The ancient Chinese thinker Confucius is reputed to have said: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.”
At the risk of inviting the vitriol that attracts calling things by their proper names, I will testify, hopefully not in a kangaroo court, that the SACP’s statement of December 11 2013 which rightly condemns President Jacob Zuma’s booing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial at the FNB stadium is an exercise in plotting the parameters of genocide.
It “calls upon all [SACP] members and structures in Gauteng … to bring to the Party whatever information they might have about who was behind this despicable behaviour, so that these elements are exposed, named and shamed. In particular we need to ensure that we get information of who the ring leaders behind this action were, so that they will also be exposed, named, shamed and be driven out of the ranks of our movement”.
It also calls on “the government and our ally the ANC, to institute an investigation into the circumstances that led to this incident, including those who were involved” and dismisses “with contempt suggestions by sections of the media and its commentators that this despicable act represents dissatisfaction by South Africans”.
What exactly is the SACP calling for? Its structures and members to report to it “who” was behind the booing and or “the ring leaders” or that the government and the ANC investigate the “circumstances that led to the incident” and “those who were involved?”
If the SACP is calling for investigation — three of them as its statement suggests — why does it feel constrained to pre-empt the outcomes by dismissing (or embracing) some conclusions that have been proffered in the public domain? And why is it pronouncing on the remedial cause of action against the culprits before the investigation(s). The answer to these questions is that the outcome of the investigative processes the SACP seeks is pre-determined!
The invitation to SACP members to become informers in the mould of apartheid impimpis militates against due process; the lifeblood of an organisation governed by the imperative of justice.
In the context of the congealed factional politics that define the mass democratic movement currently, the invitation may well amount to a bait for careerists and factionalists of all hues to peddle urban legends about their real and perceived opponents. Taken together with the statement’s shrill lexicon, we have here, excellent ingredients of which genocides are made.
Perhaps the most profound advice emanates from texts which the SACP would be well advised to rediscover and internalise as essential reading. In a series of articles published in the New York Daily Tribune between October 1851 and October 1852 about middle and working-class aspirations in the context of German unification in Prussia, Austria during the convulsions of the year 1848, Frederick Engels wrote, among others, that:
“The times of that superstition which attributed revolutions to the ill-will of a few agitators, have long passed away. Everyone knows nowadays, that wherever there is a revolutionary convulsion, there must be some social want in the background, which is prevented by outworn institutions from satisfying itself. The want may not yet be felt as strongly, as generally, as might insure immediate success, but every attempt at forcible repression will only bring it forth stronger and stronger, until it bursts its fetters.”
Engels called for “the study of the causes that necessitated both the late outbreak, and its defeat” which causes he said “are not to be sought for in the accidental efforts, talents, faults, errors or treacheries of some of the leaders, but in the general social state and conditions of existence of each of the convulsed nations”.
Evidently against the tempting and narrow search for fault in “single individuals”, what the SACP refers to as “the ring leaders”, Engels sought to focus attention on the real issue: “The irresistible manifestations of national wants and necessities [which were] … distinctly felt by numerous classes in every [affected] country.”
Listen to him again: “But when you inquire into the causes of the counter-revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready reply that it was Mr This or Citizen That, who ‘betrayed’ the people. Which reply may be true, or not, according to circumstances, but under no circumstances does it explain anything – not even show how it came to pass that the ‘people’ allowed themselves to be thus betrayed.”
Engel’s articles, which were later published in book form as Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, and freely available on the internet, contain valuable lessons not only about the futility of superstitious phrases such as “ring leaders” as currencies of analysis, but more importantly about what the SACP should do to frame the current “general social state and conditions” relative to “national wants and necessities” beyond the “talents, faults, errors or treacheries” of individuals.
Exorcised of the malignant factional calculus of the current period, this undertaking would also aid the SACP, the movement and the country as a whole, critically to reflect upon the historical genesis of booing and other regressive tendencies in the movement as forms of expression and the culture-producing practices that should be avoided if we are to defeat it.
As Engels warns: “What a poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock-in-trade consists in a knowledge of the solitary fact, that Citizen So-and-so is not to be trusted!”
Genuine activists will appreciate, almost instinctively, Engels’ fellow traveller, Karl Marx, who writes in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, that: “Society now seems to have fallen back behind its point of departure; it has in truth first to recreate for itself the revolutionary point of departure, the conditions under which alone modern revolution becomes serious.”
The rather limited horizons of the SACP’s statement call Marx’s lament to mind for they seem to have gone beyond consisting only in knowledge of the fact that “member-so-and so” is not to be trusted.
In Marx’s words, the SACP must “recreate for itself the revolutionary point of departure, the conditions under which alone modern revolution becomes serious”.
The stakes appear tragically to verge dangerously close to the genocidal at the expense of the necessary and thorough examination of the “general social state and conditions” and their manifestations ie “national wants and necessities”.