The South African Communist Party's (SACP) decision not to divorce the ANC by not going it alone in the next elections was a tactical move to help it to consolidate its new assault on the ruling party.
The decision is a defeat for the militant Gauteng branch, which wants the party to contest the 2009 general elections on its own.
Jeremy Cronin, the SACP's deputy general secretary, said at the party's 12th national congress in Port Elizabeth that though the issue was debated at length, it did not enjoy the majority support of the more than 2000 delegates.
The SACP will work closely with the ANC and push its socialist agenda from within.
Cronin agreed with general secretary Blade Nzimande that the SACP would try to shift the ANC towards the left. The communists will push harder and be more vocal about what they want the ANC to do.
In the past, when some members expressed dissatisfaction with ANC policies and decisions, they were derided by senior leaders of the ruling party. At times it turned into a public spat between Nzimande and ANC president Thabo Mbeki.
The SACP's organisation report conceded that the relationship with the ANC, while underpinned by the national democratic revolution, had flared up in an acrimonious way after the parties criticised each other's discussion documents.
Against this background, the SACP has a very difficult task at hand. Trying to shift the ANC to the left is not going to be easy, if it will happen at all.
It is the very SACP that had accused the ANC of having become neo-capitalist or neo-liberal, a point not far-fetched considering the liberal economic policies that favour business. The ANC, which refuted the neo-liberal label, in turn accused the SACP of being ultra-leftist.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who spoke at the congress on Friday, elaborated the position stated by Nzimande the day before. He gave details of achievements of the left and how they must increase the pressure on the ANC.
Vavi was clearer about what the party must do and what it has already got out of the ANC. He said the recent ANC national policy conference was a victory for the left.
Vavi said that the resolutions taken at that conference showed a shift to the left. He attributed this to Cosatu and the SACP.
He wondered how matters would have stood without the political-conscious workers, the organised voice of millions of workers and ANC structures.
"Think what could have happened without the ANC mass base, the SACP and Cosatu, when there were attempts to transform the liberation movement into a praise-singing and election machinery while only a small elite makes themselves masters of our destiny," Vavi said.
To back up his argument, Vavi said that due to the workers and the SACP's influence, the ANC conference had passed "progressive economy policies" on state-led industrial strategy, developmental and fiscal policy, free and compulsory education and a comprehensive security system, among others. He said privatisation was shelved and replaced with a state-led massive infrastructure investment programme worth R400billion.
Vavi warned the SACP, whose membership has grown from about 19000 in 2002 to 51000 currently, against moving from a vanguard of the working class to a watchdog of the ANC and to avoid "half a loaf is better than none" politics.
"I am trying to show that under the SACP leadership the working class has scored countless victories," Vavi said.
But he said the victories of the left had not yet combined to counter the trajectory and that the main beneficiaries of the economic transformation had been monopoly capital, something that Cosatu and the SACP had identified.
If Vavi's argument is anything to go by, it means the ANC has moved from its original position. The ANC has slowly bowed to pressure from its alliance partners and civil society. These days it tends to have a lot of consensus agreements with its alliance partners on economic policy issues. For instance, the industrial strategy and the comprehensive health security system.
In the past, the ANC used to pass a policy and ready itself for a long drawn out public fight with Cosatu and the SACP. The long publicised spat over the Growth, Economic and Redistribution (Gear) policy comes to mind.
When the so-called victories gained by the left from the ANC as detailed by Vavi are read against those that Nzimande mentioned, one can say that the ANC is on its knees due to pressure from its own allies.
Nzimande said the passing of the National Credit Act and the Cooperatives Act, the introduction of the Mzansi account by financial institutions and amnesty from credit bureaus, among others, were the result of the SACP's influence.
This was reiterated by Vavi, who praised the SACP's Red October Campaign for the victories. According to the sentiments of the congress, the communists will advocate pro-poor policies. They will do this at all levels where they are represented - government, parliament, municipalities, education and health institutions.
"The SACP, which strives to be the vanguard of the working class, should seek to lead the overall struggle to build working class hegemony," Nzimande said.
The challenge now is, what tactics is the SACP going to employ in its struggle to ensure working class hegemony? Is the "dictatorship of the proletariat" possible at a time when international socialism is declining.
Nzimande said the next issue to campaign for was the re-nationalisation of Iscor and Sasol. He blamed some "deployed comrades" in the Industrial Development Corporation for having sold off Iscor to the Mittal family empire at the expense of the poor.
While the party resolved to campaign for the nationalisation of these assets, it said the issue must not be looked at in isolation but broadly in the context of an industrial strategy and global energy security.