Peace! Land! Bread! Panel Discussion!

The Onion is on the ball this week, with news of a repossession.

Following years of threats, the World Bank foreclosed on the World Farm, a 64,000-square-mile plot of arable land in Dodoma, Tanzania that provides wheat, cattle, and goats to much of the Eastern Hemisphere. “This farm has been in my family since Zanzibar was a British protectorate,” World Farmer Mwana “Clem” Mazooka said Monday, angrily waving a pitchfork. “I’ll be damned if I let some world-city creditors get their grubby hands on it.” In spite of Mazooka’s protests, World Bank representatives said the World Farm Auction will take place on Oct. 24.

As fate would have it, the South African Communist Party is taking up arms on behalf of all South Africa’s Clems, with the launch of their Red October Campaign. The slogan: Land! Food! Jobs! It’s a good slogan. Almost a Leninist slogan. And it’s the slogan under which the Landless Peoples’ Movement have been campaigning since 2002.

Is this anything more than a callow attempt to co-opt a social movement agenda? The SACP is, after all, allied with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the ANC. And the ANC has been responsible for a great deal of repression directed towards social movement organising around land. Lucky, then that Communism is weighing in with sensible analysis like this, from Blade Nzimande, the General Secretary of the SACP, who pronounced yesterday that:

the land question is at the centre of the national question in our country. Therefore our own national liberation shall remain incomplete until the land question is fully addressed in favour of the overwhelming majority of our people, principally the workers, the poor and the landless rural masses. This means the national question remains unresolved for as long as the land remains in the hands of a minority. This is one of the most fundamental challenges of our revolution.

And yet, while the rhetoric is sound as far as it goes, what does this mean in practice? The fiery analysis at the beginning of Nzimande’s speech gets quenched the closer he gets to proposing anything concrete..:

we have also noted some of the current weaknesses in the struggle for land and agrarian reform:

There has been a tendency to separate land reform from agrarian transformation, thus in many instances seeing our people winning land reform demands, but unable to use that land for agricultural purposes. That is why our campaign seeks to ensure that land reform is part and parcel of agrarian transformation in order to effectively fight poverty

Good to see this has been noted. This is marks the point where the language of the war on poverty, its origins in the World Bank’s agenda, begins to filter through, and where the concept of ‘responsibility’ begins to melt into air. In the beginning, the colonialists were to blame for unequal land distribution. Today, however, the land question is a passive-voiced problem.

Perhaps active voice is unnecessary. Perhaps everyone knows that the SACP is blaming the bitter entrenching of colonial property relations on the ANC’s neoliberal agenda. Maybe it’s not important to name the enemy with whom they’re in alliance. Because the SACP is now definitively going to kick its senior alliance partners in the shins.

So let us look at what is to be done, and begin the surge to the barricades.The SACP’s Red October Campaign demands are:

1.Access to productive land for the landless

2.Rights and basic services for farmworkers and their families

3. A national land summit within the next 12 months, ideally preceded by provincial summits.

Access, rights, and a panel discussion. What do we want? Incremental reform! When do we want it? As soon as reasonably practicable, pending an audit of land claims.

As much as I’d like to, I’m not going to romanticise communism and then sour at the distance between my rose-hued heaven and the place where the SACP is at. The fact that the SACP seems not to understand that agricultural workers represent a small fraction of the people who live in rural areas suggests that their concern with the land question is based, at best, on an urban model of organising and mobilising. But if we’re generous, we can interpret this Red October Campaign as an attempt by the SACP to seize more power in their alliance than they’ve hitherto been allowed, by laying claim to a vibrant and urgent popular question. Less generously, they’re also out simultaneously to suffocate the movement that articulates this question.

Either way, I am very nervous about the possible demobilising effect that the SACP’s campaign. (Not for nothing is this blog called “Class Worrier”.) The Landless Peoples’ Movement in Gauteng is endorsing the SACP cautiously, while stressing its autonomy from the SACP. This seems wise – it’d be much more divisive to tell the SACP to bugger off and start Red October II. I do hope the SACP comes off worse in the war of position that follows, but they’re much more experienced and savvy than the large social movement around whom they buzz. The best way, of course, for the SACP to be dragged into a more progressive programme is for the social movement to embark on such a programme under the aegis of the Red October umbrella. But given the current conflicts within the LPM, I worry about that too.