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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Socialist Conference extracts from an SACP Central Committee assessment

A "Socialist Conference for Reconstruction and Development" was held in Johannesburg on November 5-6 1994. The Conference was jointly convened by the SACP and COSATU. Also represented at the Conference were the Young Christian Students, COSAS, SASCO, Comrades for a Workers' Government, Young Christian Workers, SANCO, NACTU, ISSA, WOSA, the Workers' List Party, the Independent Socialist Movement, and the Workers' International. Also present were a number of unaffiliated socialist personalities drawn from the media, universities, NGOs and the religious sector.

Political Background

The character and some of the dynamics at play in the November 5-6 Socialist Conference had much to do with the origins of the process. The SACP 8th Congress of 1991 committed our party to working to draw together socialist forces in our country. We have, in the past four years, undertaken a number of initiatives in this direction.

But the Socialist Conference emerged more directly, and problematically, out of the September 1993 COSATU Special Congress. The COSATU Resolution on the Socialist Conference (which was reaffirmed at its 1994 Congress) called for a Socialist Conference to be jointly convened by the SACP and COSATU. However, this resolution was, partly, a carefully crafted compromise in the context of a sharp inner-COSATU struggle around the future of the ANC-led alliance and the proposal of an alternative "Independent Workers' Party". Those who lost the battle to break the alliance and to use COSATU to branch out independently, saw in the Socialist Conference Resolution a chance to revisit these questions.

It is important to recall the political situation in the second half of 1993. There was considerable disorientation in the broad movement, primarily as a result of the negotiations process. We should not forget that some of the key COSATU affiliates had, at the time, resolutions in favour of breaking the alliance.

The original idea was to hold the Socialist Conference before the elections, or certainly before COSATU's 1994 Congress. Because of other priorities (not least the elections), this did not happen. The extremely poor election performance of those fringe elements most vocal in the call to break the alliance and the massive electoral support for the ANC changed the situation somewhat post-April 1994.

Proceedings

Following an introductory speech by cde John Gomomo and an introductory input by cde Charles Nqakula, the Conference broke into 4 working groups:

     Challenging the Imperialist and Capitalist Economic Agenda

     Towards a new Internationalism

     Socialism and Gender

     Democratising SA

The report backs from these working groups, and the concluding plenary session produced very little of substance. The two concrete decisions were to launch a Socialist Gender Forum, and regional Socialist Forums.

There were a number of recommendations, notably to hold some kind of IMF/World Bank/GATT Conference in SA in 1995, and to take back into our respective organisations the question of how, if at all, to take forward the broader socialist unity initiative.

General Assessment

The Conference very clearly and quickly divided in two:

     There was a majority - that included SACP, most of COSATU and our other traditional allies, comrades from the religious sector, NACTU, and virtually all the independent personalities, and, to some extent WOSA, or individuals recently out of WOSA - for whom socialism meant an engagement with the present SA, in order to consolidate, defend and advance democratic transformation; and

     A minority of small left groupings, who argued that the present state is "a bourgeois state", and that, therefore the key present strategic objective needed to be "the smashing of the state".

The possibilities of a relatively fruitful discussion across this divide were extremely limited, and the possibilities of a discussion within the majority were (in most working groups) continuously frustrated.

Some suggestions for a way forward

Whatever the shortcomings, it is clear that both within our party and beyond it in the mass movement there is substantial interest in socialism - many comrades who wanted to participate could not come, partly because the size of delegations from major organisations was limited.

We need to proceed, however, in very different ways, including:

     ensuring much wider socialist debate and discussion within our party itself;

     taking forward an openly socialist debate with some of our allies - beginning with a bilateral with COSATU - and with the range of forces identified as the majority in the Conference;

     we should take forward the resolution on a Socialist Gender Forum, and of Regional Socialist Forums - ensuring that the composition and convening is done in ways that do not just replicate the negative experiences of the Conference of November 5-6.

     the idea of a Conference, or some other ways of highlighting the clangers of the IMF/World Bank agenda within our country must be looked at seriously.

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.