Envisioning a non-racial, democratic and communist South Africa through the life and times of Yossel Mashel Joe Slovo
Being a society where not even a single jot of oppression, discrimination and exploitation exists; the socialist society embodies non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and unparalleled none-exploitative economic progress if not perpetuity. Perpetuity that needs to be consolidated and defended, consolidated by the very class, the working class that must- itself- ultimately cease to exist in lieu of a classless society envisioned in the life and times of one of our outstanding revolutionaries who came to be known as Joe Slovo.
There exists other outstanding and astonishing revolutionaries to whom we render high regard and respect, but this time and at this moment in time, I shall be allowed only to delve and delving only on Joe Slovo. It is not only voluntary but also befitting for (because) no invitation formal or whatsoever can qualify our zealous enthusiasm (of cause informed by revolutionary devotion) to say a word about this icon, this organic intellectual, a devoted communist, the father (yes among many) of our national liberation; a Marxist-Leninist to the latter and indeed a living symbol of non-racialism and non-sexism. Though it robbed us of communist weaponry, but his departure in January 1995 had less ado than his life and times in the struggle for total human emancipation. His communist-orientated love for humanity characterised and embodied the role of the Party in which he served, the contribution of the ANC in which he served and the lessons he learnt from the exploited working class he dearly defended and died defending.
In such a few-page document and given the limitations in time, space and political complexities (in exile, underground, in prison and on several banishments) and conditions in which Slovo struggled, justice can never be done on exhaustively dealing with every minute detail of the historical milestones in the struggle for national liberation and socialism into which he was involved. But being one among the working class, I shall begin with what associates our deplorable lives with the life and times of Joe Slovo in a more philosophical fashion- a glimpse, just for now. When presenting a critical notion on classes and class struggles, Karl Marx was able to simplify what Hegel postulated as Being-in-itself as diametrically distinguished from Being-for-itself. In this regard, Being-in-itself is viewed as limited only through mere existence, while Being-for-itself goes beyond mere existence and deals with self-consciousness, self-identity and self-service. Put differently and in class terms, Marx distinguished between a class-in-itself: sub-conscious, exploited and amenable working class in existence under capitalism and expropriated by the bourgeoisie; and a class-for-itself: when the working class becomes aware of itself, of its subjection to exploitation and of its own class interests and identity. In as much as our existence as the working class remains a condition for the existence of the capitalist class and vice versa, our interests and socio-economic conditions do not coincide with those of the capitalist class hence our conviction to fight for socialism emanates from our social conditions including (and in the main) economic alienation of the working class within a capitalist economy. Being a class for itself ,the working class can only succeed in the course of self-emancipation from the yoke of capitalism by not only recognising its class position but by consolidating the struggle for the elimination of its class opponents. Henceforth, as the working class we relate with this revolutionary (Joe Slovo) through his role in sharpening class consciousness among the working class here in South Africa and beyond, not only in word but in deed. Class-consciousness remains the weapon of the working class for it awakens it from the wheelchairs of ideological delinquency and passive conformity to the vicissitudes of capitalism.
3. The Slovo we came to know
It is from what he experienced, did, wrote and said in the struggle and in pursuit of a socialist South Africa that we can be enabled to draw conclusions- complete or whatsoever- about who was Joe Slovo. Without being portrayed as singing praises to this revolutionary, but we owe it to the newer generation to make the makings of him known for such will make known our past since it shaped our current existence for the future, a socialist future. We say this because we recall very well that his encapsulation of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) embroiled within the class struggle symbolised the two sides of the same coin with the only one being the politico-economic emancipation of the working class and the downtrodden masses of South Africans: Africans in particular and black people in general. On the immediate is our vocation to eliminate antagonistic contradictions on gender and race within an embryo of nation-building and democracy. The essence of this critical task is none other than the elimination of class contradictions. The NDR plays its better role in this regard but the class struggle serves it even better if not best, the best for last. Emancipation on gender and racial lines- ever since taken away and denied by European colonists (war lords!) and capitalists with whom we shared the so-called South African boundaries even after the so-called independence of South Africa- can not be achieved unless we confront, dissuade, and eliminate the politico-economic system which fundamentally brought birth to all these ills. (Slovo deals even more with this elaboration on his exposition: The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution) He further contends in the same exposition that we must be able to identify with "the national content of the class struggle and the class content of the national struggle"
Triple oppression imposed in the life of the dispossessed, conquered and neglected African women, exploited as part of the working class, discriminated on the basis of gender and oppressed along infested animosity against their race; bred yet again their current state of unemployment, underemployment, destitution, literal prostitution, dehumanisation and extermination of their dignity. Enforced dispossession of land and livestock by European colonists -in fact who turned capitalists- conditioned and subjected the defenceless native-turned-working class into wage slaves under a new form of enslavement: capitalist enslavement. This is what Slovo stood against, this is what he tirelessly fought against and this is what he died denying and changing.
The hallmark of his life in the struggle for communism encompasses both his strengths and weaknesses as a human being in the first place and as a Marxist-Leninist from a fundamental point of analysis. Bearing testimony to the fact that Slovo was dynamic and simplistic -yet intellectually astute- was his comparative analysis between world capitalism as it relates to its role on human cost; and the Soviet socialist economy which brought progressive and unmatched people's economic growth but at human cost as well under Stalin. (part of this encapsulation can be traced from his reflections on Has Socialism failed?) Such an analysis brings to the fore the question on whether the struggle to build socialism will always be ‘democratic' and immune from the war of manoeuvre and violent elimination of our class enemies and potential enemies. I contend that human cost in defence of socialism should never be paralleled with human cost under capitalism. Socialism with its unmatched economic advancement in Russia was only to last for 72 years, but the advent of capitalism with its inhuman and exploitative nature, dates back from more than three centuries ago. Throughout these centuries and through colonialism, neo-liberalism and imperialism, the so-called West had been embarking on a concerted campaign in subjecting the vulnerable natives in Asia, North and South Americas and Africa into fatal, inhuman, and deplorable economic conditions under slavery and capitalism. Even today capitalism is not only responsible for high levels of hunger, poverty, disease, destitution and unemployment in these continents; it is also a damning cause of preventable murders as a result of these ills (high levels of hunger, poverty, disease, destitution and unemployment)
An old mantra that there is no struggle without its casualties suffices any form of relevance in this regard and what matters most is how it can be located and contextualised in class terms. The fact that we must be prepared to die for socialism is a condition for our preparedness to even kill for socialism. History under capitalism attests to the fact that even capitalists are prepared to kill - and so they do - in defence and advancement of capitalism. A ‘vigilant' Marxist would correctly argue that material conditions will dictate the form in which the noble course of building socialism should take. But now, material conditions might present a revolutionary situation without necessarily presenting a guaranteed success of the revolution. It can also be argued that material conditions might present a hostile environment for a revolution to succeed or intensify but the spontaneity and zealous commitment of the masses may as well make way for a revolution either to succeed or intensify. Ours is to be dialectical as opposed to being dogmatic. The Wankie campaign of 1967, the women's march to Pretoria in1956 and the1976 youth resistance are some among many examples in this regard and from which we can draw some critical lessons. These important revolutionary exploits represent a dialectical expression of quantitative advancements of our revolution which ultimately amount into qualitative achievements within the very revolution. It would be remembered that these quantitative revolutionary advancements happened during the time when the apartheid regime was in its feet with its supreme military weaponry and enabling laws which officiated gruesome extermination of the revolutionary forces.
Never at any occasion should we loosely speak of the realities of oppression without stressing the consolidation of the revolutionary program that will and should dissuade the very oppression, nor should we speak of exploitation and capitalist enslavement without galvanising communist ethos in theory and practice to counter such enslavement and exploitation of the vulnerable working class. Slovo did not only articulate the theory and the makings of apartheid and capitalist South African reality, he also fought and dared to die changing it.
Joe Slovo, was the craftsman of the first Strategy and Tactics Document, 1969, (Morogoro ANC Conference) which was propelled by the Wankie campaign and the renowned Memorandum by Chris Hani and some of his fellow militant MK soldiers.
Joe Slovo's visible hand is numbered among those who were mandated by the ANC NEC to form part of the Politico-Military Commission which compiled the 1979 Green Book. Headed by President Oliver Tambo, the Commission was also composed of Moses Mabhida, Joe Gqabi, Joe Modise and Thabo Mbeki.
Joe Slovo, the bearer, the eyes and the ears of our unending trail to our freedom was also tasked to assist President Oliver Tambo in supervising and directing Operation Vulindlela - the primary task of the Operation was "to begin the transfer of the external leadership of the movement inside the country."
Joe Slovo, the late NEC Member of the ANC, SACP's CC and PB Member, Party Chairperson and the late General Secretary of our beloved Party. Joe Slovo never failed the people of South Africa when he was the first Minister of Housing post our 1994 politico-democratic freedom as one journalist remarked: "in the past seven months, Slovo did more for housing than had been done in the four decades in four decades since the end of the Second World War."
Being husband to Ruth First, the first female National Secretary of the Young Communist League of South Africa in the early forties, Slovo was able to dialectically synergise his role as a revolutionary and as a loving family man hence his wife was herself a revolutionary, who mothered their children during trying times, a revolutionary journalist, a communist, a radical-progressive feminist, a democrat and a martyr who sacrificed her life for the good: fighting for and building communism in South Africa and all over the world. What good does it do to talk of Joe Slovo without taking a glimpse to the imprints of his wife, Ruth First, who had a sterling contribution to a Slovo we know, not as just his wife but as a revolutionary herself? Ruth First was neither a class-neutral journalist nor an ‘independent' one; she saw wood for a tree as she identified journalism for the freedom of her people from the yoke of special type colonialism, apartheid and capitalism. She never only understood very well the role of the neoliberal media in shaping and diluting public opinion but she fought very hard to contest it through her radical-journalistic vocation.
Like her husband, First related better with one of the key sites of power (Ideology) as envisaged in the Party's Mid-Term Vision (MTV) and as consolidated in the South African Road to Socialism (SARS) adopted in the 12th National Congress of the Party. Through her publications Ruth understood very well the battle of ideas in the struggle for national liberation and for socialism in the terrain of neo-liberalism and the scourge of apartheid South Africa. As she rests in peace it remains our responsibility to heighten her legacy; to take the baton of a socialist-orientated National Democratic Revolution that she helped reinforcing, hence we must put all our hands on deck against capitalist-bred greed, ignorance, poverty and unemployment.
Like his wife, Slovo illustrated and contested the bias hinges of capitalist media when it celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union: "The Western media gloat repeatedly with headlines such as ‘Communism – RIP' (Rest In Peace). Prof. Robert Heilbroner, a luminary to of the New York New School, has already raised the champagne glass with victory toast for capitalism." Joe Slovo on Has Socialism Failed? While Slovo's unveiling of this untoward celebration present yet another dimension of the role of the West in shaping public opinion and containing the ideological space, we are to reaffirm from this quotation that even the liberal system of education which produced Professor Robert Heilbroner and Co. had a bearing towards taming the full potential humanity can play in fulfilling the dignified course of socialism and communism.
4. In his honour, what have we done and what should we do?
When as the Young Communist League of South Africa we conceived our campaign on the Right To Learn in honour of comrade Joe Slovo, we did this knowing very well that since education is our birth right and our liberatory weapon, we must tirelessly fight against a neo-liberal conceptualisation which deems it as a privilege for those who are economically advantaged. We maintain that education should cease to produce ‘controllers' of the working people; it must cease to inspire devotion and respect towards capitalism among young people. In honour of comrade Joe Slovo, we must heighten our activism and align ourselves with the government program on the eradication all mud schools in our country and demonstrate our support for the building of proper schools, conducive for learning and teaching.
While welcoming and supporting the phasing-in of the progressive elements of free education in higher education as well as in FET's, we must at the same time intensify our struggle for the transformation of the curriculum content in these institutions. We must dispel the neo-liberalisation and comodification of education and campaign for a well researched consolidation of an education system (curriculum content) which fundamentally equips the working class to be its own liberators from the yoke of a dehumanising capitalist system.
We must honour comrade Joe Slovo and position ourselves in the frontline of building strong structures of the YCLSA and continue to elevate our organisation not only to the level of being a voice of reason but a radical youth wing of the SACP whose radicalism should not be worlds apart from principle and revolutionary logic.
Being observant of the fact that comrade Joe Slovo was the first national office-bearer of the SACP to be deployed as a Cabinet Minister of Housing in the inaugural democratic government in 1994, we must- from this experience- draw some lessons as members of the Party and the YCL and be able to apply our Marxist tools of analysis in guiding any debate that might arise around the current reality as it relates to the deployment of communists not only in the helm of the State but in all key sites of power as profoundly elaborated in the MTV 2002, SARS in 2007 and the 2nd Special National Congress Resolutions of the Party in 2009.
When grappling with the current New Growth Path policy framework which also finds expression in the recent Industrial Policy of our government, we must be able to apply our vigilance and support progressive reforms presented by these developments while at the same time not being hoodwinked by the birth-marks of reformism and capitulation to what might derail our course to build socialism. Paying respect to Joe Slovo, Nelson Mandela summarily described a Slovo we came to know: "He knew when to compromise. Yet he never compromised his principle. He was a militant."
5. In his grave, isn't he turning?
Joe Slovo rose from the ranks of the Young Communist League in the early 1940's and this represents elementary elements of his introduction to the ranks of the South African Communist Party in which he served with diligence till his departure in 1995. Only in December 2010 that he had to be turned in his grave by the news that unrefined delegates who had allowed themselves to be possessed by the demon of hooliganism had elected to try (indeed with failure) and misguidedly disrupt the 3rd National Congress of the YCLSA. In his honour, we must ensure that such barbaric acts do not engulf the YCLSA, not in the future and not in our lifetime.
If we remain silent on issues of service delivery especially on housing for the destitute and the homeless in our country, we might as well be viewed as accomplices to those who derail our government program in championing what Joe Slovo envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan for Sustainable Human Settlement commonly referred to as "Breaking New Ground" or "BNG", approved by Cabinet in September 2004. If we do not ask questions regarding a despicable record in the Department of Human Settlement in KwaZulu-Natal which under-spent more than R260 million of its budget in lieu of the scourge of housing shortages in this province, we might as well be accessories in defeating the ideals envisaged in life and times of comrade Joe Slovo.
He might have come to pass, but his revolutionary spirit lingers in our memories as it will continue to linger for generations to come- it remains our inspiration. We shall never allow the vestiges of neo-colonialism and its agents to dismember his contribution from our memories.
From where he left, the struggle continues.
Sikhumbuzo Mdlalose is the National Committee Member of the Young Communist League of South Africa