[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.
I have always liked Jeremy Cronin, the South African Communist Party leader and Deputy Minister of something or the other. He is an award winning poet, a scholar who obtained a masters degree at the Sorbonne under Louis Althusser (that French Marxist philosopher who strangled his wife), and a former political prisoner who spent 7 years in an apartheid jail. He seldom stays in the Mount Nelson and drives and old car (unlike his SACP boss Blade Nzimande who is a communist with a taste for the good life). And I am sure if he had ever done woodwork at school he would have obtained fairly decent marks for it.
But his most recent confusing article in which he attacks COSATU for associating with “liberals” (both the “anti-democratic” kind and the kind who believes in social justice and respect for the rights of all citizens) really does him a disservice. As far as I can tell his argument goes like this: yes the ANC is riddled with corruption and some ANC leaders are power hungry and reactionary but anyone who actually takes a stand against this are the really, really, bad people (you know, lovers of apartheid, haters of democracy, opponents of transformation — that kind of thing) — unless they are members of the ANC and the SACP in which case they are merely doing the right thing.
Here is a sample of the article for your enjoyment:
We should, of course, not be in denial about the serious gaps opened up for this line of attack by real weaknesses within the state and the ANC and our alliance formations. In particular, there is a compradorial and parasitic rent-seeking stratum within our movement, often linked to a demagogic populism that has little respect for legality or the constitution.
As we have argued elsewhere, anti-majoritarian liberal forces are happy to provide a media megaphone for this demagogic populism — the better to be able to condemn us all. The existence of this phenomenon (what we have called “the new tendency”) creates space for all manner of anti-ANC forces. This is why it is absolutely imperative that the government, the ANC and its alliance partners together lead the process of dealing firmly, and without fear or favour, with the scourge of corruption and demagogy.
However, using the gap created by this minority “new tendency” within our own ranks (and seeking to present its antics as the “real” ANC), the anti-transformation forces seek to displace the liberation movement’s strategic hegemony with their own anti-majoritarian liberalism. In essence this consists in trying to displace the idea of an ongoing national democratic revolution with a politics of “civil rights claims”. This is done by establishing a false dichotomy between the realisation of civil rights in SA and the NDR, with the latter portrayed as the “enemy” of civil rights and the Constitution.
This seems perilously close to an argument for holding power for power’s sake. As far as I can tell Cronin is saying that because the ANC is stuffing up big time, this has opened the space for people to discredit the ANC and this is really bad because anyone who discredits the ANC is really bad. There is no acknowledgement that anyone might want to point out the really bad things done by some in the ANC because, well, because they are really bad.
This makes no sense and is not to be squared with almost any understanding of democracy.
In a democracy, when a party stuffs up, then one assumes that it is the duty of citizens and organisations to point this out and to fight against the abuse of power, the corruption, the nepotism and the other actions of the governing party that stands in stark contrast to one’s own principles.
If one happens to believe in social justice and fairness and respect for differences (as I do) and oppose social conservatism and oppressive nationalism (as I do) and believes that corruption will fatally undermine the wellbeing of those in society who have been oppressed for centuries (as I do), then one surely has a duty to complain and take action against the ANC? If one does not say anything for fear that Cronin will label you a meeloper (accomplice) of reactionary forces then one is not being a good democratic citizen.
After all, the ANC is becoming an alarmingly reactionary, right wing, organisation and the majority of its leaders seem to believe in very little — apart from holding on to power and making obscene amounts of money and allowing their friends and relatives to make obscene amounts of money. And when ideology comes into play, well, the erstwhile revolutionary movement is not covering itself in glory.
Take South Africa’s stance at the UN: South Africa now votes at the UN to remove a clause on sexual orientation that in effect sanctions the extra-judicial killing of gay men and lesbians. This is not a decision taken by Julius Malema or some rogue elements in the ANC. It is a decision taken by the ANC government itself and as such it is shameful, anti human rights and deeply reactionary. And Cronin wants us to believe the ANC is the progressive voice in our society. Please. This sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.
COSATU may well be progressive and Cronin may still have some progressive bones in his body, but to claim that all the progressive voices out there who are taking on the rightward and ever increasing authoritarian tendencies of the ANC are somehow no better than right wing forces who are opposed to democracy is so ludicrous that one really wonders whether Cronin has any idea of what democracy means. Or is this article an attempt to try and shut up those who criticise the ANC so that voters will not notice that the ANC has strayed very far from the vision for South Africa it upheld between 1990 and 1996 and was instrumental in enshrining in our Constitution?
Reading the Cronin piece, I felt that the emperor was wearing no clothes. Because there is no way to turn back the clock and because there is no way to arrest the corruption and the rightward drift of the ANC, Cronin is using some fancy language (probably learnt at the feet of the Paris Strangler) to try and hide that fact and to try and discredit valid criticism and civil society activism that threatens the ANC’s hold on power.
But sadly, more and more there is hardly any ideological difference between the ANC and the DA (although the DA seems to be less corrupt and some of its leaders are a bit more respectful of the rights of — at least some of — the citizens). Both are right wing, both believe in the right of their followers to make obscene amounts of money, both claim to love and respect the poor and the vulnerable while they mostly only look out for themselves and their immediate supporters.
Yesterday Tokyo Sexwale railed against the courts for protecting the rights of “squatters”, sounding just like Helen Zille when she railed against the people of Hangberg. How can Cronin still remain a (deputy) Minister in such a government? Well, it beats me. Maybe he is ashamed and to hide this shame he has to pretend that there is still a progresive agenda hidden somewhere in the entrails of the rotting corpse of the emerging reactionary ANC and that the real progressives are useful idiots being used by “anti-democratic forces.BACK TO TOP