South Africa: Democratic Socialist Movement conference

Report of Democratic Socialist Movement conference, 5-6 October 2002

"I would just like to thank the comrades for their inputs which have done so much to empower people like us at the conference. The DSM’s ideas give us the power to stand up and fight back against what is happening in the country. It was an honour to attend your conference". So said a working class youth from Soweto summing up the overwhelmingly enthusiastic mood at the recent Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) refoundation conference held at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) on 5-6 October. What is more he came to the conference as a sympathiser and left it as a member of the DSM.

The conference, held over one and a half days, discussed the world situation, South African perspectives, and the work of the DSM. Greetings sent in by eight different parties and organisations affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International were enthusiastically applauded and brought to life the idea of being part of an international revolutionary organisation.

Over forty-five people attended the Congress, overwhelmingly young but with a number of trade unionists and workers present. The fact that the main contributions at the conference had to be translated into Zulu and Xhosa gives an indication of the class and racial background of those attending. The majority of DSM members joined the CWI’s South African affiliate after coming across its ideas in the Socialist Student Movement (SSM), the local affiliate of International Socialist Resistance.

DSM members from seven different townships attended from Gauteng. DSM members attended from Port Shepstone in Kwa Zulu Natal. One trade union member came from Cape Town. One of the newest areas of growth in the DSM – Kwa Zulu Natal and particularly Durban, had a particularly impressive turnout from three townships and the university.

In the breaks during the conference, DSM members toyi-toyed on the balconies which bounced with enthusiasm and the stamping of 45 pairs of feet. One particularly favourite song had a line in it which said, "We are not in favour of a society in which all the land and wealth are owned by a few – only socialism can defeat capitalism". Songs like this were interspersed with slogans against Mbeki, Gear (the neo-liberal economic policy of the ANC government) and the corrupt black elite. These are new songs and chants which is no accident. It reflects the complete change in the political situation in the country where the most conscious layers of workers and young people are bitterly angry at the betrayal of the ANC leadership and are moving into action on a whole number of fronts. The new situation requires new songs for the movement which although based on the traditions of the anti-apartheid struggle stress the need for a socialist alternative to capitalism.

There were many questions during the conferences sessions on international political issues as well as domestic ones. Reflecting the thirst for ideas amongst township youth, many of those attending wanted to know how a socialist society would be run; could a socialist country stand up to threat of imperialism; and what help and aid would a socialist government in the advanced countries give to the poor masses of the neo-colonial world. Despite the fact that many DSM members are extremely new, contributions during the session on South Africa lacerated the empty rhetoric of the South African Communist Party and explained theoretically its bankruptcy. This has reached ludicrous proportions with the SACP leadership explaining that socialists should make sure they understand that the ANC and the government were two different things; and that workers’ should not criticise the ANC for privatisation since this is a government as opposed to an ANC policy!

In many ways the session on organisation showed most clearly the advances made by the DSM since it was founded three years ago. DSM members explained the myriad of different campaigns and movements they have led, which in previous times would only have been carried out by activists with many more years of experience and much more resources at their disposal. This phenomenon will be repeated in many countries internationally as the political situation qualitatively changes.

In Kwa Zulu Natal this has involved DSM and SSM members playing an important role in building support for a demonstration of 5000 called by the Concerned Citizens Forum in support of the demand of a R10 basic charge for water and electricity provision. SSM members at UDW also fought the banning of their student society by university management and forced a humiliating climbdown by the vice-Chancellor.

In Gauteng, student members reported on their leading intervention into the struggle of 600 cleaning workers at Wits University for decent wages and conditions. A new member from Wits Technicon explained how she had produced leaflets and organised the beginning of a campaign against the proposed merger of her college with another white dominated one in Johannesburg. In the last few days she recruited five new members to the Socialist Student movement.

The organisation session also agreed the election of a Coordinating Committee to help the development of the DSM. All those attending the conference left in extremely high spirits – convinced that a new stage in the building the forces of Marxism in South Africa had been reached.

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