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Thursday 18 December 2014, 14:58 pm.
The UDC united front tactic - challenges and opportunities

On the occasion of the historic launch of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) on November 10, 2012 the representative of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in his solidarity message described the UDC as 'a united front' which 'has its own challenges'.
By Staff Writer Sat 20 Dec 2014, 05:40 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: The UDC united front tactic - challenges and opportunities

In this piece we focus on the UDC as a united front and some of the opportunities and challenges it must grapple with.  Of course, this is not a classical united front, but it is a united front all the same. The BNF is simply carrying out one its basic aims and objectives in the constitution.  It is important to stress that the BNF was founded on the principle of the united front.  The word 'Front' in the name 'Botswana National Front' denotes a commitment to the united front tactic.  That is why the BNF has been in the forefront of every initiative geared towards forging a united front with other democratic and patriotic forces against the neo-colonial BDP regime, which is increasingly becoming just another African kleptocracy - a government by thieves. Indeed for eight months before the BNF was born its founders tried to reconcile the warring Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) factions because they recognised the fact that the BPP were not only 'patriotic and democratic forces' but also the undisputed champions of the First Phase of the African Revolution in Botswana.  Only after this initiative had failed was a new party called the Botswana National Front (BNF) founded in 1965.

In pursuit of its commitment 'to mobilise all the patriotic and progressive forces' in 1991 the BNF, Bosele, BPP and Independence Freedom Party (IFP) forged a united front called the People's Progressive Front (PPF) which later collapsed before the next general elections because of contradictory interpretations by its partners.  Some of its partners were in favour of a total merger while the BNF saw the PPF as a united front, and not a merger.  The leaders of the BNF correctly understood the importance of safeguarding the independence and organisational integrity of their party because there are significant ideological differences between these parties and any attempt to mechanically merge them can cause serious problems.  The PPF was essentially similar to the UDC.

In 2003 the BNF, BPP and BAM tried yet another united front initiative by signing the Protocol of Election Pact.  It was not very successful. Apart from its numerous shortcomings the Pact is not recognized by the country's constitution and would certainly create a constitutional crisis if non of the  Pact members had an outright majority in the general elections. The Botswana Congress Party, which broke away from the BNF in 1998 effectively arrested the BNF's impressive growth in terms of  its share of the national vote.  The BNF's share of the national vote cast had been rising as follows; 12 percent in 1974, 13 percent in 1979, 20 percent in 1984, 27 percent in 1989 and a massive 37 percent in 1994. Prospects of a BNF victory in the 1999 general elections were very bright and even acknowledged  by former President Mogae.  With the arrival and destabilising effect of the BCP the BNF lost not only its historic chance to take over the reigns of power for the first time but also its momentum as its share of the national vote cast dropped to 25 percent in 1999, although it rose marginally to 26 percent in 2004.

An important point that merits attention is  that from the PPF of 1991, to the Electoral Pact of 2003 through to the UDC of 2012 the BNF has consistently opted for a united front which guarantees and protects its organisational independence and integrity as a party and that of  its cooperating partners. In all attempts at forging a united front with other parties the BNF has steered clear of a merger because  ideological differences between these parties cannot be wished away.  I suppose this is exactly what the BNF congress resolution sanctioning talks that led to UDC meant when it mandated negotiations with other political parties subject to one condition - 'not to sell the soul of the BNF'.  The BNF is different from the other parties in terms of its history, traditions, ideological orientation, organisational culture and principles.  For instance these political parties have different constitutions and primary elections rules and regulations.  One of the challenges of UDC is to ensure that the ordinary members of our different parties do not merge BNF, BMD and BPP structures out of ignorance and in contravention of what has been agreed upon.  UDC is not a political merger, it is a united front or a broad church of different ideological persuasions.

For the sake of the doubting-Thomases, it is imperative to refer to page three of the BNF Constitution (the 2005 edition) which explicitly articulates the party's commitment to a united front tactic.  The fourth point under the Preamble reads: "Whereas we appreciate, the urgent need to unite all the patriotic individuals and groups into a united front with the aim of realising the objectives of establishing a democratic state guided by the principles of a social democratic programme."  At the end of the four points made beginning with 'Whereas', page three then makes this categorical statement in capital letters: "Now therefore, a political organisation known as the Botswana National Front is founded to articulate the interests of all patriotic and democratic forces against the aforementioned, and now declares its basic aims and objectives to be the following:  a) To mobilise all patriotic and democratic forces into a dynamic political force."  On that single page three the phrase, 'to mobilise all patriotic and democratic forces' is repeated five times, for purposes of emphasis.  And I think it was not by accident that the first objective states that the BNF's task is to 'mobilise all the patriotic and democratic forces into a dynamic political force'.  At the moment the 'patriotic and democratic forces' the BNF has managed to mobilise are the BPP and the BMD and 'the dynamic political force' they have just created is the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).  Clearly, the UDC is a BNF project in the sense that the party constitution commits its organisation to the united front tactic and the BNF itself was founded on this principle.  Clearly, any BNF member who opposes the UDC has not internalised the party's aims and objectives.

The UDC 'dynamic force' would have been much more dynamic had the BCP decided not to ditch the Umbrella in 2011, for reasons best-known by its leadership.  Indications are that the BCP leadership is still blinded by vaulting ambitions and delusions of grandeur to appreciate the importance of working with other parties for the common good - not only to improve the welfare and wellbeing of Batswana, but to stop Khama's military junta in its tracks by denying it another  term in office.  We make this impassioned plea to the BCP leadership;  haven't we had enough of Khama's kleptocratic  dictatorship to put aside our petty differences and work together against our common enemy and to take over the reigns of power in 2014 and spare our people the worst excesses of this regime?  A deeply desperate voter said to me; 'it would be better if the BCP suspended its minor political differences with the BNF and BMD for the sake of removing this military junta from power in 2014 and pursue them at a later date'.  There are  intelligent people in the BCP leadership who can certainly rise to historic occasion  and distinguish between the principal enemy - the BDP regime and purely secondary differences between themselves and the BNF.  The average BCP member is unlikely to have any real problems with joining the Umbrella.  The problem is the BCP leadership.

Interestingly, at the critical level of finding a common minimum political programme there were no contradictions between the BCP and the other cooperating parties.  Officially, the BCP quit because there was disagreement over the sharing out of five constituencies.  Obviously there must have been stronger underlying reasons for reneging on its commitment to the Umbrella.  During the early stages of forging the united front the BCP leadership approached the Botswana Movement for Democracy to pursue its misguided agenda of trying  to undermine and outflank the BNF.  The plot was that the BCP would take over the Presidency of the Umbrella and the BMD would assume the position of Vice President and leave the BNF out in the cold.  Their UB intellectuals even tried to lend some dubious theoretical credence to this plot by claiming that the BNF was not a reliable partner - accusing it of being 'reactionary', 'unstable' and  having wrecked all past efforts geared towards forging alliances with other parties.  They even claimed  that  alliances work better only when two parties are involved!  This BCP plot against the BNF came unstuck because the BMD were not hoodwinked into becoming unsuspecting accomplices in the BCP's political machinations.  I was personally taken aback by this behaviour of the BCP because I naively thought they had changed and were now willing to do business  with the BNF. The BCP representatives on the technical team working on the harmonisation of policies of opposition parties can certainly attest to this.

The UDC united front could have been further strengthened had we persuaded the then militant  working class as represented by Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) to be part and parcel of the Umbrella, and not just  pledge electoral support.  That was an opportunity which was missed but must be seen as a future challenge.  The UDC policies address the needs and aspirations of the working class which I attempted to summarise in a newspaper article to mark May Day.  My understanding is that trade unions and other stakeholders will be afforded the opportunity to make their input on the UDC policies.  Since the BCP pulled out the Umbrella BOFEPUSU have been mealy-mouthed about their support for the Umbrella project.  They seems to have developed cold feet and  adopted what can at best, be described as an ambivalent position,   and worst, a non-committal attitude towards the continuing UDC united front.  The workers'  leadership no longer chants  its own revolutionary slogan of 'regime change' which was a product of their protracted and heroic strike.  My guess is that had BOFEPUSU joined the Umbrella the BCP would not have so easily walked away from this united front knowing full well that workers were not going to vote for it.  Elsewhere in the world political parties forged a united front because civil society institutions exerted pressure on political parties to team up or forget about their vote. 

Sadly, in Botswana our small civil society institutions failed to rise to that challenge. What exactly is a united front tactic?  The 1921 congress of the Communist International (Comintern) the originator of this tactic, defined it; ' simply as an initiative whereby the Communists propose to join with all workers belonging to other parties and groups and all unaligned workers in a common struggle to defend the immediate, basic interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie'.  That is a classical united front. Basically a united front tactic is where  revolutionaries or progressives  work alongside reformists on the basis of a common political platform to win real victories and to help shift the politics of the working class to their side.  The united front tactic  enables revolutionaries to work alongside and influence the ideas of those who do not fully agree with them.  United fronts have classically performed a double function - to create the maximum possible unity in action around relevant issues or a minimum political platform, and to increase the influence of revolutionary politics and organisation.

Revolutionaries are supposed to possess ideological clarity and organisational cohesion to make them the most effective force in building the broader movement.  The united front emanates from an acknowledgement that there are constant struggles going on in a capitalist society irrespective of whether a revolutionary situation exists or not.  There are strikes, lay-offs, state violence, direct action anti-globalisation activities, violence against women, wars, mass actions by political parties and a host of other important conflicts where the outcome matters for the interests of workers.

Revolutionaries do not stand idly by and run the risk of being useless isolated sects as these struggles are being waged.  They cannot merely stand aside in disputes declaring their ideological purity and do nothing.  Leon Trotsky, dismissed revolutionaries unwilling to work with reformist parties as  'only a propaganda society and not an organisation for mass action'.  He further argued that, 'with a correct tactic we stand only to gain from this.  A communist who doubts or fears this resembles a swimmer who has approved the theses on the best method of swimming but dares not plunge into the water.'

Historically the united front tactic has its genesis in the 1921 third Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) - an organisation of communist parties.  Lenin, Trotsky and other Bolsheviks leaders from Russia argued that the communist parties were in danger of becoming sects that concentrated on denouncing the social democratic leaders as traitors while making no effort to win over the large numbers of workers still influenced by reformist ideas of Social Democratic Parties. Lenin and Trotsky also clearly understood that the success of the Russian revolution depended on a revolutionary take over in European countries.

It must be recalled that the 1920s was a period of a considerable downturn in the tempo of revolutionary struggles internationally and the old social-democratic labour parties were still essentially hegemonic within the working classes of the world. 'Lenin's Left-Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder was published in June 1920 as the primer in Bolshevik tactics in this renewed period of relative bourgeois stability.  Its publication was for the purpose of preparing a turn in the line of the Third International'.  It was a polemic against left-wing sectarian opposition in the Communist International which wanted to avoid entering joint activities with the social-democratic labour parties, giving them critical electoral support or entering them to fight in a disciplined way for communist politics.  The principles of Left-Wing Communism were extended and developed in the discussions and decisions of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International on the question of the united front.  In his book, Left-Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder Lenin said this to German communists refusing to work in reactionary unions and even contemplating setting up their own unions (just like some BNF comrades refusing to work with the BMD and BPP); 'to refuse to work in the reactionary trade unions means leaving the insufficiently developed or backward masses of the workers under the influence of the reactionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie, the labour aristocrats, or 'workers who have become bourgeois'.  Lenin went on to argue that; 'if you want to help the 'masses' and win the sympathy and support of the 'masses', you should not fear difficulties, pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the 'leaders' (who, being opportunists and social chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found' (emphasis in the original statement).

Our detractors in the BNF who claim that the BMD is too 'reactionary' for the BNF to work with must heed this piece of comradely advice by Lenin.  Lenin further advised that, "You must be capable of any sacrifice, of overcoming the greatest obstacles, in order to carry out agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently in those institutions, societies and associations - even the most reactionary - in which proletarian and semi-proletarian masses are to be found."  Emphatically, Lenin spells out the duty of communists; 'The task devolving on communists is to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them with artificial and childish 'Left' slogans'. Indeed that is how Lenin's Bolsheviks won over the workers from reactionary parties like the Mensheviks in Russia before the same tactic of the united front was extended to the rest of the world.  Lenin reminds us that 'the entire history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October Revolution is full of instances of changes of track, conciliatory tactics and compromises with parties, including bourgeois parties.  Between 1903 and 1912 there were periods of several years in which we were formally united with the Mensheviks in a single Social Democratic Party, but never stopped our ideological and political struggle against them as opportunists and vehicles of bourgeois influence on the proletariat'. If a communist party like the Bolsheviks compromised with 'bourgeois parties' why should a social democratic party like the BNF fear making tactical alliances with 'bourgeois parties'? It is absurd in the extremes for anyone to even begin to think that the BNF can be swallowed by the BMD or the BPP!  If the BNF gets back on track and talks the kind revolutionary politics which enabled it to transform our towns into liberated zones it has absolutely nothing to fear - the superiority of its politics is never in doubt, but only if we quickly get back on track.

In the new international period of the 1920s it had become necessary to find a way of regaining the advantage of the Second Internationalist framework without dissolving the communist party.  The tactic of the united front was developed in this period to supplement the central principle of Leninism, the principle of the programmatically defined communist vanguard party separate from the non-revolutionary mass organisations of the working class.

'The united front is a way of approaching the masses at the base of the non revolutionary workers' parties without in any way liquidating that vanguard revolutionary party'.  In our case, 'without in any way liquidating' the BNF. New tactics were required to rally layers of the masses behind the vanguard, layers which remained for the time being behind the social democrats.  Communists had to device ways of fighting alongside reformist workers around specific issues such as wages, hours of work and the defence of trade union organisations that could unite the entire class.  Trotsky's slogan captured the essence of the  united front tactic as; 'Marching separately, but striking together!' 

In the UDC  united front,  the BNF, the BMD and BPP are 'marching separately' as parties maintaining their political  identities, but 'striking  together' against the common BDP enemy through the Umbrella for Democratic Change - the embodiment, expression or operationalisation  of their united fronts tactic.  Hence their electoral symbol creatively protects the integrity of all three cooperating parties because it bears the BNF key, 'entsho e e leroba', the BMD two fingers or peace sign and the BPP black star etched on an umbrella.  The greatest  challenge is to market UDC symbols across the length and breath of this vast country until the average Motswana has not only internalized them,  but has a sense of ownership of the Umbrella project. Perhaps the challenges is greater on the part of the BNF because our members have over the years become used to voting using the BNF disk but for the first time in 2014 they are being asked to use a new symbol. BMD members  will voting for the first time as BMD and perhaps it should be  relatively easier to persuade them to use the symbol that has been agreed upon.  Fantastic ultra-leftist sectarian  claims, or what Lenin correctly described as 'infantile disorder' that the UDC  united front will lead to the eventual demise of the BNF or indeed  any of its cooperating partners, must be dismissed as manifestations of a figment of the over-fertile  imaginations of political malcontents, reengages and quislings with a dubious track record of sowing seeds of disunity and discord  in the BNF, for reasons best-known to themselves.

The BNF, the BMD and the BPP have agreed to  'strike together' on the basis of a common progressive social democratic political platform whose essence is about a people-centred democratic developmental state, or a much more interventionist state, which commits itself to fundamental human rights, such as,  the right to housing, the right to basic health, the right to basic education, an enhancement of workers' rights; participatory democracy that transcends formal political freedoms and extends to the economic and social spheres;  the liberation of women from archaic  patriarchal feudalist and capitalist ideologies; a selective industrialisation strategy geared towards the development an internally integrated economy with backward and forward linkages; an  environmentally sustainable development programme as well as a comprehensive welfare state or the workers 'social wage', which, includes unemployment benefits and social insurance and the protection of the disadvantaged and physically challenged members of our society. Any ultra-leftist dismissal of this self-evidently progressive minimum political programme as 'reactionary' and 'counter-revolutionary' can only be attributed to misguided left-wing sectarianism by comrades who have yet to learn the ABC of Marxism. 

To all intents and purposes, the UDC has crossed the Rubicon or reached a point of no return.  The successful launch of UDC will have sent strong spine-chilling signals to both the BCP and the BDP regime that we mean business.  Buoyed by the UDC's first electoral victory at the Sebele ward comrades thronged the GSS groups in their multitudes.  Enemies of the UDC are trying hard to pooh-pooh UDC's victory in Sebele because of the narrow margin of six votes.  They must be reminded of the Chinese saying that 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step'.  What our enemies forget is that we went into that by-election as underdogs as the BDP enemy was bribing our leaders with money to try and cause panic and despair in our ranks.  Thankfully, the main cause of events or  history is not determined by leaders (the Ntuanes,  Mabiletsas, Reatiles and their ilk) but by the ordinary people hence our parties continue to register new members.  Only recently the world witnessed dramatic political revolutions in the Arab world triggered-off  by the self-immolation of an ordinary unemployed street vendor in Tunisia - Mohamed Bouazizi, after the police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he sold at a street, claiming that he did not have a licence.  Subsequently, in a matter of days the dictatorships which had survived for 40 years in Egypt were brought to their knees by unarmed mass actions of the people - the true locomotives of revolutions.  In Maun former Botswana Alliance Movement members are quitting the BCP in their hundreds because they feel a sense of betrayal by the BCP leadership.

UDC has so far overcome a number of hurdles  with a modicum of effort.  UDC will be strong if our individual parties are strong, but if we work an extra-bit harder the UDC will certainly prove to be bigger than the sum of its individual partners.   Even in constituencies allocated to other parties BNF members must never relax in recruiting new members to the party.  Contrary to the prophets of doom the choice of the leader of the UDC has just been agreed upon without any contradictions. It is unlikely that the electoral symbols will spark off any serious conflict.

The common minimum  political platform, as already pointed out, was agreed without any major hitches. Unfortunately from the point of view of our politicians these may not be the areas of  major  of concern. The only remaining potential flashpoint is the allocation of constituencies.  Comrade Motswaledi's statement during the launch of the UDC  to the effect that what originally a BPP proposal on the share out of constituencies must now be taken as a final decision is not ill-advised but will certainly be strongly contested by many constituencies.  Because of the nature of our society the distribution of constituencies  tends to be the source of most contradictions and needs to be handled with absolutely care and a sense of political maturity.  Our enemies will be hoping and praying that the UDC tears itself apart over this question.  Conflict can only be minimised if there is thorough consultation of the constituencies concerned and avoidance of a top-down decision making process. The concerns of the people affected must be  listened to and acted upon.  Experience from the botched Pact arrangement must have taught us that failure to consult the constituencies affected can easily undo all the hard work  that has been expended on this project so far.

Writing in 1922, Trotsky explained that the united front tactic: 'presupposes our readiness, within certain limits and on specific issues, to correlate in practice our actions with those of reformist organisations, to the extent that the latter still express the will of important sections of the embattled proletariat. By bringing revolutionaries and reformists together into a common struggle, communists could demonstrate to the social democratic rank and file, through deeds rather than words, the superiority of their politics and win them over.  The united front thus had two aspects in that  it united revolutionaries and reformists in a common struggle around issues of concern to the working class as a whole i.e. on the basis of  a minimum political platform, and it involved a struggle for political influence over the masses between revolutionaries and reformists. Between the middle of 1921 and late 1922 communist parties gained around 40,000 members with the Social Democrats losing roughly the same number.  Clearly, engaging with the reformist workers showed in practice that the communists were the most consistent and effective campaigners and true spokespersons of the working class.

Lenin stressed that communist parties, however embryonic, were to maintain their organisational, agitational and organisational autonomy within the mass organisations and reformist parties while making every effort to establish a foothold among the working masses by setting up factory committees, supervisory committees, action committees from different parties and even those not aligned to any party. In a period of colonial domination by foreign countries it was very easy for parties led by the bourgeoisie to emerge and fool the workers and peasants into following them when they do not have their interests at heart.  Hence Lenin stressed that organisational and ideological independence of the communist parties was imperative in order to give them freedom of action or independent political action to reach all sections of workers and deepen their revolutionary influence among the workers.  Failure to  heed Lenin's advice is explained by the treacherous betrayal of the masses we are witnessing today in many African countries and beyond.  The Comintern spelt out the tasks  for the anti-imperialist front in the following words; 'To arouse the working class to revolutionary activity, to independent action and to organisation, regardless of the level they have reached; to translate the true communist doctrine, which was intended for the communists of the more advanced countries into a language of everyday people; to carry out those practical tasks which must be carried out immediately, and to join the proletarians of other counties in a common struggle'. 

A united front is  a unity of opposites - therein lies one of the ideological challenges of this initiative.  Every united front is an arena for ideological and political struggle.  The existence of a strong revolutionary pole within the movement is essential to ensuring the defeat of ideas that, directly or indirectly, reflect the influence of capitalist ideology and the articulation of a tactic that can achieve victory. The three parties in the UDC are not just fighting the BDP regime but they are also competing among themselves in terms of who are the true champions  of the cause of the oppressed people of Botswana.  In my view, the BNF terms of its political programme is the undisputed champion of the Second Phase of the African Revolution - the superiority of its politics in articulating the needs and aspirations of the masses is beyond doubt.

  However, the only effective guarantee that the progressive social democratic programme of UDC will be consistently implemented when we seize power is the existence in its midst of a socialist organisation or a revolutionary core.  Within the UDC, without actively and openly recruiting from each other's cooperating partners, revolutionaries should be able to demonstrate through both words and actions the superiority of their ideas and eventually win the workers and peasants to their side.  Obviously, much of this will not apply to the BNF because not only is it not a socialist party, but over the last two decades or so the party has drifted to the right.  The obvious example of this ideological degeneration is the dramatic manner in which the party has virtually ceased to be the unmistakable  voice of the exploited and oppressed working class. During its heydays the BNF was able to transform  all towns - where most workers are found, into its political fortress and strongholds. Gaborone, Jwaneng, Orapa, and Phikwe were veritable BNF strongholds and the party was beginning to make inroads into Francistown.  Restoring the party's image in towns must feature prominently in the BNF's list of priorities.

The point that must be underscored is  that the left in the BNF has so far failed to carry out the historic tasks the founding fathers and mothers of this organisation bestowed upon them - the revolutionary task of constituting themselves into a revolutionary core that  enjoys not only ideological, but much more importantly, organisational autonomy within the united front to be able to influence the political direction of the UDC.  In the final count, the weakness of the left which is virtually in disarray, constitutes the greatest threat to the UDC united front tactic. The point we trying to make that in the absence of an organised revolutionary it is possible that the current leadership may be forced to recoil from some of the policies of the UDC thereby watering its down to just another liberal political programme where they meet inevitable stiff resistance from the forces of national and international capital.

All political programmes which have a strong element of  redistribution of wealth and the means of production have an inbuilt conflict potential because history unfolds through class struggles.  The poverty of our people is part of the political, economic and social hierarchy of power with the poor placed at the bottom of the heap. Real poverty alleviation is essentially about redistribution of economic, social and political resources and classes already benefiting from the current inequitable distribution of wealth will always resist change.  We must remember that Botswana is one of the countries with the worst economic inequalities in the world and this increases the likelihood of class conflict when the UDC takes over power. Obviously those who monopolise the main means of production use them to enrich themselves and will not easily or voluntarily hand them over to the poor without putting up a fight when we attain state power.  And that is where organised  pressure from revolutionaries comes in handy.

Ð Pamphlet Number One categorically states that the real leadership of the BNF must be the working class but because of the numerical and ideological weaknesses of the working class in the 1960s it was decided that there should be 'temporary' leadership of the BNF by the 'progressive petty-bourgeoisie'.  The betrayals of the masses by the so-called 'progressive petty-bourgeois' African leadership, including those which were products of armed liberation struggles, are legion.  After close to 50 years of the existence of the BNF the so-called 'temporary' BNF leadership by 'progressive petty-bourgeois' elements looks like a permanent arrangement which may culminate in another betrayal of the masses whose interests we purport to represent, unless BNF revolutionary rise to their historic challenge.

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