Anc Economic Policy

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Allister Sparks

The most striking thing about the big ANC policy conference was the paucity of economic policy proposals from the left. For the past eight years, the left has denounced President Thabo Mbeki for deviating, without consultation, from long-standing ANC policy positions.

Yet here, when at last they had the opportunity to say in specific terms what they would rather have as government economic policy, they defaulted. There was a lot of quasi-Marxist rhetoric and stuff about fighting poverty and unemployment, but no substantive suggestions about how to do this.

The result is that what will now go forward as the formal policy proposal to the ANC's national conference in Polokwane in December is pretty well what we have had all along, with just a few tweaks here and there.

This endorsement of existing economic policy was a quiet triumph for the president. It enabled him to point out in a subtle allusion in his closing speech that, once the decisions are confirmed at Polokwane, they will "constitute a firm mandate" for all members to respect and stand by. There should be no more negative criticism and open defiance of "decisions legitimately taken by the constitutional structures of our movement".

It is not really surprising that the left had no credible alternatives to offer to the policies they have so vehemently criticised, for the South African Communist Party (SACP), the self-styled "vanguard party" of the left, is in a state of ideological paralysis.

It has been unable to adapt, as other communist parties have done, to the collapse of the whole communist system in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The irony is that the moment of triumph for the ANC and its alliance partners coincided with the moment of its greatest ideological crisis, as its whole intellectual universe disintegrated.

The ANC itself recovered swiftly, adapting to the new global reality with pragmatic agility. But not the SACP. At that point, in the party's own words, a "rupture" occurred.

Indeed, it was not only a rupture between the party and the ANC, but within the SACP itself, as some members followed the ANC's pragmatic line while others remained fixated on the visions of yesterday.

Back in 1969, at its Morogoro conference, the ANC had concluded, along with the SACP, that the world was in transition from capitalism to socialism. Ten years later, the two drew up a Green Book setting out common policy objectives and agreeing on "the ultimate need to continue our revolution towards a socialist order".

But roll on another 10 years and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, bringing international communism with it. The world transformed in the opposite direction to what they had expected, and communist parties around the world, including those of China and Vietnam, quickly adapted to the new reality. But the SACP remained locked in a time warp.

As far as I can tell, the last time the SACP set out specific policy proposals was in 1969 in a document called The Road to South African Freedom, in which it called for a focus on heavy industry, machine tool building and fuel production, and demanded "the nationalisation of the mining industry, banking and monopoly industrial establishments".

There has been no fresh thinking since then. Policy debates have been almost entirely confined to abstract and recondite ideological theorising, what in my far-off boarding school days we would have called "all piss and wind". No substance.

There was a brief moment of light in 1989 when Joe Slovo, then secretary-general of the SACP, produced a document posing the question, Has Socialism Failed? He concluded that its values remained valid, but that it had failed in the Soviet bloc because it had not been democratic. …