pages 96 - 127
Chapter 4: The Land and National Questions in South Africa.
„ Land reform is a
peasant revolution, a class
struggle in the countryside; it is a large-scale,
hard and complicated struggle, ...“ (1)
Ho Chi Minh (1953)
„The Agrarian Reform
is one of the most comprehensive
tasks which the Revolution has set itself ... one of the
most difficult tasks.“ (2)
Fidel Castro (1962)
A. Preliminary Note.
It was mainly the Marxists organized in the national liberation movements who, between 1930 and 1955, made a thorough analysis of the land or peasant question and its relationship with the national question as well as the problem of the revolution in South Africa. The positions developed in those discussions of basic principles were later to affect in a decisive manner the policy of the various organizations that made up the emancipation movement.
The liveliest discussions took place within the political grouping which later was to constitute itself as the „Unity Movement“. This fact is mainly due to the scientific theoretical work of Marxists - preponderantly of Trotskyite persuasion - who were excluded from the South African Communist Party (SACP) (3) in 1929. Being no longer under any obligation to accept ready-made directives and dogmas wholesale from the Comintern and to apply them to the South African situation but free to face actual African realities, squarely they contributed valuable analyses for the use of the revolutionary movement.
In 1933 they invited Lev Davidovich Trotsky to express his opinion on the major problems, i.e., on the agrarian, peasant, national, and organizational questions. In answer to their request they received Trotsky’s analysis in a letter dated 20 April, 1933. It was primarily the leader of the Fourth International Organization of South Africa (FIOSA), Averbuch (alias A. Mon) who asserted this analysis critically. In the present chapter we shall mainly deal with the historical background of the land and national questions (4) as well as with the political positions of the Marxist groupings - FIOSA and ‘Spartacus Club’ - and Trotsky’s letter itself.
1 Ho Chi Minh, On Revolution, Selected Writings, 1920-1966, ed. Bernard B. Fall (New York: NAL/Signet, 1968), p. 242.
2 Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Agrarian Reform, Speech at the Closing of the National Congress of Cane Co-operatives, August 18, 1962 (Toronto: A Fair Play for Cuba Committee publication, 1962), p. 1.
3 From 1929 until its dissolution in 1950 the SACP has contributed little in scientific theoretical thought with regard to the agrarian or national question in South Africa.
4 This is because the reasons for the imperialists’ agrarian policy in South Africa and the consequences of that policy are of major importance for any analysis of Marxist positions and therefore merit extensive treatment.
B. Historical Background.
1. The Land Question.
„Ons bruinmense, seuns
Vra ens eie land terug,
Wat gesteel is van ons vaders,
Toe hul in die donker sug.“ (5)
Ever since the European
settlers had imposed the concept and practice of an abstract exchange value,
viz. money, upon the original inhabitants of South Africa, thus undermining
the economic basis of their tribal societies, which reposed on communal
tenure of land, cattle rearing, agriculture, barter, a primitive form of
mining, and the working of metal, the land question took a central position
in the liberation struggle of the South Africans. (6)
In 1957 W. A. Hunton pointed out:
"The land still remains
the basis of life for
the great majority of the people of Africa,
including the most industrialized
section of the continent, South Africa." (7)
5 A stanza from the freedom song „Gee Ons Land Terug“ (Return Our Land) which the non-white South Africans used to sing in Afrikaans at the beginning of this century. Translation: „We Coloureds, sons of Slaves/ Want our own land back,/ Which was stolen from our fathers,/ While they were groaning in darkness.“ Quoted from Umsebenzi, (Johannesburg), No. 642 of 28.11.’30. At that time they also sang „The International“ and „The Red Flag“ in Xhosa and Zulu. op.cit.
6 Cf. I.I. Potekhin et al., ed. Die Völker Afrikas, (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1961), vol.II, p. 636-733, and Ernest Mandel, Entstehung und Entwicklung der ökonomischen Lehre von Karl Marx, (Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1968), p. 134. Cf. also Karl Marx Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, (Berlin: Dietz, 1953), p. 395 sq.
7 W.A. Hunton, Decision in Africa, (New York: International Publishers, 1957), p. 27.
George Padmore commented as follows:
"Land is the pivot
around which all the burdens, tribulations,
hardships and sufferings of the Bantu peoples revolve.
Without examining this problem none of the complicated
economic, political and social questions facing
South Africa can be properly understood." (8)
It is generally known that before 1800 South Africa's tribal society did not know any individual, private ownership of land. It was thus fated to get into conflict with the expansive and aggressive features of capitalist private ownership and its concomitant specific form of labour that had become a commodity sold by the individual to the owner of the means necessary for production.
While in capitalism the ownership of the means of production represents the real power over men, thus producing domination on the basis of economic inequality, in tribal society communal ownership of land and cattle assured at least that in questions of physical reproduction the action of all members of the tribe was determined by the common interest. The antagonism between the interests of capitalist private ownership of the means of production on the one hand, and communal tenure on the other, is the root of the land question in South Africa.
From the most recent
findings of archaeology and social anthropology we know that the aboriginal
inhabitants of South Africa held the land collectively. Up to about 1800
all properties, land, cattle or huts were considered the communal property
of the African communities; neither the tribes nor their chiefs could acquire
title deeds to land in the capitalist sense. From the Cape of Good Hope
to the Limpopo River all joined forces to defend their cattle and pasture
grounds against the enemy aggressors during the colonial wars. (9)
Eric A. Walker described the rights of individual members of a given tribal society with regard to the land as follows:
8 G. Padmore, How Britain Rules Africa..., p. 159.
9 Cf. Franz J.T. Lee, „South Africa: From Slave Colony to Imperialist Auxiliary Metropolis“ in Review of International Affairs, Belgrade, No. 577, 20.04.1974, and Franz J.T. Lee, „South Africa: Various Tribal Societies in the Transitional Period Prior to Colonial Capitalism“, Frankfurt a.M., 1976 (unpublished manuscript).
"Every member of a
tribe, simply because he had been
either born or adopted into the bloodfellowship of that tribe,
was freely entitled to the use of air, water, grass, timber
and the hunt upon the tribal lands." (10)
Monica M. Cole elaborated further:
"They looked on land
as belonging to everyone in the past,
present and future, but of value only when used for grazing
or cultivation." (11)
Alex Hepple explained the essence of African primitive communism thus:
to the community and
not even the chiefs had the authority to dispose
of the land on which the people dwell." (12)
Before the advent of colonialism the blacks in Southern Africa produced in the main articles of utility for the use of their own tribe or that of their immediate community, i.e. they lived on the products of their own labour. In the consciousness of the pre colonial South African as well as in practice, his work and the proceeds of his work - production and product - constituted an organic whole which was later to be destroyed by capitalist commodity production. (13) The modern African as agricultural, mine and industrial labourer no longer lives immediately by the fruits of his labour; on the contrary, he lives by the sale of a commodity - his productive capacity - the price of which has been fixed at an extraordinarily low level.
Economic production in the traditional tribal societies of Southern Africa was governed by specific rules: the unsaleability of land, the unlimited utilization of available soil, and the free disposition of its produce. Between 1800 and 1900 this system was already in a state of dissolution from within. Certain powers of decision rested in the paramount chiefs, such as Chaka, and the conditions attendant thereon foreshadowed a separation between individual and society. According to Pothekin a discernible class differentiation had already set in. By the turn of the century tribal feuds together with the colonial conquest had destroyed the old principle of the communal utilization of land.
10 Eric A. Walker, A History of South Africa, (London: Longmans, Green, 1957), p. 114.
11 Monica M. Cole, South Africa, (London: Methuen, 1966), p. 97.
12 Alex Hepple, South Africa..., p. 51.
13 Cf. also Ernest Mandel, Marxistische Wirtschaftstheorie, (Frankfurt a.M.: EVA, 1968), p. 60-62.
The ensuing uneven distribution
of land can be directly attributed to this historical process of the liquidation
of collective property among the Africans. English imperialists like Cecil
John Rhodes combined the ushering in of private property with their policy
of divide et impera, that is to say they nurtured existent authority
relationships and conflicts in order to consolidate colonial exploitation
and oppression. After the imperialist wars of pillage towards the end of
the nineteenth century, which inflicted upon the South Africans scarcity
of land, lack of cattle, and poverty, they found themselves compelled to
modify their conception of communal land tenure, i.e., to adapt it to reality.
Threatened with physical extinction, although by no means for having suddenly adopted the notion of private property, they demanded that their „own land be returned to them“ or that it should be at least fairly distributed. (14)
In the heyday of Victorian liberalism the arch imperialist Rhodes did concede to the blacks in the Cape certain democratic citizen rights, such as purchasing and selling land. At the same time he abolished communal tenure in the Cape Colony by introducing the ‘Glen Grey Act’ (1894), also called the ‘Magna Charta of the Blacks’. (15)
Alex Hepple described the colonialist objectives of this law thus:
"These laudable aims
obscured a sinister and far-reaching
provision - the imposition of a tax of ten shillings on
every male African in the reserves who was not employed by a
white person, or not engaged in cultivating an allotment, or
who had not worked outside his district during the previous
twelve months." (16)
C.W. de Kiewiet discusses the ideological implications of the same law:
"In 1894 the famous
Glen Grey Act held out the promise
of a gentle but sure transition from an unenlightened and
squalid tribal existence to an active and progressive in-
dividualism. Through its operation natives would be bound
to the land by a new and intimate bond of personal pos-
session and profit." (17)
14 Around 1890 the blacks, who constituted about 80% of the total population were compelled by legislation to live on 8% of the land surface of South Africa.
15 Cf. John A. Hobson, Imperialism, 1902 (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1938), p. 268, 271.
16 A. Hepple, South Africa..., p. 197.
17 C.W. de Kiewiet, A History of South Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 199.
This „gentle but sure transition“, however, failed in view of the necessity „to secure a large, cheap, regular, efficient, and submissive supply of labourers“. (18) In South Africa, up to about 1911, only 50.000 black smallholders (19) had been integrated into the new structure of a capitalist agriculture. Apart from this stratum, part of which cultivated their small plots communally, a new marginal group of squatters or tenants formed on the white farms. Although legally they were not entitled to own any land, they were authorized by their respective employers to cultivate a piece of land or use it as pasture. These ‘serfs’ had to supply regular services to the white farmers, and in addition they were compelled to pay a tax of two pounds sterling per annum.
In 1904 about 2.5 million blacks - the rural proletariat - were living on the white estates between the reserves and the industrial centres. According to the ‘Tomlinson Report’ (20) 30.3% of all blacks at that period lived on Boer farms, 27.1% in urban areas, and 42.6% in reserves. The monopoly capitalist managers of the ‘Chamber of Mines’ (21) soon realized that the existence of independent black peasant producers, tenants and squatters considerably curtailed the „constant and generous supply“ of cheap labour to the mines. In 1913 they charged General J.C. Smuts, who „represented the interests of British finance capital concentrated in the mining industry“, (22) to pass the Native Land Act in the South African colonial parliament. Govan Mbeki fittingly formulates the essence of this law:
"... it limited the
land occupation rights of Africans to only
these areas listed in a schedule to the Act. These areas be-
came known as the scheduled areas; but they mirrored no
change in their new name. The Act merely defined a situation
which had already been established when the last war for
African independence was lost." (23)
18 John A. Hobson, Imperialism..., p. 258.
19 Who owned the acres of land each as private property. I acre = 4046.8 square metres; I morgen = 0.85 hectares. At the same time white land proprietors owned up to 40.000 morgen of land each, of which up to 5% was cultivated. In 1930 they owned 96.940 farms covering a surface of approximately 10.000.000 acres. They only produced 3.628.320 tons of corn. In 1936 England’s 44.513 farms covering 15.115.631 acres produced 23.066.000 tons of corn. Cf. Freedom, Johannesburg, No.11, September 1942.
20 Cf. D.H. Houghten, The Tomlinson Report, (Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations, 1956), p. 6 sq.
21 Around 1910 many British mining companies owned vast tracts of land. Eleven of them had more than 4 million morgen of land in their possession. Cf. Freedom, No. 11, September 1942.
22 G. Padmore: How Britain Rules Africa..., p. 164.
23 Govan Mbeki: South Africa - The Peasants’ Revolt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964), p. 66.
Thus the areas in which
black smallholders were cultivating their own land came to be transformed
into separate reserves, and the settlement of black tenants and squatters
on white farms was banned.
According to Hepple 78% of the overall population, viz. the blacks, now lived on 7.3% of the land surface. (24) In 1936 this land distribution was altered by the Native Trust and Land Act. The blacks were promised an additional 19.592.769 morgen of land, amounting to 13.7% of the total surface. A decade later only one fifth of this area had been allocated to them. (25)
The Native Trust and Land Act served to further legalize the forcible expropriation of land. With few exceptions blacks as private individuals were henceforth no longer able to own any land, even in the scheduled areas. According to the Land Act with its 1936 and 1945 amendments, article 25, section 6, „no native was allowed to own, purchase, or sell land anywhere in South Africa“. Henceforth special offices and agencies, the so-called Land Trusts, created by the government and run by venal chieftains, were to administer the land on behalf of the blacks. For decades many blacks were ignorant of the fact that the kraal (about 70 by 70 yards) in which they lived was by no means their individual property, although they annually had to pay various taxes for it, among others poll and hut tax. (26)
At the beginning of the
‘Forties about 3 million blacks were living in the reserves, 3 million
as rural proletariat on the platteland, and 2 million as urban proletariat
in the so-called locations - an official euphemism for ghettos and slums
- on the outskirts of industrial centres.
The overwhelming majority of the reserve dwellers did not constitute a peasantry in the traditional meaning of the term. They lived huddled together on their diminutive plots and possessed but the most rudimentary and primitive implements of production. The quality of their soil kept steadily deteriorating, mainly in consequence of overpopulation, both human and animal. (27)
24 A. Hepple, South Africa..., p. 93 sq.
25 ibid., p. 94.
26 Cf. John A. Hobson, Imperialism..., p. 268-270.
27 By overpopulation we here mean the relation between demographic density and productivity. Cf. in this context Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth..., p. 239 sq.
The social demands of
these Africans aimed at an improvement of their position, the model invoked
being their own former opulence in land and cattle.
In 1954 Tomlinson came to the conclusion that by and large the Africans in the reserves still adhered to the communal cultivation of land. Houghton notes in this context:
"Communal tenure under
which the land is held in the
majority of Bantu Reserves, is an adaptation of the
traditional systems of land usage."
The African male population - between 16 and 60 years (28) - normally works for nine months a year, often however for eighteen months at a stretch, on the white farms, in the factories, or in mines hundreds of kilometres away from their families. (29) This entails the destruction of their family lives and their being reduced to two basic functions: the sale of their labour and the production of a new generation of potential toilers. (30)
Another fact to be taken into account is the near absence of any independent stratum of smallholding peasants up to this day; the landless blacks commute between city and country as migratory labourers, their consciousness uneasily positioned between the peasant and proletarian modes. Around 1936 already almost three quarters of the total African population were harnessed to the capitalist working process, without however being at the same time genuinely integrated into capitalist society, for the relationship between market economy and traditional economy - a dependence relationship dictated by the interests of capital - is the conditio sine qua non for the ruthless exploitation of the Africans.
In other words, these South Africans are no longer masters of their own lives, let alone of the productive part of their life span. They are prohibited from evolving their specific African personality. By virtue of their subordinate position in the South Africa class and race society they remain forcibly debarred from any progressive development.
28 The average life expectancy of the blacks is 37 years, that of the whites 67 years.
29 In 1956 Tomlinson wrote, „Migratory labour ... leads to the absence of men at their most productive time of life ... With the exception of cripples and disabled persons, nearly all males are employed outside the Bantu areas at one or another stage.“ See Tomlinson Report..., p. 9.
30 Cf. also D. Guérin, Negroes on the March, trans. D. Ferguson, (New York: George L. Weissmann; London: Grange Publications, 1956), p. 27-42.
Africans do not work
in white South Africa because they love their master or their alienated
labour but because colonial exploitation had reduced their lives to an
animal level and restricted their human needs to purely physical reproduction.
(31) The agrarian policy of the South African colonial government has contributed
a great deal to the miserable situation of the Africans. We should now
like to demonstrate with the aid of a number of quotations how the South
African colonial ministers and senators consciously carried out their agrarian
policy to the detriment of the Africans since 1936.
Seven years after the Hertzog laws the Minister for Native Questions bought land for the express purpose of enlarging the scheduled areas, although this purchase was still inadequate to bring them up to the size legally determined for the blacks, viz. 13.7% of South Africa’s land surface. (32) But speaking before parliament he declared unequivocally that the government was not interested in a settled black peasantry but that its prime concern was to make available a labour force for the primary, secondary and tertiary sector of the country’s capitalistically run economy.
He pointed out,
"We do not buy this
land for the Natives to settle down and
become peasants. We but it for the Natives to plough
while they go out to work." (33)
In the same year (1943) Mr. Gemnill, an employee of the Chamber of Mines in charge of recruiting cheap black labour declared,
„If you pay the Native
more wages, or if you give them
more land, he is going to stay at home. He is not going
to work in the mines.“ (ibid.)
The separation of the African from the arable soil was consciously postulated. This was in keeping with the colonial policy of British imperialism and Boer herrenvolkism, which aimed at exploiting the African economically, oppressing him politically, and discriminating against him racially. In a parliamentary debate in 1943 Senator Malcomess stated:
31 Cf. Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory. 2 vols. (New York/London: Monthly Review Press, 1968), vol. 1, p. 288. Cf. also Franz J.T. Lee, „Arbeitsbedingungen unter Apartheid“, in: Was tun? Frankfurt a. Main, July 1976, pp. 9 sq.
32 In 1956 Houghton wrote, „The present extent of the Bantu areas is 17.500.000 morgen or approximately 12.9 per cent of the Union“. See The Tomlinson Report..., p. 7.
33 Quotations from the South African Hansard. Quoted from I.B. Tabata, The Awakening..., p. 56 sq.
„What is driving the
Natives from the Reserves into the towns
is hunger, want of land and the poll tax. Forty per cent of
the population of the Reserves do not own any land.“ (ibid.)
Replying to the request by some senators to make more land in the Zulu reserve with its very fertile soil available for European cultivation, Senator Brookes said,
„... trying to get
land for European settlement in Zululand
is an absolutely unfair thing. ... We have already got a
great deal of the best land in Zululand taken away from the
Natives, and now to take away what is left. ...“ (ibid.)
Senator Vermeulen countered laconically,
„The intention was
not to give land to the Natives on land
owned by European farmers. ... What must become of them?
Let me say immediately that there is lots of room for those
people on the farms. There is a serious shortage of labour
on the farms.“ (ibid.)
The Boer Senator Vermeulen was speaking on behalf of the agricultural sector, which forms the traditional backbone of the ‘Nationalist Party’. It is precisely in the Boer stronghold - the platteland - that the grimmest social and economic conditions pertain. Shula Marks, a South Africans historian, has this to say about the black rural proletariat:
"Even today this 40
per cent of the African population
partly still live under conditions of medieval serfdom." (34)
Concerning the miserable condition of migratory labourers in the entire Third World, Mandel writes,
"He is often a seasonal
or migrant worker; if he holds
another job during the dead season he can just about
attain the bare existential minimum. If he lacks such a
job - as happens particularly in underdeveloped countries -
he is bound to sink into the deepest human misery." (35)
This is a fitting description of the fate of South African rural labourers. Senator Vermeulen wanted to sentence millions of blacks to this miserable condition instead of returning their land to them. His colleague, Senator Basner, summed up the whole debate as follows:
"The Native must not
get enough land on which he
could become a settled peasant. He must get only
enough land to place his family, but he must go out
to work." (36)
34 Quoted from Freimut Duves, Kap ohne Hoffnung, (Hamburg: Rohwolt, 1965), p. 123.
35 Ernest Mandel, Marxistische Wirtschaftstheorie..., p. 307.
36 Quoted from I.B. Tabata, see before.
In the same year (1943) African resistance against this further theft of land increased. In various reserves, such as Witzieshoek, Ciskei, Zululand, Zeerust, and Sekhukhuniland, uprisings took place.
With the aid of new amendments to the 1913 Land Act the colonial government in 1945 tried finally to translate all expropriation laws into practice by means of the so-called Rehabilitation Scheme. As always had been the case in similar circumstances, the measures taken under this scheme were carried out under the smokescreen of projects favourable to the Africans. In order to counteract soil erosion the Africans were to reduce their live-stock - already decimated on previous occasions - even further and let the land lie fallow for a certain period. The true reasons, however, was a different one: after the second industrial revolution in South Africa, which had been gathering momentum since World War II, the need for a massive supply of African labour was becoming even more pressing, especially in order to enhance the rapid growth of the processing industry. For this purpose thousands of blacks had to be forced to leave the reserves for the industrial centres. (37) According to Houghton, 100.000 South Africans were working in factories in 1915. Between 1945 and 1954 this number rose to 667.000, of whom there were 66% blacks, earning only 64 million pounds sterling out of a total industrial wage of 164 million.
Everywhere in the country the resistance against the increasingly repressive measures of the colonial regime escalated. The ‘Non European Unity Movement’ (NEUM) founded in 1943 and the ‘All African Convention’, the only mass movements whose policy catered for the radical cravings of the reserve dwellers, steadily gained influence. In the largest reserve - the Transkei - the various spontaneously organized African movements, joined forces in the ‘Transkei Organized Bodies’ (T.O.B.). Later on they merged with the A.A.C.
37 Cf. Tabata’s theses in his books, 'The Rehabilitation Scheme - A New Fraud', and 'The Boycott - A New Political Weapon'. See also 'South Africa’s Changing Economy', Papers by Samuels, Houghton and Fourie (Johannesburg: S.A.I.R.R., 1955), p. 19-35.
"From then on every village thoughout
the Transkei, in-
cluding those that had been tricked into accepting it,
rose against the Rehabilitation Scheme. Agitation against
it soon spread to the Ciskei in the Cape Province, thence to
Witzieshoek in the Orange Free State to Zululand in Natal
and to Zeerust and Sekhukhuniland in the Transvaal.
Since the scheme was the chief instrument for chasing
labour out of the so-called reserves, the government had
to take stern measures to break the resistance." (38)
Mass meetings took place
everywhere. The Africans in the reserves rejected the agrarian policy of
the master race in its entirety. In 1948 I.B. Tabata was arrested in Mount
Ayliff, Pondoland, „while addressing thousands of peasants on a mountain
slope.“ (39) He was acquitted later because the government feared an
insurrection of the ‘peasants’. Since then numerous freedom fighters have
been persecuted and murdered by government agents.
This rebellion of the rural African population culminated in a series of ‘peasant revolts’.
"The government had no scruples to send
the army to surround
particular villages were the opposition was strongest and fiercest.
The army mowed the people down with machine-guns. ...
From the shooting and persecution all over the country they
learnt that the problems of each village and each tribe were
identical and that the struggles of the people were indivisible.
Only the oppressed acting together as a whole, as a nation,
could resolve their difficulties and remove their disabilities.
That is why they readily accepted and found inspiration in
the slogan of the Unity Movement: WE BUILD A NATION." (40)
2. The National Question.
Although the South African agents of imperialism insist on being a nation, the South African population cannot by any stretch of the imagination be termed a nation, not even in the bourgeois sense of the word. For a bourgeois nation presupposes a class society having come into existence through the original accumulation of capital, which in its political form - seen as an ideal type - evolved into parliamentary democracy predicated on the principle of political equality. In South Africa, however, the ‘universal suffrage’ is restricted to the advocates of white supremacy, a system which in practice „is analogous to that of one-party government, but with the important premise that the National Party may be voted out of power“. (41)
38 Apdusa, Organ of the Unity Movement, vol. II, No. 12, June / September 1967, p. 12 sq.
39 ibid., p. 12.
40 ibid., p. 13.
41 Leo Kuper, An African Bourgeoisie. Race, Class and Politics in South Africa (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1965), p. 68.
The partisans of apartheid do not even bother to maintain theoretically the formal principle of ‘universal equality’ or the fiction of a ‘common interest’. Instead they create artificial differences between the oppressed, e.g. by maintaining separate schools and universities for blacks, Coloureds, and Indians, or by forcibly resetting racial groups in barren wastelands inhabited by people of the same pigmentation or even the same „tribe“.
In the face of such attempts at a division of forces, especially since the term ‘apartheid’ has been transformed into ‘multinational development', the propagation of national unity in the struggle against the deprivation of political rights and economic repression constitutes a progressive element. It must be based on an awareness of the fact that colonial exploitation stunts the lives of all and that only a solidary struggle is susceptible of changing socio-economic conditions. In this process two aspects have to be taken into consideration, of which the latter is gaining ever greater significance. In the first place it is imperative to debunk the differences resulting from the varying ethnic origins of the oppressed as incidental. Even liberal critics consider them inadequate criteria for the functioning of a capitalist society geared to maximum productivity. In the second place, however, the social classes created by capitalism, partly by legislative measures, the masses of African workers and ‘peasants’ as well as the numerically insignificant group of petty bourgeois, must be tied together by a solidary political consciousness.
All of them have a stake
in the abolition of the social, economic, and sexual limitations imposed
upon them. (42) This does not imply, however, that their ideas about the
form and content of social change are identical or are being left untouched
by historical processes.
Thus the liberation movements in South Africa, e.g. the A.A.C. or the N.E.U.M., used to see themselves, and even do so to this day, as national liberation movements. The content of the category ‘national’ is not, however, amenable to an easy definition since it changes in the historical process and is contingent upon the level of consciousness each liberation movement has achieved and its concrete claims for the transformation of social reality.
42 L. Kuper, op.cit., p. 401.
In a society in which economic exploitation by a dominant minority is concealed by the ideological smoke-screen of racial segregation, and whose social and economic structure strictly speaking still shows colonial features, the category ‘national’ can have a number of implications for the oppressed majority, whose members, before being systematically debilitated by colonialism, had not yet developed a common identity as a unified social body. As ideal types these implications appear as follows:
1. The gaining by force of bourgeois democratic
rights and the „political
liberation“ of oppressed individuals.
2. A radical split-off, setting off the oppressed from the oppressors.
3. The emancipation of the oppressed classes by means of an active class
policy aiming at the seizure of political and economic control.
In the first case the
oppressed group fights for its integration into existing economic and political
conditions. (43) „Nation“ here formally means only a group integrated under
several aspects but retaining its class structure.
The second case derives from the notion of fatefully determined, insuperable differences supposed to legitimate a total segregation without any critical consideration of their historical relativity and the possibility of supersession. (44)
The third case is based on an analysis that takes cognizance of the nexus between colonial exploitation, i.e. the forcible perpetuation of a system guaranteeing cheap labour and high profits, as well as of the political, industrial, and sexual colour bar. (45) The existing differences, passed off as racial antagonisms by the dominant minority, are viewed as the expression of profit interest, the rule of which prevents the surplus value created by the coloured masses from being administered in the sense of a concrete democracy. The consequence is the abolition of all institutions that have made the profit motive an instrument of social and economic action.
43 e.g. the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.A. or the ‘Congress Movement’ in South Africa up to 1960.
44 e.g. the Stalinist propagation of a ‘Black Republic’ for Afro-Americans or South Africans in the ‘Thirties.
45 Cf. the policy of the ‘African People’s Democratic Union of Southern Africa’ (APDUSA - president: I.B. Tabata) and the ‘Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde’ (PAIGC - late Secretary General: Amilcar Cabral). See A. Cabral, Revolution in Guinea. An African people’s Struggle. Selected texts ed. R. Handyside (London: Stage 1, 1969).
Within the framework of this concept the ‘national liberation’ of the colonized African workers and ‘peasants’ means nothing more and nothing less than the suppression of narrow-minded national (or ethic, cultural, linguistic and sexual) barriers concealing interests of domination. By virtue of the fact that the colonial relation of exploitation and the developmental phase of productive forces codetermine the purpose of the concept ‘nation’ in this analysis, it becomes a Marxist one:
"The workers have no country. No one
can take from them what
they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all win
political power, must make itself the ruling class, must establish
itself as the nation - it is, so far, still national, though by no means
in the bourgeois sense of the term." (46)
During the ‘Eighties' the national
and land questions will form crucial issues within the liberation movement
of South Africa.
3. Main Theses.
By way of summary we should like to derive from this short historical overview the following theses, which are of crucial significance for the land and national question in South Africa:
1. The land question is a direct product
of British imperialism and Boer
herrenvolkism, a result of their policy of economic exploitation of the
2. The Africans’ political demand for the return of their land is intimately
linked with the striving for general, democratic rights, i.e. the land
question is germane to the national and revolutionary question.
3. The great majority of Africans never owned land as private property in the
past, does not own any today and never will obtain any as long as the
present socio-economic colonial status quo pertains in South Africa.
4. The Africans’ desire to acquire land, i.e. to become peasants de facto,
derives from a yet immature political consciousness, as the majority of
reserve dwellers attribute their misery to the lack of land instead of to
being deprived of politico economic rights.
46 The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ed. D. Ryazanoff (New York: Russel & Russel, 1963), p. 49-50. See also: No Siswe, One Azania, One Nation, Zed Press, London, 1979.
5. As early as 1945 the majority of the
African population was a class of
dependent wage earners - according to Marx a „class in itself“ - although it
had not yet developed a proletarian consciousness. Since then it has been
rapidly developing into a „class for itself“ - into the future nation of South
6. It will not be necessary to redistribute the land as private property among
South Africans after a radical democratic revolution. It is to be
re-transformed into communal property.
7. The only solution of the land or national question in South Africa is bound
to be the total liquidation of the imperialist and hegemonial social system
by a radical social revolution of the African wage slaves.
C. The Position of the Socialist Groupings.
In 1919 the first Marxist-Leninist organization, the ‘Industrial Socialist League of South Africa’ (ISLSA) was founded in South Africa by Socialists and trade unionists immigrated from England. The first edition of their official newspaper, 'The Bolshevik', appeared in October, 1919. This workers’ organization was carried by the enthusiasm and hope that the October Revolution has generated among Socialist workers and intellectuals all over the world. One of its most essential features therefore was its internationalism:
"On the sixth day of this month, all
loyal workers of South
Africa, will join us in celebrating the second anniversary
of the Russian Revolution. ... Wherever there is a toiling
slave struggling for his emancipation from Capitalist bondage,
from every corner of the globe, from Sweden to Japan, from
Alaska to South Africa, everywhere will the memory of the
Sixth November, instil hope and courage - courage to
carry the fight on, hope for better times." (47)
In the November issue of 'The Bolshevik', the South African workers were called upon to assemble on 4th November, 1919, „at eight o’clock sharp in the festival hall of the City Hall“ in Cape Town to celebrate the second anniversary of the October Revolution and thus to demonstrate that in South Africa „the Bolshevist ideas are gaining ground each day“.
47 The Bolshevik, Cape Town, Vol.1, No. 2, November 1919.
In their ‘Socialist bookshop’
the ISLSA, among other books, offered the following titles for sale:
- Six Weeks in Russia in 1919, by Arthur Ransome;
- The Russian Revolution, by Leon Trotsky; and
- The Collapse of the Second International, by V.I. Lenin. (48)
In subsequent issues of 'The Bolshevik' appeared analyses of themes such as „Reform or Revolution“ (49), „Socialism versus Violence“ (50), „The League and the Third International“ (51), „ABC of Bolshevism“ (52), „White Workers Awake!“ (53), „A New Communist party“ (54), and „The Task of the Proletariat“ (Lenin) (55). While the ISLA claimed to be an organization of all exploited in South Africa, its publications (56) were only addressed to a fictitious reader, the proletarian, whose consciousness was in consonance with European conditions. This is obvious from the way the proletarians’ historical task was formulated:
"The abolition of
the wage system and the establishment of
a Socialist Commonwealth based on the principles of self-
governing industries, in which the workers will work and
control the instruments of production, distribution and
exchange for the benefit of the entire community." (57)
In September 1920 the members of the ISLSA decided to found a Communist party. At a rally they laid down the basic principles of the future party:
- Adherence to the third
- Mass Action and abstention from Parliamentary action.
- The Soviet system and Proletarian dictatorship.
- The name of the organization to be either Communist League
or Party. (58)
Ten months later, on
21st July 1921, Africa’s first Communist party, the ‘South African Communist
Party’ (SACP) sprang to life. (59)
On the orders of the International, all Communists accused of ‘Trotskyism’ were expelled from the SACP in 1929. They founded the ‘Lenin Club’ in Cape Town. During the next three years two movements developed within this group: the „orthodox Marxists-Leninists“, who called themselves Spartacists (60), and followers of Lev Davidovitch Bronstein (Trotsky), who considered themselves the official representatives of „revolutionary Socialism“ in South Africa.
48 The Bolshevik, November 1919.
49 The Bolshevik, December 1919.
50 The Bolshevik, January 1920.
51 The Bolshevik, January 1920.
52 The Bolshevik, March 1920.
53 The Bolshevik, June 1920.
54 The Bolshevik, September 1920.
55 The Bolshevik, December 1920.
56 The Bolshevik only appeared in a English edition.
57 The Bolshevik, February 1920.
58 The Bolshevik, September 1920.
59 The development of the SACP up to 1945 has been described on pages 83-94 above.
60 They had, however, neither theoretical nor practical links with the ‘Spartakusbund’ (1914-1918).
Both factions were strongly
opposed to „Stalinism“ in South Africa, i.e. the policy of the SACP. Apart
from their divergent analyses which we shall treat in this chapter, both
were influenced by Trotsky. Their critical analyses of society formulated
in the ‘Thirties formed the basis for the policy of the ‘Unity’ movement.
Tabata’s political theories cannot be analysed in their Marxist context
without taking their influence into account. The young Socialists
who are active in the ‘Congress’ movement today (61) were either compelled
by experiencing the ever more pronounced contradictions in South African
society to accept similar theoretical positions, or tacitly adopted the
correct theses of the Trotskyite analysts.
2. The Spartacist Theses.
The political development in the ‘Lenin Club’ around 1934 was described by Edward Roux as follows:
"In Cape Town, Trotskyism had flourished
among the European
intellectuals during 1934 and 1935. Lectures and debates at
the Lenin Club drew large audiences. ... In 1934 the Cape
Town Lenin Club split into two sections. One section, calling
itself the Workers Party of South Africa, formed a new
club, the Spartacus Club. The others eventually became
the Fourth International (Trotskyists) of South Africa." (62)
In the ‘Lenin Club’, which also had offices in Johannesburg and Pretoria, members mainly discussed three questions:
1. The relative importance of the land and
national question in the South
African liberation struggle.
2. The differences between British imperialism and Boer nationalism.
3. The question whether a Marxist-Leninist Party in South Africa should
constitute itself immediately into an underground movement or work
legally as long as possible.
The hottest debate was
set off by the agrarian or peasant question and its relation to the national
question. We should like to treat the content of this discussion here at
Between 1936 and 1939 the ‘Spartacus Club’ published the monthly Umlilo-Mollo (The Flame) (63) in Johannesburg. In it, leading members like R. Lee, Bullac, B.T. Phashe and C.B.I. Dladla discussed various socialist theories which aimed at analysing South African conditions and elaborating a social or revolutionary theory. (64)
61 Especially in the P.A.C., which today is also strongly influenced by Mao.
62 Edward Roux, Time Longer Than Rope..., p. 213.
63 Erroneously referred to as The Spark by other authors. It was continued by B. Kies, I.B. Tabata and others as The Torch.
64 The Trotskyites tried to achieve the same in their organ, Workers’ Voice.
Edward Roux remarked on this paper:
"It was capably edited
and during its five years of life it
published a number of interesting articles and contributed
a searching analysis of South African conditions in terms
of Bolshevik theory." (65)
In their publications the Spartacists presented the following points of view: (66)
1. The agrarian revolution is „the Alpha
and Omega of the South
2. The South African Union about 1933 possesses a preponderantly
3. There is no mayor difference between the Boer and British
4. The majority of subjugated Africans has the status of dependent
5. The blacks are characterized by a peasant consciousness.
6. After the national democratic revolution the land must be
redistributed in the form of private property.
7. The peasant revolution will bring forth a bourgeois democratic
social and political order.
The Spartacists insisted that the real task of a Socialist party should be the mobilization and direction of the landless black peasant masses in the reserves and on the Boer farms on the one hand, and call for agrarian reform on the other. To them, the African wage slaves working in industries and mines were simply „peasants from the Reserves“, „native workers“ or „toiling masses“ but not a modern colonial proletariat. In their writings they constantly dwell on the peasant past and origin of the miners or workers.
"Today (1936) there
are half a million miners toiling
underground. They have been driven from their ancestral
lands by taxation and famine ... The hundreds of
thousands of native workers in secondary industry are
herded in unsanitary ghettos called locations. ...
A million poor whites have been uprooted from the soil
and driven to the cities by hunger there to compete with
the native labourers and to share the native standard
of living." (67)
65 Edward Roux, Time Longer Than Rope..., p. 312.
66 Compiled from Umlilo-Mollo, Youth in Revolt, Socialist Action, and The Revolutionary Communist, all newspapers published by the Spartacists between 1936 and 1939.
67 Umlilo-Mollo, Johannesburg, Vol.1, No.1, September 1936.
Theoretically the ‘Workers’ Party of South Africa insisted on being a Marxist party drawing its orientation from the October Revolution:
"The Workers Party
of South Africa raises its banner, the
banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, calling upon
the workers of the whole world to overthrow the capitalist
system and to set up a workers’ government with workers’
control of industry. ... FOR THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL!
FOR REVOLUTIONARY MARXISM!" (68)
"Russia’s only hope
lies in the world proletariat, in ex-
tending the October Revolution as Lenin and Trotsky
put it." (69)
"In fighting Stalinism
we struggle to defend the gains
of the Russian Revolution and to extend October to
embrace the whole world." (70)
In their day-to-day policy
and their immediate objectives the Spartacists remained, however, petty
bourgeois and rooted in parliamentary democracy. The Socialists in the
FIOSA, on the other hand, insisted on a policy of social revolution.
With regard to class psychology and class consciousness the Spartacists failed to draw the correct political conclusions from South African reality. They claimed that Africans on the whole had evolved a mentality which was basically that of petty peasants, ignoring the fact that the migratory labourers and the urban proletariat, by dint of being involved in the capitalist production process, had actually evolved a proletarian consciousness, while it was the intellectuals who thought along petty-bourgeois lines, as reflected especially in the political leadership of the A.A.C., the N.E.U.M., and the ‘Congress Movement’, since 1936. (71)
A. Mon was of the following opinion:
"The Reserve dwellers
are, in fact, tribal proletarians, and
the centre of their livelihood lies in the towns and cities.
... even their peasant outlook is steadily being changed
into a proletarian one by the development of industry." (72)
The Unity Movement’s 10 Point Programme, which in its essential aspects was formulated by the Spartacists, contained mainly petty-bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic, social-reformist and pseudo-socialist demands. (73)
68 Umlilo-Mollo, Johannesburg, Vol.1, No.1, September 1936.
69 Umlilo-Mollo, Johannesburg, Vol.1, No.2, October 1936.
70 Umlilo-Mollo, Johannesburg, Vol.1, No.3, November 1936.
71 Cf. Workers’ Voice, Vol.5, No.5, September 1946, p. 9-11.
72 Workers’ Voice, Vol.1, No.3, July 1945.
‘Babeuf’ (74) formulated the Spartacists’ political view regarding the African peasants thus:
"The Spartacists maintained
that, despite their divorce
from the land and their employment in industry in growing
number, the migrant workers, farm workers and ruined
cultivators are deeply wedded to the soil. Their outlook
was agrarian, not industrial. The migrant workers employed
in the mines and factories continued to retain a peasant
outlook and, given the choice, would readily return to the
land as small producers." (75)
This accounts for the
fact that Point 7 of the programme of the N.E.U.M. calls for a „redivision
of the land“.
The SACP, then under the leadership of Edward Roux, ‘Joffe and Co’ was bitterly attacked by the Spartacists:
"Joffe and Co. are
merely servers and faithful lackeys
of their Moscow paymasters. ... If Roux and his chicken-
hearted supporters have failed to draw the correct conclusions
from the recent turn in the party, namely that the C.P.S.A.
is nothing but a degenerate appendage of corrupt Moscow
bureaucracy headed by Stalin, this need not deter genuine
revolutionary elements from realizing that the correct
course must be the break with the decayed third International." (76)
The slogan of the ‘Black Republic’ was rejected in the same breath,
"The slogan of the
Independent Native Republic is in my
opinion stupid, incorrect, misleading and confusing and
consequently unfit for a revolutionary Bolshevik-Leninist
Party, let alone identical with a Workers’ and Peasants’
Instead, the ‘Workers’ Party of South Africa’ tried to translate the following objectives into reality,
"... to rouse the
masses of workers from apathy and in-
difference born of despair and past defeats, to point the
lead to the final victory of the working class, bringing
equality of races, socialism, a new era and new hopes
for all humanity. These are the ideas and policies that
Umlilo-Mollo will expound and defend." (78)
3. The Political Theories of the Trotskyites.
Edward Roux made the following general comment on the influence of the FIOSA,
"This section of Trotskyites
gained considerable influence
among the younger generation of Coloured teachers and
university students in the Cape." (79)
74 Pseudonym of a leading African Trotskyite today living in London and working in the P.A.C.
75 ‘Babeuf’, „Trotskyism in South Africa, 1930-1954,“ an unpublished lecture written in London in 1968. Also cf. his articles in Workers’ Voice, vols. 5-6, 1946 sq.
76 Umlilo-Mollo, September 1936, „Letter sent by Comrade Dladla to the Political Bureau of the C.P.S.A.“
79 E. Roux, Time Longer Than Rope..., p. 313.
‘Babeuf’ characterized their contribution to the South African revolution as follows,
"... the FIOSA made the most valuable
contributions to political
theory, the materialist conception of South African history and the
understanding of the liberation movement’s problems. ... It helped
to educate a new generation of Marxists who went to propagate the
Trotskyist position in the various national organizations." (80)
The theoretical positions
of the FIOSA can best be described by referring to some articles published
by A. Mon, its chief theoretician, in the Workers’ Voice in the years 1944/45.
Mon summarized the theses of the FIOSA thus,
"It was the majority
in the Lenin Club which laid emphasis
chiefly on the national struggle for full democratic rights;
which characterized the Nationalist (Boer) bourgeoisie as
having differences with British imperialism mainly over the
supply of cheap labour and the political state-form (republic);
and which held that a workers’ party should work legally as
long as there are still possibilities for legal work." (82)
According to Mon the origin of the land question can be traced back to British imperialist policy, which saw its main task in creating a black proletariat „kept in constant readiness in large labour reservoirs, the Reserves“. (83) The solution of the land question could therefore not be sought in an isolated struggle against landlordism but above all in „crushing imperialism, which has its bastions in the cities“. (84) He held that the most important element which was to determine the theory as well as the strategy and tactics of the revolution was the nexus between the Africans’ status as landless peasants crowded together in Reserves and the requirements of capitalist industry:
"In order to have
at hand a ready source of controllable cheap
labour, imperialism has deliberately prevented the development
of an African peasantry, for such a peasantry would live off the
land, would reduce the number of human beasts of burden to be
exploited in the mines, factories and on the farms." (85)
In the light of the foregoing the land question, which was created by the overlords of South Africa in their own interest, turns out to be an integral part of colonial policy in general. Ernest Mandel has described the way in which this colonial policy was mostly implemented:
80 ‘Babeuf’, „Trotskyism...“, op.cit.
81 Other influential Trotskyites were Hosea Jaffe, Peter Wilson, William Peters, E. Watson, and Z. Gamiet.
82 Workers’ Voice, Vol.1, No.3, July 1945, p.6.
83 ibid., p.7.
"If the conditions
of land ownership in Equatorial Africa and
Black Africa had not been changed, it would have been
impossible to introduce the capitalist mode of production there.
But in order to introduce this mode of production, one had to
separate the mass of the black population radically and brutally
from its normal means of subsistence by extra-economic coercion (...)
The black population had to be parked in areas - the native
reserves, as they are cynically called - which were insufficient
to feed the population." (86)
Mon was convinced that a solution of the land question in South Africa could only be found by struggling against national and economic oppression:
"The land struggle
is part of the struggle against imperialism
and national oppression. It is from this standpoint that we
have to look upon the rural struggle." (87)
In order to propagate „the linkage between the land and national questions“, Mon proposed to spread the Leninist slogan „Land and Liberty!“ among the black migrant workers. By first appealing to the immediate needs of rural Africans, the Socialist party was to lead them towards the national and eventually social-revolutionary struggle, and to arouse in them a nationally oriented political awareness. Mon thus insisted on „the land question being subsumed under the national question.“ (88) Analysing the various strata of the Africa rural population he came to the conclusion that there existed no black peasantry worth the name, neither in the European nor in the traditional African sense of the term; instead he recorded a „profound and revolutionary trend toward proletarianization and a proletarian outlook“ (89) among the black farm, urban and migrant workers. He argued that the rural proletariat and the Reserve dwellers could only be led to social revolutionary action by the urban workers, having achieved a higher level of awareness. With regard to the organizational question he proposed to modify the Leninist model, drawing the picture of an „alliance between urban and rural workers“ (90) under the leadership of a Marxist party as the vanguard of the proletariat. Mon wrote literally,
86 Ernest Mandel, Einführung in die marxistische Wirtschaftstheorie, (Frankfurt a.M.: Verlag Neue Kritik, 1967), p. 28.
87 Workers’ Voice, July 1945, p.8.
88 ibid., p.9.
"Here in this country
it is not so much, in fact hardly,
a question of the alliance between the proletariat and
peasantry, but rather a case of building up the alliance
of the city workers and the farm workers, the vast majority
of whom are wage slaves and commonly oppressed by the
colour bar, segregation and lack of rights (including the
right to land)." (91)
And he added:
"But this organization
and this struggle cannot travel a correct
path, unless guided by a revolutionary Leninist party of the
The socialist objectives of this party must be „the establishment of a South African workers’ government and the expropriation of the imperialist national bourgeoisie.“ (93) To the call by the Stalinist SACP for a ‘Black Republic’ in South Africa, Mon replied as follows:
"We do not attack
it from the point of view of the White
labour aristocracy, but from the viewpoint of the non-European
toilers. ... It is in the interests of the struggle, the
movement for full democratic rights to combat anti-White
feeling, to unite Black and White toilers, and not to alienate
the White workers with threats of Black Republic or non-European
rule. ... We do not envisage a perspective where one race will
rule another race in South Africa." (94)
Although Mon had not given up hope to retrieve the ‘white labour aristocracy’ - the white proletariat- he formulated its negative historical role in no uncertain terms:
"The White worker
is always in between the broad mass of
super-exploited non-European labour and the White ruling class.
There his economic, social and political position is always
privileged, ... The White labour aristocracy is part of the
social bulwark of imperialism in this country." (95)
Consequently the white workers cannot be the motor force of the South African revolution,
"... the main basis,
the foundation for any revolutionary
change for South Africa ... is the non European. Either he
will perform this change, or there will be no revolution at
all in South Africa." (96)
For ‘Babeuf’, South Africa’s political system is a form of oppression of the Africans which the State has created in the interest of the owners of capital. Hence violence is an inherent part of this system, which can only be abolished by counter violence. (97)
91 ibid., p.11.
94 A. Mon „The Colour Bar and the National Struggle for Full Democratic Rights“, in: Workers’ Voice, Vol.1, No.2, November 1944, p.7.
95 ibid., p.8.
97 „The single combat between native and settler (...) takes the force of an armed and open struggle (...) The existence of an armed struggle shows that the people are decided to trust to violent methods only (...) In fact, as always, the settler has shown (the native) the way he should take if he is to become free...“ Frantz Fanon, 'The Wretched of the Earth'. trans. Constance Farrington (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), p. 66.
"Not to believe in
force, says Trotsky, is the same as not
believing in gravitation. Our road to universal suffrage
and therefore a free entrance into the historical processes
at work in society lies through social revolution. Class
force in the struggle for liberation and democracy lies
not in parliament but outside parliament, in the revolution-
ary working class." (98)
The last sentence of the preceding quotation means that the counter violence of the oppressed is necessary and should take an exclusively extra-parliamentary form, a thesis which distinguishes the Trotskyites from the Stalinists:
"Leninists have always
and everywhere been against a
Communist going into a capitalist CABINET, because Leni-
nists believe that such cabinets are THE EXECUTIVE COM-
MITTEES OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS, according to the
teaching of Karl Marx’ famous definition of the State.
It is the duty of Communists to fight against such govern-
ments and to organize the workers to set up THEIR OWN
GOVERNMENTS ON THE COMPLETE RUINS OF THE
CAPITALIST GOVERNMENTS." (99)
98 Workers’ Voice, Vol.6, No.1, July 1947.
99 ibid., Vol.4, No.6, August 1945. Cf. also Engel’s preface of 1886 to the Communist Manifesto.
We shall try to summarize the most essential results of the analyses made by FIOSA as follows:
1. The national question, under which the
land question has to be subsumed,
is of prime significance for the South African liberation struggle.
2. Since 1945 at the latest South African society has been characterized
by capitalist relations of production, even though some pockets of past
forms of social and economic organization may still co-exist with them.
3. This is the result of quite specific forms of exploitation, all of which
basically serve the same purpose, viz. the creation of a social structure
that guarantees the constant flow of docile, cheap black labour.
4. The Africans have been compelled to become wage slaves, and have
rapidly developed a commensurate consciousness.
5. An alliance between urban and rural workers, which should be led by a
Socialist party, has to be organized.
6. The solution of the land question can only be brought about by the
expropriation of the big white estate owners and the free and easy
transformation of the land into communal property.
7. The path to the socialist revolution in South Africa must lead via the
agrarian and national revolutions, which have the same socio-economic
8. The transition from capitalism to socialism in South Africa will not be
effected by means of parliamentary reforms but through the violent
extra-parliamentary class struggle.
D. Trotsky’s ‘Letter to South Africa’.
In early 1933 the controversy
between the Spartacists and Trotskyites in the Lenin Club had reached a
deadlock. The two parties could not agree as to whether the ‘agrarian revolution’
or ‘the struggle for the abolition of national oppressions’ ought to be
its political main task.
Each group therefore drew up a number of theses that were to form the basis of an overall revolutionary programme and dispatched it to Lev Trotsky in Paris in the hope that he might be able to solve the contradictions. However, only the theses of the ‘Workers’ Party of South Africa’, i.e. the Spartacists, reached Trotsky, and he replied to them on 20th April, 1933. (100)
98 Workers’ Voice, Vol.6, No.1, July 1947.
99 ibid., Vol.4, No.6, August 1945. Cf. also Engel’s preface of 1886 to the Communist Manifesto.
100 The letter was published in 'Worker’s Voice' of November 1944 (Vol. 1, No. 2), p. 18-20. Cf. also Trotsky’s ‘Open Letter’ to the South African ‘comrades’, published by 'The Militant', New York, 2 July, 1932.
In his analysis, Trotsky concentrated on the problem of the national and land questions. He argued that the national question, i.e. the Africans’ struggle for bourgeois-democratic rights, was the key to mobilizing the South African working class. The gist of his argument runs 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 colony."
From this he drew the conclusion - still valid today - that no social revolution in South Africa can be successful unless the majority of the population, that is to say the blacks, is actively involved in it, nor are democratic rights for all conceivable without the liquidation of the British Empire in South Africa:
"No social upheaval
(in the first instance, an agrarian
revolution) is thinkable with the retention of British
imperialism in the South African Dominion."
Trotsky labelled South Africa a "slave colony’’ because four fifths of its total population are unable to exert any political influence on the most important social decisions affecting their own future. The silent majority of Africans must first struggle for its national self-determination. (101) Since Trotsky was, however, insufficiently informed about actual South African conditions and had to reply mainly on the Spartacists theses, he ignored the fact that the black ‘’slaves’’ in the Reserves were not "peasants’’ but wage slaves from the point of view of their social function, for as early as 1930 the process of integrating the blacks into the white-dominated economy, which was in the main dependent on the mining industry, was already affecting a majority of them. The most important aspect of this process of integration, however, was precisely that it sought to forestall the formation of an independent stratum of smallholders producing for the market, since such a development would have been incompatible with capitalist interest, especially gold mining.
101 Cf. Trotsky’s preface to the Communist Manifesto published in Afrikaans in Cape Town in 1937.
Trotsky felt that,
"The backward Native
peasant masses directly feel the
agrarian oppression much more than they do the national
Nonetheless he insisted
that the South African Marxists ought to make the ‘"peasant masses“ progressively
aware of the necessary "political and national conclusions on the basis
of the experience of the struggle.“
Since the millions of non-whites, especially the blacks, would be the main protagonists of a new society in South Africa, the transitional State of the ‘Black Republic’, i.e., the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat (Marx), must be strongly impregnated with the will and political consciousness of the blacks.
At a first glance Trotsky’s concept of the ‘Black Republic’ seems to bear great resemblance to the ‘Independent Native Republic’ propagated by Stalin. (102) But the two concepts do differ, notably in questions of strategy and defining the function of such a state.
In contrast to the Stalinists in South Africa, Trotsky considered the ‘Black Republic’ merely as a transitional State, as the product of a socialist revolution that was to consolidate the political power of the Africans and form the launching pad for a permanent revolutionizing effort. Trotsky envisaged a colonial revolution such as it was actually to take place in Cuba later. (103)
For the Stalinists the ‘Independent Native Republic’ meant a state which was to be set up as peacefully as possible by a bourgeois-democratic revolution. According to them the Socialist revolution could only be achieved at a larger stage. In other words, South Africa was to develop through a revolution on the model of the Russian February revolution from a dominion within the British Empire to a sovereign nation state with a bourgeois African government. Trotsky’s position, on the other hand was closer to the Marxist-Leninist one, which we now wish to outline briefly.
102 See the Comintern directives of 1928 and 1930 to the SACP as well as the resolution of the V th Congress of the Comintern on revolutionary movements in the colony (1928).
103 Peter Gäng and Reimut Reiche came to the conclusion that ‘’more than any other revolutions in economically underdeveloped countries the upheaval in Cuba is to be understood as a permanent revolution“. Modelle der kolonialen Revolution (Frankfurt a.M.: edition Suhrkamp 1967), p. 66.
In his ‘’Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party“ (104) Karl Marx had written,
and Communist society lies the period
of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other.
There corresponds to this also a political transition period
in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary
dictatorship of the proletariat." (105)
In ‘’The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky“ Lenin pointed out,
although a great historical advance in
comparison with medievalism, nevertheless remains - and under
capitalism cannot but remain - restricted, truncated, false
and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a deception for
the exploited, for the poor." (106)
It is therefore necessary, even while establishing the ‘’dictatorship of the proletariat“, to lay the basis for ‘’a proletarian democracy“ or ‘’a democracy for the poor“. (107) The exploiting class must be ‘’forcibly“ overwhelmed and kept down. This ‘’simple truth“ (Lenin) is summed up by him as follows,
"Dictatorship is rule
based directly upon force and unrestricted
by any laws.
The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule
won and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat
against the bourgeoisie, rule that is unrestricted by any
The power thus accruing
is however ‘’political power“, i.e. the "organized use of force by one
class in order to keep another class in subjection“. (109) According
to Marx and Engels, the proletariat can only reach its historical goal
the forcible overthrow of the whole existent social order.“ (110)
In his letter to the South African Marxists Trotsky explains this class struggle:
104 First published by Engels in 1891 as ‘’Critique of the Gotha Programme“.
105 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works in Two Volumes (London: Lawrence and Wishart, Ltd., 1958), Vol. II, p. 32-33. Italics in the original.
Lenin erroneously ascribes this quotation to Marx’s ‘’Letter to Wilhelm Bracke“ of 5th May, 1875. Cf. V.I. Lenin, Selected Works in Two Volumes (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947) (W.F.)
106 V.I. Lenin, ibid., p. 370.
107 V.I. Lenin, ibid., p. 375.
108 V.I. Lenin, ibid., p. 365.
109 The Communist Manifesto ... ed. D. Ryazanoff, op.cit., p. 53.
110 The Communist Manifesto ... p. 68.
"The historical weapon
of national liberation can only be
the CLASS STRUGGLE. ... A victorious revolution is
unthinkable without the awakening of the Native masses.
... Under these conditions the South African Republic
will emerge first of all as a Black Republic; this does
not exclude, of course, either full equality for Whites
or brotherly relations between the two races (which depends
mainly upon the conduct of the Whites). But it is entirely
obvious that the predominant majority of the population,
liberated from slavish dependence, will put a certain
imprint on the State."
For Trotsky, state power in the hands of the Africans does not only mean formal political independence but also an element in the struggle against the domination of capital that includes the possibility of solidarity between black and white workers:
"We must accept with
all decisiveness and without any
reservations the complete and unconditional right of the
Blacks to independence. Only on the basis of a mutual
struggle against the domination of the White exploiters
can be cultivated and strengthened the solidarity of
Black and White toilers."
Trotsky issues a strong warning against the ‘’devil of (white) chauvinism“; he clearly confronts the white proletariat with the alternative of joining forces either with the blacks or with the imperialists,
"In any case, the
worst crime on the part of the revolution-
naries would be to give the smallest concessions to the
privileges and prejudices of the Whites."
As indicated in the previous chapter, Trotsky considered the foundation of two states in South Africa, a white and a black one, a distinct possibility. But he warned against ‘Bantustans’, i.e. separate pseudo states rammed down the throats of the blacks. He contrasted the coercion implied in the Bantustan concept with the Africans’ free decision for their own black state:
"It is possible that the Blacks will
AFTER VICTORY find it
necessary to form a separate Black State in South Africa;
certainly we will not FORCE THEM to establish a separate
Black State; but let them make this admission freely, on
the basis of their own experience, and not forced by the
sjambok of the White oppressors."
And he added,
"The proletarian revolutionaries
must never forget the right
of the oppressed nationalities to self-determination, in-
cluding a full separation, and of the duty of the proletariat
of the oppressing nation to defend this right with arms in
hand if necessary."
Trotsky insisted that the South African revolution was not a race struggle. In the ‘Black Republic’ the whites were to be legally placed on an equal footing with the blacks, and ‘’brotherly relations“ were to be created between the two ‘’ races“. For Trotsky the national character of the South African revolution not only implied a chance of class relationships but also of ‘’ the relation ... between the races’’. The South African Marxists were to solve ‘’the national (racial) problem ... in words and deeds.“ He refused to offer any ready-made directives: ‘’The proletarian party can and must solve the national problem by its own methods.“ While South Africa’s Stalinists were of the opinion that the national question could be solved by peaceful means, Trotsky insisted on a violent class struggle, mentioning the October Revolution as an example.
"The solution of the
national question (in Russia) was
brought about by the October Revolution."
He further showed that
this struggle presupposed the alliance of the "urban and rural population“.
He also pointed out that the revolutionary party (‘’the Bolshevik-Leninist
Party“) could play an important role as a catalyst in this process by politicizing
the masses and enhancing their self-confidence, in other words, by assuming
the function of a ‘’midwife“ of the revolution. How seriously Trotsky took
his thesis of South Africa as a ‘’slave colony“ is shown by the fact that
he did not consider the revolution in Southern Africa merely an internal
affair of the indigenous black population, but also related it to the remaining
parts of colonized Africa. He expected the South African revolution
to be a decisive, progressive element in the Pan-African struggle against
white hegemony and imperialism.
Trotsky’s theses can be summed up as follows:
1. The agrarian and national questions,
being both products of European
colonization, have a common basis.
2. They can only be solved by a socialist revolution, i.e. by the class struggle
and the liquidation of imperialism in South Africa.
3. The urban proletariat is to form the vanguard of this class struggle.
4. The Revolutionary Party is to function as the catalyst of the revolution.
5. A ‘Black Republic’ signifies the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, whose
function is to stabilize the power relationships created by the social
6. A ‘’proletarian democracy“ based on a ‘’soviet system“ is to be the historic
goal of the revolution.
7. The majority of the South African population, viz. the Africans themselves
are to determine their own future.
8. The South African revolution is an integral part of the overall African
As already mentioned, Trotsky’s theories went into the making of the various programmes of the ‘Fourth International Organization of South Africa’ and the ‘Workers’ Party of South Africa’, i.e. the Spartacists. (111) In addition, Trotsky’s ideas strongly influenced the policy of the ‘Unity Movement’ (and of the ‘Pan African Congress of South Africa’) during the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, especially with regard to questions of organization, class structure, and revolution. This development will be pursued further in the next chapter.
Indirectly, viz. through the Comintern directives addressed to the South African Communist Party (SACP), Joseph Stalin, too, has made a contribution of his own. Since 1953 the ‘Communist Party of South Africa’ has continued the policy of the former SACP. The concept of a ‘Native Republic' was quietly dropped, although the party’s dependence on Moscow continued unabated so that it was possible for Moscow’s ‘’Policy of peaceful coexistence with imperialism’’ also to become a principle of the SACP (112). The ‘Communism’ of the SACP found a congenial ally in the ‘’Ghandism’’ of the ‘African National Congress’, (113) whose most prominent representative was the recently deceased winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Albert John Luthuli.
However, with the Sharpeville massacre and the ‘peasant rising’ in Pondoland in 1960, Stalinist policy in South Africa was dealt its death-blow.
111 Both factions later joined the ‘Fourth International’.
112 The most recent example of uncritical support for the neo-Stalinist policy of the Russian C.P. is the fanatical SACP organ (sic!), 'The African Communist': ‘’We fully understand the concern of other neighbouring socialist countries and appreciate their efforts to ... rebuff the forces of counter-revolution.“ No. 36, London, Fourth Quarter, 1968.
113 Cf. K.A. Jordaan, ‘’The SACP - Its Counter-Revolutionary Role“, in: Azania News, London, Vol. 1, No. 11, September 1966