The BNF leadership has decided to embark on rolling mass actions to protest the deteriorating delivery of physical and social infrastructure under the BDP regime. This article seeks to endorse that decision which is long over due. We must shift the terrain of struggle from the fetishism of freedom square politics to the more militant mass actions in line with the political challenges of our time. The BNF was established to champion all the democratic and national demands of our people.
Given the changing political landscape of this country mass actions are the surest way of ensuring that the BNF remains relevant as the sole and authentic voice of the struggling and toiling mass of Botswana. If the BNF pays lip service to its historic duty it runs the risk of eventually being overtaken by other players who may relegate it to oblivion. Pursued in an organized fashion mass actions will enhance the participation of the rank and file in the struggle, set the BNF apart from other political parties and increase the chances of the UDC capturing state power in 2019.
We wish to premise this article with a brief reflection on an old debate that took place between Vladimir Lenin and Anton Pannekoep way back 1914 over whether revolutionaries should take part in bourgeois parliaments or not. The UDC members of parliament, particularly BNF MPs need to take note of the debate between ‘participationists’ and ‘abstentionists’ between 1914 and 1924 regarding what role revolutionaries should play in bourgeois parliaments. The bone of contention was whether revolutionaries should participate or abstain from bourgeois parliaments, given that parliament is an instrument of the bourgeoisie and not the working class.
The protagonists of that debate were Vladimir Lenin on the side of the ‘participationists’ and Anton Pannekoep on behalf of the ‘abstentionists’. Lenin called for ‘revolutionary parliametarism’ - that revolutionaries must take part in elections and parliamentary politics in a revolutionary manner. They must not protect the positions and privileges of their members in parliament or engage in parliamentary careerism. Instead they should remain ordinary MPs and not take up any positions as ministers. They would not prioritize parliamentary politics, but simply use it as a means to support mass struggles and mass actions of the people outside parliament.
Lenin called upon revolutionaries to go to parliament to expose capitalist parties as their class enemy and not maintain cordial parliamentary relations with them and also expose it to the masses as an instrument of the rich hence the need to smash and replace it with peoples councils or soviets invested with both legislative and executive powers. BNF MPs must use parliament as a platform for revolutionary agitation and propaganda, and not as a forum to beg for reforms.
‘Abstentionists’ objected to this Leninist strategy. They argued that taking part in parliament would strengthen the legitimacy of these institutions and revolutionaries would now be party to the processes of making laws and decisions harmful to the cause of the workers and poor peasants. This would pacify the poor and reinforce the myth that leaders can solve their problems within the existing capitalist structures. Participation in parliament would corrupt leaders elected as MPs. They would inevitably absorb the opportunism, careerism and authoritarianism that are essential features of bourgeois parliamentary politics. These MPs would then bring these bourgeois practices into the workers’ movement thus subverting it completely.
The ‘participationists’ countered the argument by asserting that they were aware of the dangers but that revolutionaries must confront those dangers and find a means of solving them. These dangers had to be confronted as tactical difficulties of revolutionary activity and only utopians try to avoid these problems and look for the line of least resistance that does not exist. Furthermore, by abstaining from electoral politics ‘abstentionists’ were isolating themselves from the masses and yet bourgeois electoral politics were an integral part of bourgeois society in which the working class had to live. To stay out of electoral politics would amount to abandoning millions of the very masses which we purport to represent to the exclusive influence of the reformist and reactionary parties. This would render such revolutionaries an impotent sect. In the end Lenin won that debate.
Regarding the importance of mass actions Leon Trotsky’s observation is apposite. ‘In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business – kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime’.
The time for ‘the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny’ in now. Hitherto, news headlines and history in the opposition parties was made by leaders of political parties, Central Committee members, senior party officials, parliamentarians and councilors who have repeatedly spoken out at public rallies against the manner in which the country has regressed in terms of service delivery and abuse of state resources by the ruling BDP, but to no avail. Soon the struggle will go up by one gear as the ordinary people will speak out against these injustices through mass protests. People would doubt our sanity if we were to continue begging, cap-in-hand, for our rights and appealing to the non-existent moral conscience of the BDP regime to give us water, electricity, decent houses education without taking action.
Rights are rarely given on a silver plate, they are fought for. The ordinary people and all those who cherish our ever diminishing democratic civil rights, freedoms and liberties are called upon to stand up and be counted. They must speak out through massive mass actions against this insidious injustice. Mass actions speak louder than public rallies. They speak far launder than the millions of words of individual leaders at freedom squares. But then numbers, not just the messages in their placards, are absolutely essential. Several activities happen at the same time during mass actions – people use their sheer numbers to pressurize the regime; they speak through catchy messages on their placards and banners; they speak through massages read out from petitions handed over to authorities and they also speak through public rallies that are held as the culmination of each mass action.
We would like the entire peace loving nation to join this march for water, electricity, education, democracy, freedom of the press, fairness and justice. We appeal to all Batswana in their different walks of life – our patriotic partners, journalists, human rights lawyers reporters, workers, authors, the clergy, trade unions, students, teachers, the youth, the intelligentsia and the general civic-minded citizenry to come out in huge numbers and support this noble cause. In this way they will make history, they will in a small way, break over the barriers that have excluded them from the political arena by marching to the President’s Office to register to their protest.