Wednesday, January 27, 2021

“In defence of the BNF”

For Sometime now the Deputy Editor of the Sunday Standard Spencer Mogapi has been exercising himself in a “critique” of BNF. But until recently his critical exercises were not marked by any consistency. He confined himself in the main to brief remarks that Moupo was not good leader or that BNF was so disorganised that it had become irrelevant to most people in this country. We have refrained from responding to the attacks because we considered them a load of trash not worth responding to. However in his latest commentary which appeared in the Sunday Standard Edition of the 20 ÔÇô 26 September, 2009, he does not only confine himself to commenting on the present state of opposition politics but even attempts to generalise and posit a prognosis on the likely political performance of various parties in the coming elections. He prefaces his discussion by launching a vicious vitriolic attack against Comrade Moupo. It is necessary to expose the falsehoods persistently peddled by this self-styled BNF critic, lest they be taken seriously by some gullible sections of the electorate. He writes, “as of Friday this week, the BNF President Otsweletse Moupo was in court trying desperately to salvage what little is left of his personal credibility—— He may be good at memorising Karl Marx’s literature but the man simply does not understand the real life hurly-burly of politics——-” Mogapi manifests an abysmal ignorance of the real character of the BNF as a progressive movement.

He equates the acquisition of a comprehensive political education absolutely important and indispensable for the training of a leadership cadre with some sterile memorisation of Marxist literature. This is preposterous. Underlying his contemptuous denunciation of all those BNF members who take theory seriously is an unscrupulous and insidious intention to discredit BNF’s progressive traditions and underplay the importance of those positive qualities and attributes which Comrade Moupo undoubtedly possesses as a leader. For if the very attributes which catapulted him to the BNF leadership in the first place are shown to be unimportant and irrelevant, then it will be all the more easier to dismiss him as a spent force and liability to the movement. Mogapi’s dishonest antics can however not deceive anyone. For us a party is not just an organisational apparatus or well-oiled electoral machine, but above all the programme, ideas, methods and traditions which constitute ideological foundation for a progressive movement. In this regard we regard ideological training and tempering as a supremely important, integral aspect of party building. He then proceeds to suggest that Moupo’s leadership has taken the BNF many years back and that it would need an extraordinarily talented leader to bring it back to where it was before. Precisely in what way has the BNF been thrown back? Mogapi does not shed any light on this. Nor does he advance even a scintilla of evidence to support his assertion. Being wedded to this bad habit of always bombarding his readers with his unverified and uninformed opinions he does not even attempt to anchor his conclusion on any factional or theoretical foundation. However highly Mogapi may think of his opinion is this regard, it is so logically flawed and ignorant that it cannot stand even the slightest critical appraisal. If indeed the BNF is so weak and disorganised that it has become irrelevant to the majority of the people in this country as he claims, why would he spend so much time discussing that Party? The answer is obvious as we shall demonstrate later.

Also false is the claim that Comrade Moupo has no knowledge of practical politics. If indeed that was so he would not have won the party Presidential contest against Peter Woto who had the clear backing of comrade Kenneth Koma with all his overwhelming popularity and prestige pitting oneself against the person of the stature of comrade Koma at that time required considerable political courage and tactical calculation. Incidentally some newspaper reporters from Mmegi at that time dismissed Moupo as a light weight who stood no chance against Comrade Woto. One of the most important factors in the training and tempering of cadres is the struggle for the correct political and tactical orientation. During the 19992 ÔÇô 1993 period an important political debate was raging within BNF on whether to participate in the coming elections. Comrade Moupo stood on the side of those who argued that to boycott elections would not only be incorrect tactically but a suicidal political error. After a thorough debate the party adopted a resolution committing itself to participation. It participated in the 1994 elections and achieved important electoral gains.

During the party crisis of 1998, Comrade Moupo not only analysed the crisis, but put realistic proposals on the way forward for the Party. He came out strongly against those who argued that the progressive potential of the BNF had been exhausted and that the only realistic option was to form a new Party. The questions confronting the Party at that time were not just theoretical, but were very practical and concerned the very survival and future of the Party. On all these important episodes in the Party’s History, Comrade Moupo demonstrated a theoretical perspicacity and political lucidity rare among his contemporaries. The issue looks no different if we consider it from the standpoint of the management of party affairs. If we take the History of BNF for a period of 10years (from 1988 ÔÇô 1998) we find that it experienced a series of splits, which led to the emergence of six splinter parties ÔÇô the Independence Freedom Party during 1990, PUSO, Labour Party, Social Democratic Party, Workers Front during 1993 ÔÇô 1994, the Botswana Congress Party in 1998. And that was during Koma’s leadership. During the last 8 years of Moupo’s stewardship the Party has suffered only one split which led to the emergence of the National Democratic Front. The BNF has fielded 48 candidates for the coming General Election as against the 42 which it fielded in the last elections. In the light of this historical evidence, the idea that BNF has been thrown back turns out to be no more than a figment of Mogapi’s imagination. History is about to have the last word on the real balance sheet of Moupo’s leadership.

We have altogether no reason to fear the verdict of History. On the other Mogapi and other Moupo bashers stand to be severely chastised. We would not bother to respond to personal attacks. We can only remind Mogapi of the elementary rule of a decent democratic debate and exchange of views, that you do not personally abuse the person you disagree with; you attack his ideas or practice. It is a sure sign of intellectual mediocrity and dilettantism. It is also discourteous and unethical. Mogapi’s pessimistic appraisal of the BNF is based on a double misconception. On the one hand he misconceives the real meaning and import of BNF’s internal conflicts. On the one hand he grossly underestimates the progressive potential of the BNF and its mass appeal. The incoherent multi-class character of the BNF endows it with an organisational complexity which imparts some level of instability. The inner party struggle which constitutes the very essence of the internal life of a mass party not infrequently assumes the form factional strife. For reasons which have to do with the peculiar History of the BNF which we have dealt with in detail elsewhere and need not go into here, the dialectic of the inner-party struggle is such that tensions and conflicts which are otherwise normal in any democratic formation not infrequently assume unhealthy forms such as fierce personality clashes and internal upheavals. This does not however mean that the BNF is disintegrating or that it has lost its mass appeal. The BNF is so deeply rooted among the masses that it cannot possibly have been liquidated by the internal wrangles of the past three years however serious they many been. The rational kernel of Mogapi’s analysis is undoubtedly his profound disappointment with what he considers to be an incurable organisational malaise afflicting that party. We also readily concede that some sections of BNF membership and supporters may have been disappointed.

But this does not mean that the majority of the working people are positively hostile to the BNF. This is the essence of the advice given by the Great Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin to the Dutch and German left communists. He pointed out that the fact that these comrades considered formal democratic institutions like parliaments and trade unions to be historically obsolete did not necessarily mean that the majority of the working class were also similarly disaffected or alienated from these institutions (V.I. Lenin ÔÇô Left wing communism ÔÇô an infantile Disorder). Even if some sections of the masses are disappointed and have some doubt about the leadership or the part as such, this does not exhaust the complexity of the problem. For the attitude which the ordinary masses adopt to the problems of their party is not the same as that of those petty-bourgeois fellow travellers who on occasion attach themselves to the party but desert it in droves on the onset of any serious inner-party shake-up or crisis.

Ordinary people have an instinctive understanding of the power and importance of organisation and are therefore not easily inclined to disengage from their party to join other organisations. This applies even to previously unorganised layers. When under the impact of great political events, they awaken to political life and invariably gravitate to traditional mass organisations. This is what explains the remarkable resilience of the BNF, not understood by most petty-bourgeois critics of that party. Because they have no sense of a real mass movement, and never bother to delve beyond the superficial impressions of the movement, they almost invariably reach erroneous and grossly misleading perspectives about the BNF. The matter looks no different if posed on an empirical plane. There is no evidence of any mass disaffection from the BNF and all the arguments about the imminent demise of that party are utterly without foundation and manifestly false. For lack of space, we cannot deal in any detail with those objective social processes and contradictions (such as unemployment, poverty, socio-economic inequalities) which worsen the quality of life of the masses and engender indignation and protest among broad layers of the population and alienate them from the ruling Party. It suffices to state for purposes present that these tend to counteract those tendencies (of both objective and subjective character) which undermine BNF’s influence. In fact these constitute an objective basis for BNF’s continued growth and mass influence.

Mogapi’s failure to take these into account in his estimation of BDP’s electoral strength is a fatal analytical flaw which leads him to seriously erroneous and misleading conclusions. Mogapi also underestimates the gravity of the contradictions within the BDP. The truth is that the factional strife presently afflicting the BDP is of a much more convulsive scale and tempo than anything ever experienced by that party since it was founded. Even the factionalism of the 1990s which incidentally contributed to the BNF’s excellent performance during the 1994 elections, pale into insignificance when compared to the present tussle between the A Team and Barata-Phati. The level of mutual mistrust and antagonism among these factions is such that each is working tirelessly to ensure the electoral defeat of candidates from the rival group. As a matter of fact in a number of constituencies scores of BDP activists are covertly campaigning for BNF’s parliamentary candidates, simply to thwart the political ambitions of their fellow BDP candidates whom they perceive to be in a rival faction. Just how this can fail to negatively impact on BDP’s electoral fortunes (as Mogapi argues) to the benefit of the BNF is most puzzling. Putting one’s figure on the rhythm and pulse of the mass movement so as to correctly gauge mass views and moods as a basis for estimating the correlation of political forces on the eve of an election is an extremely complex and difficult task.

Nevertheless by a means of what Leon Trotsky characterised as a method of successive approximation it is possible to make a fairly accurate prognosis on the likely electoral trends. On the basis of our long acquaintance with the BNF, and the sustained organisational work we have carried out, we can state without any hesitation, that Mogapi’s forecast of the likely electoral outcome is gravely erroneous and misleading. We in the BNF look to the future with boundless optimism and self-confidence. Despite its recent turbulent History, BNF is poised for a historic breakthrough in the coming elections. It is likely to successfully defend the constituencies it won in the last elections as well as recapture some of its former constituencies, and even snatch some of BDP’s former strongholds. As for the BDP, if it wins the elections at all it will be with a greatly reduced majority, and for the very last time.

*Moupo is BNF President and outgoing Official Leader of Opposition

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