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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

A response to Theo Molaba's letter of resignation

Cape Town, June 1993

I am probably in an excellent position to comment on Comrade Theo Molaba's letter of resignation. I have only met him once, and that too was for only a brief while. This frees me of judging the contents of the letter by association and by preconceived notions of Comrade Theo's politics or practice in the Party.

I have taken the letter more seriously after the branch meeting of 24/6/93, when I discovered that Theo represented a majority view in the branch, that many members, particularly (but not only) the students in the branch, described the same frustrations and criticisms of the Party as did Theo's letter.

This, as we are all aware, is not only a feature in our branch and Party, but in the entire movement. More specifically, a number of tendencies are clearly emerging within our movement.

Notably, the tendency of "militants" represented by Gwala, Mokaba and Yengeni is gaining wider appeal amongst rank and file youth and it reaches out to broader layers in some regions. A second tendency, which has expressed dissatisfaction with the negotiations process and the strategy of the alliance, is in the advanced sections of the ANC YL and COSAS. (I would like to separate this latter sector from the former). A third, and probably more crucial development in this vein is shaping up in the unions. The latest NLIMSA resolution to terminate the alliance once the ANC comes to power, represents the view that an ANC government, first, will have to be kept in check, and secondly, will not advance to full democracy and socialism.

All of these political tendencies point to a frustration and dissatisfaction with the negotiations period, and the lack of leadership in their view from the ANC and SACP. Other factors, such as the violence in the case of cde Gwala, have played a role in shaping a militant politics and a complete dissatisfaction on questions related to arming our forces.

There is another tendency which we would like to describe, which is as subtle as it is pervasive within the SACP. This tendency is made up of the followers of a dogmatic Marxism Leninism. It is this dogma which has resulted in an inability of the Party to articulate a new politics and a new role in the present period. In my opinion, this dogma was represented by the refusal of the Eighth Congress to adopt the slogan of democratic socialism and to build the programme of the Party out of the broad science of Marxism instead of drawing on the narrowest conceptions of Leninism. Whilst the slogan itself is relatively unimportant, the refusal to accept it represented a dogmatic fixation with the one party state (expressed as the disqualification of bourgeois parties); dictatorship of the proletariat; nationalisation (centralised planning); and insurrection.

This is a negative tendency and has, on occasion, had more to do with what is fashionable. This is also the food of the demagogues who made good use of it at the Eighth Congress and thereafter.

Comrade Theo's letter falls into a fifth category. Those of our comrades who have not yet made up their minds about negotiations. Comrade Theo is still not sure whether we should be negotiating or building and preparing for the insurrection. All of us have at some time fallen into this category in the last three years. When the Inkathagate scandal broke, I remember arguing for a major offensive against Buthelezi and the regime. "Now is the time", I was saying, to break off the talks and mount an offensive. For Natalians (I was then based in Natal) this had real meaning. The opportunity was lost!

For me, this is the nub of the matter. I want to deal with this dilemma - negotiations or insurrection - and offer a strategic perspective which binds these apparently contradictory strategies in a single paradigm. Then I want to point out the challenges facing the left elements in the SACP in the coming period.

Before doing this, I want to flag important criticisms that cde Theo has made of the Party and its leader-ship. The first, and most important in my opinion, is what Theo calls the "abandonment of the proletarian attitude". I would prefer to call this the inability (and even reluctance) to build a FIGHTING PARTY. This, for me is the essence of Leninism. A fighting party with a well co-ordinated nerve centre and a well oiled machinery which takes on and strikes blows on the ruling class at every turn. For instance, our Party should be building and mounting an offensive on the right-wing at the present moment. Especially as their show of force takes place so soon after this same right-wing murdered the best of our leaders - our general secretary - just under three months ago.

Cde Theo himself notes the failure of our leadership (and our Party as a whole) to drive the mass struggle after Inkathagate, Boipatong, Bisho. For this problem I cannot suggest a solution, and I am in agreement with the comrade resignee.

The second criticism, and this is partly linked to the first, is that of tailism. The Party is tailing behind the ANC. Or, as Theo puts it, "the Party is a sub-committee of the ANC's NEC/NWC".

I can understand the sentiment being expressed here, but it is more complex than that. Whilst on the one hand the Party's political and policy positions are always identical to those of the ANC, and always become public knowledge well after the ANC's; it can be argued that Party members play a crucial role in formulating ANC policy in the first place.

I'm not sure which is worse. If the latter is true, then there is very little to say about the views of these Party comrades who shape ANC policy. There is very little evidence of Marxist thinking or revolutionary politics to the ANC's policies, and it's more worrying that Party members are responsible for the this kind of politics.

Secondly, on this matter, is that the colonialism of a special type thesis predisposes us to tailism in the stage of the national democratic revolution. A crude reading of colonialism of a special type makes this tailism wholly compatible with our strategy and seemingly correct.

The SACP Central Committee Discussion Paper for our Strategy Conference (see AC, 2nd quarter, 1993) tries to answer this question by stating "socialism is not so much a separate entity from the national democratic revolution, as a crucial part of, or a stage in deepening and defending it...in the course of the national democratic revolution we continuously seek to create momentum towards socialism, capacity for socialism, and even elements of socialism."

This is a clear statement of the dynamic links between the struggle for national democracy and the struggle for democracy.

Cde Theo's criticism is still valid though. In our practice over the last three years we have not seen the Party building the socialist components of the transformation. Although cde Theo's criticism is valid, it is poorly formulated and needs to be formulated more precisely.

Theo also raises other criticisms of the Party, particularly of the last CC report. I cannot deal with all these criticisms here.

Let me now make some criticisms of Theo's letter. The most important criticism is that Theo has not made up his mind on negotiations. Early in his letter he argues for a "proletarian attitude to negotiations", but later on he criticises the leadership for failing to "prepare for an insurrection" immediately after the assassination of cde Chris.

This kind of comment is wholly ahistorical. It is a complete misjudgment of the objective conditions, balance of forces, and the preparedness of our working class and youth to turn the regime's retreat into a rout.

I suspect that the dogmatism (that I described earlier in this letter) also had a part to play in this fascination with insurrection. Romanticism and youthfulness undoubtedly have a contributory role to play. Unfortunately, our strategy cannot be grounded on these finer qualities of the human personality.

Insurrections are not "good things", as a close friend of mine puts it. An insurrection is not fun. On numerous occasions, and on many more to come, insurrections have been and will be necessary. They should never be completely discounted in our strategies for building the Party and the mass struggle. But insurrection now in SA would be a blood-bath, and it will be our blood that is spilt.

My second criticism is that the letter fails to acknowledge the extensive mass action that has taken place over the last three years, and particularly Theo does not credit the ANC leadership for organising the mass action, although he mentions this very mass action at least twice in his letter of resignation.

Nevertheless, cde Theo is putting his finger on a real problem. Whilst up to the end of 1992 we characterised negotiations as an "aspect of strategy", or more popularly "a terrain of struggle", I believe that this perspective has been eroded. As the negotiations process gained ground and occupied the time and energies of the centre, the other terrains of struggle assumed a marginal role in the transition. Millions of people participated in marches and stayaways, but this must be characterised as mass action and not mass struggle. It lacked any sense of challenging the power relations in our country.

The new strategic perspective that was adopted by the ANC NEC in December 1992 was the culmination of this trend, and a turning point for the movement. The new strategic perspective was governed by one central idea. This idea was that the most effective way to solve the South African question was to move as rapidly as possible to democratic elections. An ANC government would have the power to deal with the third force and violence. It would also deal with the right-wing, Inkatha and Mangope.

It would also have the power to begin the long march to social and economic reconstruction, and start to deliver some of the goods of the new SA. In short, move rapidly to an ANC government...even if some compromises are necessary!

As a movement we lack a strategic perspective in the current period which incorporates the role of mass struggle, or even mass action. All we have is a strategy for negotiations. I think it is a good strategy, and our negotiators are doing surprisingly well at the table - but it is only a strategy for negotiators.

A new strategic perspective needs to be developed for the transition.

The first element is a clearly defined role for the masses to relate to the negotiations process. I do not believe that every issue that c'eadlocks the negotiations should be taken to the streets, the effects of turning on and off the tap of mass action are well known. There are some occasions where the tap needs to he turned on full power. The two most important issues are the disarming of the right-wing and joint, effective control of the security forces.

The second plank of a new perspective must centre on the sectoral struggles, particularly health, education, housing and other important struggles. This must not he "left to the sectoral organisations", but must be driven from the centre of the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance.

The third and most important plank in a revolutionary strategic perspective is to build dual power wherever power resides in this country, at local, regional and national levels. The organised sections of the masses must engage the points of power in society and demand and negotiate control over these institutions.

The negotiators in our ranks must not lose sight of the need to carry out the agreements that they have been able to win and to defend the gains made at the table. The demobilisation of mass organisation is going to cost us dearly in the coming months.

In conclusion, the challenge that we face is to build a clear strategic perspective and to champion our ideas within the Party and within the movement. To this end, I would like to suggest that the branch offer itself as a platform for the Theos of the world, guaranteeing the status of any majority position as a position of the branch to be championed in the region and nationally.

The challenge facing Theo and other comrades who agree with his criticisms is to come back into the Party and shape it, fighting for their positions in the Party, as Lenin did from April to October 1917.

Fareed Abdullab

SACP, Cape Town Central Branch

Editorial afterword

Comrade Theo Molaba has taken up the challenge issued to him in the last paragraph of cde Abdullah's letter. Molaba has withdrawn his resignation and is playing an active and, of course, critical role in the SACP.

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.