for short term electoral gains (for this amounts to political opportunism) but also for medium and long term objectives which can ensure that the new South Africa is not just a neo-colonial change of faces in the corridors of state power.

It is natural for some of our comrades who are active in the civics and other formations to have a cautious approach on the involvement of organs of civil society in the electoral process. But this cautious approach is not an outcome of a thorough analysis of our situation and the assessment of the challenges facing organs of civil society in the current situation. It is, rather, a fear of some hitherto unknown problems that may occur in the event that a decision is taken. Slumbering in the discomfort of neutrality becomes the only option. This "uncomfortable neutrality" is an extension of a "watch dog" concept, which advocates sitting as close to the fence as possible, and looking for possible transgressors. The organs of civil society are a product of the national democratic struggle. In the course of their struggle they have argued against any form of fence sitting in the fight against apartheid. Whether it will be possible to advocate for organisational neutrality at this point remains to be seen.

The challenge facing all sectoral organisations is the conceptualisation of the relationship between autonomous organisations and the first democratic government. The accord creates a basis for this relationship, participation and non-participation must be an outcome of agreement or disagreement with the accord. It will also be a contradiction in terms for sectoral organisations to support the accord and at the same time choose not to support the ANC-led forces who are the custodians of the accord in the coming elections. It is, therefore, important to expose the artificial contradiction between autonomous organisational form and the support for an ANC-led electoral front. We must expose the damage this state of affairs might cause to the civics in particular and the national democratic struggle in general.

Deepening democracy and struggle against anti-democratic trends

The capacity and speed with which we move from a democratic constitution to effective popular rule depends on the active participation of the masses in the democratisation process. It is this process that must fundamentally change the lives of ordinary people in terms of access to political institutions, freedom from socio-economic hardships, that empowers people to have control over their own lives and over the structures of society. Active, dynamic and autonomous organs of civil society and the democratic state are co-drivers of this process.

It is within this process that effective struggles against backward social and political formations are waged. This process will also open up an arena within which battles against undemocratic practices and corruption will be launched.

It is only through these struggles that a new form of national identity and pride will emerge. It is only through united action that the vision "..all people shall be equal irrespective of race, colour, or creed.." will be realised.

The dangers that are inherent in the coming period

The immediate danger facing the ANC-led alliance is the selection of candidates, be they for constituent assembly or regional and local governments or civil service, without taking into account the overall demands of the national democratic struggle. The danger of the complete absorption of key activists into the abovementioned institutions and services is real. Were this to happen it would result in the collapse of MDM formations.This must not be allowed. Political decisions must be taken on who stands for what...and who doesn't. Our people need a decisive political leadership on this matter and indecisiveness can lead to serious political set-backs.

There are other dangers inherent in the coming period: the reformist trap, the ultra-left deviation, and the emergence of "gentlemen and ladies of politics".

     The reformist trap sees parliament as the only terrain of struggle and rejects extra-parliamentary struggle as rocking the boat.

     The ultra-left deviation sees extra-parliamentary struggle as the only form of struggle capable of bringing about meaningful change.

Parliament is perceived as a reformist institution whose impotence is unparalleled

     The "gentlemen and ladies of politics" danger is the emergence of a bureaucratic vested interests in the parliamentary politics.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that none of these tendencies gain ground.

The relationship between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary

The multi-class nature of the state, notwithstanding the leading role of the worker biased ANC, reduces the capability of the state to act entirely and solely on behalf of the under-privileged masses. On many an occasion concessions will have to be made with other forces representing other class interests. It is therefore apparent that the relationship between parliamentary and extra-parliamentary will, at times, be characterised by contradictions. To expect an uncontradictory and harmonious relationship is unrealistic, more especially if one takes the implications of the Government of National Unity into consideration. The ANC-led democratic government will be sailing the rough high seas characterised by troughs of the state's limitations and the crests of people's expectations. In our endeavour to deploy both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forms of struggle, it is crucial to strike a balance, and this must be determined by the concrete conditions and where the greatest chance of victory lies on any given issue. The most important thing is to ensure that during those stormy moments we don't lose direction.

In the coming period we must avoid the danger and temptation both of using extra-parliamentary forms for narrow propaganda purposes, and an eventuality where the democratic state with elite perks of is used to crush extra-parliamentary struggle.

Organisational implications

Our organisational capacity to conduct struggle on these two fronts (parliamentary and extra-parliamentary) will determine whether the ANC in particular and the tripartite in general, continues to exercise leadership in the NDR. Exercising overall leadership is not to be confused with leading each and every battle. On many an occasion battles will be waged and led by organs of civil society, and this must not be perceived as undermining or threatening the leadership role of the ANC, but as a process of empowerment.

Consequently, building organisational capacity must not be understood as building a myriad of structures to exercise bureaucratic control on all aspects of life. Rather, we must ensure that people are empowered to exercise control over their lives. In line with the above, attempts to transform ourentire organisations into support arms of parliament and government must also be resisted.

We must find a balance between the necessity of some of our senior and best cadres participating in the Constituent Assembly and state institutions and the need to maintain viable organisational structures (and not just props).

The coming period has new prospects and new opportunities to carry out the political struggle. Our main task, be it in parliament or outside parliament, is to defend and advance the interests of the oppressed and exploited masses. For those in our ranks who will be in parliament, the immediate task will be to turn parliament into a forum for the defence of democracy. At the same time, the attempts by capital to regroup around and popularise liberal bourgeois concepts of freedom and democracy must be met also with organised, dynamic and autonomous organs of civil society.

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.