Who is Cronin’s enemy?

Jeremy Cronin’s criticism of Cosatu’s  recent hosting of a “Civil Society Conference” is impossible to understand without understanding his – and the SACP’s – assumptions about the world and South Africa in November 2010.

Cronin’s premise is that “an enemy” is attempting to make the public debate about the future of South Africa focus on minor issues where “the enemy” believes it can score a victory over the ‘progressive forces’ (of which Cronin assumes he and his organisation and his government are a part).

Cronin and the SACP accept some version of the following as a true and accurate reflection of reality (although Cronin himself would probably not phrase things so crudely, mechanistically and deterministically, it amounts to the same story):

Global capitalism and its local allies are securing their ability to continue to accumulate wealth

The bad guys in Cronin’s universe are a complicated (and brilliantly disguised) set of global business interests linked to and by the interests of powerful Western countries, especially the USA and the UK. What this enemy wants and needs is a world in which it can make loads and loads of money – especially by paying the lowest possible wages and taking resources and wealth from the Third World and packing these tightly around themselves in the playgrounds and fortresses of the First World.

Any change in any society that puts checks and balances on its ability to make money must be opposed – destroyed even before it takes root. Thus, thoroughgoing transformation of South Africa would strengthen the hand of the poor and dispossessed relative the the global capitalist/imperialist elite and must, therefore, be stopped.

Global capital/imperialism are constrained from arguing directly in favour of the oppressive political systems and unequal economic arrangements required to support their ability to extract wealth.

Instead they weaken the existing popular governments in the Third World, encourage the spread of corruption and (crucially for our purposes here) divert real debates about change that would benefit the poor and marginalised into light-weight debates about the individual rights and freedoms of the small group of citizens who have moved on from being concerned about the basic conditions of survival. And they do this by hoodwinking essentially good people and organisations who have a weak understanding of the world.

If this is the enemy, who’s on Cronin’s side?

In this version of the universe the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions are the structural expressions of ordinary people’s struggles to be free and fed.

Because Cronin is constructing this version of the world wearing his South African Communist Party beret, we must understand that Cronin assumes himself and his organisation to be part of a long-term plan that will overthrow the global yoke of capitalism and imperialism and construct a society based on human imperatives other than profit.

So what’s wrong with that?

Communists like Jeremy Cronin are not misguided in fearing and distrusting global corporations of private enterprise. Left to their own devices humans will extract as much from each other – or from groups other than the group to which they feel they belong – as is possible.

They will take until they are stopped. This is reflected in every business cycle and it is reflected in every attempt to re-regulate markets after bubbles (always caused by a feeding frenzy) have burst.

Additionally big global corporations will spend billions of dollars sucking up to politicians especially in the most powerful nations on earth – or more directly manipulating the political process.

However, there are two significant things  wrong with Jeremy Cronin’s (and the SACP’s) version of the world:

Firstly, the communists’ (and all tight party organisations and religious groups’) vision is obscured by their need to see the world as completely structured by two big gangs that are at war – the white hats and the black hats, the good and the evil, the oppressor and the victims.

There are more complex political choices to make than just to pick a side and back it to the hilt and defend its doctrines against all comers.

Global markets and trade and international relations are structured by hugely complex forces, not the least of which are government and supra-governmental organisations attempting to regulate various forms of behaviour. i.e democratic political processes attempting to subdue, moderate and direct the functioning of human fear and greed.

“Picking sides” in such a complex world is no easy matter.

Secondly, the communists fail to see that they and their organisations are subject to the same raging impulses of greed and terror that structure global capitalism – in fact they are structured into it, (only subject to no shareholder and less accountable and regulated than your standard global business).

The conference that Cronin criticises was precisely an attempt to discuss the best ways to regulate those impulses because they appear to have become the dominant impulses within government and the ruling party.

It is fine for Cronin to dispute this, but it is not fine for him to argue that his allies accept the functioning of criminal greed in his government and organisation because his government and organisation is struggling to combat these matters at a higher level.

We do not live in a simple world. It is my belief that the enemy is not out there in his serried ranks on the plains, he is in here with us, in our homes, in our families and in our beds. The enemy is right inside us, in our own hearts and in our own heads.

Until we realise this our best politicians will continue this Quixotic tilting at windmills.

4 thoughts on “Who is Cronin’s enemy?

  1. Who is Cronin’s enemy?

    True proponents of the proposition “that all men are created equal- within the context of the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence ( July 4, 1776 ) ( understood to refer first and foremost to the rights of individuals) are the enemies of Jeremy Cronin

    The proposition “that all men are created equal,” within the context of the second paragraph of the Declaration, means that no man has, in principle, any right to govern another man, without that other man’s consent. It means that those who live under the law should share in making that law. It denounces as tyranny whatever departs from these essential norms of free government. It denounces as immoral American slavery in the antebellum South. It denounces as immoral the tyrannies of communism and national socialism, and all other tyrannies, now or hereafter, that attempt to collectivize the rights of man. It is, as Lincoln said, “a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression” for all time. The glory of the Gettysburg Address is that it restores to the American people— uncompromised and untainted—the pristine majesty of the true American Revolution.

    The Gettysburg Address

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

  2. do you think Jeremy believes the stuff he writes? Or do you think he believes some of it and for the rest he’s playing the role, which he has to play if he’s going to have influence? how can a democrat really object to civil society movements that are doing what we always hoped and dreamed the Anc would do?

    1. Funny you should phrase it like that, because one of my biggest fears it that Jeremy Cronin one days looks at what he is doing and his allies and government and says: “stuff this for a lark, I am off to write poetry and relax”. I am sure he could/would never countenance the suggestion, but I am sure he does stuff (says the right things, defends awful positions) to remain in the camp and influential … this is the price leading members of political parties play to keep doing what they really believe in with adequate efficacy (by compromising in order to keep their hands on the levers of power in the party and the state) … I imagine Obama is constantly caught in this contradiction. For me people like Cronin remaining in there and influential is the sign that we can still be okay as a country …. the last thing we need is for Cronin the make a stand a la Hogan and the Dalai Lama … so Cronin gives people like me someone to engage with; part of the establishment that is sensible enough to discuss things with, but not so sensible that he is rejected by the rump of his party.

      1. ” —–this is the price leading members of political parties play to keep doing what they really believe in with adequate efficacy —- .”

        Has Minister Cronin kept his faith ? -see the SACP Constitution’s guiding principles ( paragraph 4 )
        Excerpt :

        “In leading the working class towards national and social emancipation, the SACP is guided by those principles of Marxism-Leninism whose universal validity has been proven by historical experience. The foundations of these principles were laid by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin and enriched by other great revolutionaries. In applying the general principles of Marxism-Leninism, the SACP is, in the first place, concerned with their indigenous elaboration and application to the concrete realities of our own developing situation.”

        Whittaker Chambers wrote in his book ” Witness ”
        “You will ask: Why, then, do men cease to be Communists? One answer is: Very few do. Thirty years after the Russian Revolution, after the known atrocities, the purges, the revelations, the jolting zigzags of Communist politics, there is only a handful of ex-Communists in the whole world. By ex-Communists I do not mean those who break with Communism over differences of strategy and tactics (like Trotsky) or organization (like Tito). Those are merely quarrels over a road map by people all of whom are in a hurry to get to the same place.
        Nor, by ex-Communists, do I mean those thousands who con¬tinually drift into the Communist Party and out again. The turn¬over is vast. These are the spiritual vagrants of our time whose traditional faith has been leached out in the bland climate of ra¬tionalism. They are looking for an intellectual night’s lodging. They lack the character for Communist faith because they lack the char¬acter for any faith. So they drop away, though Communism keeps its hold on them.
        By an ex-Communist, I mean a man who knew clearly why he became a Communist, who served Communism devotedly and knew why he served it, who broke with Communism uncondition¬ally and knew why he broke with it. Of these there are very few —an index to the power of the vision and the power of the crisis.
        History very largely fixes the patterns of force that make men Communists. Hence one Communist conversion sounds much like another—rather impersonal and repetitious, awesome and tiresome, like long lines of similar people all stolidly waiting to get in to see the same movie. A man’s break with Communism is intensely per¬sonal. Hence the account of no two breaks is likely to be the same. The reasons that made one Communist break may seem without force to another ex-Communist.
        It is a fact that a man can join the Communist Party, can be very active in it for years, without completely understanding the
        nature of Communism or the political methods that follow inevita¬bly from its vision. One day such incomplete Communists discover that the Communist Party is not what they thought it was. They break with it and turn on it with the rage of an honest dupe, a dupe who has given a part of his life to a swindle. Often they for¬get that it takes two to make a swindle.
        Others remain Communists for years, warmed by the light of its vision, firmly closing their eyes to the crimes and horrors insepa¬rable from its practical politics. One day they have to face the facts. They are appalled at what they have abetted. They spend the rest of their days trying to explain, usually without great suc¬cess, the dark clue to their complicity. As their understanding of Communism was incomplete and led them to a dead end, their understanding of breaking with it is incomplete and leads them to a dead end. It leads to less than Communism, which was a vision and a faith. The world outside Communism, the world in crisis, lacks a vision and a faith. There is before these ex-Communists ab¬solutely nothing. Behind them is a threat. For they have, in fact, broken not with the vision, but with the politics of the vision. In the name of reason and intelligence, the vision keeps them firmly in its grip—self-divided, paralyzed, powerless to act against it.
        Hence the most secret fold of their minds is haunted by a ter¬rifying thought: What if we were wrong? What if our inconstancy is our guilt? That is the fate of those who break without knowing clearly that Communism is wrong because something else is right, because to the challenge: God or Man?, they continue to give the answer: Man. Their pathos is that not even the Communist ordeal could teach them that man without God is just what Communism said he was: the most intelligent of the animals, that man without God is a beast, never more beastly than when he is most intelli¬gent about his beastliness. “Er nennt’s Vernunft” says the Devil in Goethe’s Faust, “und braucht’s allein, nur tierischer ak jedes Tier zu sein”—Man calls it reason and uses it simply to be more beastly than any beast. Not grasping the source of the evil they sincerely hate, such ex-Communists in general make ineffectual witnesses against it. They are witnesses against something; they have ceased to be witnesses for anything. ”

        See also Z. Pallo Jordan’s “Crisis of Conscience in the SACP: A Critical Review of Slovo’s “Has Socialism Failed?” at


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