POLITICS AND ECONOMICS
Capitalist Leninism gives citizens the defects of both
The governing party will soon pick a new leadership and the next president of our republic. The ANC’s conference will be a warren of factions playing a variety of dirty tricks to gain control of the party and the nation.
But what do the Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa factions really believe in? We don’t have to worry about Lindiwe Sisulu’s people; they’re a gardening club in the Antarctic.
While the national executive committee of the ANC functions a bit like the erstwhile political bureau of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the state council of the People’s Republic of China, there is another side to the party. The ANC is ruthlessly committed to the logic of capitalism.
In other words, the ANC is a Leninist organisation with a capitalist ideology.
As strange as that may sound, there are historical precedents for mixing communist political control with capitalism of one type or another. In 1921, Vladimir Lenin adopted the capitalist New Economic Policy. Joseph Stalin did away with all that claptrap and brutally implemented a succession of five-year plans.
Even though it still produces five-year plans, China has abandoned communist economic policy for state capitalism. As the paramount leader of China during the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping turned away from a centrally planned economy and unleashed the power of the market.
All of which proves that capitalism and democracy are not mutually intertwined. While Lenin was implementing the New Economic Policy, he was also ramping up the secret police and thus setting the foundation for Stalin’s purges and the gulag archipelago.
The continued repression in Tibet and Xinjiang and the recent crackdown in Hong Kong show that the Chinese state has no intention of ever adopting democracy.
Not even a moderately corrupt international observer would declare the ANC’s internal elections free and fair.
Democracy is more than elections. It is also about public oversight and citizen participation in the day-to-day affairs of government. The ANC leadership knows this. They gutted the public protector, bypassed public hearings, replaced public broadcasting with party broadcasting, undermined the independence of the justice system and tried to restrict access to information. SA’s democracy is being hollowed out daily.
A concise definition of capitalism is that land (also termed nature), labour and money are commodities traded on a free market.
Capitalism requires that things that have not traditionally been commodities must be turned into things that can be bought and sold — for example, turning subsistence labour into wage labour.
To secure cheap labour for the early gold mines, the British used hut taxes to force Africans out of their self-sufficient agricultural economy and into the maw of the wage system. Needless to say, that process had a tremendous effect on the social fabric. Society was altered to fit the needs of the market.
The purest form of capitalism is where all goods and services are distributed by the market alone via price. The free market has proved to be a remarkably efficient method of matching an individual’s needs, desires and wants to the production and distribution of particular goods and services — if that individual has money.
Without money, people end up eating mud in the midst of plenty: about 21.5% of SA’s children suffer from stunting due to malnutrition.
Despite serving under Zuma since 2014, Ramaphosa’s election campaign is nothing more than, 'I’m not him'
Either the ANC never intended to abandon capitalism, as former South African Communist Party (SACP) member Dale McKinley has argued, or the policy shift came when the capitalist Gear programme replaced the quasi-socialist Reconstruction and Development Programme in 1996. Ramaphosa is the embodiment of that shift.
Ramaphosa has transformed from the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers into a serious advocate for the commodification of land, labour and money. He let no dead mine worker get in the way of his R18m bid for a buffalo.
Despite serving under Zuma since 2014, Ramaphosa’s election campaign is nothing more than, "I’m not him". His new deal is merely the continuation of the economic policies of the past 20 years. To think that a man reportedly worth $450m would endorse anything but the capitalism that made him rich is insanity. As for his commitment to reduce childhood malnutrition, Ramaphosa owned 145 McDonald’s branches.
During his two terms of office, Zuma has commodified politics. Political power is now bought and sold on an active exchange. Although the Guptas have been heavy and strategic investors, they haven’t quite cornered the market. What is striking about this market is how cheap political favours are. Despite strong demand, an excess of supply continues to drive down the price.
Apart from saving her former husband from prosecution, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma promises to continue the commodification of politics. That and Sarafina III.
Of course, the tripartite alliance will contest the next general election. The unions can barely service their members, let alone engage in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. As for the vanguard of the revolution, the SACP, those guys sold their souls in 1996.
Why does any of this matter? The combination of Leninism and capitalism may be one of the worst political structures. Ordinary citizens have no democratic control over an economic system that minimally benefits them but considerably benefits the political and economic elite — such as Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.
There is also a wider point. The push to commodify all aspects of life will not bring relief to SA. Political economist Karl Polanyi pointed out in 1944 that, "to allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment ... would result in the demolition of society".
If the ANC wanted to realign itself meaningfully, it would have to jettison its Leninism plus capitalism philosophy. Neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma is prepared to do this. The phrase "democracy and socialism" must strike revolutionary terror into the depths of their hearts and bank balances.
• Taylor is a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at Stellenbosch University.