THE BIG READ: Let's return to basics
The only way material conditions of South Africans can change is for the tripartite alliance to go back to the Freedom Charter.
In politics, precision of concepts is crucial. Like a label on a medicine bottle, a political concept must aptly capture what it describes. It must indicate exactly what is inside a container.
This is vital because concepts are the vocabulary of political programmes from which strategy is derived.
Unfortunately, the concept of a "second transition" contained in a key document to be discussed at next week's (June 26 to 29) national policy conference of the ANC fails to tell us what is inside the bottle.
The document is vague, lacks theoretical rigour and is extremely misleading. In many ways, the concept departs from the way the ANC has historically analysed the South African social formation.
It is also a departure from a conceptualisation of the national democratic revolution, which seeks to address contradictions as a result of racial oppression, economic super-exploitation and patriarchy.
According to the authors of the "second transition" discussion document, "having concluded our first transition with its focus on democratisation" we need "a vision of a second transition that must focus on the social and economic transformation of South Africa over the next 30 to 50 years".
For the writers of the document, the main achievement of the first 15 years of the new South Africa is the "peaceful and thoroughgoing political and democratic transformation". Of concern to them is the discrepancy between "far-reaching achievements of political liberation" and "liberation from socio-economic bondage".
According to the document, what we need now are measures to achieve rising per capita income, full employment, a Gini index target that demonstrates real and visible progress in reducing wealth and income inequalities, and visible progress in changing racial patterns of wealth and income.
As the discussion document states, there is an emerging consensus within the ANC-SA Communist Party-Cosatu alliance that the "triangle of poverty, inequality and unemployment" inhibits the country from "achieving its goal of an inclusive, non-racial and non-sexist country".
As far back as 2003, Cosatu and the SACP argued, for the same reasons advanced in the discussion document, that the rich were the beneficiaries of the first decade of democracy.
The two organisations showed how this state of affairs was partly a result of policy choices adopted after 1994. They then said that, through policy revisions, the second decade could belong to the working class and the poor.
The first problem with the ANC discussion document is that it frames the above challenges as part of a "second transition".
Since its 1969 historic consultative conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, the ANC has argued that political liberation in South Africa is tied to economic emancipation and that "it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people".
Every ANC conference since then, and those of other alliance formations, has confirmed such a perspective. The document on the "second transition" revises this perspective and posits a view of a "successful" political transition unaccompanied by economic transformation.
Instead of trumpeting "far-reaching achievements of political liberation", the discussion document was supposed to demonstrate how, without a "return of the wealth to the people as a whole", democracy has been substantively hollow.
The second error the document commits is to characterise our transition as "peaceful and thoroughgoing".
Though our democratic breakthrough did not come about as a result of an insurrectionary revolution, the political transition was drenched in blood as more than 10000 people were killed in KwaZulu-Natal and townships between 1990 and 1994 as a result of a low-intensity warfare aimed at weakening liberation forces.
With no diversity in our monopolised media and with sections of the judiciary untransformed in terms of access for ordinary people, the political transition remains incomplete.
The third problem in the ANC document is the failure to acknowledge how it is vital for the political Left not only to defend democracy but to extend its frontiers.
Recent developments in Greece and Italy are examples of how a crisis for capitalism becomes incompatible with democracy. In both countries, not only did unelected financiers replace elected prime ministers; citizens' voices against austerity are presently being trampled on.
With the task to counter those with power from emptying the democratic rights of the majority still outstanding, and with a united SA nation proving to be a chimera, the abandonment of the fight for democracy and nation building under the pretext of a completed political transition will be a grave strategic mistake.
Instead of coming with new concepts, it was the view of our national congress early this month that, as the broad alliance, we should honestly admit that the national democratic revolutionis off track because it has not been able to address the contradictions caused by racial oppression, patriarchy and economic exploitation.
It is our humble submission that the national democratic revolution has gone off the rails because of the sluggishness in implementing prescriptions of the Freedom Charter such as the transfer of wealth to the people and distributing land.
Instead of manufacturing new concepts, our clarion call is "Return to the Freedom Charter!"
Jim is the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA