pages 67 - 95
Chapter 3: Trotskyism and
"Instead of uniting
before the common enemy -
Apartheid - the non-European political leaders
spend their time and energies debating the
various ideological brands of Communism -- Stalinism
and Trotskyism -- while the masses are left
George Padmore, 1956
"... It is the duty
of the revolutionaries to
make the revolution." (2)
Fidel Castro, 1967
A. Concerning the theory of socialist revolution. (3)
Marx evolved his theory of revolution in the years 1840-1844, and it was intended to be a programme for the bourgeois-democratic revolution, then overdue in Germany. Germany’s historical time lag as compared with her Western-bourgeois neighbours (England, France) offered the German revolution a unique historical chance not only to make up for the „political emancipation“ that had been brought about by the Jacobine revolution in France, but even to surpass it in a „human emancipation“ which would go so far as to overcome the contradiction between citoyen and bourgeois.
1 George Padmore, Pan-Africanism..., p. 362.
2 From: Message to the Peoples of the World, op. cit.
3 For this section, which of course has to restrict itself to certain aspects of the theories under discussion, the author has drawn on the following literature:
Marx-Engels, Werke, vols. 4 and 7, (Berlin: Dietz, 1959).
G. Lukacs, „Zur philosophischen Entwicklung des jungen Marx“, in: Schriften zur Ideologie und Politik, (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1967).
Arthur Rosenberg, A History of Bolshevism. From Marx to the Five Year’s Plan. Trans. Ian F.D. Morrow. (London: Oxford University Press, 19 (?)).
Lev Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, (London: New Park Publications, 1962).
V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1960) vols. 21-26.
G. Lukacs, Lenin. A Study on the Unity of His Thought. Trans. Nicholas Jacobs. (London: New Left Books, 1970).
I. Deutscher, Stalin. A Political Biography. (London: Oxford University Press, 1949).
I.V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, (New York: International Publishers, 1934).
idem, Marxism and the National and Colonial Question, (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1942).
Lev Trotsky, Stalin. An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence. Trans. Ch. Malamuth. 2 vols. (London: Panther Books, 1969).
R.V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution. Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia. (Cambridge, Mas.: Harvard University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1960).
St. R. Schram, Die permanente Revolution in China (Introduction). (Frankfurt a.M.: Edition Suhrkamp, 1966).
I. Fetscher, Der Marxismus, (München: Piper, 1967).
idem: Marx and Marxism, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971).
In clarifying the question of the subject of such a revolution Marx not only crossed the line from radical bourgeois-ideologist to theoretician of the socialist revolution but also from utopian to „scientific“ socialism, which alone is susceptible of designing the bridge of praxis that must of necessity link the criticism of the present with the utopia of the future, and of actuating the „alliance of thinking and suffering men“ that will liberate human society from the shackles of the bourgeois mode of production, and hence from the class system on a world scale.
Two parties are bound to find themselves in a temporary alliance prompted by the revolution, although they differ in their basic attitude towards that revolution: a petty-bourgeois one that aims at getting it done and ever with, and a proletarian one that keeps pushing it forward „until all more or less propertied classes have been squeezed out of authority, executive power has been wrested from them by the proletariat, and the associations of proletarians not only in one country but in all leading countries of the world are so far advanced (...) that at least the decisive forces of production will be concentrated in the hands of the proletariat“ (Marx/Engels, "Address of the Central Authority to the League“, March 1850).
This postulation of permanency
for the proletarian revolution, which at the same time was the common platform
of the League of Communists and the Blanquists, contains the following
criteria of a socialist revolution:
a) Achievement of the hegemony of the proletariat, by
means of its party or parties, in the historically
retarded bourgeois revolution;
b) Establishment of a proletarian dictatorship, i.e.
seizing control of executive power with a view to the
expropriation and reorganization of the means of
c) Internationalization of the revolution to bring about
co-operation among the proletarian dominated, most
highly developed („dominant“) societies in order to prevent
„communism“ from merely becoming a generalized form
of indigence and want which would invariably entail
new types of inequality, the formation of classes,
and the setting up of a machinery of repression vis-á-vis
the majority of the people.
At the beginning of the present century Bolsheviks and left-wing German Social Democrats discovered once more the „topicality of the revolution“ that informs the Marxian writings of about 1848. The Russian revolution of 1905 raised the problem of the character of this revolution not only for the Russian Social Democrats but also for the Second International in its entirety. Three options were developed:
a) the Menshevik one,
b) the Bolshevik one,
c) that of the inspirer of the first Petersburg council
of workers’ deputies, Lev Trotsky.
According to Menshevik theory, the task of the revolution was restricted to toppling the tsarist regime and establishing a bourgeois-democratic republic, in the framework of which Russian capitalism would then expand freely, while Russian social democracy would by means of its opposition and powerful organization protect the Russian workers from the worst forms of exploitation. In their opinion a socialist revolution would not be feasible in Russia, given its uneven development, since a highly developed capitalism would be the necessary pre-condition for any revolution.
Lenin’s formula for the Russian revolution up to the World War I was that of the „democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants“. His interest was mainly directed to the classes known to be incubating the revolution, hence its most likely protagonists. 100 million landless peasants would break out of their semi-serfdom and fight for the distribution of land; 5 million urban workers would support the peasant war by using the strike weapon in the cities, with the socialist objectives in mind.
The result would be a
revolutionary coalition between workers’ and peasants’ parties since the
Russian bourgeoisie, in consequence of the special characteristics of Russian
development, would be unable to play an independent political role. The
bourgeois revolution, being consummated by peasants and workers would henceforth
take on a proletarian character, at least in the cities, by virtue of the
forms of struggle adopted. Besides, the Russian revolution would be the
signal for the „purely“ proletarian revolution in Western Europe to erupt.
Trotsky went a step further, predicting in 1905/1906 that the coalition assumed by Lenin would of necessity quickly be followed by the hegemony of the urban proletariat since in view of the inherent weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie the petty-bourgeoisie class of peasants, scattered and traditionally incapable of organization as it was, would be bound to come under the leadership of the urban proletariat. Once they had seized control, the urban workers, mindful of where their interests lay, would have no option but to crack open the horizon of bourgeois-capitalist institutions, economic as well as political, and „to put collectivism on the agenda“. This would bring them into conflict with the interests of the petty-bourgeois class of peasants. Without support from the proletarian revolution in the - capitalistically speaking - most highly developed countries, the proletarian revolution would not be able to hold its own in backward Russia. The fate of the Russian workers’ revolution would be decided by social struggles on an international scale.
During the time of World War I Lenin drew closer to Trotsky’s position and upon his return from exile propagated the second, proletarian-socialist revolution („April theses“). The events of 1917 in Russia fully confirmed Trotsky’s prognosis made in 1905. The Bolshevik seizure of power in October/November was doubtlessly informed by the expectation that the socialist revolution would not fail to spread internationally within a short time, as evidenced by the manifestos and debates of both the first Comintern congresses and the party congresses of the Russian Communist Party (RCP) as well as the writings of revolutionary leaders.
The factional struggles
within the RCP and the Third International from 1923 to 1929 basically
centred upon the question as to how the first isolated workers’ state should
„correctly“ conduct its internal and external policies in the interest
of both the Russian and the international proletariat. In what was a clear
breach of the Bolshevik tradition of 1917-1923 Stalin in 1924 inaugurated
a new version of a nationally restricted communism.
The need for throwing
into gear the lagging process of industrialization in Russia was not in
itself a matter for factional dispute. The problem arose about the ways
and means to be adopted in its implementation, this being the import of
the economic controversy between Preobrashenski and Bukharin.
The Third International had been created as an instrument for spreading the socialist revolution. The question open for debate among the factions was that of the policy of alliances in highly as well as underdeveloped countries. It would seem that Stalin comparatively early considered the chance of spreading the international revolution quite minimal (cf. his letter of August 1923 to Zinoviev on the chances of the Communist revolution in Germany, in which he counsels „soft-pedalling“).
In China (1925-1927), as later in Spain (1931-1939) the Stalinist faction, through the mechanism of the Comintern, enforced its own conception, predicated on the necessity of fostering a revolutionary phase which initially was to be bourgeois-nationalist in outlook. This meant that the Communist parties of both countries were not supposed to pursue independent Communist policy but to restrict themselves merely to lending critical support to the national revolutionary movement (Kuomintang or Popular Front as the case might be) unless they were impelled to enter into alliances with those organizations calling for the total abandonment of their own principles.
Stalin thus elevated the old formula of the „democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants“, to which he had subscribed as editor of Pravda as late as in spring 1917, to the status of a programme for the Communist International. This resulted in defeats for the revolutionary classes and the parties representing them. Lenin’s reproach of „Menshevism“ here applies, at least with regard to the concept that a revolution in backward countries has to be conducted in stages.
Just at the beginning
of the century Bolshevism and Menshevism had confronted each other, so
now Stalinism and Trotskyism emerged as the enemy brothers of the late
‘Twenties and ‘Thirties. In total opposition to the whole Marxist tradition
Stalin, in defending his internal policy in autumn 1924, proclaimed the
thesis of the possibility of achieving Socialism in a single Country (Russia).
By postulating that even if no further revolution were forthcoming Russia
would be able to achieve Socialism/Communism under its own steam, Stalin
thus made a national communist virtue out of an imposed autarchic necessity.
As early as 1928 Trotsky called this a „theory of empty promises“, an „opiate
for the people“.
Within the framework of Marxist theory Socialism in fact means surplus production and overcoming the scarcity of foodstuffs by international co-operation among the planned economies of the most highly developed industrial countries. Only in such a context is there any sense in speaking of the „withering away“ of the State, the abolition of inequality, and the disappearance of social classes.
Ever since the German working class had conceded victory to Hitler without a struggle when he rose to power in 1933, Trotsky, in his criticism of the policy and theory of the Third International, put the responsibility for the political „errors“ committed (Germany 1923) and the „betrayal of proletarian interests“ (Germany 1933 and Spain 1936-1939) squarely at the doorstep of the emergent bureaucratic clique in the first workers’ state, motivated by social self-interest. Since 1928 this clique had usurped the political power of the workers’ soviets and built up an enormous machinery of oppression; it acted as a self-appointed trustee of the nationalized means of production and busied itself with perpetuating its status as the privileged caste.
Both on the theoretical level and in their practical or organizational approach the revolutionary programmes of the Stalinist-Menshevik faction on the one hand, and of the Trotskyite persuasion on the other, have confronted one another in developing as well as in highly developed countries.
The Trotskyites pose
the question of revolutionary objectives and of the classes likely to achieve
them. They are convinced that there is not a single developing country
in which the local bourgeoisie is susceptible of even solving the problems
of the bourgeois revolution (increase of private property, distribution
of land, national independence, a parliamentary republic) and consequently
that henceforth the achievement and defence of traditionally bourgeois
revolutionary aims has to be entrusted to poor peasants with a proletarian
leadership, who in consonance with the logic of the internal and external
political situation, just as happened in the Russian, Cuban or Vietnamese
revolution will utilize their power, once it is attained, for enforcing
far-reaching socialist objectives.
B. The Genesis of the Theory of Trotskyism and its Development in South Africa. (4)
After Stalin’s victory
over the ‘Left Opposition’ and Trotsky’s banishment from Russia in 1929
the Communist parties in the various countries expelled the ‘Trotskyites’
from their ranks. In 1930 the Trotskyites thus excluded from the ‘South
African Communist Party’ (SACP) founded the ‘Lenin Club’.
Before long two different political tendencies, represented by the Marxist leaders Bullac and Averbuch, emerged in the ‘Lenin Club’. The „majority“ faction, led by Averbuch, was of the opinion that the main task of the South African revolution was the abolition of national oppression, viz. racial discrimination. Furthermore it held that the revolutionary party was to carry out its activities publicly, although it should be prepared to go underground as soon as the struggle gathered momentum.
The „minority“ faction
led by Bullac put forward the central thesis that the agrarian revolution
was „the alpha and omega of the South African revolution“ and that the
Leninist Party had to operate solely as an underground organization.
The Averbuch group rejected this standpoint with the argument that South Africa was in a different position from other colonies or semi-colonies in which agrarian reform and the mobilization of the peasantry admittedly were the prime revolutionary objectives.
When after endless debates the two factions failed to come to an agreement, they decided to call upon Trotsky to join the discussion and consequently sent him their respective points of view drawn up in the form of theses. (5) This happened in 1933, at the time when Trotsky „roamed the planet without a visa“, trying to obtain political asylum from the so-called Western democracies. For this reason, only the theses of the „minority“ (Bullac) group reached him.
4 The terms „Trotskyite“ and „Stalinist“ are used in the present work exclusively as historical-scientific categories and not in any defamatory sense.
5 All copies of the two original theses have been lost and cannot be found again. In fact, very few documents encompassing this period of Marxist influence on the liberation movements are still in existence. This exposition can therefore only be of a fragmentary nature.
His famous „Letter to South Africa“ (6) of 20th April, 1933, was Trotsky’s answer to the minority theses. Although he declared that he was too insufficiently acquainted with South African conditions, he gave an authoritative answer to many of the controversial points. He produced a thorough-going analysis of the national question, which he used as a backdrop to the problem of land reform. Trotsky argued that at the time of the dispute the South African people were in fact a people of peasants (7) and that its majority felt their land hunger more keenly then national oppression, but that the Marxist leadership had to draw unstinted political conclusions from this land hunger and „fiscal bondage“ in which the African masses were held. (8)
Trotsky defined the specific nature of the national question in South Africa as follows:
"The South African
possessions of Great Britain form a dominion
only from the point of view of the white minority. From the
point of view of the black majority, South Africa is a slave
6 See: Workers’ Voice, November 1944, Vol.I, No.2, p. 18-20, and Appendix I.
7 Around 1933 South Africa was still characterized by a mining and agrarian economy; its industry was still in its infancy. In 1934-35, e.g., mining constituted 21% of the gross national product, agriculture (including forestry and fisheries) 13.5%, while private industry (excluding government-controlled industries) accounted for 15.2%. At the same period 65.2% of the Whites, 53.9% of the Coloured, 66.3% of the Indians but only 17.3% of the Blacks (excluding migratory labourers) were urbanized.
The total population could be broken down as follows: 2 million Whites, 0.76 mill. Coloureds, 0.22 mill. Indians, and 6.5 mill black Africans. Cf. D.H. Houghten, The South African Economy, (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1973).
8 The Averbuch group, e.g., claimed that the minority’s failure to combine the request for land with that for political democracy amounted to a purely „liberal“ solution of the „native question“, the reason being that white liberalism in South Africa in the ‘Thirties advocated handing ever more lands to the Africans by enlarging the reserves in order to stop the urbanization of the blacks and thus forestall industrial unrest. Trotsky called upon the Bullac group to eliminate liberalism both in theory and political practice.
Judging by formal criteria South Africa is a free nation in relation to the outside world, as far as its interior policy is concerned. Its status as a dominion, „whose white inhabitants manage their own affairs“, (9) is, however, but the juridical expression of the domination of a white minority lording over the African peoples of South Africa in the interest of imperialism.
On the one hand, the term „slave colony“ fittingly describes the socio-economic structure of South Africa, which is characterized by the functional coexistence of capitalist economic forms geared to a market economy and a subsistence economy in the reserves. In view of the miserable soil conditions, the scarcity of land and a violent system of taxation the latter had, however, better be defined as an „infra-subsistence economy“, (10) since it represents the basis of a system of excessive wage slavery. On the other hand it describes the concrete living conditions of the African masses: extremely low wages, high taxes, political bondage, no free choice of one’s place of work or residence, no freedom to change one’s place of work, and a rigorous system of controls through the obligation to carry passes.
Trotsky, aware of the fact that in 19th century Europe the solution of the national question in a heterogeneous nation had led to truncation and the setting up of small independent states, still held the opinion that in South Africa likewise the foundation of separate white and black states might be a possibility.
He therefore considered the establishment of separate black states justified if and when it was based on the Africans’ own free decision and not the result of pressure from the white oligarchy. This basic attitude of Trotsky’s was in keeping with Lenin’s viewpoint that the right of peoples to self-determination leading to national independence had to be supported by Socialists as a stepping-stone to proletarian internationalism. (11) Trotsky did not realize that the blacks were in no position to call for the foundation of an independent national state since the destruction of their traditional societies had not left them with any option to evolve new economic, political, and cultural institutions of their own. Neither did the paramount role of gold-mining and its ancillary industries, upon the functioning of which the existence of the entire South African population depended either directly or indirectly, allow of a separation as a progressive solution.
9 Cf. Franz Ansprenger, Auflösung der Kolonialreiche, dtv Weltgeschichte des 20. Jhdts. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1966), p. 53.
10 Cf. Serge Thion, Le Pouvoir pâle, (Paris: Editions du Soleil, 1969), p. 115.
11 V.I. Lenin, „Preliminary Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Questions“, in: Collected Works in 40 vols., (Moscow: Progress Publishers), vol. 31, 1966, p. 144-164.
For this reason the African bourgeois-democratic vanguard of the liberation movement as early as 1935, at the time of the foundation of the A.A.C., demanded a multi-racial society with equal rights for all groups. It enunciated three aspects of a liberal-democratic solution:
a) the equalization of political rights;
b) the right of the unimpeded sale of one’s labour, and
c) the right to purchase and sell land freely.
In view of those facts, secession - if at all it could be considered a way out - (12) would virtually have been the option of the white minority, and not of the black majority.
Trotsky’s letter touched off a heated discussion among South Africa’s Socialist groupings. The problem of the international workers’ movement also came to be drawn into this discussion, and a critical assessment of the Second and Third International took shape. Thus the „Lenin Club“ on the 1st of May, 1934, issued a pamphlet (13) calling for the foundation of a Fourth International:
„...as there is no
longer room for the rotting Second
International, and no longer hope for the resurrection of
the Third, we must start a new.
We shall start, richer from the experience of the past, to
build a new Revolutionary International and a new Revolutio-
nary Workers Party, a party which will be true to the best
traditions of Marx and Lenin and their achievement in the
October Revolution ...“ (14)
When soon after, the „Lenin Club“ broke up, a victim of its own internal contradictions, the active members of the ‘majority’ faction, Averbuch (pseudonym for A. Mon), Schoor, ‘Babeuf’, Jaffe, Peters and others, drawing their inspiration from the Lenin Club’s call for a Fourth International, named their newly founded organization the Fourth International Organization of South Africa (FIOSA). A newspaper entitled 'Workers’ Voice' became its theoretical organ. (15)
12 The so-called autonomous ‘black states’, like the present-day Bantustans, had been economically stagnant areas whose sole function was to supply labour for the industrialization of „white South Africa“.
13 A copy is to be found at the British Museum in London.
14 „May Day Manifesto“, A „Lenin Club Publication“, Cape Town 1934, p. 4.
15 The British Museum holds several numbers of this paper. It antedates Trotsky’s „Fourth International“ (1938) by four years.
The ‘minority’, later
led by the Socialist Bullac, I.B. Tabata, B. Kies, A. Fataar, and D. Taylor,
organized an underground group called „Spartacus Club“. During the next
two decades the disputes between FIOSA and ‘Spartacus Club’ concerning
questions of theory and organization became more and more exacerbated.
Their theoretical scientific realizations were not transmuted into practical
political reason, i.e., they failed to concentrate on their main task,
the total liquidation of white colonial paramountcy in South Africa. They
only co-operated in defending themselves against Stalinists, Liberals and
other elements within the national liberation movement that tended to collaborate
with the ruling class. (16)
This dispute is reminiscent of the controversy between Social Democracy and the Narodniki concerning the political attitude and the objective situation of the peasants in tsarist Russia.
The Spartacists re-opened
the controversy on class psychology and the political attitudes of the
black rural masses and the migratory workers. They held that the migratory
workers, farm labourers and landless peasants were deeply rooted in the
soil, and that, consequently, their weltanschauung was agrarian rather
than industrial; they would, therefore, only be inclined to embrace the
cause of a bourgeois-democratic revolution.
The FIOSA on the other hand argued that because of their contacts with the industrial system, e.g. when working in factories or mines, these groups were apt slowly to evolve a proletarian standpoint. A further factor was the establishment of a capitalist agriculture on the vast Boer estates. It was rationalized not only by means of mechanization but also by the setting up of co-operative farms. Hence, the FIOSA held forth, there was no objective necessity to break up the land into small plots and return it to the landless African peasants in the form of private property as postulated by the Spartacists.
16 Strictly speaking their divergences of opinion were not really momentous enough to exclude a tactical alliance for solving their main task.
In 1936 the Spartacists
became actively involved in the „All African Convention“ (A.A.C.) (17)
in order to combat the notorious ‘Hertzog Laws’.
The FIOSA started out as a propaganda circle. It consisted of a handful of Jewish and Coloured intellectuals; a single black African had joined it for a brief spell during the early ‘Forties. It never obtained any mass support, nor did it reach the stage of political agitation in depth. The African masses considered Trotskyism (and equally Socialism/Communism) as an imported commodity, and it therefore had great difficulty in taking root in South Africa. The early South African Marxists did not quite succeed in freeing Scientific Socialism from all its international bourgeois-ideological fetters, and hence to plant it firmly into South African soil as a revolutionary theory and practice nurtured by South African socio-economic realities.
In view of this general situation the FIOSA concentrated on the Europeanized Coloured intellectuals, hoping to reach the African masses through them. The only ‘educated’ segment of the Africans at that time was the teaching profession; among them were prominent Trotskyites of both persuasions. In 1943 the activities of the Trotskyites contributed to isolating the conservative leadership of several organizations of Coloured teachers from their rank and file and winning over many of those teachers to the ‘Teachers League of South Africa’ (T.L.S.A.). (18) This teachers’ union strove for democracy in politics and education.
In the same year the ‘Non-European Unity Movement’ (NEUM) was founded. The two Trotskyite factions engaged in a violent feud over the organizational structure of the new movement. The Spartacists insisted on a federation of organizations comprising blacks, Coloureds, and Indians. The FIOSA, on the other hand, advocated a union. Finally Tabata’s federalist point of view carried the day. The Indians, however, refused to join the league. The FIOSA openly derided this „racial“ federation and accused Spartacists in leadership positions of „abetting racial prejudice“. The trade unions, being under the control of the SACP and the liberals, did not join the NEUM. Instead, it managed to enlist the corporate membership of the teachers’ unions, cultural organizations, sports clubs, and peasant committees. Owing to the political activity of A.C. Jordan and I.B. Tabata, the NEUM in the early ‘Fifties obtained mass support among the „peasants“ in the Transkei.
17 Although the Club was dissolved around 1950, Spartacists still occupy leading functions in this organization and its affiliated movements.
18 The T.L.S.A. later joined the NEUM (See below).
Having established themselves
as the new leadership of the NEUM, the Spartacists elaborated a catalogue
of claims, the so-called 10 Point Programme, and propagated a policy of
The FIOSA denounced this programme as „petty-bourgeois democratic“. Point 7 of the programme fanned the old dispute into new flame, with FIOSA cleaving to its previous argument that the nationalization of land with a view to its redistribution on the basis of private capitalist relationships, such as „the right to buy and sell land“, remained a bourgeois-democratic measure (19) and that it would be unrealistic to divide the large mechanized frame into small private holdings for the benefit of the peasantry.
The Spartacists described
their own programme as a programme of minimum claims, transitorial in character,
which would unite all oppressed strata of society against the common enemy.
The claims of „both left and right“ within the liberation movement could
thus be synchronized.
The Spartacists therefore increasingly assumed the role of a „left centre“ within the NEUM, whereas the FIOSA could be said to be cast in the role of a „left wing opposition“ that lent to national leadership critical support.
The latter faction endeavoured
to build up a Marxist leadership within the NEUM. At its apogee, the NEUM’s
African leadership with Trotskyite support, developed and practised the
principle of non collaboration vis-à-vis all organizations of the
oppressor - one of its main achievements in the field of revolutionary
theory in South Africa.
At this stage the policy of non collaboration consisted chiefly of an effective use of boycott tactics which were in principle directed against any institution allowing the representation of blacks by whites, or practising racial segregation. It grew into a policy of independent struggle cleansed of any compromise with the overlord; at the same time it came to strengthen the mutual solidarity of the oppressed.
19 Today the former Spartacists in the „Unity Movement“ (Tabata, Ntshona, Taylor, Gool, et al.) hold the same viewpoint as the FIOSA in the ‘Forties. Of course, the leaders of the „Unity Movement“ for obvious reasons, have ever since done everything in their power to conceal their Spartacist or Trotskyite past in their writings.
During the ‘Forties the political activities of the Trotskyite groupings in South Africa concentrated on the African teachers organizations. As a link between Trotskyite cadres and the masses, the Coloured and black intellectuals were to carry out a general enlightenment campaign and thus to give the liberation movement a revolutionary fillip. In point of fact most of the active Trotskyites were themselves teachers and members of the TLSA. They laid great store by moulding the individual and taking advantage of the sociological precondition of this process, viz. the authority relationship between teacher, pupil, and parents. In this way they hoped to achieve mass basis. The FIOSA even proposed that the TLSA should join up with the trade union movement and thus make common cause with the workers. In addition it advocated a polytechnic education with the aim to lessen the isolation existing between the intellectuals and the proletarianized masses.
The spartacist members
of the TLSA were not prepared to combine their intellectual work with practical
manual labour. At any rate even the bureaucratic trade unions controlled
by the Stalinists made a point of not co-operating with the Trotskyite
Despite its harsh criticism of NEUM the FIOSA had worked exclusively in this organization since its inception in 1943. It had never succeeded in forcing links with the trade union movement, nor did it recruit any progressive workers on its own account.
After World War II the conflict between the two Trotskyite groups was exacerbated. Averbuch refused to go on working exclusively with a „petty-bourgeois national movement“ since this might entail the demise of the FIOSA as a revolutionary Marxist cadre organization. The Spartacists, on the other hand, developed such a complete identity of purpose with the leadership of the various organizations making up the NEUM that they abandoned their independent organizational structure around 1950.
At the „II nd World Congress
of the Fourth International“ in 1948 the FIOSA was given the brief to settle
its differences with the Spartacists. Both groups were to co-operate in
the national liberation movement. At two meetings their differences were
thoroughly thrashed out, and finally they agreed to join forces. The FIOSA
was hoping, however, to gain access to the party organization of the NEUM
and called for a coequal distribution of editorial posts in the running
of the NEUM newspaper, 'The Torch'.
The Spartacists raised another protest. It very soon became apparent that the ideological split between the two Trotskyite groups was too big.
Meanwhile the Boer Nationalist Party had won the 1948 elections. One of the first measures taken by the new regime was the introduction of „train apartheid“ in the Western Cape Province. Henceforth whites and Africans (non-whites) had to travel in different carriages. This caused such indignation, especially among the coloured, that for the first and the last time the NEUM and the SACP decided to form a united front. A „Train Apartheid Resistance Committee“ was set up. The Stalinists urged immediate action, involving the immediate illegal occupation of all trains by thousands of Africans. On 1st November, 1948, they pointed out that „no democratic movement had ever waited until victory was certain or the people 100 per cent organized before taking action on a specific issue.“ (20)
The Trotskyites on the
other hand insisted on extensive preparations in order to enlist more volunteers
and combine the protest against train apartheid with operations directed
against other institutions in which racial discrimination was practised.
Before long the Stalinists quit the united front, accusing the NEUM of cowardice and treason. Thereupon the Resistance Committee joined up with the NEUM. This is one of the few examples of NEUM spearheading a mass resistance movement directed spontaneously against the practice of apartheid.
The FIOSA continued in isolation and set up a discussion club in the ‘Fifties. Up to 1954 this club made important contributions to political theory, the materialist conception of South African history, and the analysis of such problems as the national liberation movement was faced with. Many of these contributions were published in the Cape Town monthly, 'Workers’ Voice'.
The FIOSA was instrumental in shaping a new generation of Marxists that carried the socialist viewpoint into many organizations. However, as a consequence of repressive measures, and especially by its one-sided concentration on individual enlightenment to the detriment of mass agitation and organization, the FIOSA disintegrated around 1954. Its underground movement crumbled. Many of its members joined organizations of the NEUM, and their political position soon grew to be indistinguishable from the „petty-bourgeois“ radical leadership. Others withdrew into a shell of resignation. A few linked up with the ‘African National Congress’ (ANC) the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and their allied organizations. Not until the early ‘Sixties did another independent organization of Marxist revolutionaries emerge, viz. the ‘Yu Chi Chan Club’ (1961), renamed ‘National Liberation Front of South Africa’ (NLF) in 1962.
20 Freedom, Johannesburg, vol.1, No.5, November 1948, p.2.
As shown in the previous chapter,
the NLF is the first guerrilla organization to be founded in South Africa.
(21) During a first phase of theoretical self-reflection its leading members
(Dr. Alexander and Dr. Abrahams, among others) came to grips with the revolutionary
theories of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, and Ché.
C. The Criticism of Trotskyism in South Africa.
A critical evaluation of the FIOSA, the main exponent of Trotskyism in South Africa (1930-1954), comprises the following points:
a) The FIOSA spent more time attacking
Spartacists and Stalinists
than mobilizing the masses for a socialist revolution.
b) Its political collaboration with
part of the national liberation
movement - NEUM - became a substitute for building a revolutionary
party on its own that would have represented the interests of the
exploited African masses.
c) It dispensed with maintaining close
ties with the South African
working class, especially the millions of migrant workers which
obviously would have had to form the basis of any revolutionary
party, dealing exclusively with intellectuals and petty-bourgeois
d) It capitulated to the very same
environment in which it had operated so long.
e) It did not maintain its position
as an independent political
force capable of leading the oppressed towards the socialist
revolution. As Marxists the members of the FIOSA played the
role of a ‘left wing opposition’, lending „critical support“
to NEUM and coming to the aid of weak or vacillating national
f) As long as the FIOSA operated within
the framework of a
united front of classes, viz. the NEUM, it invariably tended
to sacrifice the interests of the workers to the maintenance
of the alliance. Like the Spartacists it had accepted the
nation of „class blocks“, and in the ‘Fifties it left the
field to the Stalinists, enabling them once more to look
after the genuine tasks of the working class. A gaping abyss
between revolutionary theory and practice in South Africa was
the result - one of the most burning issues at present.
g) The Trotskyites, whether in the
FIOSA or the Spartacus
Club, did not operate in close, daily contact with the
poverty-stricken African masses, nor did they share their
experiences, hopes, and sufferings. Like the Stalinists
they did not undertake any dangerous assignments under what
might have turned out to be actual combat conditions. Changed
social conditions in the late ‘Fifties and the ‘Sixties drew
many of them towards the epicentre of revolutionary change
h) As propagandists the Trotskyites
lived in a fool’s paradise of theory
- a sacrilege for Marxism. Very few of them became known in public,
let alone the international scene. Their withdrawal from a far-
flung mass struggle during the ‘Fifties hardly caused a stir.
21 Cf. pp. 60 -64 of this book
The South African Stalinists in their mouth-piece, 'Freedom', criticized the FIOSA and the ‘Spartacus Club’ in the following manner:
"There was a purely
verbal battle. To have gone into
action against the capitalist state would have exposed
them to repressive measures. ...
Trotskyism was essentially an intellectual exercise, a
patent escape for intellectuals of a certain type from
the frustrations they experienced under capitalism." (22)
D. The Policy of the Communist Party of South Africa.
In 1907 white members of the middle class organized the ‘South African Labour Party’ (SALP). It was mainly concerned with problems of trade unionism. By and large the SALP remained a party of white workers. It pursued a pronounced conservative and even reactionary policy with regard to the relationships between the races in South Africa. Its prime objective at the beginning of the present century was the preservation of the privileged position of white workers in gold mining and its dependent industries.
In September 1914 some spokesmen of the white working class led by S.P. Bunting voiced their opposition to South Africa’s participation in the First World War. After being expelled from the SALP they founded the ‘International Socialist League’ (ISL). (23)
The ‘South African Communist Party’ (SACP), founded on 21 July, 1921, merged with the ISL the same year. The communism of the first Marxist-Leninist party on the African continent was, however, of a typically British variety, owing more to a nonconformist doctrine of salvation than to Marxist revolutionary theory. The SACP leadership was in the hands of Jewish immigrants of Eastern European origin who had been active in the British trade union movement. In an attempt to strengthen the unity of the workers (24) the SACP in 1924 supported the alliance between the SALP and the petty-bourgeois anti capitalist Hertzog Nationalists. (25) Once in office, the ‘Labour - Nationalist’ coalition did not fail to concentrate on its ‘civilized labour policy’, denoting the defence of white labour interests against any competition from black workers.
22 Freedom, vol.1, No.6, February 15, 1950.
23 Its prominent leaders were Bill Andrews, David Jones, and Edward Roux, its newspaper was titled 'International'.
24 Meaning merely ‘the unity of white workers’, as evidenced by the battle cry of Boer and English workers during the ‘Rand Revolt’, in 1922 „Workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa.“ Cf. also Norman Herd, 1922 - The Revolt on the Rand, (Johannesburg: Blue Crane Books, 1966).
25 Cf. E. Roux, Time Longer Than Rope..., p. 199 sq.
After Lenin’s death a dispute arose within the SACP about the question whether it ought to organize white or black workers, or possibly both, in South Africa. Bill Andrews believed in ‘white labour’ and as a consequence soon found himself isolated within the party. Sidney Bunting on the other hand demanded that black workers be paid „equal attention“. However, the white proletariat was to lead the black workers.
Although the SACP claimed to be the vanguard of the South African workers, its members in 1926 were excluded from the ‘Industrial and Commercial Workers Union’ (I.C.U.) - the largest mass organization and trade union movement of Africans that ever existed in the history of South Africa. (26) C. Kadalie, its president, preferred to co-operate with the British liberals, thus leading African trade unionism in South Africa to its Waterloo. (27)
Through its newspaper, 'The South African Worker', (Umsebenzi), and by establishing evening classes, the SACP gained many members among the blacks. On August, 1926, Umsebenzi reprinted the minimum political programme of the SACP:
a) A demand for the rejection of the Hertzog
b) The abolition of the pass laws and other racial legislation;
c) The extension of the Cape franchise of blacks to other provinces;
d) The rights of Africans to elect their own representatives to the native councils.
These bourgeois-democratic demands were to form the basis for the politicization and organization of the Africans. In 1927 three blacks - Makabeni, Khaile, and Thibedi - were elected deputies in the Central executive of the SACP. By the end of 1927 the black membership of the SACP had risen to over 200. (28) Their task was to form „cadres of class conscious native workers in African areas“. In 1928 black members of the SACP numbered 1.600, the total membership being 1.750. (29)
26 It had over 250.000 members (1928) at that period.
27 In 1936 the I.C.U. had ceased existing.
28 Cf. Umsebenzi, 1 April, 1927.
29 Cf. Simons, H.J. and R.E., Class and Colour in South Africa, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 406, and Jane Degras, ed., The Communist International. 1919 - 1943. Documents. vol.II, 1923-1928. (London: Frank Cass, 1971), p. 553.
Edward Roux has analysed the social structure of the black membership around 1928. The vast majority, especially in the Transvaal, consisted of workers from the small, as yet semi-rural locations. Among them, he says, the most active and dedicated Communists were those,
"who had not been
spoilt by serving an apprenticeship
in the Congress or with the ICU. The best of all
were rank and file Bantu members, often semiliterate,
who received their education through the Party and had
never been in any other organization." (30)
The brunt of organizational and political activity in the CP branches outside the big cities was consequently borne almost exclusively by black party members. According to Roux, the comparatively reserved attitude of the black intelligentsia toward the SACP is accounted for by the following factors:
1. The pronounced nationalism among the
who among other things were critical of the fact that
the highest leadership positions were held by whites.
2. The equation of political ability with social and
economic advancement, an objective that could not be
achieved in the CP.
3. The authority relationship characterizing the black
intelligentsia’s attitude towards the police.
Unlike the black masses this group shied away from
any confrontation with the police.
However, the opposition of the intelligentsia was a small matter compared with the animosity of the black chiefs against the SACP, which found expression in arguments like the following:
"The CP has brought
Russia to the stage were it is now.
The Tsar was a great man in his country, of royal blood
like us chiefs, and where is he now? ... It will be a
sad day for me when I am ruled by the man who milks
my cow or ploughs my field." (31)
The influence of the SACP on the ANC operated by way of ANC members who, like James La Guma, ANC secretary in Cape Town, or J.T. Gumede started out as CP sympathizers, or who were avowed party members, such as M. Kotane, J.B. Marks and others that attained leading positions in the ANC after 1930. (32)
30 E. Roux, Time Longer Than Rope..., p. 215.
31 ibid. p. 211.
32 Members and sympathizers of the South African Communist Party (SACP) like D.I. Jones, S.P. Bunting, Bill Andrews, Rebecca Bunting, J. La Guma, A. Nzula, Josie Mpama and J. Gumede were very active in the international communist movement, especially in the Comintern. James La Guma joined the SACP in 1925; Gumede never became a Party member. (Cf. Francis Meli, „A Confused Trotskyite Intellectual“, in: The African Communist, (London, No. 54, Third Quarter 1973, p. 112. The scientific quality of this book review is so low that it is beyond intellectual reason to comment on it at all.
Up about 1928 the SACP
had a good starting chance to become a workers’ party in South Africa capable
of offering the toiling masses a way out of their misery through a social
In 1927 La Guma and Gumede, after taking part in the congress of the ‘League Against Imperialism’ convened in Brussels in 1927, (33) visited Soviet Russia. They held lengthy discussions with members of the Comintern, especially Bukharin. As a result the Comintern drew up a resolution on South Africa.
H.J. and R.F. Simons in their book, 'Class and Colour in South Africa', sum up the main ideas of this resolution:
"It was agreed that
the struggle in this country was primarily
an anti-imperialist one. ... It was clear therefore that the
main task of the revolution in South Africa was to overthrow
the rule of the British and Boer imperialists, to set up a
democratic independent Native republic (which would give the
white workers and other non-exploiting whites certain
minority rights) as a stage towards the final overthrow of
capitalism in South Africa." (34)
After his return from Moscow in January 1928, Gumede at an ANC rally publicly declared his support for the SACP by stating:
„The only friends of oppressed people are the Communists“ (35)
and in a further report on his experiences in the Soviet Union he said:
„I have seen the new
world to come, where it has already
begun. I have been to the new Jerusalem.“ (36)
This image of the „new Jerusalem“ was in keeping with Gumede’s assumption that the African is, as it were, Communist by nature. From this unhistorical perspective the organization of the masses was for him the main problem:
"Others have been
persuaded to be Communists. The
Bantu has been a Communist from time immemorial.
We are disorganized that’s all." (37)
However, the first „directive“ of the Comintern touched off a furious political debate in the SACP. La Guma and Gumede supported the position of the Comintern, while S.P. Bunting and E. Roux attacked the idea of an „independent Native republic“. (38)
33 Imanuel Geiss, The Panafrican Movement. trans. Ann Koop (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 326.
34 Simons, H.J. and R.E., op.cit., p. 390.
35 ibid. p. 392.
36 ibid. p. 402.
37 ibid. p. 402.
38 Also known as „Black Republic“.
The idea of a „Negro“
or „Black Republic“ was the brain-child of a former Finnish university
professor of Marxist sociology, Dr. Otto Kuusinen, who had once been a
secretary of the Comintern. He claimed that the „Negro problem“ in the
United States was that of a „national minority“. Together with the doctrine
of self-determination enabling the setting up of a „Negro Nation“ or „Black
Nation“, and with Stalin’s blessing, the Comintern conveyed this formula
to the United Sates and South Africa alike.
Bunting summed up his argument in a 14 page document. (39) He held that the idea of establishing a „democratic independent Native republic“ in South Africa originated in Lenin’s theses of 1920 of the colonial question. (40) These theses, however, had neither been published in South Africa, nor had they been discussed by the SACP. Bunting produced several arguments against the concept of a „Black Republic“:
1. A national liberation movement aiming
majority rule would inadvertently exacerbate the
racism of the white population and strengthen the
nationalist groups among the Boers and British, who
would then form a common front.
2. There did not exist any strong progressive African
bourgeoisie that could lead the national struggle;
the chiefs and intellectuals who represented the
dominant element in the ANC were conservatives lacking a
sense of direction. Apart from the fact that it had
reached the stage of disintegration, the ANC did not
demand the right of self-determination but merely an
equal franchise for everybody, counting on English
support to reach this objective.
3. Another reason preventing the ‘Black Republic’ from
becoming a transitional stage on the road to a
socialist society was the fact that objectively the
white proletariat constituted a part of the anti-
capitalist front and that the African proletariat
could not dispense with its political and technical support.
"No one could predict
how an unarmed African proletariat
unaided could defeat the capitalist class; but at
least to win the support of their white fellow workers
seems imperative." (41)
Special tactics would
have to be devised to „neutralize
and correct“ (42) the racial chauvinism of white workers.
39 Cf. also Simons. op.cit., p. 395.
40 V.I. Lenin, „Preliminary Draft Theses...“, pp. 144-164. See also pp. 240-244.
41 Simons, op.cit., p. 397.
42 ibid., p. 468.
4. In view of the ineptitude of the ANC
a growing number
of African workers and even some black peasants
considered the SACP their true stronghold; for this reason
„the SACP is itself the actual or potential leader of
the national movement among the Africans“ and the national
struggle inseparably linked with the class struggle.
Bunting therefore insisted that the party should abandon the idea of a transitional stage involving the creation of a „Black Republic“ and that its propaganda preparing the ground for a workers’ and peasants’ state should be started forthwith:
"The goal must be:
All power to the soviets of workers and
peasants - black and white." (43)
While Bunting made a
correct assessment of the role of the ANC leadership, his attitude with
regard to the white workers was definitely idealistic. From the fact that
by virtue of their objective position in the production process they had
to be counted among the proletariat he concluded that the „correction“
of their consciousness could be achieved by mere argument. (44) He failed
to take into account their origin from imperialist England (whose embourgeoised
working class had already been described by Marx (45) and identified by
Lenin (46) as a serious danger for the international class struggle) or
from the Boer petty bourgeoisie and their special position in the production
La Guma’s Argumentation.
La Guma was more pessimistic in his assessment of the possibility of developing a proletarian class consciousness in the white workers by a mere educational fiat, although it is true that the two antagonists differed only with regard to the duration of the presumable learning process. He argued that the deprived African masses were unable to wait passively for the result of this learning process but demanded urgently the abolition of discriminatory laws, a crushing tax load, virtual conditions of forced labour, and landlessness.
43 ibid., p. 397.
44 Cf. Umsebenzi, 27/4/1928.
45 Marx-Engels, Werke, (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1956 sq.), vol. 17, p. 649.
46 V.I. Lenin, Collected Works..., vol. 3, p. 245.
In contrast to Bunting,
La Guma was convinced that an active policy of this nature would even go
a long way in strengthening the proletarian consciousness of the white
workers. He therefore pleaded that the SACP on the one hand should strongly
support the national liberation struggle represented by the ANC while on
the other it should keep intact its identity as a proletarian party.
The main shortcoming in La Guma’s position is, however, manifested in his following argument derived from Lenin:
"To be revolutionary,
a national movement in conditions
of an Imperialist yoke need not necessarily be composed
of proletarian elements, or have a revolutionary or repu-
blican programme or a democratic base." (47)
Lenin, however, started from the assumption that national movements in the colonies or semi-colonies would of necessity be bourgeois-democratic in character, given the composition of their social basis, which comprises elements of the national bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the peasant masses etc. According to Lenin, the democratic nature of a national movement can be measured by the extent to which a reformist bourgeoisie refrains from disturbing the efforts of CP representatives to educate and organize the exploited masses in „a revolutionary spirit“.
Lenin pleaded that the reformist bourgeoisie should only be supported if this condition was fulfilled. He conceived of the national, bourgeois-democratic movement as being in essence directed against feudal or semi-feudal conditions. As for the question whether or not the capitalist stage of development could be omitted, Lenin answered in the affirmative, adding however that any practical decision of this nature depended on certain national and international factors.
This is precisely what
La Guma failed to take into account. Thus he brushed aside the fact that
the national anti-imperialist movement in South Africa was not pitched
against any feudal or semi-feudal structures but on the contrary against
a capitalist set-up which dominated and structured the whole of society.
The racism under which the Africans have to suffer is therefore no atavistic relic that has to be eradicated by reformist methods but part and parcel of the establishment and consolidation of capitalist conditions in South Africa.
47 Simons, op.cit., p. 398.
La Guma’s call for the abolition of migratory labour, the dissolution of the reserves, the destruction of the industrial colour bar and the introduction of the general franchise would, therefore, have provoked the most determined resistance on the part of local (i.e. in those days English) and foreign capital. These measures could only have been realized by totally wresting control of the means of production and political power from the national and imperialist bourgeoisie in South Africa.
Even Bunting had failed
to see the crux of this problem. Instead he drew an imaginary, purely schematic
line between „race war“ and „class war“, considering the option for one
or the other a preponderantly moral issue.
A further point which is of decisive importance for the discussion of the concept of the ‘Black Republic’ is the fact that Bunting and the Comintern do not basically differ with regard to method. From the existence of certain classes (peasants, proletarians) and the prominence given them, both deduced mechanically determined strategies. But ‘classes’ for them remained abstract categories insofar as they were not viewed as products of unique historical conditions.
Because the Comintern
did not conceive of the South African „peasantry“ as part of a concrete
whole but adhered to its own schematic model according to which in societies
engaged in dependence relationships with imperialism it is the peasants
who have to ensure the anti-feudalist, bourgeois-democratic revolution,
it developed the concept of the „Black Republic“. (48)
Therefore the Comintern (or Stalinism) could not claim to subscribe to the Marxist method:
"The concrete is concrete
because it is the sum total of
many determinations, hence the unity of multiformity.
It therefore appears in thought as the process of
synthesis, as a result, not a point of departure,
although it is the real point of departure and consequently
also the point of departure of perception and idea." (49)
48 Cf. Die kommunistische Internationale vor dem VII. Weltkongress - Materialien. (Moscow/Leningrad: Verlagsgenossenschaft ausländischer Arbeiter in der U.d.S.S.R., 1935), chapter „Südafrika“, p. 625-632.
49 K. Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, (Berlin: Dietz, 1953), p. 21 (trans. W.F.).
The ‘Lenin Club’, founded after the ‘Trotskyites’ had been expelled from the SACP, commented on the various ‘directives’ addressed to the SACP by the Comintern as follows:
"The blunders of the
Comintern on the International Field
are reflected in the history of the Communist Party of
South Africa. Out of touch with realities, ignoring the
special characteristics of South Africa, they carried
over into South Africa, in routine fashion, policies
which had been uniformly worked out for all countries." (50)
One of the Comintern directives dealt with the foundation of so-called Red Trade Unions. With reference to this particular decision the ‘Lenin Club’ pointed out:
"Consider, for instance,
their disastrous policy of urging
workers to come out from the existing Trades Unions in
order to build up new, separate, Red Trades Unions.
What was the result? The workers of the Left Wing were
cut off from the body of workers; the class-conscious,
militant workers were isolated." (ibid.)
A. Mon, a leader of the Trotskyite movement in South Africa, attacked the catch-word of the „Black Republic“ as follows:
"It does not express
the desire of the non European masses,
awakening today to political consciousness. The real desire
of the non Europeans ... is for Full Democratic Rights for
All. ... There is no politically expressed desire on the part
of the non European to oppress the European. ... We do not
envisage a perspective where one race will rule another
race in South Africa." (51)
As early as 1934 the ‘Lenin Club’ in its „May Day Manifesto“ had insisted:
"Not less harmful
was the reactionary slogan calling for a
Native Republic, a slogan which is in complete contra-
diction to Marxism-Leninism. For it places at the head of
the Revolution the backward Native peasantry, which is
by for the dominating element in the Native population,
instead of giving the sole leadership in the transition
period to the Working Class, black and white alike. The
Communists’ cry for a Native Republic would doom the
Revolution beforehand to failure, for never in past history
have the peasants alone been able to carry a revolution
to a successful issue."
In his famous Letter to South Africa of 20 April, 1933, Lev Trotsky noted:
"We must accept with
all decisiveness and without any
reservations the complete and unconditional right of the
Blacks to independence. ... It is possible that the Blacks
will after Victory find it unnecessary to form a separate
Black State; certainly we will not force them to establish
a separate state; but let them make this admission freely,
on the basis of their own experience, and not forced by
the sjambok (52) of the White oppressors."
50 Cf. the „May Day Manifesto“ of the ‘Lenin Club’, Cape Town, of 1st May, 1934. A copy is to be found in the British Museum.
51 Cf. Workers Voice, (Cape Town) November 1944, vol.1, No.2, p. 7.
In 1931 the second „purge“
took place in the SACP. Sidney Bunting was officially expelled from the
Party and declared a „right-wing-deviationist“ and an „imperialist bloodsucker“.
(52) Bill Andrews, Solly Sachs and other prominent Communists were expelled
along with him. At Moscow’s instance Edward Roux and Moses Kotane were
excluded from the politbureau of the SACP in 1934.
Later on the SACP quietly dropped the slogan of the ‘Black Republic’ and began to infiltrate the African trade unions and liberation movements. Starting from 1936 the decrepit „African National Congress“ (ANC) was given a new lease of life under Stalinist influence.
In 1928 many African trade unions had joined the „Non-European Trade Union Federation“ (NETUF). (53) Owing to its campaign for ‘Red trade unions’ the SACP by 1933 had succeeded in splitting the entire movement, including Kadalies’s ICU. (54)
But for the fact that the CPSU rigorously suppressed the productive application of historical materialism to the concrete conditions pertaining in South Africa, the SACP might have grown into a formidable political force. However, as George Padmore correctly remarked, „South African Communist leaders were so completely tied by the Russian umbilical cord, they were formed to follow all the zigzag manoeuvres of Soviet foreign policy.“ (55)
In conclusion we would like to show how to each change of front in the foreign policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy between 1928 and 1945 corresponded a similar movement in the SACP. The same can be said of the satellite organizations of the SACP, viz. the ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’, the ‘People’s Club’ and the ‘Left Club’.
The first major revulsion occurred between 1928 and 1933, when Soviet Russia engaged in a flirtation with Germany to counterbalance British-American finance capital. In order to jeopardize the British Empire the Stalinists encouraged the colonial freedom movement. The counter-revolutionary hard core of Stalinism made sure, however, that this development did not become really dangerous.
52 Die kommunistische Internationale vor dem VII. Weltkongress ... p. 625 sq.
53 Cf. Joan Davies, African Trade Unions (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966), p. 60 sq.
54 The government, of course, threw in its full support behind this counterrevolutionary movement. Cf. E. Roux, Time..., p. 175-198.
55 G. Padmore, Pan-Africanism..., p. 346.
When after coming to power Hitler refused to enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union, the Stalinist regime sought a rapprochement with the „Western democracies“. In this way the Comintern betrayed many a social revolution and many a strike action between 1933 and 1936. It logically played up to Western imperialism at the expense of its German counterpart. For Stalinism, opportunism and class collaboration were on the order of the day, even in South Africa. Blocs were founded by Communists, Liberals, and clerical elements; the struggles against segregation were called off. Mass demonstrations or trade union operations were either boycotted or discouraged. This period came to an abrupt end with the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939.
Hence the next about-face in the SACP had become inevitable in 1939. Jaffe described the ‘new policy’ of the South African Stalinists’ as follows:
„(They) ... switched
strongly anti-British once more; they
encouraged strikes, ... they became friendly with the Nationa-
lists and toned down their attack on the Greyshirts and other
fascist bodies in South Africa; they shouted anti-war slogans
from the rooftops and called for a peace with Hitler whenever
Molotov and Von Rippentrop (sic!) sent their peace doves out
towards the Western democracies.“ (56)
The SACP openly sympathized
with the Boer Nationalists, who were favourable to Hitler and represented
the interests of the rich farmers and of important circles in the processing
industry. It even organized joint sessions with Boer organizations. (57)
„At one of these,
they invited Mr. van Zyl, a prominent
Cape Nationalist, to address the Left Club at the Railway
Institute. Mr. H. Shnitcher, leading C.P-er, lauded van
Zyl, declaring that: 'I think if we scratch under Mr. van
Zyl’s Nationalist skin, we will find a genuine socialist.' “ (58)
Even at that early period most of the leading representatives of the Boers who later were to hold top positions, like Verwoerd and Vorster, advocated a fanatical brand of segregation policy in order to facilitate the exploitation of African labour and called for a ‘White Republic’. (59)
56 See: Workers Voice, November 1944, vol.1, No.2, p. 3 sq.
57 Organizations such as New Order, Greyshirts, Broederbond, or Ossewa Brandwag, the forerunners of modern apartheid.
58 Workers Voice, November 1944, op.cit., p. 4.
59 A. Hepple, Verwoerd, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), p. 165-186.
In June, however, much to the surprise of the SACP, Hitler began his invasion of Soviet Russia. Now the SACP, turning ‘pro-war’ overnight, launched a furious and demagogic attack on the Boer Nationalists who had obviously remained ‘anti-war’. Boer nationalism was declared the arch-enemy of freedom for the Africans (blacks), and the Boers were labelled ‘Fascists’. British liberalism, on the other hand, was once again white-washed. A bloc of Liberals, ‘white Socialists’, clerical elements and Stalinists was established under the name of „Rights and Justice Movement“; its avowed intention was to sabotage the „Non-European Unity Movement“ (NEUM) founded in 1943 with Trotskyite aid. Besides the SACP leaned towards the party of the white workers (SALP) and the white middle-class. Although the living conditions of workers, especially the blacks, deteriorated, it discouraged strikes and anti-Bitish demonstrations.
This policy was continued
after the war. The SAPC’s brand of Marxism’ turned more and more into a
superannuated liberalism. Marxism was rendered ‘peaceful’ with the aid
of Gandhi and Thoreau. Through its policy of compromise with the „Congress“
movement led by the bearer of the Nobel Prize for Peace, A.J. Luthuli,
the SACP reduced Marxism to a liberal, pacifist doctrine.
In 1950 the Boer government passed the Suppression of Communist Act and thus excluded the SACP from public political life. George Padmore commented on the omissions and errors of the SACP as follows:
„For while the Communists
carried on a disruptive policy
in their dealings with Bantu nationalist organizations, in
the repressive conditions which prevail in South Africa they
could have provided a rallying force for progressive
Europeans. The party´s disappearance has enabled the Malan-
Nazis to poison the white workers with their Hitlerian
philosophy of „racial superiority“ to the almost complete
extinction of liberal democracy. Today, South Africa is
almost a police state.“ (60)
Hosea Jaffe, a leader of the FIOSA, criticized the Stalinists in the SACP thus:
„... the Stalinists
are agents and representatives and
defenders of the Russian bureaucracy. ... Stalinism is
essentially counter-revolutionary. ... In every sphere of
the toilers' struggle in South Africa, whether it be among
the workers or in the national organizations, or among the
teachers and students - Stalinism is playing a dangerous
and misleading game in South Africa at the moment.“ (61)
60 George Padmore, Panafricanism..., p. 346 sq.
61 Workers Voice, op.cit., p.2 sq.
E. The Criticism of Stalinism in South Africa.
a) The SACP was the first political
party in South Africa to
try to organize black and white workers jointly
against capitalist exploitation. Between 1921 and
1927 it established a good starting position for
becoming a Socialist party capable of leading the
oppressed South African masses toward political and
b) The SACP joined the Comintern and after Lenin’s death
increasingly became an instrument of Soviet foreign
policy, which was basically geared to the principle of
Soviet security, i.e. the realization of „Socialism in
a single country“.
c) The ‘Marxists’ in the SACP were not sufficiently
conscious of the specific problems facing them as
South African revolutionaries to realize the
crucial importance of Trotsky’s rejection of the doctrine
of „Socialism in a single country“ and of his theory of
the „permanent revolution“ for South Africa as the centre
of imperialist commitment in Africa and the most highly
industrialized country on this continent. Instead they
followed the Stalinist lead in expelling the partisans
d) The adoption of the concept of the ‘Black Republic’, i.e.
a national-democratic revolution under the leadership of
the ANC, (62) proves once more that the SACP did not subscribe
to the study of social reality with the aid of the Marxian method
but embraced the reception of Marxist theory in a
e) Unlike the Trotskyite groupings in South Africa, however,
the SACP lent the oppressed Africans active support
in their struggle against the government’s racial policy,
declared its solidarity with their operations, and helped
them to organize. Insofar the SACP played a role similar
to that of the old CP in Cuba, without whose political
activity among the urban and sugar factory proletariat
over a period of forty years, the Cuban revolution would
never have got off the ground. (63)
62 Up to this day the ANC calls for a „national-democratic revolution“ in South Africa. In this connection the self-appointed leader of the ANC in the Federal Republic of Germany, Zola Sonkosi, has this to say: „Hence the national-democratic revolution (in South Africa) only creates the basis for a new and more vigorous internationalism. Till then (sic!) the suffering of the people will be the most powerful revolutionary force.“ Afrika Heute, (Bonn), Nov. 1974/February 1975, p. 83.
63 Since 1945 Soviet foreign policy with regard to the social revolution in ‘developing countries’ has undergone a marked change. A scientific analysis of this development would go beyond the limits imposed on this study.