Lacking a semblance of organizational, let alone ideological autonomy within the BNF the workers in the BNF are completely ‘in bad company’. Workers find themselves in the limbo of a political cul-de-sac with their hands tied at the back. For instance, ten years after the formation of the BNF political study groups, the main strategy for training both BNF social democrats and socialists, could not begin thanks to strong opposition from the ‘progressive’ petty-bourgeois leadership. They claimed that this would amount to a communist take over of the party. Study groups only commenced in 1975 after the overthrow of Portuguese colonialism in Angola by MPLA and Frelimo on Mozambique had created a conducive atmosphere for them. Workers and their intellectual allies are in disarray and therefore incapacitated from influencing the ideological direction of the BNF or UDC in a meaningful way.
However the founders of the BNF committed some strategic blunders in their prognostication of the revolution which might help to explain why fifty years since the formation of the BNF there is no socialist party on the horizon. For a proper prosecution of the National Democratic Revolution it was imperative to understand the role of the different classes and to determine which of those classes constituted ‘the basic force’ of the united front. From that analysis Dr Koma concludes that, ‘The working class must be regarded as the potential leader of the struggle’ but because it lacked class consciousnesses it could not lead the Front. He goes on to observe that ‘where there is some nucleus organization, they have fallen under the influence of the pro-imperialist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions’ (IFCTU) i.e. the imperialist infiltrated IFCTU as opposed to the progressive World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) with members in all socialist countries.
Having concluded that workers were not in a position to form a socialist party that would lead the mass BNF, Dr Koma then argues that ‘ the intermediate wing of the petty bourgeoisie’ have ‘some elements’ who ‘can become very revolutionary patriots who are dedicated and resolute in their opposition to foreign domination. They may partake of the ideology of the class conscious proletariat’ . As a result of this flawed analysis of the revolutionary potential of the petty-bourgeoisie Dr Koma then claims that the working class leadership of the United Front must be ceded to the ‘revolutionary petty-bourgeoisie’ on a ‘temporary’ basis. Consequently, fifty years later, BNF is still stuck in the ‘temporary’ leadership groove of the so-called ‘revolutionary’ petty bourgeoisie. The question is; was this a strategic blunder on the part of the founders of the BNF i.e. the anti-Leninist strategy of placing the working class under the leadership of the so-called ‘progressive’ petty-bourgeoisie? Were they fooled by the vacillating tendency of the petty-bourgeoisie?
Both organically linked democratic and socialist phases of the struggle, must be led by the working class organized into a socialist party. In industrialized countries the National Democratic Revolution, then called the ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’, was led by the bourgeoisie. This is not possible in the Third world because in the era of imperialism decadent capitalism is incapable of taking society forward. Hence the democratic demands of the struggle remain only half illusory if the capitalist edifice is not smashed.
Lenin warned against the dangers of the bourgeoisie in backward countries posing as communists and advised the Communist International to make temporary alliances with ‘revolutionary’ bourgeois democrats (without merging with them) in the colonies and backward countries. Socialists were advised to safeguard the organizational and ideological independence of their parties, even in their rudimentary form.
History is replete with examples of liberation movements that professed commitment to the National Democratic Revolution, but betrayed the struggle because of petty bourgeois rather than working class leadership.. Examples abound - the ANC in South Africa, ZANU(PF) in Zimbabwe and SWAPO in Namibia. The lesson to be drawn from the experiences of these countries is that there is no such thing as a ‘revolutionary petty bourgeoisie’ capable of delivering on the National Democratic Revolution. After seizing state power the petty-bourgeoisie entrench themselves and suppress the workers.
Equally controversial is the rather abstract manner in which Koma poses the question of a Marxist party. His assertion that transforming the mass BNF into a socialist party is ‘ ahistorical’ while correct on the surface, implies that a Marxist party must be made up of ‘real Marxists’ right from the beginning. The impression created is that Marxists must ‘preserve their ‘purity’ through sectarian existence in a completely separate party’ first, before they can carry out a revolution. This approach has been criticized for seeming to ‘doom the BNF in advance to sterility’. Marxists must conduct propaganda and agitation in mass organizations to raise their political consciousness. They cannot detach themselves from the mass organization they wish to conscientize. Ernest Mandel in his Leninist Theory of Organization reminds us that according Lenin, ‘there is no self-proclaimed vanguard, rather the vanguard must win recognition as a vanguard through its attempts to establish revolutionary ties with the advanced part of the class and its actual struggle’. This problematic perspective of the revolution might partly explains why 50 years since BNF was founded there is still no socialist party.
The question must be asked whether the BNF’s perspective was consistent with a Stalinist two-stage theory of the revolution - first, the ‘National Democratic Revolution’ led by the ‘revolutionary’ petty bourgeoisie, then at a later, unspecified date, and in vaguely explained circumstances, a socialist revolution led by the workers? Perhaps having studied in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union in the 1960s Dr Koma could not escape the dominant Stalinist interpretation of Marxism of the time. In 1928 the Comintern had instructed communist parties internationally to seek alliances with liberal bourgeois parties – an anti-Leninist strategy that betrayed the struggle.
Contrary to Marx’s call for a ‘continuous revolution’ Koma says, ‘we would oppose resolutely measures which seek to confuse our national democratic tasks with the tasks of a socialist revolution or which commits the national democratic front to the socialist camp’, in the same way we should ‘oppose resolutely measures which commit our country to the capitalist camp’. The question that arises is; how then can he reconcile his argument that the economy of a National Democratic state is an ‘an economy in transition’ , which is ‘basically socialist’, with his other statement that we must ‘oppose resolutely measures which seek to confuse our national democratic tasks with the tasks of a socialist revolution?’ This amounts to erecting a Chinese wall between the democratic and socialist demands of the struggle. The National Democratic Revolution must be regarded as an integral part of the struggle for socialism. The National Democratic Revolution cannot be ‘confused with the tasks of a socialist revolution’ because it is a continuous revolution.
From a more practical point of view, it was probably a mistake to rely solely on study groups based on reading in a country with no reading culture. Creative methods of training that are more palatable and appealing to cadres must take cognizance of the different learning style of different people. Training must be based on the fact that some people are auditory, visual, tactile or kinesthetic and political education must be delivered to them through all those different modes of learning. A vast array of technological devices are available to make political education more palatable to those who are not keen on reading.
Furthermore, not enough guidance was given to those comrades who were willing to study. They were simply thrown at the deep end, in a sink or swim fashion, by only being given the syllabus and asked to study without guidance in terms of where to source reading materials. Inevitably many ended up sinking. We are about to complete our project of putting the BNF syllabuses together with the rules on how to run study groups as well as all the relevant readings on soft copies which will be readily accessible on memory sticks for our cadres to simply print and conduct study groups. Over and above that, some study group sessions will be captured on audio and DVD cassettes and disseminated to cadres not keen on reading political theory.
It was Dr Koma’s conviction that; ‘The masses cannot make a successful revolution without the help of revolutionary intellectuals’. Political study groups were geared towards producing a core of revolutionary intellectuals to provide the ideological leadership of the BNF. Dr Koma had further advised that ‘Revolutionary workers should be trained to the level of intellectuals so that revolutionaries do not only come from the ranks of the intellectuals, but also from peasants and workers. Revolutionaries need serious training because making a revolution is a serious business. We must not leave out students from the university and from secondary schools.’
Unfortunately it appears that most of the cadres sent to Moscow went to ordinary institutions where they graduated with certificates that qualified them to be absorbed by the very establishment they sought to overthrow rather than working for BNF the political party. For example, Comrade Klass Motshidisi’s degree qualified him to be Commissioner of Labour in the BDP regime, though he rejoined the BNF after retiring. Comrade Mareledi Giddie acquired a degree in International Law. Some of the beneficiaries of the Moscow scholarships were co-opted into the system through employment and were lost to the party completely. Perhaps these comrades should have been sent to a party school which would qualify them to work for the party – organizing and mobilizing as well as spearheading its socialist propaganda and agitation.
Comrade Moore, October 2015