About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

SACP Pragmatism

The party has stood guard over working class aspirations in the interclass Alliance. And this is combined with a gut feeling that the Party, by its very nature, is more likely to be less compromising in dealings with the regine and in the choice of development options.

All these factors will assume even greater importance in the immediate period ahead as a result of two interdependent factors:

a     We must not take the alliance for granted. Already there have been murmurs from a small group of ANC cadres which suggest some confusion about the role of the Party in the new legal conditions. For example, during a recent discussion at the NEC on the phasing out of SACTU, one or two NEC members suggested that the role of the Party in the new conditions ought also to be considered. It is therefore not enough for us to rely on the past. We need to spread a more profound understanding about the future role of the party both in the developing situation and in the post apartheid phase. Media questions have been addressed to party representatives on issues such as what are our expectations in relation to future elections. Will the Party have an internal arrangement with the ANC or will it field its own candidates either in opposition to other political groups or by virtue of some electoral pact with the ANC? We consider these questions speculative nd premature but they nevertheless do point to a recognition that the Alliance will operate in a completely new context.

b      In the postapartheid phase the choice of the path will no longer remain predominantly a theoretical disputation. The questions of development options will call for a practical decision. Although we have already publicly committed ourselves to a mixed economy in the immediate post apartheid phase this perspective does not in itself dispose of the question of whether it will be a mixed economy with a capitalist orientation or one with a socialist orientation.

c      We have always insisted on our dual role as an independent political organisation and as part of the Alliance. What new balance must be involved in these two imperatives? Is there a need to reexamine the shape of the Alliance in the new conditions? For example, comrades, these questions suggest themselves in relation to the existing prospects of negotiations. We should undoubtedly work to ensure that the ANC becomes the umbrella at the eventual negotiating table. This implies that the various patriotic interest groups become an identifiable part of the ANCled negotiating team. This was recently raised by COSATU comrades at the May 10, Johannesburg Joint Meeting. Do we as a Party insist on some form of independent participation under the umbrella of the ANC? If so, to what extent? In other words can the Party continue to subsume its role and leave it to be implied rather than to be seen as an independent participant? Whatever the future might hold, at the moment the umbrella concept remains imperative. The time is certainly not ripe for us to have joint delegations at the negotiating table. At the same time as happened in the Groote Schuur talks the Party should have a visible presence as part of the ANC delegation. Whilst on this question of negotiations, comrades, we must remain clear about the need not to allow the negotiating process to suffocate the struggle on the ground.

d      As already mentioned if we look slightly further ahead the question will arise of how we fit into any kind of election process. At this point the search for a definite answer is premature. But we must begin to toss it about in our minds.

e      The Alliance has now been recast with the phasing out of SACTU and the inclusion of COSATU. This is more than just a substitution. We can claim that, for the first time since SACTU ceased to be a trade union federation in the real sense of the word we now have an Alliance partner which truly represents the bulk of the organised trade union movement. Without in any way detracting from the tripartite content of the Alliance, there is a need to examine the extent to which the Party and COSATU need a special relationship. It would of course be wrong to institutionalise a separate joint structure. But activities such as the Harare Workshop continue to be in place as long as they are structured in such a way which does not detract from the tripartite Alliance.

f      The rapidly changing situation, both at home and internationally, require us to have another look at our recently adopted Party Programme "The Path to Power". Certain formulations no longer lie happily alongside such recent developments.

What Kind of Party?

     It is crystal clear that we have to build a Party of a new type. In addressing this question we must focus not only on the obvious fact that the style of work which was imposed upon us by underground conditions no longer has validity (in many respects), but also on the lessons of the disasters which afflicted so many Communist Parties in the recent period. It is true that our Party can claim some credit for having distanced itself many, many decades ago from some of the worst distortions which manifested themselves in a large slice of the International Communist and Workers Movement. At the same time, we must be conscious of the fact that there have been isolated indications that some of our members and structures still carry some baggage from the past. As we enter the new period we must be on our toes to eradicate all remaining vestiges of Stalinism in our style of work. In short, we must find ways of coping with the heritage created in the old conditions and infected by old thinking.

We must:

a      Be more vigilant than ever against all remains of sectarianism, arrogance or elitism.

b      Not mechanically reject those socialists who, in the past, expressed genuine reservations about some of our policies or practices. We need to concede that some of these criticisms were not completely unfounded.

c      In the new period, make a clean break with those limitations on inner democracy and accountability which underground life and the drawbacks of exile imposed upon us.

d      Above all, ensure that our role as vanguard of the working class must be one of democratic mobilisation and should not be imposed. Our party has no inherent right to claim the leadership of our class. That leadership must be won by gaining acceptance for our open policies and should not be based on a claim of right.

e      While working to win a primary place as political leader of the working class, accept political pluralism both now, for the postapartheid phase and in the period of socialist construction.

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.