German sociologist Robert Michel devised a concept called the “Iron Law of the Oligarchy” to which he claimed that political organisations and trade unions in general no matter how democratic they are, or claim to be develop oligarchic tendencies for technical or tactical means. The conceptual basis of this notion is underpinned by “leadership class” or party political elite being the nexus of power in organisations. These tendencies have manifested themselves in our current global political system, and backlash from the global youth, swinging either to rightwing conservative politics or to a leftist paradigm, leaving establishment (oligarchic) politics in the backburners of global political history. As the African National Congress (ANC) heads towards its policy conference from the 30th of June – 5th of July, and eventual national elective conference in December, it should take into cognisant not only national balances of forces, but also international trends that have manifested in different democratic dispensations globally – paying close attention to the underlying trends that have become the new political reality. If the ANC fails to take note this could result in the same fate as their African liberation movement counterparts, who have not only lost their electoral dominance, but also social dominance.
The election of US President Donald Trump, a large insurgency of right wing politics across the globe has begun to manifest itself through the rise of France’s Marine Le Pen, and Brexit. However, the election of Emmanuel Macron and more recently the Jeremy Corbyn’s elections surprise in Britain has seen a fight back from the global left in recapturing the minds and aspirations of global citizens.
What is a common thread throughout these elections is the subsequent death of the old guard and centralist establishment politics. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represented the rejection of establishment politics, and the rise non-mainstream politics. In the Bernie Sanders situation, it was the Democratic National Committee’s collusion to push through Hillary Clinton as their candidate, while polls clearly showed that Bernie Sanders would clearly win against Donald Trump had they gone head to head.
In France, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen both outside contenders became the leading contenders for the Presidential race, ousting French establishment political parties such as the Socialist Party and Le Republicans. However, the rejection of Marine Le Pen itself was a watershed moment as Emmanuel Macron’s newly formed party El Marche won an overwhelming majority in the French Parliamentary Elections, giving President Macron an overwhelming mandate from the people of France to charter new grounds in the French body politic.
In Britain, Theresa May bolstered by approval ratings arrogantly went ahead (unnecessarily so) with a snap elections to flex her political muscle. As we now know, she lost the outright majority, and has compromised her bulldozer strategy towards Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn who is regarded by the British media as “unelectable”, and subverted by 80% of his own political party leveraged this underdog status to pull off what is arguably the greatest political comeback by the Labour Party, and blunder by the Conservative Party of Theresa May in British political history, and not languishes with a hung parliament and reduced majority. Instead of the overwhelming mandate that Theresa May and the Conservative Party sought in the beginning with the snap elected, has resulted in a mere coalition minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Oligarchic arrogance underestimated the political shifting political reality that the youth presented establishment politicians, with Jeremy Corbyn proving to be the biggest winner when the dust has settled.
The lessons we as South Africans can take from these global events is that politics of establishment centralist politics has come to end. The youth can either make or break your political party, and if the ANC is unable to move away from the current neo-liberal trajectory that does not tackle the triple challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment we could see similar results heading into 2019. The political balances of forces have changed, and the voter demographics have also changed. It is about time that the ANC also change, and shift away from exile mentality of politics, and establish modern political practice in line with the changing voter demographics of South Africa.
The youth of South Africa does not hold nostalgic allegiances towards the glorious liberation movement, it is policies and delivery of those policies that shall be the crowning or dethroning moment of the ANC come 2019. It is about time that the ANC through the policy conference begin a journey to chart a new trajectory of neither populist nor conservative establishment politics, but politics that speaks to the fundamental issues poverty, unemployment and inequality that our people are subjected to on a daily basis. Oligarchic tendencies either through over bureaucratisation or elite protectionism shall be the stumbling block that our glorious movement shall stumble upon in the near future.