Founders of the Communist Party in SA would be surprised to learn we are still up against an oppressive, racialised capitalism, says the writer. File picture: Gareth Smit/ ANA Archives
Founders of the Communist Party in SA would be surprised to learn we are still up against an oppressive, racialised capitalism, says the writer. File picture: Gareth Smit/ ANA Archives

Communist struggle against barbaric capitalism continues

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 2, 2020

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Jeremy Cronin

On July 29, 1921, the Communist Party of South Africa was launched in Cape Town.

It was the first communist party in Africa, and among the earliest members of the newly formed Communist International, based in Moscow.

Over these 99 years, the party has made a major contribution to our country’s Struggle legacy. It was the party, long before even the ANC, that first called for “one person, one vote”.

The party pioneered non-racialism, not just as an aspiration, but in practice in its own membership and leadership collectives.

Indeed, for many decades the party was the only political non-racial political formation in South Africa.

Communists pioneered progressive trade unionism, rural and township activism and investigative journalism.

Through the bitter years of minority rule, party militants have been among the first in sacrifice.

Among our many martyrs was Johannes Nkosi, gunned down in 1930 for leading an anti-pass campaign.

Vuyisile Mini died on the gallows.

Basil February was killed in action in the Wankie campaign. Ahmed Timol was murdered in detention.

We also remember an outstanding 1976 generation of courageous young communists, among them Petros Linda Jobane, the Lion of Chiawelo, who surrounded and alone held off the apartheid police, down to his last bullet. We remember Matthew Goniwe, kidnapped and murdered by the security police, and Ruth First, cowardly killed with a parcel bomb.

And, of course, we remember Chris Hani, among many, many more party struggle martyrs.

The SACP of 2020 is proud to be the bearer of this legacy, but we cannot simply live off our past. As we look back to our beginnings, I suspect that the 1921 founders of the Communist Party in South Africa would be surprised to learn we are still up against an oppressive, racialised capitalism in our country buttressed in turn by a still dominant world imperialism.

In the early 1920s, many progressives, including the founders of the CPSA (as it was then known), believed the Russian Revolution was the beginning of a world revolution that would soon be triggered in countries like Germany and Italy with well organised working classes.

Indeed, significant worker uprisings took place in those countries. But they were crushed and Nazism and fascism were spawned.

Writing from his prison cell, the great Italian communist Antonio Gramsci was among the most perceptive in realising that future socialist revolutions would necessarily involve often protracted struggles (“wars of position”, he called them), trench by trench struggle for socialist-oriented revolutionary reforms for radical transformation on the terrain of capitalism itself.

Capitalism has proved to be more resilient (and more barbaric) than communists in the 1920s had foreseen.

Through plunder of natural resources, through socialising debt and privatising profit (see the public bailout of banks in the US after the 2008 financial crisis), through manipulating racial and gendered oppressions, through expropriation of peasants in the periphery and through endless warfare, it has delayed its own demise.

Time and again it has turned its own crises into crises for the great majority of humanity and for the environment upon which we all depend. We are now in the midst of one of the greatest crises of capitalism, comparable to the Great Depression of 1929 that persisted through most of the 1930s and was only resolved for global capitalism by the descent into World War II.

Today, the Covid-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, nor is it just an economic crisis caused by the pandemic. As progressive scientists have been warning, capitalist-driven global accumulation is destroying wildlife habitats on an unprecedented scale, introducing new pathogens into human society, making a pandemic of this kind inevitable. And lurking behind this is the even greater prospect of irreversible environmental collapse.

This time around we cannot allow capitalism to reinvent itself once more on the ruins of mass misery.

We cannot allow the development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to be privatised for profit by the global corporates and placed out of reach of those who most need them. We cannot, as we’ve been saying, simply hope to return to the crisis before the crisis.

But how?

We need a serious stimulus package, not the meagre stimulus announced by the government.

We absolutely don’t need more suffocating austerity that the Treasury has now promised the IMF.

We need to marshal the ample financial and human resources of our country and not rely on dollar- denominated IMF loans.

Our public debt is not the crisis; it is relatively average for our peer group, and 90% rand-denominated.

Our crisis is world record unemployment, unsustainable inequality, growing poverty, deepening hunger and the shameless corruption of business and political tenderpreneurs.

Covid-19 and the lockdown have made blatantly visible the many formerly disparaged jobs that are, in fact, essential work - sanitary work, nursing, home-based care, informal trading, transport drivers.

They need major public support.

The pandemic has exposed the many fault lines in our health-care system - nine separate provincial departments, private health care serving less than 15% of South Africans, but that is parasitic on the public health system for the training of nurses, doctors and specialists.

Now more than ever we need a single National Health Insurance that ensures equitable allocation of resources across our country.

And all of this means a sharpened struggle on two fronts - against corruption and against the neo-liberal recidi- vism of the Treasury and its accomplice, the SA Reserve Bank.

* Jeremy Cronin is a SACP Central Committee and Politburo member.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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