21 April 2010

Communist University

Umsebenzi Online, Volume 9, No. 7, 21 April 2010

Red Alert

Strengthening the ideological capacity of the working class: An urgent political task

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

"Capitalist influence must be rooted out in the fields of ideology and culture, and a new type of intellectual must be trained, devoted to the welfare of the people and to socialism - The Road to South African Freedom

The intensity of the class struggle both inside our movement and in broader South African society requires that the working class takes bold and decisive actions to take ideological work and the battle of ideas to higher levels, now and going into the future. The battle of ideas is a battle we dare not lose, as this is critical in driving a radical national democratic revolution as our direct route to socialism. This task must be carried out and work intensified both inside and outside the organized formations of the working class.

Apart from the above, there are a number of other reasons that necessitate that we pay particular attention to this matter. The bilateral we have had with the ANC, as well as our forthcoming bilateral with COSATU necessitate that issues relating to building the ideological capacity of the working class be placed even on a higher pedestal in our overall political agenda.

However there is a broader imperative that necessitates this. That the working class is the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution is not something that should only be words on the pieces of paper of our strategy and programme documents, but should be turned into a palpable reality. In other words the leading role of the working class has to be daily earned on the ground through both a combination of mass and ideological work.

We are currently in a period of a huge ideological offensive, especially directed at the youth, to push them towards the idolisation and the worshipping of wealth, obscene display of consumption, and generally the promotion of a 'get rich quick' mentality. This mentality is reaching out into almost every corner of society, including academic institutions and some religious organizations - areas that ordinarily have been thought of as repositories of the highest standards of morality. In fact partly our anti-corruption campaign is informed by these problematic developments.

All these developments run the danger of turning South Africa into one big tender! However it is not enough to wage a struggle against corruption outside of deepening ideological work both inside our organizations and in broader society, as corruption is often also a reflection of the growing influence of the corrupting ideology of capitalism.

Since 1990, especially since the launch of our Red October campaign, the SACP has continued as before that period doing a lot of work on political education, working together with many of the COSATU affiliates. This work has intensified over the last two years and we intend deepening it.

During this period the National Union of Mineworkers established the Elijah Barayi college, the SACP and COSATU established the Chris Hani Institute, COSATU was also instrumental in the setting up of Ditsela and Naledi. All of our organizations have their own publications.

One of the most recent initiatives has been that led by the SACP in establishing an internet based 'Communist University', which is also starting to meet through contact group discussions and also reaching out to other countries in the continent. We need to think boldly about offering systematic programmes that are accredited and can also give the working class other vital skills like reading, writing and ICT. In fact the Communist University has been the most advanced in the creative use of the internet as a critical platform for educational initiatives. The ANC itself already has advanced plans to establish a political school and a policy institute.

Despite this important work, there are two glaring weaknesses in all of our work on this front. Firstly, they operate in an unco-ordinated manner, when in fact they are important platforms for intensified and co-ordinated ideological work by the working class. Secondly, in all these initiatives we tend to talk to ourselves and those sections of the working class that are organized, whilst bourgeois media talks to both our constituency and the rest of society.

It is therefore important that we take our ideological work to new heights. We need to be innovative and bold by building on these foundations and reach out to broader society. Our international allies often comment that given the strength and power of the working class in South Africa, we should by right be having our own newspapers, radio stations, formally recognized training institutions and other structures that will institutionalize this power. These of course should not be substitutes to mass work, but complement it, though mass work in itself is also an important terrain for the battle of ideas.

The one matter we shall be tabling in our bilateral with COSATU is the need to consolidate working class media and educational initiatives and institutions, that may in the medium to long term can even offer properly accredited certificates, diplomas and degrees. Surely it cannot be that in our public institutions neo-liberal ideas are daily being institutionalized, whilst working class theory is marginalized. Whilst this must not be a substitute for our public institutions to offer working class oriented education as well, let us consolidate what we already control. We need to build these institutions such that they are not only attractive to organized workers only but also to the youth and adults in broader society.

Despite enormous opportunities since 1994 created by the opening of the airwaves, the working class has not adequately taken up the space of community radio stations for instance. These are very important platforms for class analysis of society and the local issues and challenges that face our people on a daily basis.

Since 1994, government has also opened up huge opportunities for training, yet there is no systematic education and training strategy for the working class, despite the many important initiatives we have undertaken. This space has largely been left to employers, focusing only on job related training without a broader strategy to train a different kind of worker - skilled, informed, critical and through which the ideas of the working class can be made a living force in society.

Indeed such vital initiatives and skills will also enable the working class to intensify the battle of ideas in the very platforms of mainstream media, through targeted and ongoing engagement with its mainly bourgeois ideas.

Indeed consolidation on this scale will require resources, but this should not stand on our way to beginning to build working class capacity on this front. For example resources already existing within the organized formations of the working class can be better utilized and co-ordinated to direct them towards these overarching tasks. This does not imply that the various platforms we have servicing particular needs (e.g. Training workers in negotiating skills in particular sectors, 'The Shopsteward', etc) must all be collapsed into one, although they need to be subject to our overall political and ideological objectives. But a strategic and programmatic synergy and pulling together of these existing resources can go a long way towards the attainment of our objectives to consolidate broader working class ideological work.

An immediate task that needs to be initiated by the organized formations of the working class is the establishment of a permanent 'Ideological Commission', that would lead all this work, including undertaking feasibility studies on the various components of such work. Such a commission, to be principally driven by the SACP and COSATU, could for instance be located in one of the already existing working class institutions (eg Elijah Barayi College or Chris Hani Institute).

Of course a systematic attempt at institutionalizing aspects of the working class initiatives, must not replace the thousands of political schools and socialist forums that we hold in various localities and workplaces. These continue to be important, but nevertheless they need to be guided by an overarching working class vision on the important question of the battle of ideas.

It might as well be that an urgent conference of our commissars, organizers, and policy experts and media officials is required to formally table and discuss these matters.

Let all the formations of the working class discuss and debate these matters guided by our medium term vision of making the second decade of our freedom as the decade of the workers and the poor.

All these initiatives are not a substitute to the vanguard role of our South African Communist Party, but ideas placed before all our organized working class formations as part of seeking precisely to play that role.