The Guardian July 24, 2002


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.

* * *
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
Socialism the future
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.

Back to index page