Transition to socialism. South African view
Earlier this year the three Alliance members — the African National Congress (ANC), the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) — held a dialogue on the main issues facing the Alliance. The SACP presented a contribution. The Party's views on socialism, reproduced below, formed a part of its contribution. The Party asked the question, "Is the party confused about socialism and is it lacking in a theory of "transition to socialism?", and explained its views: While we seem to agree on the character of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), leading comrades in the ANC appear to believe that there is another long-range strategic issue on which there is disagreement, or at least confusion, and the confusion is within the SACP. As a Party we do not think that we are confused about socialism, and we also believe that, in so far as this is possible, we are relatively clear about the kind of transition for which we should be organising — however distant any substantive socialist transition may well still be. To lay the basis for further discussion, if comrades would like further discussion on this matter, we would like to set out some basic reference points from the SACP perspective. Socialism is, we believe, characterised essentially by a mixed economy, in which social ownership is, both in strategic capacity and in actual GDP terms, the preponderant (but not exclusive) form of economic ownership, with political power in the hands of the working class. The socially-owned sector will include a diversity of ownership forms — including state (both national, regional and local) ownership; parastatals, social capital (e.g. worker-owned funds), and various forms of co-operative ownership. The interaction of socially owned enterprises may not be exclusively based on market relations, but it will include the market mechanism. This preponderant socially owned sector will co-exist with a (diminishing) private sector that will be both domestic and, in all probability, especially international. The socialist sector will engage with privately owned capital on the market, in joint ventures, and in a variety of other ways. The preponderance of a socially owned sector will create conditions in which a democratic socialist state will be able to plan more effectively, and negotiate more coherent long-term investment and growth programs, and implement more coherent spatial and human skills development plans. With the strategic impact of speculative and short-term profit-seeking behaviour reduced, the huge structural imbalances and the unsustainable destruction of the environment that characterise capitalist societies, not least those in the third world, will be more effectively addressed. The market mechanism will be retained, indeed transformed and revitalised to serve the interests and needs of the overwhelming majority. Markets under capitalism, particularly capitalist societies like our own, marked by extreme class, race and gender inequalities, are not efficient regulators and distributors of resources. Under a democratic socialist dispensation market efficiencies, measured against social (and not private profit- taking) objectives, will be greatly enhanced. A socialist dispensation will also enhance our capacity to meet and surpass our current more limited objectives of ensuring basic levels of water and electricity, and access, regardless of ability to pay, to health-care and school education. The progressive decommodification of basic needs (water, electricity, housing, education, transport, health-care, food security, etc) will be more and more possible. This is not to say that these things will necessarily be provided free — but payment will be affordable and not merely driven by market forces, or it will be via taxes, etc. These are general indicators of some of the key features of a socialist dispensation. While the struggle to realise such a dispensation will be met with intense class resistance and hostility, we do not think that it is a utopian dream. Various socialist and, indeed, social democratic dispensations have realised (for a time and unevenly) some and even many of these goals, demonstrating their feasibility. Any attempt to make a substantive transition to a socialist economy will be dangerously voluntaristic and probably unsustainable if the following features are not present: 1. Overwhelming majority support within one's society for a socialist advance, massive popular support, preferably tested in a multi-party electoral dispensation, will be an important bed-rock for weathering the inevitable attempts to punish or destabilise such an advance. 2. A relatively high-level of economic development, including an extensive and socially preponderant working class. 3. The class balance of forces — both domestically and internationally — is relatively favourable to the popular forces. Key strategic preconditions of this kind for an effective and sustainable socialist advance are, generally, not present. The SACP believes, however, that the protracted advance and consolidation of the NDR within our own society, combined with other likely but perhaps long-range developments globally (linked to the structural limitations increasingly evident in the global capitalist system — environmental non- sustainability, deepening social divides, the inability of leading capitalist economies to renew key sectors of their economies, the dangerous volatility of capitalist markets, etc.) can lead to conditions that are more favourable to a socialist transition, and indeed, which, for the sake of the survival of humanity, make such a transition more and more imperative. Given the probable, relatively long-range prospect for the coming together of such conditions, we do not think an attempt to develop a theory of socialist transition could feasibly be expected to include a detailed blue- print at this point. Will an eventual socialist transition in South Africa be led by the SACP in opposition to the ANC? We do not think so and we hope not, but none of us really know. Insofar as strategic calculations are of any value at this point in time, then the SACP is working on the assumption that overwhelming majority support for socialism means the desirability of an SACP-inspired and led socialist transition, hopefully supported by the overwhelming majority of our people, including the ANC membership. There are many possible variations on transitions to socialism, including the Cuban path. But this is speculative, and we certainly believe it would be wrong for the ANC to assume a socialist posture at this point in time. However, a longer-term socialist transition is never guaranteed. Much depends on what, over many years, is done before. It is in this sense that the Party has been advancing the slogan: "Socialism is the future, build it now!" It is not a call to make a socialist transition now — such a transition lies in the future. But it is a slogan to insist on the relevance of socialist ideas, aspirations and activism in the present phase of the NDR. It is a slogan that calls for an ongoing socialist critique of capitalism; a slogan that says it is not irrelevant to plan for socialism, to build capacity for, and social momentum towards it. It is a slogan that calls, even, for the implementing of elements of socialism (progressive parastatals with a social and developmental agenda, or a co-operative movement, for instance). These are elements that can help to counter the worst of capitalism, that can help to consolidate national sovereignty and defend the NDR, and that can help to build confidence and experience in socialist development. Some of these measures are not only relevant from the standpoint of socialism, but may as well be the necessary mechanisms to deepen the NDR, for example, the very call by the Freedom Charter to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy is a case in point.Socialism — the future
* * *The full text of the SACP views and the papers submitted by the ANC and COSATU are available on the SACP website at: http://www.sacp.org.za
The following are extracts from the section of the Political Resolution adopted by the National Congress of the Communist Party of Australia in 2001, under the heading "Socialism — the future": The reconstruction of economic and political life in favour of the people necessitates the wealth, power and so- called "rights" of big capital being challenged and restricted. This process will take some considerable time. As progress is made, more people will come to the conclusion that big capital also has to be eradicated. Over a long historical period the people's own political experiences will lead them to support and eventually adopt as their own, the revolutionary policy that the full implementation of the people's program requires a socialist reconstruction of society.. The transition to socialism is closely related to the development of people's democracy, encouraging the involvement of the people in all aspects of the life of society, through the democratisation of the mass media, improved electoral laws, including proportional representation, the existence of strong and militant trade unions, the strengthening of community organisations, the institution of a republican form of government and the extension of the public sector of the economy.. A socialist society would be based on the predominance of public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, particularly of those enterprises that are major or key factors in the economy. Other forms of ownership including co-operative, private enterprises and joint public and private enterprises would continue to exist for a considerable period of time. A socialist society presupposes the macro-planning of economic and social development to eliminate the booms and slumps of capitalist economies and to ensure that steps necessary to maintain a sustainable economy are strictly observed. Economic controls and planning which serve the people are distinguishing features of socialist society. Mechanisms to plan economic and social development can take a number of forms — a planning authority and the use of various economic levers such as taxation, interest rates, import and export controls, price controls, etc. The use of supply and demand factors in the market will also be used. However, this does not mean that the market and only the market would determine all things as in capitalist society. Macro-economic controls, planning and the market would be combined in a socialist society. A socialist government would educate everyone in an attitude of concern for, and a lifestyle that protects the environment.. Socialist principles of co-operation between people, opposition to racism and narrow nationalism, support for peace and humanitarianism and scientific thinking would be encouraged.. The full text of the Political Resolution is available from the CPA's website: http://www.cpa.org.au or from 65 Campbell St, Surry Hills, NSW 2010 for $3 plus $1.50 p&p.