Target: 50,000 Leading Cadres in 5 years: How to get there

“…educate, organise, mobilise…” (SACP Constitution)

By Dominic Tweedie, December 2005.

What does this topic mean?

In the first place it is an introduction to the Johannesburg Central YCL’s study classes for 2006.

In the second place it is a general encouragement to reflect upon the theory and practice of learning so as to be able to create an effective way forward (a “Pedagogy of the Oppressed) for ourselves; and also for those we aspire, as communists, to lead.

In the third place it is a practical assessment of the revolutionary tasks ahead of us, in approximate quantitative terms.

Let us start with the conclusion, since this is always the logical thing to do.

Why in 5 years?

These figures are obviously not exact, but ask yourselves, if you want socialism in your lifetime, as the YCL slogan has it, then what sort of plan is needed?

2009 is the likely date of the next general election. That is four years away. Perhaps we should be saying 50,000 cadres in four years, and not five?

The bourgeoisie is making its plans for 2009. When President Mbeki hands over to a new President, the bourgeoisie is planning an offensive. They want to make sure once and for all that the country will be bourgeois forever. That is impossible, but that is what they are trying for.

Should our ambitions and our practical plans be weaker than those of the bourgeoisie?

Why do we need 50,000 cadres?

At a recent SACP Party-Building Meeting a leading comrade spoke of recruiting 10% of COSATU’s membership into the SACP.

That would amount to around 200,000 members. The existing SACP membership nationally may be of the order of 20,000, although figures given have varied between 15,000 and more than 30,000 in the recent past as far as I know.

For the sake of this preliminary discussion it is sufficient to have a reasonable “order of magnitude” idea of what we are and what we think we should be. For that purpose we can say that what we are of the order of 20,000 and we would like to be 200,000.

These are figures for communists, and we need to consider: What is a communist?

For these practical purposes I believe we must conceive of the working class, the new party member, the useful cadre, and the experienced leader, as all part of the same continuum. There is no sudden moment of arrival. There has to be political education at every level. The number of available cadres will be first and foremost a function of the rate of work done. Cadres are never “in the bank”. They are always “in production”.


According to the SACP Constitution a branch is not supposed to exceed 100 members before it splits into new branches.

Therefore if we want a party of 200,000 members there will have to be at least 2,000 branches. Let us use that figure for the moment.

Each Branch must have an Executive Committee of ten. This is more than a constitutional requirement. It is a practical necessity. Indeed ten is too few for the tasks that need to be done by a BEC.

Two thousand branches will therefore need 20,000 BEC members. These need to be comrades who we can call cadres.

In addition, a functioning communist party branch is not simply a leadership. It must have as many or more comrades of an equivalent calibre to its BEC. Let us say this number is 15. It is not an exaggerated figure. Party cadres are the officers of the whole movement, including the trade union movement and the ANC, as well as many other structures, including the SACP’s own higher committees.

Taking the BEC and another 15 cadres makes 25 cadres per branch out of a hundred. That does not seem an overly ambitious proportion. Once again, this is not a static number, but the number within a moving continuum who, at any given moment, are functional cadres for the party.

25 times 2,000 equals 50,000.

Let us remind ourselves at this point that a communist Party’s leadership is not measured in numbers. It is measured in quality, The SACP and the CPSA have not usually been large parties and at certain periods the number were deliberately limited, and this did not reduce the party’ political effectiveness and historic leadership.

What distinguishes cadres is their quality. Therefore the challenge is firstly one of producing quality cadres at the desired scale.

Collective learning and the Communist University.

The Communist University is based on a long tradition of “critical pedagogy”. To study more about this, please use the links on the page in the Communist University web site called “Critical Pedagogy”, especially the five items under the title “Short texts on Critical Pedagogy”.

For the purpose of this discussion the critical point is that the collective political consciousness of the party and the class have to be built collectively. It is not sufficient to have individuals reading and studying alone. Nor is it adequate to have lectures, however brilliant. There must be dialogue between the party members.

The solution used by Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and countless other communists including the CPSA and the SACP is the study circle. The Communist University is a study circle. Perhaps it is able to be the more systematic because it is able to use computer technology such as Internet downloads, e-mail, CD recording of data, and web-sites, But in essence it is a study circle.

Quantifying the output

One of the advantages of the bourgeois “banking” method of education is that its “outcomes” can be quite easily measured, like the products of a factory. Freirean dialogical education is not constrained in the same way and does not produce unitised outcomes.

Our Communist University has not devoted much time or effort to attempts to measure output. But from the register sheets it is clear that an average of about 15 people attend the physical sessions every week at the Women’s Jail, with about 40 sessions happening in the year.

In addition there are the YCL weekly and fortnightly ANC courses involving more people.

The e-mail circulation has been steady at about 400 for several months.

The traffic of the new web site is not known.

At this point we must begin to guess in order to complete the process. Because it is necessary to quantify both the need and the supply and then to compare and draw conclusions. We feel the need for 50,000 cadres in five years, which is 10,000 per year.

Let us assume that the Communist University produces 100 cadres of varying degrees of effectiveness per annum through its various activities.

In that case what we need is 100 Communist Universities around the country, or slightly more than an average of ten per province. That is very possible.

What are the prerequisites?

The Communist University has produced, as a by-product, resources that are now available to all. The material on the web site and on the CD are a sufficient feed-stock for any study circle.

Comrades need to avail themselves of the electronic media to a greater extent. That is to say, mainly e-mail and Internet. They need to become communicators as well as recipients of communication..

Apart from these things, we may say in communist terms that the objective means - the material means - are available. What remains is the subjective factor. It requires willpower. It requires dedicated comrades who will attend to the study circles on a consistent basis, sending out invitations and distributing reading texts in advance, making sure of venues and smoothing out any difficulties that may arise.

We need ten or twenty such comrades in each province.

And finally

Let’s not forget that as SACP we are supposed to be producing revolutionaries. We are supposed to be generating people who can think for themselves and act when necessary and not delay past the time when action can be effective.

However, the fourth page of this reading is the generic sheet originally drafted for the ANC. The requirements for cadres are similar for any structure.


What is the purpose of Political Education?

The main purpose of political education is to prepare cadres who can do the work of the organisation. As soon as a leadership is formed it begins to deplete, because comrades are deployed to higher structures. Others move away. For these reasons the branch needs to generate a steady stream of new cadres who are ready to take up the leadership and administration of the branch.

When political education is carried out consistently, it also becomes a way of recruiting new members. Ordinary citizens may be persuaded to attend classes, even though they might not be ready to pay a membership fee and join the organisation.

At regular and frequent political education gatherings a lot of information can be announced about branch and other activities (e.g. BGMs, campaigns, events of fraternal organisations).

What form does Political Education take?

Because Political Education is intended to contribute to change in the world, it must take the form of a dialogue between people. The "bucket-and-tap" form of presentation, where students are buckets and the teacher is a tap, is no good for the purpose of Political Education.

Therefore the form of Political Education is as follows:

There is a short text. This is given so as to focus dialogue around a particular topic.

There is no lecturer. One of the students has the task of opening the discussion. For the remainder of the session (total time of the session is one and a half hours) the participants discuss.

There is a chairperson. The job of the chairperson is to encourage all participants to join in. The participants are supposed to become political cadres. Therefore they cannot afford to be shy when talking about politics, and still less so when they are safe among their own comrades. The chairperson encourages and protects them.

The process is almost completely self-sustaining. It requires next to no inputs from above: no funding, no prescription, no infrastructure, no supervision, no report-backs, no cost. It requires somebody to get some suitable texts and to distribute them with invitations to attend at a venue and time, according to a schedule. The biggest difficulty is preparing and updating a database and communicating regularly with the people on the list (see below).

The question of what texts to put in front of a group is not the most critical one. The requirement is that the text must be sufficient to generate dialogue of a political nature between the participants. There must be no sense of indoctrination or drilling involved. There should probably be a good mixture in the first place between classic political texts, on the one hand, and current documents and even journalism. There should be no sense of sectarian division between the Alliance Partners.

Study groups in general, however, would always be well advised to devote an early session or two to the question of why they are there, and how they will work. For example, they could discuss this document. At a session early in their series they should probably discuss something like Chapter Two of Paulo Freire’s "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". It is necessary that they apply their minds to what they are trying to achieve, and why.

The study group has no standing in the democracy of the organisation. It does not elect delegates or vote on motions. As a result it is free from any requirement of coming to decisions or conclusions. Therefore it is not concerned to arrive at any line, orthodox or otherwise. It opens up matters for discussion, bringing them to the attention of participants. It is the other, higher, structures of the organisation that will come to conclusions and make decisions for action.