In Praise of communism: Happy 89th Anniversary Young Communist League of South Africa
Tomorrow we celebrate the 89th anniversary of the Young Communist League of South Africa, the hope of the working class Youth, the voice of the voiceless and the (ideological) home of the homeless. The Young Communist League of South Africa is our home, our family, the proverbial pot where future Communists are cooked, the school where scientific theory is infused with practice. Where young people are taught, consistent with Lenin's forever relevant view that our role is to "learn, learn and learn".
Let us admit that we do not necessarily intent to bombard you with the history of the Young Communist League of South Africa in this piece of work. Our intention is merely to celebrate this giant Youth organ. However it suffices to mention that the Young Communist League of South African was and continues to be built on basic principles which, amongst others, include mutual respect, trust, frank, robust but comradely discussions, self-criticism, constructive criticism and life-long learning. While we are an organisation that encourages debates we should not be confused with a debating society whose primary existence is merely to debate without arriving at a collective and binding decision.
The principle of democratic centralism and unity in action had united this organisation during difficult times; today the Young Communist League of South Africa is 89 years old.
As a political organ of the working class Youth we can not view our celebration as just another celebration but as the opportunity to consolidate our gains whilst reflecting and refocusing our energies in building SOCIALISM IN OUR LIFETIME. As we celebrate this oldest youth formation and certainly the only Marxist-Leninist youth formation in our land, we should look back with pride and march forward with hope. We should do so primarily because today it is increasingly becoming difficult to speak about the future of the South African working class youth without mentioning the word uFasimba.
While others had chose shortcut to the problems facing our country, with the Youth in the receiving end, we had a chose to be part of the solution and work selflessly for our people. The choice we made was also partially informed by a simplified understanding of the dialectics that the present is the 'product' of the past. Just like the generation of Ruth First, Duma Nokwe, Thomas Mbeki, Seperepere, Esther Barsel, Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Slovo, Brian Bunting, Norman Levy, Mike Feldman, Paul Joseph, Barney Fehler, Eric Laufer, Harold Wolpe, Sara Sable, ES Sachs, Eddie Roux, Stanley Siwana and many others, we made a choice not to stand in the margin only to cry foul of being marginalised.
We made a choice to be an integral part of the solution informed by a popular slogan that "nothing about us is without us". Today, the Young Communist League of South Africa is a force that can be reckoned with. It is for this (and many other reasons not mentioned because of time and space limitations) that the generation that came before us are wearing a revolutionary smile given that today UFASIMBA is a powerful agent of revolutionary change. We believe that their spirits are having a peaceful rest because they have found solace in the knowledge that we have consolidated the foundation that they had laid.
By the way, where do we come from or what is this foundation?
A glimpse to our history
Once again, this is not a historical lesson about the origins of UFASIMBA but as learners, whose task is to learn, we need to understand the past so that we are able to make sense of the present and strategically locate ourselves so as to plan for the future. For this reason, it's important to say that the 25th of May 1922 is the date registered on history books as that upon which the Young Communist League of South Africa [UFASIMBA as it is known today] was officially launched. It must however be noted that the Young Communist activism in South Africa started as early as in 1921 in towns like Johannesburg and Cape town.
Like we have said above, today we celebrate 89th anniversary of Young Communist League of South Africa. Put differently, today we celebrate the oldest Youth formation in Africa and, undoubtedly, one of the most revolutionary instruments of change of our times. On the occasion like this, one may be tempted to ask: what has UFASIMBA achieved thus far? Since its inception, the Young Communist League of South Africa has, amongst other things achieved the following:
Participating and guiding the 1922 Rand revolt and fighting racist tendencies during and after the strike together with the Communist Party of South Africa,
Formed strike Prisoners committee, distributed leaflets, organised meetings and carried propaganda work during the strike.
Championed the 'chalking and sticker' campaign to mobilise the working class against the Apartheid government. For instance, "we plastered the towns with. stickers and pasted them on railway coaches so that their message was carried to the four corners of South Africa. On walls and pavements we chalked our slogan 'Release the Strike Prisoners', and when the words were rubbed out we chalked them again. At the time there were fewer than twenty of us in the YCL but we must have created the impression that a vast underground organisation was at work" Roux.
We were the first to call on young workers to refuse to be part of the Defence Force responsible for shooting to death workers during the strike.
"Since military training began in schools, it was clear that the YCL had to carry its message to the cadets. Leaflets were handed out at school gates and some schools were visited at dead of night and plastered with leaflets and slogans both on the outside walls and inside the class-rooms...Our anti-militarist campaign had an excellent press" Roux.
We were the first truly non racial organisation in our country, even the Communist Party of South Africa had to follow after us.
When we attended the 1924 Conference of the CPSA we had already recruited two dedicated African Communist, Stanley Siwana and Thomas Mbeki a move that influenced the Party in this regard.
Without threatening to remove leaders of the Party who disagreed with us, we were able to influence Party direction.
With SP Bunting elected as Chairman and Roux as Vice Chairman we realised generational mix as back as in 1924, long before it become a fashion or a publicity mongering tendency.
As back as in 1925 we fought against Youth unemployment and worked closely with trade union movements.
These are some of the historical victories that UFASIMBA scored which have also laid the foundation for the modern day generation of "YCLers". Hence when we speak today, people listen. In other words, The Young Communist League of South Africa today is an important voice in society. As an organisation we are a powerful instrument of change. More and more Young people are identifying themselves with our organisation. In our 2003 Congress YCLSA had about 2000 members, in 2006 we had grown to 33 00 and our last congress saw our membership sitting at 53 794.
Already we are the second biggest Youth formation in our country and the biggest in Western Cape by far. But part of our 21st challenges is to translate this quantity into quality through intense political education. It was this understanding which made the last National Congress directed the National Committee to come out with a coherent political education program as a way of responding to challenges that comes with this growth, and the May National Committee will be adopting that program. Our voice in the society is not solely strengthened by the membership that we have but by campaigns we have adopted and implemented. Most if not all of the progressive campaigns that we had come out with had been adopted by government and progressive formations.
We spoke against Youth Unemployment: people listened
As part of taking the struggle against Youth unemployment and strengthening our Right to Work campaign in May 2010, UFASIMBA convened a successful Jobs for Youth Summit. The Summit was attended by 85 youth organisations and 284 delegates representing these organisations. The participants were drawn from right-wing political formations, the centre right, the ultra-left, nongovernmental organisations, church movement, civil society, small and medium business representatives, government agencies and ministries and the progressive youth alliance.
The summit adopted "A Jobs for Youth Charter" and "the Jobs for Youth coalition" was subsequently formed. The Young Communist League took it upon itself to unite Youth of different classes against Youth unemployment. Today this is one of government top apex. Young people will be employed and "that's the bottom-line because the Young Communist League has said so".
We spoke about sanitary towel: people listened
It was the Young Communist League of South Africa that first advocated for free sanitary towels for Young women in impoverished areas. In this regard, we had made a submission and engaged with the Ministries of Health and of Social Development on the question of sanitary towels. Today the campaign has been adopted by all Progressive Youth Alliance structures, SABC, some of the Trade union affiliates and varies government departments adopted this campaign. We shall also ensure that this campaign is not treated as a mere charity programme, but we should view this more as a social intervention by government. This shall happen and "that's the bottom-line because the Young Communist League has said so".
We spoke on HIV/AIDS: People listened
It was the Young Communist League in its 2003 Congress which identified the threat posed by HIV and AIDS to economically active Young people. In this regard, we consequently called for ARVs to be rolled out and supported the ABC message of government. We had worked with NGOs and community based organisation. Today, we are please and happy about the change of heart in government and the programs in place to combat HIV and AIDS. We shall have an HIV free generation "and that the bottom-line because YCLSA has said so".
We spoke about free education: people listened
As back as in the early 1940s our late National Secretary Comrade Ruth First campaigned for free education. They Young Communist League of South Africa has, in our lifetime, adopted a Joe Slovo Right to learn campaign, as part of fighting for free education but at the same time highlighting the plight that continues to engulf our education system. We note the ANC Polokwana resolution in this regard and the effort by the department of higher education to gradually introduce free education. As an organisation we are scheduled to meet Minister Blade Nzimande and free education is on its way. "That's the bottom-line because YCLSA has said so".
Today we say only a Party of power will defend the working class standard of living: they will listened
The epoch upon which we find ourselves on is not of our own choosing hence it continues to be besieged by contradictory realities. For this reason, we note with seriousness that while the 1994 democratic breakthrough has presented many opportunities for our people, with the democratic government progressively improving the lives of our people, the sad reality is that our economy continues to genarate racial inequality: with blacks living in poverty and white people's live improving. In other words, notwithstanding some inroads as a result of the 1994 democratic space but ours remains characteristic of, what the author of "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" Ha-Joon Chang calls, a "cappuccino society".
A "cappuccino society" because there is a mass of poor black people at the bottom, a thin layer of white froth above it and a sprinkling of cocoa at the helm. Admittedly, the ANC- alliance led government has made a number of advances, we have seen increases in the provision of clean water, expanded social grants, millions of housings, gradual introduction of free education, improvements in health care and creation of people organs for people's poor i.e. street committees, wards committee, CPFs, school government bodies act. As an organisation we supported and at time fought for all these developments, it is what in our own view comrade Ruth First, Duma Nokwa and many other leaders of YCLSA had lived and died for, and which communists in governments and in all other site of power have also helped to bring about.
But Because of capitalism we have move one step forward and two steps backwards in relation to our effort to create Jobs for Youth. For instance, we have witnessed massive retrenchments and casualisation, we have witness price hikes and price fixing, the capitalists have intensified the fight against the working class through amongst other things high food price, high fuel price, electricity and energy crisis, water scarcity, high costs of private health care, a highly develop financial sector for the white, inflation targeting and high interest rate. All these and many other challenges faced by the working class needs a Party of power, the SACP that is rooted amongst the masses. The Communist Party which is able (just like the YCLSA did on Youth for Jobs Summit) to lead not only the working class but also others classes and gain it hegemony in society.
On the basis of the foregoing and moving forward with the fight for the improvement of the working class standard of living, the Young Communist League of South Africa will be pondering on the question of the SACP and it relationship with state power. We believe that the working class is the only class capable of leading the Nation to Socialism, and the SACP is a political instrument of the working class.
Hence, as a way of conclusion, it therefore becomes crucial to ask ourselves: where do we want to see the Party in ten years and what should be its relationship with State power? This question cannot be answered without taking stock and offering a concrete analysis of the challenges of capitalism and its ideological influences aimed at rubbishing our rich Alliance history. while that is so young people must continue to pose difficult questions to the old and the old must never be irritated by such question. In any way ours is to "learn, learn and learn and that the bottom-line, because YCLSA had said so.
Happy 89th anniversary uFasimba
Mafika Damane Mndebele, YCLSA National Spokesperson