(Strategy and tactics of the COVID19 Working Class Campaign)
In the meeting of 1 April 2020 organisations making up the Covid19Working Class Campaign (The Campaign) adopted a politicalplatform that frames the approach of the campaign in the struggle todefend the working class against the effects of Covid19. [see here]
The broad orientation of the political platform can be summed up as follows:
- The working class stands as the most vulnerable part of the population to infection and death from Covid19.
- The struggles against the coronavirus and its effects on the working class must be located within an understanding of South African political economy, and in particular how the evolution of the country’s political economy during apartheid and the post-apartheid period makes the working class vulnerable to Covid19.
- Central to the political economy of South African since 1994 has been a neoliberal policy orientation by the South Africa ruling class, and in particular its political representative, the ANC.
- Neoliberalism in South Africa has resulted in poverty for millions, an immuno-compromised population among both young and old, in townships with no social services essential to the fight against COVID19 (housing, water and so on), in violence against women and children, in unsafe townships, and in a collapsing health system – the list goes on.
- The platform highlighted a state response that showed no urgency. Indeed, the state’s response was captive to the corporate interests that it has served for over 20 years.
Against this background the platform concluded that the struggle against Covid19 was fundamentally a political struggle against the social and economic policies of neoliberal austerity, and that the health crisis manifested in Covid19 is an element of this struggle. Secondly, the platform concluded that organising and movement building is the only way out for the working class.
The politics and demands of the campaign, and the need for a strategy
Within this political framework the Campaign elaborated a list of demands covering a number of areas. These include social services, livelihoods and incomes in the context of Covid19 for the millions of precarious workers and the unemployed, as well as health related and health system demands. The demands raised by the Campaign are similar to demands raised by other coalitions, organisations and individuals. A survey of the demands of communities and social movements over the last 24 years (since 1996) will reveal a similar set of demands to the ones being advanced today. Throughout these 24 years communities have advanced a critique of neoliberal policies and their effects on the working class, and they have advanced demands that, if they had been met, would have meant the working class has deep defences against Covid19.
While we need to be true to the memory of generations of resistance to neoliberalism (we recall that neoliberalism was launched by the National Party in the mid-1980s), our challenge today is to map out a strategic and tactical line that combines our analysis and our demands with an understanding of the terrain of politics today – or an analysis of the conjuncture. What our platform gives us is a long-run analysis of how we got here. The demands and the broad politics do not tell us how we march under these conditions.
The terrain of politics includes 4 key elements:
1. An analysis of the ruling class, its representatives, and their strategy in the current context.
2. An analysis of the nature of the state and its role in the current context.
3. An analysis of the forces for change: how the working class generate the ideological and organisational weapons needed for a successful struggle against Covid19.
4. What role will be played by the broad strata of the black middle classes in this struggle? [By ‘black’ we mean all the historically oppressed people of South Africa, so-called Africans, Coloured and Indians]
This analysis of the terrain of politics will make it possible for us to develop strategy and tactics for this life and death struggle – it will allow us to work out a line of march, and tactical slogans for this march.
The ruling class, its strategy and the nature of the state
The defining feature of the South Africa ruling class is the coming together of a tiny white monopoly capitalist class (WMC), and an equally tiny black elite that acts as its political representatives. Over the last 25 years WMC has grown more and more powerful, and the black elite less and less powerful. Around itself this tiny black elite has attempted to build a black middle class. Both the black elite and the majority of the black middle class is drowning in debt, with the result that this elite owns less of the stock exchange, and the its asset base has been decimated. In addition, WMC has repositioned its political base outside the country, and disciplines the elite and the black middle class through rating agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions that are controlled by the imperialist nations. For its part, the ruling elite disciplines the working class through keeping it on the verge of hunger, and through repression. Through its capture of the ANC and other parliamentary parties, WMC has felt no need to offer compromises to the masses or to the black middle class. This alignment of forces within the ruling class has implications in defining the nature of the Covid19 period.
Although the Covid19 pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of deaths in South Africa, the power of WMC, and the relocation of its political base abroad, means that it does not see these deaths leading to a need for a compromise with the local people. It therefore does not see a need to halt the implementation of austerity and neoliberalism even in Covid19 conditions. WMC therefore sees the pandemic – which has silenced the entire parliamentary opposition including the EFF – as an opportunity to complete the neoliberal restructuring it had set itself with the 2020/21 Budget . Many writers, including ourselves, have described the many neoliberal measures that are being unleashed under the cover of Covid19. These measures, which entered a new phase with the 2020/21 Budget, will deepen the social crisis that has gripped the country for years, and will seriously exacerbate the impending catastrophe that is Covid19.
On the other side of this deepening project of neoliberal austerity stands the (black) elite and the middle class that it has tried to build around itself. Key sections of this middle class have been built on the basis of employment by the state, or on business tenders from the state. The economic decline of this middle class has driven it into a situation where it has to defend its life-style through corruption, as its incomes come under siege. After the media hype that Ramaphosa will put an end to this corruption, we now know that he has not been able to do this. We now know that this corruption is structural. The endemic corruption in the country cannot be ended without a fundamental change in social relations in the country.
This relationship of WMC to the black elite produces a toxic combination leading to the impending death of tens of thousands, the further enrichment of the minority capitalist class, and the acceleration of corruption among sections of the middle class and the black elite. This toxic embrace has a number of key consequences that will define the conjuncture:
i. we will see attempts to accelerate neoliberal restructuring.
ii. as has been the case in many parts of the world, the capitalist class will use COVID-19 as an opportunity to enrich itself further. It sees COVID-19 as an opportunity to restructure companies through mass retrenchments, and in so doing reinforce the fracturing and weakening of the working class.
iii. we will see increased corruption and patronage – the use of food parcels, grants and any other state resources to entrench the position of the ANC.
iv. we will see increased repression as the Ramaphosa government runs out of options: it cannot serve WMC and the elite that depends on the state, and at the same time effectively respond to the needs of the majority under Covid19.
v. we will see increasing state attempts to fracture the working class, including through xenophobia, selective delivery of grants, social services among section of the working class and across regions. This project of fracturing of the working class must not be underestimated, and it stands as one of the most important of our strategic challenges.
The South African state post-1994 is an unstable balance between the results of decades of mass struggles for social, economic and political rights on the one hand, and on the other hand, the failure of the mass movement to achieve a breakthrough that imposed these rights on the apartheid ruling class, and in particular on WMC. The product of this unstable equilibrium was a democratic form with an authoritarian content. The primary role of this state is to defend capital accumulation, to disorganise the working class through ideological cooption, promoting and maintaining divisions in the working class, and through outright repression. The bloody defeat of the mass democratic project in the years running into 1994 allowed WMC to impose a form of state that included multiple lines of defence against the demands of the people, in particular of the working class and mass of the black middle class. These lines of defence include ‘constitutionalism’, the setting up of a range of ‘independent’ institution that usurp policy making at various levels, the dismemberment of the state (privatisation, corporatisation, etc) and the systematic weakening of its capacity through two and half decades of austerity. Underwriting these defences is a large repressive apparatus and the securitisation of the state, including extensive surveillance. This overbearing authoritarianism can be seen in the fact that in the 2016 fiscal year 70% of the salary budget of the state was allocated to repressive arms of the state – defence, the police and prisons. Further, we need to understand repression not only as visible police roadblocks, but also as including the closure of democratic spaces, the structural violence of poverty, the pervasive gender and other forms of violence, among other forms of violence. Up to now, this instability has been managed by the role played by the historical organisations of the working class – the trade unions and the mass formations linked to the anti-apartheid struggle, including the ANC, SACP, COSATU, and other less important formations on the one hand, and by the political and organisational weakness of new sections of the working class. The hegemony these historical formations exercised over the masses in now on the historical decline. The instability of this state form is going to come to a head with the pandemic as the democratic shell is tested to its limits, and the authoritarian core comes into full view.
The working class, its organisations and ideological make-up
The impact of 25 years of neoliberalism and exploitation has led to profound structural changes within the working class, and to a decline in the organising and other capacities of the working class. The working class has been split into two main sections. On the one hand, we have the old working class that came out of the period of apartheid and led the struggle for liberation (we refer to this section as ‘the anti-apartheid working class’). This diminishing section enjoys permanent but precarious employment and is continuously been thrown into the streets, into the ranks of the unemployed. The second section (the ‘post-apartheid working class’) is a large and growing section of the unemployed, casual workers, workers who hustle daily at the side of the road, a large part of which is feminised, ‘self-employed’ and does anything to earn a living. This working class, led mainly by women, forms the bedrock of the survival of the entire working class. The positioning of these women at the heart of working class reproduction has made them key historical actors in many struggles in the post-apartheid period.
The political and organisational experience of the working class over the last 25 years has proceeded along three lines. Firstly, the working class coming out of the anti-apartheid struggle was defeated in the battles against neoliberalism at the end of the 1990s. The leadership of this section of the working class went over to neoliberalism and became its apologists. This is the leadership of the large trade unions and historical political parties of the liberation movement (the SACP, ANC and others). Although this working class has been under constant siege from neoliberalism, and although large sections of it have fallen into the unemployed – this section has died a quite political death, lulled to sleep by crumbs from the neoliberal table.
Secondly, there is the section of casualised, unemployed and feminised working class that led the resistance to neoliberalism from the mid-1990s (signalled by the adoption of Gear in 1996) until its defeat and the disintegration of its organisations on the eve of Marikana (2012). Thirdly, there is a section of this same working that began to organise again after Marikana, and can be seen in many continuing protests in the country. While these two sections of the working class share the same social base, their political and organisational experience differs in that the “new social movements” (from Gear to Marikana), developed a broad political consciousness grounded in an anti-neoliberal and anti-globalisation politics.
The Covid19 conjuncture presents us with new historical possibilities for the unity of these historical currents within the working class. Firstly, Covid19’s impact on the economy is accelerating the destruction of the anti-apartheid working class. Factory closures, the collapse of whole industries that promised some kind of permanent employment in the private sector, and lastly, the impact of this collapse on state revenues in a neoliberal framework will all lead to a jobs bloodbath. The leadership of the trade unions and the political parties will be confronted with increasingly diminishing crumbs from the neoliberal table, which will lead to increasing detachment from members and to the collapse or irrelevance of these trade unions and political parties.
Secondly, the social isolation of the anti-apartheid working class from the precarious post-apartheid working class is being ended by the brutal assault of capital on the employed working class, as capital tries to defend its own profits. The impending mass unemployment of that section of the working class that now enjoys permanent jobs will deepen, and this will further accelerate the shift in the terrain of organising from the factories to the townships. The anti-apartheid working class will look at the post-apartheid working class and see the image of its own future. While this shift has been underway for the last two decades, the Covid19 moment will settle the debate about the primary terrain of working class organising. There, in the township, in a mutual struggle for survival, the anti-apartheid working class will find common cause with the post-apartheid working class in neighbourhood assemblies and in numerous primary organisations of the working class. Henceforth, factory struggles will become inextricably connected to struggles for survival, livelihoods and political change driven from the townships. This convergence between these two sections of the working class is the historical and social basis for the resolution of the organisational questions within the working class. The militancy of the section of the post-apartheid working class currently in struggle, the memory of struggle and organisation of the new social movements, and the organisational experience of the anti-apartheid working class will together combine to produce an historical foundation for resolving the question of organisation in the context of Covid19. While the Covid-19 context has produced favourable conditions for unification of these different currents in the working class, this unity is not a foregone conclusion. Whether it is achieved depends on the energy and clarity of our political organising.
Whereas the resolution of the organisational questions of the working class require the merging of the three streams within the working class, the resolution of the ideological framework needed to conduct the struggle against WMC and its elite appendage is to be found in the political foundations laid by the new social movements between Gear and Marikana. During that period, the “new social movements” produced dozens of platforms of struggle and countless articles and perspective papers on just about all aspects of South African society and its neoliberal state. The movements that disintegrated and collapsed on the eve of Marikana left us with a rich ideological heritage. As we appropriate this heritage we need to engage in open discussions and debates on the sources of the collapse of these movements, on the weaknesses in perspectives on a range of issues including gender issues, political culture, and attitude to corruption (among other issues), even as we locate these problems in the difficulties posed by the conditions at the time. In all their fundamental outlines, however, the ideological weapons needed to fight the ruling class under Covid19 conditions are to be found from that period. It is for this reason that just about all the demands, and the analyses, that have emerged in the current conjuncture look and sound so similar to those platforms of struggle of the pre-Marikana period.
The two historical conditions needed for the working class to be a primary force for change in this context are therefore satisfied. Organisationally, the immediate Covid19 context creates the social basis for the reunification of the different strata of the working class – and thereby creates the basis for resolving organisational questions. On the other hand, the heritage of the “new social movements” creates the ideological and political basis for a resurgent and insurgent working class.
The broad masses of the black middle class
The black middle class finds itself in a contradictory position in the post-apartheid period. On the one hand, the post-apartheid state promised this class that it will be the leading class in society, and that the entire dispensation was organised to facilitate its success. On the other hand, notwithstanding its early appearance of success, this class has lived a precarious existence mainly dependent on debt. In the workplaces of South Africa, it has found recognition by WMC hard to come by, and in many instances it has been marginalised and even humiliated. Indeed, many ruling class management institutions are decrying the dearth of a black management cadre. In many similar historical situations in other countries, a large and stable middle class was created by state investment in social services like health and education at all levels, the setting up and management of large social infrastructures like transport, housing, water systems and so on. In South Africa, neoliberal austerity over 25 years has made it impossible to stabilise a large middle class, and the consequences has been the making of a precarious middle class. Instead, South Africa’s black middle class is highly indebted and has no asset base, making it even more vulnerable to even the smallest changes in economic winds.
The year 2020 began with aggressive neoliberal restructuring that includes slashing off R160 billion from the public sector wage bill, cuts in the health budget, and the cuts in infrastructure investment. Combined with the impact of Covid19 on the economy, many members of the middle class will be thrown out of employment. Further, the closure of key state enterprises, and retrenchments in others, will also increase the pressure on the black middle class. The various measures taken by the banks for “mortgage holidays” will bond the middle class to the banks for years to come, further increasing their insecurity as a class.
All these factors mean that the middle class is open to contestation by a working class programme, and can be won over to the kind of political positions and demands that are outlined in the platform of the Campaign. The middle class, however, will only respond to a well organised and clearly articulated campaign by the working class and its formations.
A strategy for struggle – Defend, Democratise and Politicise!
The platform of the Covid19 Working Class Campaign emphasises that the struggle to defeat the coronavirus is fundamentally a political and social struggle. It is a struggle to change the social and political choices made by the state to put profits before lives. Our strategy must also put the people at the centre of the fight against the coronavirus. Further, while we take up struggles to defeat neoliberalism and ensure that it does not weaken our communities’ ability to deal with Covid19, we need to ensure that the working class defends itself against the day to day manifestations of neoliberalism – hunger, lack of facilities and equipment to prevent the disease, retrenchment of workers by unscrupulous capitalists, lack of personal protective equipment for health workers, and many others. Our strategic orientation must therefore be to defend, to democratise and to politicise our struggles. These three strategic pillars must inform – at the same time – all the work we undertake in the course of the campaign. The three pillars of our work cannot be seen as separate and distinct, but must be part of a unified whole.
Politicise the struggle to defeat Covid19!
Since the outbreak of Covid19 ruling classes all over the world have tried to ‘depoliticise’ the struggle to defeat the pandemic. With by-lines like “we are all in this together” and similar ones, the ruling classes have tried to hide the fact that Covid19 could be, and was, foreseen; they hide the fact that it is a direct result of the capitalist exploitation of nature. Moreover, the “we are all in this together” party want to prevent us from seeing that it is neoliberal policies that have weakened the immune-systems of our bodies through unhealthy food and living conditions; that it is the capitalist system that has weakened (public) health systems so that they cannot respond effectively to Covid19; and finally, that under the cover of Covid19 the ruling class is intensifying the very policies that have brought us to the door of a deadly pandemic. The direct result is that it is, and will continue to be, the broad working class that suffers most from the pandemic – mirroring the class, racial and gender realities of those most oppressed and exploited under neoliberal capitalism.
To politicise our struggle does not mean cheap party-political point scoring. All the parliamentary parties have suspended their fictional hostility to each other and have lined up behind the ruling class and President Ramaphosa. Politicising the struggle is necessary because this is fundamentally a social, economic and political struggle. What, concretely, does it mean to politicise the struggle against the pandemic?
Discuss the sources of all problems openly!
A major task that faces us is to explain, to help the working class and its activists to understand the fundamental sources of the pandemic, and why the pandemic has killed so many around the world. We need to discuss and explain why the pandemic will kill many within the working class if we do not organise and force the state to change its policies. The working class knows that it did not just become hungry and sick with the arrival of Covid19. It understands that these problems have developed over many years. Many members of the working class have engaged in daily struggles against lack of housing (and thus why it cannot engage in ‘physical distancing’); it has engaged in daily struggles against lack of water; and it has engaged in daily struggles against a broken health system. Covid19 intensifies the effects of these policies, and we need to link the way these problems express themselves during Covid19 to the long history of how they have emerged since the dawn of democracy in 1994. These political discussions are a key element of political education, and this political education is in turn central to our ability to mount effective defence against Covid19.
An open discussion and clear explanation of these problems in front of the working class, and by the working class, is vital for the credibility of our campaign. The working class is not fooled by the “we are all in this together” party. They know that the rich and the powerful are not “in this”, and so it is important that our Campaign is not seen to be creating smoke that hides the real sources of the pandemic, and the coming impact of the pandemic.
Locate and link every individual struggle with the political platform as a whole!
In course of this struggle communities will take up many different concrete struggles; for example for water, against evictions, for electricity and so on. Our strategy is to link up all these struggles to our overall platform of struggle against Covid19. Firstly, this linking up will take the form of coordinating struggles between different communities. Secondly and more importantly, this linking-up will involve political discussions that reveal the common sources of lack of water, lack of PPEs in clinics, and the destruction of homes built by the working class, for example. We need to show how all these are linked, in concrete ways, to neoliberal austerity.
The working class must be informed of all developments around Covid19!
The South African ruling class is devoting a lot of effort to keep news and debates about Covid19 from the working class. The public broadcaster has been starved of funds to broadcast news and debates on Covid19, and the most extensive coverage of news and debates take place mostly in private channels and ruling class newspapers. Our campaign needs to find a range of platforms that will keep the working class informed about Covid19, including such matters as epidemiological projections of infections and fatalities, the availability of hospital beds and equipment, models used to institute lock-downs or to ease lockdowns, and all issues relevant to our society at this time of Covid19.
Reawaken the historical memory of the working class!
In our analysis of the terrain of politics we pointed out that the working class has engaged in struggles against neoliberalism for at least two generations. We pointed out that the ‘anti-apartheid working class’ was defeated in its struggle against neoliberalism in the mid- 1990s. The ‘new social movements’ took up this struggle between the end of the 1990s to the eve of Marikana. A new section of the working class has picked up this struggle in the post-Marikana period. All these sections of the working class have contributed to a long memory of struggle against neoliberalism. Our strategic task in the struggle against Covid19 is to unify these memories of struggle, these memories of political understanding and critique of neoliberalism. It is in this way that a continuous memory of struggle and a unified political platform can be built.
In our discussion we indicated that the “new social movements” have played a key role in laying down the political foundations for a platform that can guide our struggles against Covid19. The memory of the work done by this current in the working class must be brought to life so that all sections of the working class can see themselves in their demands, so that each section can see itself in the aspirations of the other sections of the working class. Our task is to find many ways of sharing the political work of the movements of the pre-Marikana period. This work covered almost every aspect of our present struggles, and militants that are active today need to draw inspiration and knowledge from those struggles and so draw a thread of continuous working class consciousness stretching back for generations.
Build a cadre! Build class consciousness!
As a campaign we have to struggle against the illusion that any struggle, or the implementation of any ideas, can be postponed to “after Covid19”. Similarly, the building of a politically informed and class conscious cadre is an urgent task of the moment. In our political platform we made the point that the working class comes into this Covid19 period with depleted forces. This depletion of forces has taken place over almost 25 years. Our urgent task is to rebuild a broad-based working class cadre with deep roots in its communities. This force can only be built through a combination of daily life and death struggles, and consistent political education. The cadre cannot be built after Covid19 has passed, it has to be built today – because without a working class cadre there will be no ‘after Covid19’ for large sections of the working class.
Democratise! Build community control of the Covid19 struggle!
“The liberation of the working class can only be undertaken by the working class itself”. This old principle of working class struggle has become even more important in the struggle against Covid19. Since the beginning of Covid19, working class communities have been treated as passive recipients of donations, of food aid and other forms of aid. In the mainstream media , working class communities are most often portrayed as pleading for help and scrambling for food parcels. Not only did the state not undertake any serious campaign to inform communities, but no serious attempt to consult and draw communities into responding to the crisis has been undertaken. The state has only seen poor communities as posing a danger to society, and as objects to be controlled and disciplined by the military and police. We know that the state is afraid that bringing communities on board and putting them in charge of their own fate will raise all the contradictions of neoliberalism, and will lead to demands for more radical change. In some cases activists have unwittingly treated communities not as leaders of the struggle, but as recipients of aid.
Organise neighbourhood assemblies!
Our main and immediate task is to build neighbourhood assemblies so that the struggle against the pandemic can be democratised. Control of decisions regarding defences against the pandemic (including availability of food, water, sanitation and so on) must be decided democratically. Members of the community know the community best, and they will be able to find a range of solutions to these challenges. Combined with links between different neighbourhood assemblies, the working class will be able to advance the best ideas to contain the pandemic and to ensure it is defeated.
The building of neighbourhood assemblies will be a product of discussions, debates and experimentation. There is no single road to building the assemblies, and each experiment will be informed by the experience of particular neighbourhoods, by the history of organisation in each neighbourhood, by the specific struggles that trigger the formation of the assemblies, by the challenges of organising under ‘lock-down’ conditions, and by the balance of forces (between the working class and local functionaries of the ruling class) within communities. Our activists’ access to a range of resources, the level of their experience in organisation building, the training and constant advice the Campaign collective is able to give to them – all of these will determine the speed with which we are able to set up these assemblies. What is clear is that democratising the struggle and ensuring it is controlled from below is the key to our ability to succeed in this struggle.
The overall role of these assemblies has been spelt out in the platform of the Campaign, and includes dealing with community survival and prevention of the spread of the disease, and engaging in struggle to ensure that the state provides the necessary resources to fight the pandemic.
Build women’s leadership in the assemblies!
Since the emergence of the post-apartheid social movements, women have made up the majority of the members of the working class engaged in struggles against the effects of neoliberalism. The reason for the emergence of women as a major force is to be found in the way capitalism has restructured the working class. Women have been the ones responsible for social reproduction in communities and within the homes, and as unemployment and informalisation have grown they have borne the burden of ensuring communities and families survive.
In our platform we emphasised that “all aspects of organising [must] be gendered and purposeful, ensuring sensitivity to women”. We said that “the needs of women and children must be prioritised and our demands must be gendered…Feminising our struggles is simultaneously a defensive and offensive approach that will enrich and invigorate the struggle, ensure creative responses and guarantee success”. All organisations and activists active in the Campaign must be required to spell out how they are approaching the role of women in the different communities, and what plans they have to build women’s leadership. The campaign must hold regular reports and discussions on how the centrality of women in our campaign is being implemented. Within the campaign itself, we must promote and foreground the role of women militants, and struggle against age-old practices that privilege men and marginalise women militants. This is a difficult struggle for many movements and militants, but without confronting these questions our movement and struggles will fail.
Ensure the involvement of the youth in Assemblies!
The majority of South Africa’s population is the youth. Together with women, this section of the population bears the brunt of the policies of neoliberalism. More than 50% of the youth are unemployed and have no income. For this reason, the youth are involved in all struggles in townships, and make up the most militant sections of the community. Our campaign needs to raise issues affecting the youth, and it needs to ensure that the youth is involved in the decision-making forums of the assemblies.
The Assemblies must struggle against corruption and patronage!
The form that assemblies will take must be the work of organising and experience.
Within our communities there are many organisations that the working class has set up to support each other, to create livelihoods (including mutual aid societies), and to ensure cohesion within the community. As we build neighbourhood assemblies we need to ensure that we have as broad a participation as possible while at the same time ensuring that forces allied to the ruling class do not derail the democratisation process by introducing patronage-type practices within the assemblies. Within the campaign itself, there will need to be a consistent building of the political and organisational skills needed to recognise patronage politics, ensure that the voices and interests of the masses of the people are put first. Our activists need to avoid instances of petty-corruption when confronted with the pressures of livelihoods, and they need to valorise honesty as well as progressive personal and social values. The campaign must confront these questions, drawing on the lessons of how they formed part of the dynamic of the collapse of the ‘new social movements’ on the eve of Marikana.
Defend Communities! Build Solidarity Networks!
The Covid19 pandemic will lay bare all the problems of the last 25 years of neoliberalism – from lack of water, poor health systems, food insecurity, lack of housing and a range of other problems. Over and above all this, the response of the state and the ANC to the pandemic is intensifying many of these problems, and forces the working class to organise to defend itself – first against the immediate spread of the coronavirus and against infections, and secondly against the immediate impact of state policies, including the acceleration of hunger and repression.
Build democratic networks of mutual aid!
A third stream of our strategy is to mount an immediate defence of communities against the spread of the coronavirus, and against hunger and other immediate threats to the lives of working class communities. In our platform we have highlighted many interventions and
demands that cumulatively take up the defence of working class communities against the coronavirus in the short-term. We highlighted the work that needs to be done: to ensure that the working class understands some of the basic hygiene that can prevent infection; to distribute sanitizers; and to distribute food to hungry communities. While we have undertaken these important interventions, we have not yet built on the traditions of mutual aid and social solidarity within the working class. These traditions are well-known and are embedded in the daily language of the working class. In order to draw on these traditions and knowledge within the working class, we need to struggle for spaces to organise and for democratic neighbourhood assemblies.
In undertaking this struggle we need to be mindful that these traditions of mutual aid have been infiltrated by the politics of patronage and by class formation, and that sections of the local elites have tried to use these networks as bases for accumulation. Our campaign needs to approach these traditions critically, and to raise the profile of solidaristic impulses that went into the formation of these traditions in the first instance.
From mutual aid to struggles for state delivery of services!
Our strategy of defence of working class communities begins with organising mutual aid within the working class, it ensures that the way we organise becomes a vehicle for democratisation, but it also understands that given the huge demands of the Covid19 pandemic mutual aid on its own will not be enough to meet the defensive needs of communities against the pandemic. Our struggles will therefore immediately transition from the organisation of democratic networks of mutual aid to demands on the state to provide services that will save the lives of working class communities.
In public pronouncements the state has pretended to meet many of these immediate demands. These have included the provision of water, the provision of food parcels, and now grants to the unemployed. We are aware of the inadequacy of these measures, and we also know that the state has largely failed to implement them. The popularisation of the promises made by the state, the exposure of the state’s failure to implement these promises, and an explanation to the working class of how the failure of the state is linked to policies of neoliberalism – all these interventions form an important part of defensive actions by our campaign.
From democratic networks of mutual aid to political struggle against neoliberalism!
Our platform has emphasised that the struggle against the pandemic is fundamentally a political and social struggle. The neoliberal politics of the ruling class and its combined elites are the sources of South Africa’s inability to respond effectively to Covid19 when it comes to the majority of the population. The determination of the state to continue on this neoliberal course will constitute the primary cause of the deaths of tens of thousands that can be expected from the pandemic. The struggle for democratic community control of the response to Covid19, and the immediate defensive struggles of communities against the coronavirus will fail to meet the multiple challenges of Covid19 if they do not transition into fundamental and systemic struggles against neoliberalism itself. We cannot stem the tide of hunger without the defeat of the mean and means-testing neoliberal regime of state grants. To realise our demands for a universal basic income grant, now more necessary than ever, we need to challenge all aspects of neoliberalism. An all-rounded challenge to neoliberalism has become a necessity for our survival – at the levels of its philosophy (its attitude to life vs profits), at the level of its attitude to women, at the level of its attitude to nature and the environment and at the level of what constitutes an “economy”, among many others. We need to wage a relentless and uncompromising battle on all fronts against every manifestation of neoliberalism. Such is our task today. Such is the strategy our movement.
Defend! Democratise! Politicise!