Why Revolutions Devour Their Children

After the failed no confidence motion, Jacob Zuma has at a Free State conference told a group of ANC ‘cadres’, that “our revolution is under attack”. Intriguingly, he seemed to pin the blame on his alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, yet then proceeded to bemoan a lack of Marxism in our national politics.

Wow. Where to start?

First of all, it is beyond dispute – Marxism as an ideology has been responsible for more murders and violent deaths than any other belief system in recorded history.

Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot – the list goes on. In fact, it is worth noting that even Hitler was head of the National Socialist party and urged state control of industry. It is arguable that Hitler was ideologically a racial parody of Lenin, and learnt the bloody art of totalitarian rule from his Communist enemies.

The chief problem of Marxism is that it falls to the revolutionary party to organise the whole of the economy, and indeed society, which becomes an arena for an all-encompassing class struggle. What could possibly go wrong? A lot. Ask the 100 million people killed by various Communist Parties last century.

We do not need more Marxism in our economy, or politics, or our society. I think JZ needs to read again the speech of Mandela from the dock of his Rivonia trial:

“Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realization of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.”

Secondly, what on earth is Jacob Zuma talking about when he says “our revolution” is under attack by virtue of the recent debate in Parliament?

I thought the point of the struggle was a democratic South Africa? I hate to break it to him, but in democracy, leaders get a rough ride by design. The one great virtue of democracy is its distrust of greedy and despotic authority. And when about 8% of the state budget gets pilfered by thieves, you really can’t not expect the opposition in Parliament to be somewhat concerned.

And whose revolution is he referring to? His revolution at Polokwane to topple Mbeki? The so-called National Democratic Revolution of 1994? Either way, I am always troubled by rhetoric involving the word ‘revolution’. Revolutions, as has been noted by many historians, tend to eat their children…

I have written before that it is a somewhat sad truth but the ANC will not survive. There are too many internal consistencies within its ethos.

If you read the great Albert Luthuli’s book, ‘Let My People Go’, you’ll discover that the ANC was not designed to be a political party, but rather a congress of various political players to allow for unity in the struggle against racial segregation. Luthuli writes that the ANC’s factions would one day have to contest elections as separate entities for this very reason.

This initial character was muddied as the ANC formed alliances with Soviet-backed entities which had adopted a Leninist-style belief in an intellectual vanguard which must interpret history for the masses and bring about a dictatorship of the proletariat and thus wither away the state in a new utopia. (See the Siberian gulags for the results.)

The effect, however, on the ANC was to create this kind of collective party identity in which the individual, and his or her conscience, counts for little. The ‘National Democratic Revolution’, as defined by the ‘collective’ (governed by those skilled at power games), is everything. This is why the ANC will never discipline or correct itself in Parliament, but only at a party conference, which is where the real power resides.

Again, Mandela’s vision at the Rivonia trial was different:

“From my reading of Marxist literature and from conversations with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system.”

Of course, it would be for the good of the whole country were the ANC to go back to its more classically liberal roots in the shape of its leaders before the Cold War – the likes of John Dube and Luthuli, and the best of Mandela. These were leaders who were interested in equality, not party dominance and ideology.

But with all this talk of ‘revolution’ – a ‘revolution’ which, as it always does, takes place on the backs of the poor (Pravin Gordhan has noted that without state capture, social grants could have been doubled this year) – I fear this is not likely.

If I were an ANC member, I would be handing out the literature of Dube and Luthuli, as well as Mandela’s famous speech from the dock, to anybody within reach. Zuma’s revolution will only be defeated by counter-revolution – a return to the roots of all that is best in the ANC’s traditions, as exemplified by its most famous statement:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela was imprisoned for ideals, not a party and its revolution. If Zuma and his cronies do not remember this, in a counter-revolution of sorts, the ANC might soon disintegrate – the best case scenario being an orderly unfolding of its support into a minority-numbered revolutionary EFF, with a centrist liberal DA and a resurgent IFP being able to form a government.

That might be wishful thinking. It could well be that a ‘revolutionary’ ANC, adrift even from the semi-discipline of the SACP, goes down fighting ugly. In which case 8% of the state budget going missing might only be the beginning of our troubles.

In short, a healthy ANC is something all of us should be hoping for. And a healthy ANC is not a ‘revolutionary’ party, but one connected to the vital sap of its roots.