For the past week, South Africa’s proletarian elite danced, debated, threatened, and theorised about both its own future as well as that of working class South Africa. Dressed in red, communists gathered in Boksburg – roughly 10km from the grave of the party’s late leader Chris Hani – and resolved to consider contesting the elections alone. Whether any single worker will be richer for the SACP’s decision to cut electoral ties with its political bourgeois partner – should it be endorsed by its special national congress – remains to be seen.

The Communist Party has in recent years represented the working class in much the same way the ANC Women’s League has represented the plight of women, that is, merely by name. Communist ministers, serving at the pleasure of the ANC, continue to endorse and draft free-market policies. These tend to benefit investors and executives more than the workers bringing the minerals to the surface. That is not to say that government’s policies do not contain traces of socialism.

But the unfolding crisis in the alliance is to some extent an opportunity for the communists. President Zuma promised the SACP the moon and the JSE for its backing in Polokwane, but as the story of a captured state unfolded it became evident this was not the case and the communist-in-chief Blade Nzimande himself said the past decade or so should serve as a lesson. If the SACP is to learn from that it would contest the elections on its own and base its campaign on policies the party so frequently recycles in its own literature. Enter the African Communist.

The document was released weeks before the party’s 14th National Congress. In it, the SACP not only outlines its goals and priorities for a socialist South Africa, but severely criticises the “parasitic-patronage” network that has infected the governing party.

The document reads:

Since 2014 we have seen a greater boldness and recklessness from this networked tendency, associated with:

• Accelerated rent-seeking activities based on state capture;

• Increasing signs of a parallel shadow state and parallel movement;

• Creeping authoritarianism and ambitions for a more presidential system; and

• An attempt at developing a pseudo-radical, populist ideological platform to cover for these activities.

It is worth noting, on the establishment of a parallel state, in which key state institutions have been captured, the document states its establishment enjoys “obvious presidential support”.

An Opportunity Crisis

Given its blunt criticism of the ANC – specifically President Zuma – the SACP can now divorce itself from the populist slogans ‘white monopoly capital’ and ‘radical economic transformation’ and focus on a pure socialist agenda. After all, replacing the current bourgeoisie with another group is not in the SACP’s ideological interests.

“When the Guptas and their ideological guard-dogs repeat ‘white monopoly capital’ over and over again, their emphasis falls not on ‘monopoly capital’ but on ‘white’ – and therefore their not-so-well hidden agenda is to promote the cause of aspirant ‘black’ monopoly capitalists as somehow the antidote to ‘white monopoly capital’,” states the African Communist. According to the document wealth is then re-distributed to a small group of ‘black capitalists' in the name of ‘radical economic transformation’ while the majority remains excluded.

This would be the party’s most obvious selling point. Whether it is aware of the fact or not, but far-left groups such as Black First Land First have argued the communists’ case. Whether BLF calls it ‘white monopoly capital’, another calls it ‘monopoly capital’, the one word that is constantly under attack is ‘capitalism’. That, coupled with increasing unemployment and concerning levels of inequality it appears the SACP has an easy task at hand, especially if Cosatu joins in. After all, both, at least in theory, represent the working class.

How can the SACP ever de-commodify essential services such as healthcare, education, and housing when the ANC, polluted by corrupt individuals, uses such projects to enrich a small group? How can such initiatives ever be successful if the public sector finds itself compromised as it currently does? Nzimande, also the higher education minister, is himself unable to provide free tertiary education as Treasury is constantly used to bail out state owned entities crippled by corrupt individuals who continue to enjoy an inappropriately cosy relationship with the president.

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Apart from convincing South Africans that communism is not a ‘great evil’, the SACP’s biggest challenge in an election might be voters’ trust deficit in the public sector. Combined, these challenges might prove to be too daunting.

Despite the SACP’s ability to turn politics into left-wing poetry, the party is unlikely to stand on its own come 2019. Growing inequality and a collapse of public institutions might not be in the party’s interests, neither is losing power. How does one build a socialist state without being involved in the business of government?

As it also is abundantly clear that the party’s quarrel is with certain individuals rather than with its alliance partner in general, the decision to contest alone appears to be a “not-so-hidden” threat for better negotiating power in December. And when the communists are wooed by another group – much like it was in the run-up to Polokwane – Nzimande, or whoever commands the SACP 10 years from now, will remind delegates of another lesson the party is yet to learn.