What is the National Democratic Revolution?

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[Forward to the Revolution! Source: https://www.ndfp.org/about/]

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

“But an appraisal of a provisional revolutionary government’s significance would be incomplete and wrong if the class nature of the democratic revolution were lost sight of. The (Congress) resolution therefore adds that a revolution will strengthen the rule of the bourgeoisie. This is inevitable under the present, i.e., capitalist, social and economic system. And the strengthening of the bourgeoisie’s rule over the proletariat that has secured some measure of political liberty must inevitably lead to a desperate struggle between them for power, must lead to desperate attempts on the part of the bourgeoisie ‘to take away from the proletariat the gains of the revolutionary period’. Therefore the proletariat, which is in the van of the struggle for democracy and heads that struggle, must not for a single moment forget the new antagonisms inherent in bourgeois democracy, or the new struggle” (Lenin, ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy’, 1905)

We are citing Lenin’s arguments above on his views about the transition from a repressive, authoritarian regime to a more democratic dispensation in Russia, not because we are equating our democratic government to Russia’s provisional government. We are citing this quotation to illustrate that questions of this nature do not face communists or liberation struggles for the first time, but they go back a long way, and have pre-occupied Marxists for a long time.

One critical issue that has emerged as a significant area of difference within our Alliance in the debates, since the release of the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document, is our understanding of the concept of the national democratic revolution (NDR), the motive forces and ‘policy package’ of such revolution in contemporary South African, and the manner in which the various class forces have positioned themselves in the national democratic revolution, especially since the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

This edition aims to briefly surface and pose some questions around the critical issues that need to be explored as this debate unfolds, as part of a contribution towards deepening our understanding of the challenges of the NDR in contemporary South Africa. This debate is also important in providing the context within which to take forward the work of the Central Committee Commission.

It might as well be that what is fundamental in Lenin’s observation should be a reminder to the working class that ‘transitions’ to democracy, welcome and important as they are in the struggle for socialism, are however characterized by a combination of both old and new class antagonisms and this requires vigilance on the part of the working class and its formations.

In our messages to the COSATU Congress, we argued that the main content of the class struggles underway in society, as manifested in contemporary debates both inside and outside of our movement, is the direction that our democratic revolution should take, capitalist or a socialist orientation. We argued at this congress, as we had always done, that a national democratic revolution with a capitalist orientation ceases to be an NDR.

Clearly from our last bilateral with the ANC through to President Mbeki’s political overview to the October 2006 ANC National Executive Committee meeting, divergent views on the NDR have become self-evident. It is indeed possible that the emergence of the question of the SACP’s relation to state power, including considerations of contesting elections in our own right, emanates from concerns within our ranks about the content and direction of the national democratic revolution since the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

The character, content and direction of the NDR are of fundamental importance to our alliance, since the deepening and consolidating the national democratic revolution is the glue that holds our Alliance together. It is therefore of utmost importance that we continue to debate these matters.

For the SACP, especially since the adoption of the Native Republic Thesis of 1928 (‘A struggle for a native republic as a stage towards a socialist South Africa’), we had always understood the national democratic revolution as the most direct route to socialism. The latter perspective was fully elaborated in our 1962 programme, ‘The Road to South African Freedom’.
The concept of a ‘national democratic revolution’ emerged from within Marxism-Leninism in its analysis of the unfolding national liberation struggles in the 20th century. The NDR has historically been understood as a revolution led by progressive motive forces (mainly oppressed and exploited) to defeat repressive and colonial regimes and build people’s democracies, as both an objective in itself, but in circumstances also where, due to domestic or global balance of forces, such a revolution is unable to immediately proceed to socialism.  This could be because the motive forces are either not strong or conscious enough to drive the revolution towards socialism or other objective factors pose a limitation to a transition to socialism.

The above was indeed the SACP understanding of the NDR which was nevertheless shared by many inside the ANC itself. This however did not mean that the SACP had conceived the NDR merely as a stepping stone or an ‘instrument’ towards socialism. The SACP has always understood and accepted that the very immediate objectives of the NDR – the liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular, and the building of a non-racial and non-sexist society – were important objectives in themselves. It is for this reason that, contrary to the arguments of our left and right detractors, the Alliance is still important, since the main objectives of the NDR have not been achieved, despite progress made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

At the same time the SACP has consistently and correctly argued that the national and gender contradictions cannot be fully resolved under the national democratic revolution, as this can only happen if the revolution proceeds to socialism. It is for this reason that we have approached the challenge of consolidating and deepening of the NDR from the perspective of our strategic slogan ‘Socialism is the Future, Built it Now’.

For the ANC, a perspective also shared by the SACP, the national democratic revolution meant the achievement of a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society. In addition the ANC, much as it might not have shared all the perspectives of the NDR as articulated by the SACP, had always been understanding of the SACP’s perspectives in this regard.

The Alliance shared the perspective that much as the NDR was not a socialist revolution, but it was not a struggle for capitalism either. This shared perspective was deepened through the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1995, which, whilst not a socialist document, envisaged a radical transformation of society including major restructuring of the capitalist system itself in favour of the overwhelming majority of our people. This shared perspective was also strengthened by the ANC’s commitment to a working class bias as captured in the Morogoro Conference as well as what is contained in the ‘Green Book’, which our discussion document refers to.

There are now seemingly emerging differences within (and perhaps within each components of) our Alliance. For instance, the ANC NWC response to our discussion document argues that the task of the ANC (and by implication the NDR) is to manage capitalist relations, and further argues that:

“In other words, the NDR is called such, with national and democratic tasks, because it seeks to deal with the political and socio-economic manifestations of apartheid colonialism. This includes addressing the issue of property relations – in a manner, as indicated above, elaborated in (the Alliance document) ‘The State, Property Relations and Social Transformation’. As this succeeds, new challenges will emerge, and the ANC would then have to define its place and role in the new milieu.

“While the motive forces strive to change elements of the capitalist system in the interest of the NDR, they have to manage the capitalist system in line with the main elements of its own logic”

It can be argued that indeed there is a lot new in some of these arguments and formulations. In our view, and this is indeed shared by many in the ANC, the NDR, as also encapsulated in its principal programme – the Freedom Charter – was never meant to deal just with ‘political and socio-economic manifestations of apartheid colonialism’. The NDR, in our view is a radical programme to transform the very structural foundations of these apartheid ‘manifestations’.

Neither was the NDR meant to ‘manage the capitalist system in line with the main elements of its own logic’. Firstly it is unclear what this phrase means, and it is completely new in the vocabulary of our movement. In my view, such an argument is for an NDR that wholly embraces a capitalist path. An immediate question that comes to mind is whether such a formulation is not meant as a post facto justification for the pursuance of capitalist profitability as the main thrust of our economic policies especially since the adoption of GEAR in 1996?

In the light of the above there are a number of questions that need to be posed and answered, some of which include the following:

  • Could it be that within our own movement, and certainly in broader society, there is in essence a contest over whether the NDR has a capitalist or socialist orientation? The SACP is arguing for a socialist oriented NDR as the only form that will ensure that indeed our revolution is able to achieve its objectives. The last twelve years of our democracy has taught us that pursuing restoration of capitalist profitability has, in class terms, benefited the bourgeoisie and the middle classes, despite the massive government resource transfers to the poor.
  • Arising from the above, a related question is whether contemporary struggles are not a reflection of a struggle between pursuance of a socialist oriented NDR and a struggle to co-opt and transform the NDR into a full-blown bourgeois democracy with the bourgeoisie (black and white) at the helm of such a project? But is it possible to even create a sustainable bourgeois democracy in our country in the light of the massive inequalities daily reproduced by the capitalist system?
  • Another key question that has emerged, especially in the context of our engagement with the ANC, is whether it is indeed possible anymore to pursue a socialist oriented NDR in the post Soviet era? Was such an NDR perhaps only possible during the existence of the Soviet socialist bloc of countries which acted as a counter to the designs of the imperialist world? Could this be the reason why some in our movement are today talking about the aim of the NDR being to ‘manage the capitalist system in line with main elements of its own logic’?
  • Posed differently, what should be the strategy and tactics of pursuing a socialist oriented NDR in a unipolar, imperialist world dominated by the US?
  • Has an NDR ever proceeded to socialism under bourgeois-type multi party democracies? Has it not been the case in 20th century national democratic revolutions that such revolutions have only proceeded to socialism only immediately after the victory over repressive regimes, and not under conditions of open electoral contests in bourgeois democratic type dispensations? Is it inevitable that in today’s unipolar world national democratic revolutions can only be co-opted and transformed into bourgeois democratic dispensations after a democratic breakthrough like ours. For instance what can we, learn from Allende’s Chile of the 1970s and Chavez’ Venezuela of 2006?

In order to answer these and many other related questions, it is important that we take forward the debates from our Special National Congress in 2005 on class, national and gender struggles in the NDR, in the wake of the 1994 democratic breakthrough. It will especially require deepening our analysis on the class formation and class struggles since 1994, and the implications of these for a socialist-oriented NDR.

This debate will also have to be taken further by undertaking a thorough analysis of national democratic revolutions in the 20th century. Such an analysis must include analysing those national democratic revolutions that immediately proceeded to socialism; as well as those which were aborted and transformed into bourgeois democracies of one form or another. For instance what is it that enabled the Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese national democratic revolutions to proceed immediately towards the building of socialism, whilst those of India, Mozambique, Angola, for instance degenerated away from socialism?
In addition to our conception of the NDR, we need to begin to outline what we mean, in concrete terms, by working class leadership of the NDR, and what should be the real indicators of such a leadership and hegemony in current conditions.

Perhaps a matter we need to interrogate further is that of the nature of class struggles, continuities and discontinuities, in the period prior to ascendancy to state power, and the period thereafter. A related question here is that of the nature of such struggles and the attitude of the liberation movement towards such struggles, in a situation where the NDR is led by a multi-class liberation movement as opposed to a revolution directly led by a Communist Party? To what extent had the SACP programmes prior to 1994 anticipated the nature and character of class struggles in the period after the democratic breakthrough?

Of course our Party has had a lot to say on all the above questions and others over the last 12 years. We however need to approach these in a much more systematic way, especially as we approach our 12th Congress next year.
Much as these theoretical debates are necessary, we should however not endlessly engage in these debates without at the same time building working class power in all key sites of influence in order to ensure the hegemony of the working class and winning a socialist oriented NDR on the ground.

We should also consciously seek to engage these issues in the major platforms of our Alliance. For instance the ANC is in the process of drafting a new ‘Strategy and Tactics’ document in preparation for its 2007 National Conference, and we should use this platform to further engage on these matters. Furthermore the forthcoming ANC National Policy Conference as well as our own 12th Congress in the same year should be seen as important platforms to take forward these matters.

We invite our comrades in the Party and in the movement as a whole to also use this publication to take forward all these debates.

– See more at: http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?ID=1850#sthash.YqNKWDkG.dpuf


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