I have been trying to figure out whether Billy Masetlha’s criticism assertion that there appears to be an attempted communist take-over of the ANC is accurate or relevant.

During this endeavour I came across an interesting passage from ANC Today, September 2007 (the lead-up to Polokwane). It quotes Joe Slovo:

“But, despite the fact that the ANC has an understandable bias towards the working class it does not, and clearly should not, adopt a socialist platform which the so-called Marxist Workers’ Tendency (expelled from the ANC) would like it to do. If it adopted such a platform it would destroy its character as the prime representative of all the classes among the oppressed black majority…”

The Marxist Workers Tendency. Goodness, that takes me back.

Recruitment into to the ANC underground for some of us at largely white, largely English speaking campuses in the late 70’s and 80’s entailed a healthy dose of sentimental Marxist Leninism (if there can be such a thing).

I still find myself singing under my breath, as I am getting ready to do something that requires my spirits to be roused:

The people’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood drenched its ev’ry fold

Our ‘socialism’ somehow balanced our dual adherence to the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

We could explain how Marx had turned Hegel on his head and we could talk (well briefly, in a learned parrot fashion anyway) about the dialectical movement between theory and practice by way of historical materialism.

Concepts and words like “The Labour Theory of Value” and the “dipolar articulation of class forces in the conjuncture” could burble from our lips.

But boy, the thing we really understood was left deviation.

The Workerists, Partyites and gaggle of Trotskyites that emerged from the ‘Coloured’ community in the Western Cape were terrifyingly articulate and hated us ANC and SACP types. They believed the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party supported a politics that would lead to the emergence of a comprador bourgeoisie and a derailment of the path to socialism. I clearly remember then ‘ultra-leftist’  – in our terms – Ebrahim Patel (EP), wild haired and eyed, deeply frustrated by Congress dominance at UCT. Hmm, kyk hoe lyk hy nou!?

Anyway, there were uglier manifestations of our rigid adherence to the ANC/SACP version of Marxist/Leninism. We knew about the Marxist Workers Tendency who had been suspended from the ANC in 1979 and later expelled in 1985. We used to come across their lurid publication Inqaba Ya Basebenzi – and we made sure ‘the young people’ in our organisations were not reading that rubbish!

Billy Masetlha, ironically – given the fact that he was shafted by Thabo Mbeki himself – is leading the charge against the new “left deviation”.

He said, amongst other things in the Mail and Guardian (I can’t find the original story, but it is quoted here) (these quotes are all pulled together – they did not appear like this in the original M&G version:

“… I will have a problem with someone wanting to faceless individuals (want to) impose a communist manifesto on the ANC … We fired a lot of [comrades] in the past who wanted to do the same thing … The day the ANC sings to the socialist agenda, it would be signing its death warrant … If we have not pronounced our position on these new tendencies it does not mean we are fools …The ANC was not founded on a socialist agenda. Socialism has no space in the ANC.”

Unsurprisingly the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have rounded on him soundly – all with separate statements worth reading for their take on “The Alliance”.

My own feeling is that Billy is living in the past. He was trained in a milieu (as was I – although he significantly pre-dates me – I think) that consisted of significant threats of “left deviation” and high levels of ideological contestation. He believes that ideology is actually important in the construction of the ruling alliance.

My own feeling is the glue that binds the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance is not primarily ideological as I argue here.

If this was me talking in the old days – when I was one of those who felt so powerful and clear that I could dismiss complex historical phenomena with casual ideological name calling – I probably would have characterised the new management of the ANC and the country as:

an unholy alliance between syndicalist trade unions and the most retrograde elements of the comprador bourgeoisie – those elements who fell foul of the law and of party discipline under Mbeki.

It’s probably more complicated than that …but I (almost) miss my youthful certainty – for all its (bombastic) shallowness and (pompous) sentimentality.