New left party brings fresh voice to our politics

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By IMRAAN BUCCUS

Democracy came late to SA. India received its independence in 1947, Ghana in 1957 and Kenya in 1963. All of these countries have gone through the thrill of freedom and then the deep disappointment of betrayal by national elites.
With the exception of Palestine, freedom came later to SA than any of the other colonised countries. We should have learnt the lessons of postcolonial work but we didn't and we have made many of the same mistakes that were made elsewhere long ago.
One of the problems faced by postcolonial societies is that during the struggle for national liberation, a wide variety of ideologically very different forces end up in the same organisation, which distorts democratic engagement.
SA is no exception. The ANC accommodates free-market liberals, social democrats, communists and nationalists of various kinds, including those with a tendency towards corrupt and authoritarian nationalism.
A logical organisation of our politics would place the corrupt nationalists in the ANC and the EFF in one camp, the social democrats in the ANC in another camp, the free-market liberals in the ANC and the DA in a third camp and the radical left in a fourth camp.
The launch of a new workers' party by metalworkers union Numsa last week - the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party - is an important step towards the normalisation of our politics. It means, for the first time, that there will be a clear and independent left force in our politics.
Launching a party a few weeks before an election is certainly a risky strategy. But the new party comes out of the largest trade union in the country, and has easy access to a mass base, and the monthly dues paid by its members.
Even a few seats in parliament, can, if used well, cause a significant shift in the national debate. On its own this is not enough to fix our politics. For that to happen the ANC will need to find a way to purge itself of the corrupt nationalists within the organisation.
But having an independent and genuinely left voice in our politics will mean that the issues affecting the working-class majority will finally get a real hearing in our politics. If the new party can build a real alliance with the unemployed, and with precariously employed workers, to augment its existing base in the industrial working class, it could become a powerful voice for social justice.
The emergence of the new party is an existential threat to the SACP, which has been reduced to supporting Ramaphosa, a free-market liberal, because the alternative, in the form of Ace Magashule and the corrupt nationalists in the ANC, is too ghastly to contemplate.
The rational response from the SACP will be to exit the alliance and join the new party. This seems highly unlikely, though, given that its general secretary, Blade Nzimande, will have returned to the cabinet under Ramaphosa.It may well turn out that the formation of a left party from within the trade union movement will be the final nail in the coffin of the SACP.It will also be interesting to see how the new party confronts the EFF. As early as 2013, Numsa took a clear stance against Julius Malema, citing corruption, authoritarianism and a lack of a commitment to worker control and socialism. The ANC still has much of the vote of the rural poor. But the new workers party and the EFF will be in direct competition for the vote of the urban poor.Critics have argued that the new party is too dogmatically Marxist and that it isn't dealing adequately with new challenges, like climate change.This may be so but, while it may not have quick answers to all the problems we face, it will certainly go a long way towards normalising our politics. The formation of the party is an important step forward for our democracy.• Buccus is senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute, a research fellow in the school of social sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and academic director of a university study-abroad programme on political transformation

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