Political Programme of the South African Communist Party

Adopted by the 11th Congress, July 2002


  1. The current phase of the National Democratic Revolution
  2. Towards a progressive growth and development strategy – With and for…the workers and the poor
  3. The South African Revolution in its international context
  4. The SACP and the present political and ideological terrain
  5. Taking forward the struggle for socialism -- with and for…the workers and the poor
  6. The role and character of the SACP




The April 1994 democratic breakthrough represented the strategic defeat of white minority rule, and the state form (colonialism of a special type) that had underpinned a particular path of capitalist accumulation over the previous century. Led by the ANC and its revolutionary alliance, the 1994 breakthrough represented a huge advance for a bloc of radical forces with their mass base amongst the historically oppressed black majority and working class.

In the brief period since 1994, the ANC-led government has spearheaded very significant advances. Among the most important are:

  • Restoration of political peace, the marginalisation and defeat of a counter-revolutionary ultra-right, and the consolidation of relatively high levels of political stability;

  • The inauguration, nurturing and consolidation of a thoroughly progressive, democratic constitution, and the steady transformation and democratisation of the judiciary;

  • The inauguration and relative stabilisation of multi-party, one-person one-vote, elected legislatures and executives in all three spheres (national, provincial and local);

  • The relatively rapid and relatively successful transformation of the security forces – a process that remains, of course, an ongoing but already considerably stabilised reality.

  • The rolling out of a strategy that is beginning to get a handle on the serious crime challenge. After an initial post-1994 escalation of violent crime, there is a heartening stabilisation and the beginning of a rolling back of many (but not all) varieties of violent crime – although still at unacceptably high levels

  • Very significant labour market reforms, ensuring many more rights for workers.

  • Major transformation programmes in the provision of health, education and training, electricity, telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, and the beginnings of land restitution and land reform. Many of these measures have increased the social wage of workers and the poor.

These are remarkable achievements, and few societies and governments can boast so many major transformational achievements within such a short time-span. However, notwithstanding these and many other major transformational programmes, the systemic inequalities and under-lying structural crises that we have inherited are proving to be extremely stubborn.

Race, class and gender continue to play a determining role in regard to poverty and inequality. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, and despite the ending of formal racial discrimination in 1994, racial inequality remains a dominant reality. However, as inequality between races diminishes marginally and as intra-race (within racial groups) inequality grows, increasingly it is class that is the most significant determining factor underpinning poverty and deepening inequality.

The economy is characterised by sluggish growth, continuing formal sector job losses; deepening poverty for many in the midst of persisting high inequality; disappointing levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); significant capital outflows from domestic and foreign multinantionals; and vulnerability to speculative movements on currency and capital markets.

Notwithstanding the defeat of the apartheid state and many outstanding achievements by the progressive forces since 1994, fundamentally the prevailing growth and accumulation path will not be able to resolve the systemic, structural crises of under-development that continue to beset our society.

This sobering reality is partly the result of the burden of the past (entrenched racial, capitalist and patriarchal power), and partly the result of new dynamics and challenges that include – the massive restructuring of the working class, the exposure of South Africa to global capitalist instability and patterns of development and under-development, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In the following sections and chapters we will deal with some of these in more detail.


The SACP, and the ANC-led alliance continue to affirm that the working class is the principal social motive force in the national democratic revolution. However, the objective capacity of the working class to play this role is challenged by the massive restructuring it is undergoing. In the decade before the 1994 democratic breakthrough, significant changes were beginning to occur within the working class, and since 1994 the trends have continued.

The most serious and dramatic tendency has been the job-loss blood-bath in the "formal" sector of the economy. Unemployment levels have risen almost without pause over the last decade. By 2001, the official unemployment figure on the expanded definition of the unemployed (i.e. including those who have given up looking for work) was 6,96 million, or 37 per cent of the potentially economically active.

The unemployment challenge is deepened by the fact that the economically active population is growing by half-a-million each year. Unemployment strikes at young people with particular severity. There were 2,5 million unemployed young people in 1999, (1,4 million young women, and slightly fewer than 1,1 million young men).

This dramatic shedding of jobs in the formal sector has been only partially off-set by rising "employment" in the "informal" (mainly survivalist) sector. Those active in this informal sector rose from 1 million to 2,7 million between 1996 and 2001.

These and other developments have resulted in a working class that is stratified into the following five broad categories:

  • Employed workers in core, mainly ‘full-time’, semi-skilled and skilled jobs in the major sectors of our economy (mining, manufacturing, the public service, parastatal and commercial sectors). This is the main base of the trade union movement. Politically, this stratum is the leading detachment in the struggles of the working class as a whole, because of its strategic economic location, revolutionary traditions and organisational muscle. It is this stratum that has borne the brunt of restructuring (retrenchments, casualisation, etc.).

  • The ‘peripheralised’ working class, principally made up of casual and contract labour in the major sectors of our economy, though concentrated in retail and textile sectors, with the mining sector increasingly employing contract labour. This stratum is on the periphery of the core of the working class. Through casualised and contract labour it does not have some of the benefits and security of full-time employment. Its growth is a direct outcome of casualisation, privatisation, outsourcing and general restructuring that affects the core of the working class. This stratum is increasingly being used as a substitute for permanent employment as well as being available to be used against, and to weaken the organisational capacity of the working class as a whole. For example, in a study done by Andrew Levy and Associates, covering the period 1994-1998, 68,3% of the companies surveyed (80,1% of which were unionised) had outsourced, and the majority (90,6%) of workers affected by outsourcing were blue-collar workers. Women are most affected by casualisation.

  • A rightless section of the working class, located mainly in the countryside as farm-workers, and as domestic workers (mainly women) in the urban areas. The South African Agricultural Plantation and Allied Workers Union estimates there are 1 million farm-workers who are unorganised, and there is no organisation of domestic workers of any significance. These workers are ‘rightless’ and unorganised. They are also amongst the most exploited and underpaid sections of the working class, working long hours with little recourse to trade union protection to advance their rights. Farm-workers are also located in vastly dispersed, remote areas. The conditions to which this stratum is subjected are substantively unchanged from the labour regime under apartheid. Change has passed them by. Again this is an area that requires renewed organisational attention. A systematic focus on the organisation of women will also go a long way in the mobilisation and organisation of this section of the working class.

  • An informalised working class found in the streets of our major cities, on the sides of the major highways and around tourist centres. This stratum includes the majority of taxi drivers, as well as thousands who are involved in some kind of self-employed activity, living from-hand-to-mouth. This stratum of the working class is, perhaps, one of the most neglected, sometimes even subjected to harsh action from some of our own local councils (like hawkers). As an Alliance we have left this section either completely unorganised or in the hands of reactionary and even counter-revolutionary elements. Our strategy towards this section requires high articulation between the residential and economic forms of organising in this sector. The SACP has a particularly important role in organising this sector, both residentially as well as around their immediate economic needs. A large section of retrenched workers also find themselves being thrown into this sector as joblessness increases. We need, amongst other things, to use the organisational experiences of retrenched former union members in organising this broader, informalised stratum of the working class.

  • Unemployed workers, who cannot find jobs, some coming in and out of the informal sector and others caught in a deep cycle of structural unemployment. The unemployed are largely concentrated in the periphery of our urban areas, in informal settlements, as well as in the former bantustan areas. They constitute a "reserve" army of labour, but the majority of these workers are likely to be permanently reserved in the light of growing joblessness and absence of other economic opportunities. In the former bantustans they are under the rule of chiefs, therefore highly susceptible to political manipulation and are vulnerable to patronage. In the informal settlements there is a growing phenomenon of shacklords who carry out all forms of extortion against the unemployed and vulnerable workers who are seeking to retain a place to live closer to potential areas of employment or informal self-employment. It is this section of the working class that is forced to live a parasitic type of a relationship to the main urban economies of our country, thus being highly vulnerable to criminality and all other forms of social ills of society. It is also from this stratum that reactionary forces are seeking to build an alternative power base to the Alliance. Tackling the question of unemployment constitutes the biggest economic challenge of our revolution at this point in time. Residential organisation is the prime form of organising this section of the working class, around developmental initiatives aimed at generating means of livelihood.

The restructuring and stratification of the working class in South Africa is closely linked to changes in the structure of capital in South Africa. Various processes associated with "globalisation" are impacting on South African-based conglomerates in several sectors – the focusing on "core-business", accompanied by outsourcing; integration into global networks, etc. In this context, a number of former conglomerates are seeking to transnationalise themselves, including through the relocation of listings and the movement of head-offices to the North. While many of these moves are presented as being "ultimately in the best interests of South Africa", they are, in fact, a major contributing factor to the weak growth, the huge job-loss blood-bath, and the deepening of overall systemic underdevelopment.


The Report of the Taylor Committee (the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa - March 2002) estimates, among other things that:

  • 45 per cent of our population (18 million people) live on less than $2 a day;

  • 25 per cent of African children have stunted growth, and 10 per cent of Africans are malnourished (underweight for their age);

  • 60 per cent of the poor get no social security transfers.

Measured on the Gini-coefficient, inequality in South Africa is fifth highest in the world. Persisting inequality amongst races remains a defining feature of our society – in 1996, 61 per cent of Africans lived in poverty, compared with only 1 per cent of whites.

However, inequality between races has been decreasing over the last 10 years, reflecting the mobility of a small but significant upper stratum of blacks. The persisting levels of deep inequality reflect, therefore, the increasing impact of class as a key determinant of inequality and poverty. In the words of the Taylor Committee: "In the period 1991-1996, while inequality between races decreased, intra-racial (that is, class) inequality increased. This suggests that the racial divide of the apartheid era, if left to its own devices, could become entrenched as a deep class divide in the post-1994 period (…) by the end of apartheid, intra-racial (class) inequality was contributing more to overall inequality than inter-racial inequality. The contribution of `within-group’ inequality to total inequality rose from 38 per cent in 1975 to 58 per cent in 1991 and 67 per cent in 1996".

The HIV/AIDS pandemic will impact (it already is impacting) in very significant ways on poverty, inequality and the general vulnerability of a large proportion of our people. Life expectancy at birth in South Africa has already declined from about 63 in 1996 to about 56 in 1999. It is likely to decline even further, and these declines will be particularly marked in specific age groups, the 0-4 year olds and the 25-34 year olds. The proportion of women in the total population will decline, as women are more vulnerable to HIV infection because of their lower social and economic status, and because of physiological factors. The projected age structure of our population shows that the proportion of dependent age groups – children and elderly people – will increase considerably in relation to the potentially economically active proportion of the population.

The working class and the poor – one aspect of the neo-liberal project is to divide a wedge between employed (and particularly skilled and semi-skilled, organised) workers and "the poor". Skilled and semi-skilled organised workers are presented as "selfish", a "labour aristocracy", resisting a "flexible" labour market, "protecting their own narrow interests", and generally resisting the imposition of neo-liberal, structural adjustment measures that will (supposedly) "attract investment", which will (supposedly) "promote growth", and which will (again supposedly) then "benefit the poor".

In the SACP’s use of the term, the "working class" is an analytic concept referring, in the first place, to role and function in the relations of production. The working class, in the strict and narrowest sense of the word, is the active, waged proletariat, producing surplus value in the capitalist mode of production. However, this working class is reproduced within a variety of social structures, notably the house-hold, and individual members of this proletariat are constantly moving in and out of a large unemployed, or semi-, or self-employed, reserve labour of army. It is important to understand that the members of proletarian households, and the wider category of the reserve labour of army are all, properly speaking, part of the working class. Which is not to deny, as we have already noted, that this working class is stratified in several ways.

"Poverty" is a more descriptive term – referring to a range of indicators (which are, nonetheless, real enough), including income, social exclusion, and vulnerability. Poverty is often (and appropriately) measured by household. This means that there is not an absolute coincidence of poverty and of being a member of the working class (either in the narrow or broader sense).

Some skilled and even semi-skilled workers will not be found in the ranks of the absolutely poor. However, many semi-skilled workers are the sole earners in extended house-holds, and are, therefore, indeed living in deep poverty. With high levels of unemployment and mass retrenchments, and with a very inadequate social security system, currently employed skilled and semi-skilled workers are also vulnerable to being plunged into unemployment and resultant poverty at any moment.

Apart from skilled and semi-skilled workers, other categories of the working class are incontestably living in absolute poverty. In fact, about 30 per cent of employed workers are in households in the bottom five deciles. While only 13 per cent of manufacturing workers are in this category, farm labourers, domestic workers, other unskilled categories are overwhelmingly clustered into the categories of poverty and absolute poverty.

The SACP rejects all attempts to drive a wedge between the working class and the poor. As an analysis of our South African reality such a wedge flies in the face of the dominant reality. Politically, wedge-driving is intended to distance the best organised, the most strategically located sections of the working class from the mass of the poor.

The working class (as our ANC-led alliance has once more recently re-affirmed) remains the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution. Any weakening of the working class, any undermining of its mobilisational capacity, any dampening of its revolutionary aspirations, will have dire consequences for the prospects of consolidating the NDR.

However, the unity, the revolutionary consciousness, the organisation and mobilisation of the working class and the poor in general are not things that can simply be taken for granted. It is for these reasons, that the SACP is advancing, as the key line of march for our time, the slogan – WITH AND FOR…THE WORKERS AND THE POOR!


National oppression, class exploitation and patriarchal domination are deeply entwined within the fabric of our society. Over many decades our Party has rooted its strategic approach to the struggle on an understanding of the deep linkages between national oppression and capitalist exploitation in South Africa. This legacy continues to characterise our society, and it lies at the heart of the SACP’s strategic socialist commitment to advancing, deepening and defending our national democratic revolution.

But it was not just colonial/racial oppression and class exploitation that intersected and reinforced each other. Through our own programmes of action and mobilisation, and through the influence of Marxist feminists, the Party has, in recent years, become more aware of the manner in which the South African capitalist path of accumulation relied heavily on patriarchal domination over black women (and, to some extent, black youth and the rural and migrant poor). Traditional structures of domination – chieftaincy, village headmen, and house-hold patriarchy – were appropriated, perverted, and their coercive features exaggerated for the purposes of colonial control and accelerated capitalist accumulation.

Pre-existing patterns of patriarchy amongst the black majority were transformed into subordinate adjuncts of the colonial (and later apartheid) state. In reserves/bantustans, in townships, in mine compounds, in the work-place, in squatter camps and in households, the oppressive white minority state cultivated and perverted traditional patriarchy. Numerous patriarchal structures were fostered as subordinate instruments of domination - "chiefs", "head-men", "indunas", "boss-boys", "war-lords", "shack-lords", vigilantes, and male house-hold heads. Black women, African women in particular, and black youth and the rural and migrant urban poor, continue to bear the brunt of this subordinate coercive apparatus, which, in many respects, remains in place.

It was not just perverted traditional African forms of patriarchy that oppressed black women. Patriarchal power relations from within the white minority ruling bloc further oppressed women, in particular black women. In white households and on white farms, it was often black women who were (and who still are) forced into the lowest paying and most menial work. In the "formal" sector of the economy, including the public sector, black women workers are often confined to the worst paying jobs, and they are those who are most likely to be employed as "casuals", and among the first to be retrenched when "rationalisation" and other measures are pursued.

The South African capitalist accumulation path has rested on the unspeakably harsh, triple oppression of the majority of women, perhaps in a more exaggerated and barbaric form than in almost any other society. Black women generally, and African women in particular, have played the central role in the reproduction of the working class – a working class that was "cheap" (for the capitalists), not just because it suffered direct coercion (colonial dispossession, pass laws, compounds, starvation wages), but also because the burden of its reproduction was carried by the unpaid labour of women. The triple oppression of black women (as workers, as blacks, and as women) forced them to bear the burden of care for the young, the unemployed, the old, the sick and disabled, and the vast reserve army of labour with the most pitiful resources.

Through survivalist activities, through micro-trading, through extended family networks (including the use of very young women and girls, "makotis", as household chattels), through resistance and collective endeavours (stokvels, burial societies, church groups) black women have played a coerced but absolutely central role in the accumulation process that developed (and simultaneously underdeveloped) South Africa. Women in great numbers have organised against their triple oppression, often playing the leading role in agitational, mobilisational and organisational work in our national liberation struggle. The SACP believes that the advancing, deepening and defence of the NDR, and a progressive transition to socialism are critical for these struggles to finally lead to outcomes that surpass the oppressive accumulation logic of capitalism. However, the de-racialisation of our society, and a dominant socialist ownership and control of the economy do not guarantee, on their own, that patriarchal oppression will be overcome.


In approaching the transformation of our country we have to deal with a terrible and interrelated triple legacy that, to some extent, gives South Africa a unique character:

  • Colonial dispossession - has left the overwhelming majority of our people deprived of sustainable means of independent survival, probably to a much greater extent, and for a much more extended period than virtually any other African or colonised society. It is true that many colonial invasions resulted in the genocidal extermination (or near extermination) of the indigenous peoples. In our case (although some of our indigenous peoples have suffered complete, or near complete, genocide), the greater proportion of indigenous peoples survived as an overwhelming (but thoroughly dispossessed) majority.

  • Partly linked to this is the prolonged colonial fostering, perversion and aggravation of traditional coercive patriarchy. This, as we have just argued, has placed an impossible burden on women, and young people, in carrying responsibility for social reproduction (care of the young, the aged, the unemployed). This is a responsibility more characteristically borne, in other societies, by relatively more durable household self-sufficiencey and/or the state and its public sector; and

  • The relatively advanced levels (for an African society) of capitalist development - and, therefore, of relatively advanced levels of urbanisation, proletarianisation and the commoditisation of basic needs. These have left the great majority of our people more or less entirely dependent on the capitalist market for work, and for means of survival (food, housing, loans, access to land, transport)

These three pillars of capitalist accumulation have left us, in many respects, with the worst of all worlds. The two greatest crises currently facing our society (the HIV/AIDS pandemic and unemployment of 37 per cent in 2001) further worsen, and, of course, highlight these three intersecting problems. Once more poor women (sometimes the very young, and very often the aged) are being forced to carry, through unpaid labour, the burden of care and general survival.

This triple legacy, which is not the product of a lack of development, but the product OF a particular kind of development (and its consequences – systemic under-development) now leaves us with a huge challenge.

A Marxist-feminist approach to the challenges facing our revolution helps us to understand, perhaps better than any other perspective, three crucial and closely related points:

One: Any sustainable growth and development strategy has to address, as a central (and not peripheral) task, the progressive eradication of patriarchal domination in production and in the social reproduction of the conditions for production

The struggle for a non-sexist society, the struggle to overcome gendered oppression is NOT simply about "integrating" women into the "modern" economy - as if their daily grind over more than a century had not been a critical element of the "modern" (i.e. capitalist) economy. Nor is it simply and primarily about promoting a quota of women into senior positions within the existing structures of power – although such promotion might help foster transformation.

Two: The progressive transformation of gendered power must be understood, theoretically and practically, as absolutely central to a growth and development strategy.

This means, amongst other things:

  • Engendering our entire approach to the economy

  • Integrating the analysis of the reproductive and informal economies within our analysis of the capitalist economy, and understanding their future potential role in constructing a socialist economy

  • Recognising that the subordination of women is fundamentally linked to capitalist exploitation

  • Promoting the role of the state and public sector in providing secure quality employment for women and men

  • The role of the state in setting an example as a model employer for women (through good working conditions, pay equity, maternity benefits, job security and affirmative action)

  • Deepening and extending the provision of social services by the state

  • Establishment of an integrated system of social protection and the promotion of a social wage

  • The social wage should include the development of infrastructure, facilities and services that reduce the disproportionate reproductive and care-giving responsibilities of women (thus moving towards the socialisation of reproductive labour)

  • Driving a bold state-led rural development strategy, including service and infrastructure provision and job creation projects (e.g. public works programme)

  • Promoting and supporting sustainable livelihoods, income security and food security

  • Promoting women’s access to land

  • Campaigning against privatisation measures that deepen the reliance of millions of unemployed and poor on the capitalist market for basic necessities, and which, therefore, increase the burden of social reproduction placed on poor women

Three (and by extension from the above two points) In both theory and in practice we must:

  • Avoid separating "development" from any sustainable "growth" strategy;

  • Avoid separating "social" transformation from "economic" transformation, as if they belonged to two separate worlds; and (a related tendency)

  • Avoid separating the "informal" sector from the "formal", as if what happens in the one is more or less unrelated to what happens in the other.

These are themes will be taken up in the following chapter. Critical, however, to any success is the organisation, the ideological development, the unity and the general subjective and objective strengthening of the key motive force of our struggle – the working class.



The SACP remains deeply committed to the strategic objective of advancing, deepening and defending the national democratic revolution. The strategic goals of the NDR are crucial objectives in their own right, but, in South African conditions, and from the strategic perspective of the SACP, they also represent the most direct route towards a socialist transition.

At the SACP’s 1995 9th National Congress, in addition to reaffirming our strategic commitment to the NDR ("Advance, Deepen and Defend the Democratic Breakthrough"), we also adopted another strategic slogan: "Socialism is the Future, Build it Now".

What does it mean, and why has the SACP adopted this strategic slogan?


By the 1990s the SACP had long abandoned (if, indeed, it ever fully accepted) a mechanical "two stage" approach with a Chinese wall (or rather, with another revolutionary seizure of power) in between a progressive NDR and a transition to socialism. Nonetheless, elements of stageism persisted in our theory and practice. It was in this context that, through the early 1990s, we debated how best to conceptualise the strategic relationship between the national democratic revolution and the transition to socialism. It was in this immediate context that we adopted our new programmatic slogan. This adoption did, indeed, mark a conceptual and programmatic shift in the theory of the SACP.

This shift was informed by several factors, both external and internal to our country:

The collapse of the Soviet bloc

Among the most important of these factors was the collapse of the Soviet bloc of socialist countries at the beginning of the decade of the 1990s. Through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, in the analysis of both the SACP and ANC, the existence of this socialist bloc created an important global counter-balance to the dominant imperialist bloc. This counter-balance, we argued, established conditions in which progressive national liberation movements in the South, having achieved power, had much greater prospects for advancing radical national democratic revolutions which were characterised as "non-capitalist", or as having a "socialist orientation".

Both the ANC and SACP argued that a more radical NDR of this kind was not only more possible (given the counter-balancing socialist bloc as a global reality), but absolutely essential to overcoming the legacy of colonialism of a special type within our country. In theory, then, the less favourable global balance of forces that prevailed after 1990 should not have impacted on the persisting necessity for a radical NDR with a "non-capitalist" or "socialist-orientation" – even if the prospects for successfully advancing such a programme had diminished.

However, in the course of the 1990s, there was a danger of re-defining what was necessary in the light of what was possible, and worse still, of doing this without effective and collective strategic assessment and analysis. The programmatic slogan "socialism is the future, build it now", was, in part, an attempt to insist on the continued relevance of socialism to the NDR and to the resolution of the legacy of CST, even if the advancing of a radical NDR had become considerable more difficult, post-1990.

Analysis of the successes and failures of the Soviet system

A second important factor that led to the SACP adopting the strategic slogan "socialism is the future, build it now" in 1995 was our analysis of the successes and failures of the Soviet socialist system itself. This was an analysis which we debated within our party, and which was (and is) also a collective endeavour which we have shared with a wide range of other Communist, worker and progressive international parties and formations in a great number of bilateral and multi-lateral forums.

Our analysis includes the growing conviction that part of the reason for the collapse of the Soviet bloc was an inadequate grasp of the profound inter-connections between a socialist transition and a globally dominant capitalism. After 1917, through a combination of deliberate imperialist isolation and ongoing destabilisation and strategic choices made in the Stalin years ("socialism in one country"), the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union was increasingly envisaged as a project more or less cut-off, more or less insulated from the globally dominant capitalist system.

After 1945, the strategic choice of building "socialism in one country" was extended (although not without many internal contradictions, including serious Sino-Soviet differences) to attempting to build "socialism in one bloc". In the Stalin period, the Marxist perspective of socialism emerging dialectically on the terrain of a dominant capitalism ("within the womb" of capitalism) was abandoned. It was asserted that socialism could only be built after a proletarian "seizure of power" and under the auspices of a "dictatorship of the proletariat".

There were, it should be noted, a number of theoretical inconsistencies that developed within this position. For instance, in the light of revolutionary experiences in the South in the course of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the hybrid concepts of a "non-capitalist" path, and "socialist-orientation" were developed. These envisaged progressive liberation movements in the South building capacity for socialism, momentum toward socialism and elements of socialism, in situations where the working class was still not the majority class force, and in which political power was held, not by a "dictatorship of the proletariat", but by a multi-class, radical national democratic bloc of forces.

The defence of socialist gains in Cuba and the PRC

This critical reflection within the SACP on socialist construction and on the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet bloc, coincided with significant practical and programmatic efforts in countries like Cuba and the Peoples Republic of China to defend their socialist gains, and to renew their socialist analysis in the context of the more unfavourable global situation after 1990.

In these, and other cases, the defence of socialism, and the renewal and re-invigoration of socialist strategy, involved an active and strategic engagement with global capitalism, but NOT, as was to happen in Yeltsin’s Russia, a surrender to global capitalism.

In Cuba the defence and renewal of socialism, it was realised, had to be conducted, at least to a certain extent, from "within the womb" (or rather on the terrain of) a globally dominant capitalist system, and not in an isolated bloc.

In the PRC this strategic perspective had already been partially adopted as early as 1978. These living experiences further reinforced the SACP’s conviction that the socialist future was one that had to be defended and built in the (capitalist-dominated) present.

Practical international experience of communist parties in capitalist countries

The 1994 democratic breakthrough in our own country and the new governing challenges confronted by our movement, also compelled the SACP to pay much greater attention to the actual socialist practice and real socio-economic gains achieved by Communist Parties (and other progressive forces) following electoral successes in countries that remained dominated by capitalism.

We have been studying and actively interacting with examples as diverse as communist- or progressive-controlled municipalities in France and Brazil, regions once controlled by the former Communist Party in Italy, the co-operative movement in Cyprus, and the examples of the Communist-controlled states of Kerala and West Bengal in India.

These and many other inspiring cases of major socio-economic transformations are, we believe, examples of the active construction of momentum towards, capacity for, and even elements of socialism on the terrain of societies still dominated by capitalism. These examples reinforced our conviction of the correctness of our "build it now" programmatic perspective.

Social democracy

The decade-and-a-half preceding 1990 had witnessed not just the growing stagnation and collapse of most of the Soviet socialist formations, but also the rolling back of many of the major progressive social-democratic gains achieved in some of the advanced capitalist countries.

Following two-and-a-half decades of post-war reconstruction and development after 1945, national capitalist corporations in Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, etc. were increasingly globally mobile and less dependent upon, and therefore less inclined to submit to, the discipline of national social accords. Under the impact of "Reagonomics" and "Thatcherism" (as neo-liberal policies were then called), following centre-right electoral victories in many of these countries, social democracy was itself increasingly rolled back.

These trends have produced contradictory outcomes within social democracy, the other major socialist legacy tracing its origins back to Marxism in the 19th century. On the one hand, the narrow electoral opportunism identified by Lenin and others as a key feature of social democracy has been accentuated in some cases, with the illusory pursuit of a "third way", and the abandonment of any reference to socialism ("social values" and "equity" – not equality- have become the new vogue concepts in some of these circles).

However, the attempts to roll back social welfare gains, the disastrous privatisation of social utilities, the de-industrialisation of major parts of the developed capitalist world, deepening unemployment, casualisation, labour market flexibility and transnationalisation of production have also resulted in a wide-range of progressive campaigns and organisational mobilisation originating in formations linked, or formerly linked to social democratic traditions. These have included many joint campaigns involving workers in the South and North (often employed by the same transnationals).

COSATU is now a leading affiliate of the ICFTU and the ANC is a recent, but active and prestigious member of the Socialist International. The ICFTU and SI were, of course, during the Cold War period, the leading international organs of the international social democratic movement, actively opposed to communism and communist parties. In the context of the new global realities, the SACP has welcomed the participation of our two alliance partners in these international bodies. A critical but open-minded analysis of the successes, limitations and failures of social democracy is also of great importance in seeking to renew the socialist project.

The 1994 democratic breakthrough

Our programmatic slogan was influenced by many considerations of the kind noted above, but it was also, above all, a response to the new challenges, and the considerably more favourable terrain that prevailed within our country after the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

Moreover, in the analysis of the Party (and of the ANC), the 1994 democratic breakthrough had brought into power a radical democratic bloc of forces, representing a range of oppressed classes and strata, but in which the working class was acknowledged as the key motive force. A mechanical two-stage approach might have led us to the erroneous (and divisive) conclusion that a socialist transition required another political revolution in which the working class, in the name of "socialism" overthrew its own national democratic state, and marginalized its own closest allies.

Whilst our slogan "Socialism is the future, build it now" does not call for an immediate transition to socialism, it underlines the fact that the 1994 democratic breakthrough provided a situation where momentum towards, capacity for, and even elements of socialism could (and needed to) be struggled for in the present as an integral part of advancing, deepening and defending the NDR.

Building elements of socialism

From the SACP perspective, all of the programmatic tasks elaborated in this document are part and parcel of advancing the NDR and building momentum towards, capacity for, and elements of socialism. Building elements of socialism includes the following core components:

  • Consolidating worker-led popular power by consolidating a national democratic, developmental state that is characterised by its strategic capacity to lead the struggle against capitalist under-development;

  • Rolling back the capitalist market – the decommodification of basic needs. Water, electricity, health-care, housing, transport, culture and information should primarily not be commodities. The SACP is committed to struggle against the overbearing supremacy of the capitalist market, which seeks to turn everything into a commodity, and all of us into simple buyers and sellers. We must struggle for the decommodification of increasing spheres of society;

  • Transforming the market – the decommodification of key areas of our society does not mean abolishing the market altogether, but rather the rolling back of its empire. Insofar as markets continue to be an important regulator of distribution, we must also engage with them. Markets are not some "neutral" reality, merely reflecting the "free play" of supply and demand. Present markets reflect the accumulated class power of capitalists. We need to intervene with collective social power on the markets to challenge and transform the power relations at play within them. Struggles to transform market power include:

  • developing an active labour market – strengthening the power of trade unions, skills training and adult basic education. These are all measures which change, to some extent, the terms on which workers confront capitalists on the labour market;

  • the effective use of state subsidies, tendering policies, regulatory controls, community re-investment legislation, etc. to transform and democratise markets;

  • the establishment of effective consumer negotiating forums and ombud bodies.

  • Socialising the ownership function – we have already noted the several ways in which the ownership function must be socialised, including:

  • building a strong public sector in the context of consolidating a national democratic, developmental state;

  • fostering an extensive co-operative sector;

  • more effective strategic worker control over social capital (like pension and provident funds).

  • A moral renewal of our society – based on solidarity, with and for…the workers and the poor – the dominant moral values of capitalism in our epoch (rampant individualism, the apeing of the most backward and commercialised made-in-the-USA assumptions, self-advancement as a combination of voluntarism and the lottery, patriarchy and militarism, the flaunting of wealth and conspicuous consumption, cynicism about public institutions) are impacting on our own society with extremely negative consequences. The reaction to this aggressive and "globalised" value-system is often a retreat from modernity into one or another conservative fundamentalism, or into a narrow and individualised "moralising" that is removed from wider socio-economic realities. These kinds of retreats are absolutely inadequate for the grounding of a relevant moral renewal of our society. In the view of the SACP, the affirmation of socialist values of egalitarianism, liberty and solidarity with and for the workers and the poor need to play a critical role in the "RDP of the soul" which is integral to our overall NDR.

The strategy of the Party can be summarised as being:

  • to advance, deepen and defend the NDR as a foundation for and as the most direct route to building socialism; and

  • to build momentum towards, capacity for and elements of socialism as the most consistent means for advancing, deepening and defending the NDR.

These two dimensions of our strategy, the national democratic and the socialist, are not contradictory but mutually reinforcing.


We have referred to the building of capacity for, momentum towards, and even elements of socialism in the present. But what do we mean by "socialism". Socialism is, in the first instance, an economy in which social ownership is, both in strategic capacity and in actual GDP terms, the preponderant form of economic ownership. 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 and controlled funds) and various forms of co-operative ownership.

A socialist economy is, itself, a transitional, mixed economy, and from the perspective of the Communist Party, it is a terrain on which, using the preponderance of social ownership, there are the real possibilities of greatly enhancing the democratisation of society, of overcoming the systemic exploitation built into capitalist accumulation, and of progressively abolishing patriarchy and of progressively empowering women.

The long-term objective of the SACP is to move through a socialist transition to a communist society involving the abolition of all forms of capitalist exploitation both within our country, and, indeed, on a global scale.

In political terms, a socialist society is one in which the working class and its allies have constituted themselves into a ruling bloc, with massive popular support as the bedrock for weathering the inevitable attempts to punish or destabilise such an advance. It will be this working class-led ruling bloc, in a democratic dispensation, that will determine the manner in which social surplus is distributed in favour of the overwhelming majority of the people, with a particular focus on overcoming class, national and patriarchal oppression.

The development of a theory and programme for a transition to socialism could not and should not involve a blue-print. The manner in which each society will proceed in the struggle for socialism will be determined by its own conditions, and the path to be followed will be shaped by these.

In our South African conditions the democratic breakthrough of 1994 provides us with the space to embark on massive socialist education and propaganda amongst the working class and the overwhelming majority of our people who stand to benefit from a socialist economy.

The existence of a large, organised and militant working class – one of the largest on the African continent – that is relatively well organised and deeply steeped in the traditions of struggle is a huge asset that the Party needs to constantly to engage with and mobilise behind a socialist programme. The largest trade union component, COSATU officially stands for socialism, an asset upon which we must advance. Our task is that of building the political consciousness and political confidence of the working class, not in abstract terms, but by taking up concrete struggles on issues affecting the daily lives of working people and the poor.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid capitalism has created fertile ground for socialist consciousness, ideas and propaganda. The fact that capitalism is currently deepening, rather than overcoming, the many national, class and gender aspects of the apartheid legacy, particularly for the mass of the working and people of our country, is an additional reason why there is a deep-seated and relatively spontaneous sympathy for socialism. The scale of unemployment, retrenchments, the increasing feminisation of poverty and of casualisation, despite major labour reform gains, is impoverishing and informalising the working class, particularly its African majority.

Linked to the fertile ground for extensive socialist education and propaganda is the need to extend, broaden and deepen the independent programme of the SACP to reach, and be owned by, the widest possible sections of the working class and the landless rural masses. For instance, our current campaign for the transformation of the financial sector should be explicitly linked to the capitalist character of the financial sector and the need to create an alternative socialised financial services sector, capable of responding to the needs of the working people and the poor. Our programme should also aim at harnessing the already existing ‘socialist’ experiences of stokvels and burial societies to link this to the broader consciousness of building a socialised financial sector.

All our campaigns – transformation of the financial sector, building a strong and accountable public sector, building co-operatives, a developmental industrial policy, provision of free basic services – must be consciously linked to a critique of, and education about the evils of capitalism and gender oppression, the rolling back of the capitalist market, the decommodification of the provision of basic needs and to building elements of socialism in the current period.

Underpinning these campaigns must be a renewed focus on the production and distribution of party literature within the ranks of the working class and mass of the people of our country. All our structures need to understand that without effective distribution of party literature our vision and struggle for socialism is severely compromised. The coming few years should focus on developing more creative mechanisms for distributing our literature as an indispensable component of building socialist consciousness and building the political confidence of the working class.


The role and character of the SACP need to be based on our analysis of the strategic and tactical challenges confronting communists in South Africa, outlined in the previous sections of this document.

In the first place, the SACP has been, and remains, an active participant within a long-term strategic alliance, led, not by the SACP, but by the ANC. The leadership role of the ANC in the context of our NDR is not something imposed upon an otherwise reluctant SACP, "because the ANC happens to be larger or better resourced". The leadership role of the ANC (along with its size and resourcing) is something for which communists (with many others) have struggled - in the case of communists since the late 1920s. It is a leadership role to which thousands of communists still daily contribute.

In the present political reality, the leadership role of the ANC includes the fact that it is as the ANC that we contest elections, and it is under an ANC direct mandate that thousands of SACP members (along with other ANC comrades) participate in national and provincial cabinets and legislatures, and in local councils.

The role of the SACP is, essentially, to be a party of strategic influence and activism, to play a vanguard role in consistently representing the immediate and long-term interests of the working class and the poor, within the context of a multi-class liberation movement and NDR. The Party seeks to play this consistent class role by, amongst other things, propagating socialist values, a socialist perspective, and programmes of action that are capable of building momentum towards, capacity for, and elements of socialism.

The character of the SACP derives directly from these strategic roles. After the Party emerged in 1990 from 40 years in the underground, there were many internal SACP debates about whether the newly legalised Party should surface as a "vanguard" or "mass" party. Participants on both sides of the debate often confused role and character. We believe that, over the past decade, we have begun to answer this debate, both in theory and practice. The role of the SACP is, indeed, to act as a vanguard within the NLM and NDR. However, in order to play this role effectively, the SACP needs to have a relatively mass character.

In building the SACP as a vanguard party with a relatively mass character, some of the key considerations we take into account are:

  • developing capacity to effectively unite and provide leadership to the working class and the urban and rural poor;

  • developing and deepening the presence and influence of the Party in key sectors of power;

  • fostering a capacity to have a wider influence within society;

  • having a capacity to play an international role, engaging with counterparts, learning from and contributing to the international defence and renewal of the socialist project;

Targeted recruiting

The SACP cannot play a vanguard role if, in its character, in its membership and profile, it is not rooted amongst the classes and strata it seeks to represent and influence.

This means that the Party’s profile should, in the first instance, reflect the class we seek to lead. To this end we need targeted recruitment into COSATU and its affiliates, based on our assessment of our strength and presence within each of the COSATU affiliates. Secondly, we need to extend our recruitment into affiliates of other federations, in NACTU and FEDUSA. Such a presence will help to contribute, amongst other things, to our goal of a single union federation in our country. In this regard we need also to consciously place high on our organisational agenda the issue of recruiting more women cadres from the trade union movement. The Party needs, also, to build on its experience of uniting African workers and Indian, Coloured and (progress is being made on this front too) white workers.

The working class is much broader than unionised workers, although this sector is critical. What is more, due to mass retrenchments, casualisation, feminisation, and the growth of survivalist work in the "informal" sector, the working class in South Africa (and internationally) is undergoing major (often painful) restructuring. In the coming years, the SACP needs to target work and recruitment more effectively into all of these strata of the working class, paying particular attention to the super-exploited – including street vendors, spaza shop owners, farmworkers, domestic workers and the unemployed.

In the coming years, the Party needs more actively to take forward our experiments with different forms of grass-roots organisation. The fluid restructuring of the working class means that we need to be extremely creative with both residential and work-place based organising.

If we are seriously to take forward the Party’s struggle against patriarchy, we need to extend our overall recruitment of women cadres. We need to ensure that our organisational work, and basic Party life is conducive to, and meaningful for women cadres. This means paying particular attention to the character of meetings, the style of discussion and debate, the development of male cadres, ensuring that they, too, are gender conscious.

Further attention needs to be given to our relationship to various other class and social forces in society – including the youth, intellectuals and cultural workers, black professionals and small business-people and emerging black sections of the bourgeoisie. Neither should we rule out engagement with traditional leaders, something that is happening with some positive impact in certain provinces. Our ideological orientation and many of our campaigns, like the financial sector campaign, strike a chord with a wide range of class forces and strata, and we need to build on this.

In order to unite the working class as a whole we need targeted recruitment into the informal and super-exploited sections of the working class, including street vendors, spaza shop owners, farmworkers, and domestic workers, including the unemployed. The informalised sector is increasingly made up of women, which requires a strategy that combines organising around both immediate economic issues as well as empowerment of women. It is critical that over the next four years particular attention be focused on these sections of the working class, as part of our overall responsibility to unite the working class as a whole.

Our experience of the last few years confirms powerfully what we have always known. Party-building and recruitment are closely connected to mass campaigning and mobilisation. The biggest percentage growth in Party membership, since our last Congress in 1998, was between October 2000 and the end of 2001 – clearly related to our Red October financial sector campaign.

At the end of the day, our principal organisational watch-word must be: "WITH AND FOR…THE WORKERS AND THE POOR’.

The challenge of answerability to the Party for communists deployed in other structures

The SACP is very proud that thousands of communists serve in many leading positions in government, in legislatures, in local councils, in parastatals, in trade unions, in the ANC, in social movements, in NGOs, and in various social institutions. Activism by our members in the work of government, our mass organisations, and our communities is a critical communist task.

At all times, communists must be loyal and exemplary members of these various formations. Communists must not act in high-handed, or factionalising, or entryist ways. Insofar as they are acting under the discipline of these other formations, they are bound by the mandates and policies of these formations. Elected communist cadres in governmental executive and legislature structures are, without exception, all elected as ANC members. The SACP has deliberately and consistently thrown its full weight behind the ANC electoral platform and campaigns.

It is, however, also important to ensure that elected communists in government and legislatures, and that communists in other deployments, always act in a manner that is not fundamentally contrary to Party principles and general policies – even though the immediate mandate is not that of the SACP. It is also important that communists seek to influence the broad perspectives of government and of other allied formations, without being manipulative. This is not always an easy challenge, but it is a critical communist task.

We believe that there are at least two important ways in which we should seek to meet this challenge:

  • In the first place, the Party must, to the best of its ability, greatly enhance its own policy-development and evaluation capacity, especially in areas of strategic importance to the SACP and its core constituency. The sense of general accountability to the Party by those deployed outside of the Party is sometimes weakened by the inability of the Party to provide helpful strategic orientation.

  • However, the Party will only consolidate and deepen this capacity if, at the same time, all Party members, irrespective of their other deployments, fully participate in the inner life of the Party, including in the implementation of its programmes.

Consolidating financial sustainability

Over the last several years, the SACP has made major strides, particularly through our Debit Order campaign, in building a basis for effective financial sustainability.

This remains one of the most challenging questions facing the SACP. Financial sustainability is essential for the implementation of our strategic objectives and programmes, and for improving our capacity for tactical flexibility.

We need to use the next four years to attain financial sustainability, improving, in particular, the capacity of Party structures at all levels to raise funds. The more the Party is reliant on our own mass-base, the more we are able to fulfil our strategic watch-word: "WITH AND FOR…THE WORKERS AND THE POOR"