In the more liberal climate of Cape Town Johnny Gomas seemed to have found his niche: organising workers through the vehicle of the ICU, an organisation which he had joined while in Kimberley. The ICU was formed through the mobilisalition of mostly black dockworkers. In June 1919 a branch of the Industrial Workers Union of Africa was formed in Cape Town under the leadership of Hamilton Kraai and Reuben Cetyiwe, with the speÂcific aim of also organising the dockworkers. The Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) had been started in Johannesburg in 1917 under the aegis of the Internationalist Socialist League (ISL) where it worked closely with the Transvaal Native National Congress. It later became disenchanted with the ISL, particularly after the promised white labÂour support in the 1918-19 railway and dockworkers' strikes in Kimberley and the ports of Cape Town and Durban failed to materialise. According to some authors it became "defiantly African." The ICU, on the other hand, had close ties with the white Democratic Labour Party and the Cape Federation of Labour Unions, a fact which the ICU leadership often seemed to forget conveniently in order to exÂploit black-white conflict. But the dockworkers' strikes of 1919 brought the ICU and the IWA closer together when both unions agreed to co-operate in preventing the exports of foodstuffs. In the course of the strike, the "defiantly African" IWA was absorbed into the ICU.
The war had ended in November 1918 and returning soldiers, disillusioned by the war itself, found themselves, together with the rest of the working class, confronted by another war: between capital and labour, and in the peculiar conditions in South Africa between capital and black labour. The South African working class has been divided historically. The racial hierarchical division of labour in the early mining industry (which paved the way for similar divisions in South Africa as a whole) has been a subject of great debate recently. Issues such as division by "race" and skill, access to political power and differential wage rates resulted in what has been called industrial and exploitation colour bars.
The development of a segregationist ideology in the Transvaal in the period after the Anglo-Boer War did not happen in a vacuum. The process of conquest and dispossession in the 19th century resulted in class and social oppression of the indigenous blacks. White people were encouraged by the dominant group to see themselves as part of the 'civilized', colonising population, in superior to blacks. The old master-servant practices on colonial exploitation and oppression were founded, were systematised into a rational policy in the conditions of capitalist economic growth. The masters in the colonial world became the artisans, supervisors and bosses of the capitalist world, while the servants became the unskilled, cheap labour. The preferential access which even newly proletarianised Afrikaners had to training and formal schooling and education, ensured their occupation mental and supervisory roles in the economy. The responses white labour to capital accumulation provide an important key to the differential exploitability of the working class in South Africa. Generally white labour excluded blacks from the labour mark setting up colour bars, by restricting the movement of blacks to the cities, by establishing a standard wage rate in certain jobs and by excluding blacks from trade unions. "Generally speaking, the reactionary strategies, exclusion and caste, have emerged as the dominant mode of dealing with a segregated labour market in £ Africa." Moreover, capital needed the support of all the classes in order to maintain its control over the black working class. This enabled the white workers to extract concessions and special privileges from the state. At times of reduced profitability the struggle between the mine bosses and the white workers reached a climax. Mine bosses needed to reorganise labour by transferring productive functions from the expensive white skilled workers to blacks. This "deskilling" constituted a great threat to the privileged position whites in the racial division of labour. The ratio of white (skilled) black (unskilled) workers increased from 1:7,75 in 1910 to 1:11.6 1922. The high point of the conflict between mining capital white workers occurred in 1922. In the period of post World War I depression, the Chamber of Mines, confronted by falling gold prices, took steps to improve its declining profitability. It intended repudiate to Status Quo Agreement of 1911 and to retrench 2 000 white miners, replacing them with cheaper black labour. The white workers responded by calling the 1922 strike and sparking off the Rand Revolt. The strike and revolt was hailed and supported by the Communist Party of South Africa, although it regretted the anti-black stance of the striker, and the calls of some strikers for "White Republic".
The 'victory' of the white workers (only about 7% of the threat?" 2 000 were eventually retrenched) was seen in concessions made them. These concessions were to eventually tie the white workers to "government acceptable" forms of bureaucratic and racist trade union and political struggles. The strike demonstrated the reality of a divided working class in South Africa. Recently many writers have contributed to our understanding of these contradictions between different strata of the working class. Davies, for example, provides some of the elements for an explanation of the dynamics of "race relations" in the South African social formation: the isolation of white from black workers, the failure of white workers to maintain their militancy (in 1913, 1914, 1922) of the previous two decades, and the relationship between the changing demands of capital and the practices and politics of the state. For some authors this explanation is not sufficient since it does not answer crucial questions such as why social cleavages were so open to manipulation.
The increasing proletarianisation of the South African social formation was not matched by an equal tendency toward the homogenization of the working class as a cultural and political collectivity. Stratifications rooted in differential positions in the social labour process have been reinforced by deep-seated racial, ethnic and regional antagonisms within the working class. In different periods these divisions have fused together as definite intra-class hierarchies (skilled/white versus unskilled/black; indigenous black versus 'foreign' black etc).
The roots of these relationships go back to the previous century of colonial conquest and pre-colonial social experiences. While racism has been built into South Africa's industrial revolution, it was not invented by capitalism. Indeed, the literature of the mid-19th century and after reflects the profound impact of racism on the settler population in their attitude to the indigenes. There was a marked resemblance between the economic life of the frontier Boers as part of the settler population, and the African tribesmen and women in that both groups were semi-nomadic pastoralists and experienced land hunger born of increasing herds of cattle. However, it was the settlers who were to develop acute prejudices against the indigenes. As indigenous, as well as slave labour became more easily obtainable, the white settlers began to look down on manual work as degrading. Within 70 years of the Cape Settlement (Europeans settling at the Cape) manual work had come to be regarded as slave and non-white work, below the dignity of whites to perform.
Any account of the history of the working class in South Africa must consider this (complex) relationship between class and racism. In order to arrive at an understanding of why racism and capitalism enjoy a symbiotic relationship, we have to focus on that sector of the working class in South Africa which stands to gain most from an end to racism and exploitation. Thus it is the black proletariat which must be put in the centre of the stage. Indeed, it was in the crucible of the struggle against exploitation and colour bars that Gomas (and others) preferred solutions to the ills of South African society, from the points of view and position of black workers. The depression which followed World War I with its concomitant suffering by the working class provided a recipe for discontent and revolt. In the aftermath of the Port Elizabeth/Masabalala Riots, the Bulhoek Massacre of 1921, the 1922 Strike and the 1923 Bondelswartz Rebellion the ICU was becoming a mass movement, a" beacon of hope" reaching its zenith in numerical terms in 1927. It totally eclipsed the ANC whose prayers and deputations compared' unfavourably with the militant language of the ICU. Thousands of members were paying large sums of money in subscriptions and apparently money was "spent like water". This monetary inflow followed an initial dry period of "cash trickles" totalling a mere forty-five pounds in July 1927. This changed dramatically during 1927 with the opening up of rural offices. In Natal alone enrolment and subscription fees reached a sum of about ten thousand pounds, starting a snowballing process in which more paid organisers were recruited and sent to the countryside. According to Bradford it was the ICU's organisation of rural workers that assured it the position of a "beacon of hope" in the struggle for national liberation. The potential of the countryside for revolution in the 1920s is one of the main theses of Bradford's work on the ICU. However, Gomas, like his party the CPSA, had a disregard for the agrarian revolution Indeed he was in his element, organising the urban proletariat in Cape Town and to a lesser extent in Johannesburg. Although he had read Marx only perfunctorily, he emphasised the urban proletariat in his organisational work. African men were increasingly becoming migrant workers, particularly after the War; however the number of workers in the urban areas also grew rapidly, despite the Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 which tried to hinder the permanent urbanisation of Africans. Only coloured and Indian families were allowed to move to the cities and to become eventually permanently urbanised, while the pass system was used to exclude Africans. The urban proletariat was still outnumbered by migrant workers and their families but the fact remained that South Africa's political economy was being radically reshaped between the two wars with the black industrial labour force growing rapidly. The number of manufacturing establishments doubled between 1911 ant 1927, and between 1915 and 1930 the number of black workers in secondary industry rose almost 70 percent, clearly presenting a potential for trade union organisation in the cities. The cost of living had risen sharply. Prices rose by approximately 40 percent between 1910 and 1917. From what is known about the distribution of incomes, whites earned about 75.2 percent and blacks 17.9 pa cent, respectively, of the Gross Domestic Product in the period 1924 to 1925. The average wage differential in 1922 in manufacture stood at 1 to 10.2 between whites and blacks, demonstrating the stark inequality of income distribution between white and black.
From his home in Sussex Road in Wynberg where he was doing tailoring privately, Gomas was moving among the ICU, the ANC, and the Tailors' Industrial Union. Initially at least, he did not seem to be very active in the latter especially after he became a full time organiser for the ICU in 1923. During this time the ICU expanded considerably in the Western Cape as he was recruiting hundreds of farm labourers in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington and as far afield as Montagu. It is doubtful whether Gomas organised beyond the Western Cape. Like a classical Marxist he concentrated his energies on the main industrial centres and even revealed a degree of condescension toward the country.
Until 1925 the ICU was a Cape-based trade union. Its mushroom growth demonstrated the recognition by black workers of their increasingly important role in social production. It was also a clear sign of their heightened consciousness. Black workers were indeed ready to respond on a class basis to demands for inclusion in legislative machinery, for a minimum wage and for equality of opportunity. The ICU fulminated against the social order, which denied black workers their fundamental rights and discriminated against them. Under the guidance of large numbers of middle class blacks, it was transformed into a mass movement fighting against white domination. But it was also precisely because of the leading role of these middle class blacks that the ICU was eventually to flounder. Through the dynamic leadership of Clements Kadalie membership of the ICU spread throughout the length and breadth of South Africa and beyond. Kadalie became a prominent labour organiser overnight. But for Gomas this need to transform the ICU into a mass movement was ultimately to cause it to flounder. As one of the CPSA members in the ICU Gomas had always tried to steer the body onto a "progressive, scientific industrial path". Such a path, he believed, would give the ICU more clout when dealing with the bosses and the state, and would allow for accountability to rank and file membership through proper democratic procedures. Industrial unions would also facilitate financial procedures and accountability. Financial corruption was often on the agenda of disputes within the ICU. In 1927 R De Norman, Acting Provincial Secretary for the Western Cape, complained to A W G Champion who was then Acting National Secretary of the ICU during the absence of Kadalie who was overseas. The financial records of the Cape Town Branch were in disarray. Not all contributions were accounted for and shortages on the regular fixed income of the Western Cape ICU showed up an amount of 14 pounds 3 shillings and four pence. (16) In addition, the Secretary's salary of 6 pounds for August 1927 was not reflected in the books. The financial corruption in the ICU was heavily criticized by the CPSA, as well as by the CPSA members in the ICU. Kadalie blamed La Guma, Khaile and Gomas for spreading untrue stories about the ICU finances. In a letter to one Dr Norman Leys of Brailsford in the United Kingdom, Eddie Roux sharply criticized the Kadalie leadership and the handling of money and even referred to Kadalie as "a rogue as any of the others". In a reply to the "libelous letter" (sic) Kadalie was emphatic that Roux's informants had to be none other than Khaile, La Guma and Gomas.
The fundamental differences between the two main factions in the ICU, the Western Cape Branch and the Kadalie faction, centred around two issues: the inability of the Kadalie faction to organise the urban proletariat and the undemocratic practices as for example reflected through the lack of proper financial procedures and' records, Gomas, together with the other CPSA members in the ICU, became the Kadalie leadership's biggest headache. These included apart from La Guma and Khaile, also R De Norman and Thomas Mbeki. With the schism between the ICU leadership and the rank and file becoming wider, Gomas, who could so easily merge emotionally with the masses, became their medium. He had learnt in the ICU how to articulate his thoughts and ideas. These ideas were not original, but were conveyed with so much passion by him that they could not but be understood by the ordinary members of the ICU. The fourth conference of the ICU in April 1926, not only underlined the dissension within the leadership, but also demonstrated the emotional rapport between Gomas and the rank and file. It was the militant Western Province Branch versus opposing conservative interests. Champion, who stated that the government should be warned about proceeding with the Bill while the Senate should be thanked for rejecting the bill, moved the first moderate resolution with regard to the Colour Bar Bill. Such moderation and obsequiousness were sufficient to set the conference aflame. The mild resolution was out of step with the justifiable dissatisfaction of black people who should not only claim, but also assert the right to equality in the land which they had built Gomas retorted with dramatic vehemence. Supporting his close friend and comrade La Guma, Gomas, amidst loud Western Province applause, attacked the Colour Bar Bill which would "reduce the blacks to the level of animals" and would "create an aristocratic white working class which would support the capitalist system in oppressing the blacks". Deliberately excluding the white mini workers whose excessively inflated wages had already made to into an "aristocracy of labour", Gomas went on to plead that the ICU enlist those white workers who were "as scandalously paid" as the black workers. Gomas's key words were organisation, solidarity unity and above all action. He would be the first to be arrested, he promised, but there was no place for fear in a revolutionary movement. Were these the first signs of the "fanaticism" which he was to be charged with later in his political career?
The CPSA members were increasingly being seen as a real threat by the Kadalie leadership. The ICU leadership came increasingly under the influence of liberals. To Ethelreda Lewis, one of the female "triumvirate" of liberals, orthodox trade unionism was needed into ICU. The ICU had to be re-organised as part of a scheme to prevent communist infiltration into the ICU. This position was shared by other liberal philanthropists: Margaret and William Ballinger, Howard Pim, Winnifred Holtby and others from the Joint Council Movement and the Institute of Race Relations. Under the influence of these liberals, philanthropists, social-democratic trade unionists and other "do-gooders" the ICU was eventually to become a fetters' progress. Its activities became confined to meetings, resolutions and verbal protests. The ICU's interests had in fact been placed above those of the masses. Indeed, Kadalie's reply to a letter by Champion in which the latter begged Kadalie to condemn the secession of the Durban Branch for the sake of maintaining the fragile unity in the ICU, goes some way in illuminating some of the aims and ambitions of the ICU leadership: "In your letter I find that you deliberately let me down to preserve the unity of the ICU. You did not consider my interests as a leader, but of your Union. I must frankly admit that that does not appeal to me, rather it aggravates my feelings of deliberate injury which I have suffered quietly now for nearly two months".
Many years later Gomas generously conceded the abilities of Kadalie while at the same time criticising his lack of organisational strategy. "He was like a bull let loose in a china shop. Go in, rush in and then he got caught inside ... he was a tremendous organiser... but he didn't understand the job. Industrial unions, he didn't know about that".
The militants in the ICU, of which Gomas was a spokesman, shouted for action, particularly after the watershed year of 1924. At the ICU National meeting in December 1926 at Korsten, Port Elizabeth, and the fundamental differences within the leadership came to a head. This important meeting has been well recorded by Eddie Roux. In summing up: the CPSA members on the National Council - La Guma, Khaile and Gomas - were expelled; Mbeki and De Norman having revised their earlier decision not to resign from the CPSA, retained their jobs in the ICU. The lack of a clear programme, the petty bourgeois ethos of the leadership, lack of democracy and the frequent failure to move beyond the articulation of grievances to active mobilisation around specific issues, especially in rural areas, ultimately caused the demise of a once strong progressive organisation.
Despite their differences, Gomas's restless desire for work had made a strong impression on Kadalie who, in most unusual style, even paid tribute to Gomas at the April 1926 conference: "Comrade Gomas, I am pleased to report, has fully repaid the confidence entrusted in him and considerably aided in increasing the membership of the branches of the Western Cape". Ironically, it was this same Gomas, backbone of the Western Cape Branch, who, when expelled, contributed much to the demise of the organisation as a whole. Kadalie was probably hoping that Gomas would follow Mbeki and De Norman in resigning from the CPSA. In an editorial of the Workers Herald, Kadalie again singled out Gomas for praise. "Not one of the expelled officials, except young Gomas (whose youthful career has been ruined by these communistic sharks) knows the workers." This was probably one of the rare occasions that Kadalie did not misjudge a person, while the expression of lamentation might have had a prophetic ring to it. But historical memories are sometimes short - in Kadalie's case, it was particularly so. In his "Memoirs", he had this to say about Gomas: "Although not an outstanding organiser, Gomas was however an able speaker on the platform. During his period at the Cape, the ICU slowly declined."
In June 1927, Kadalie left on a propaganda tour of Europe, with the main aim of putting the ICU on the map of the world, despite the fact that he was beginning to wipe it off the map in South Africa. Although expelled from the ICU, Gomas continued to preach the need for unity between the ICU and the ANC that is between the only two national black organisations. At a meeting to welcome Gumede, who had just returned from Brussels, where he attended the conference of the League of Colonial and Oppressed People Against Imperialism, Gomas tried to set the record straight about his (and others') expulsion from the ICU. It was, he explained, because they fought to keep the ICU on a straight and militant line. He urged that the rank and file force their wishes onto the "present corrupt leadership" of the ICU and restore the organisation, together with a militant ANC onto a militant programme.
But the ICU did leave a legacy: the flame of revolt which it had fanned, especially in rural areas but also in urban centres, for example Cape Town and Worcester, was ignited under the direction of the CPSA, and for a short while, by a revived ANC, the only black organisation remaining on a national scale. In the post-1924 years the CPSA was turning more and more to organising black workers, a process which caused it to lose most of its white members (and with them its financial backing). It is no exaggeration to claim that the new blood in the CPSA in the form of Gomas and La Guma among others, helped to save the organisation at this point. Its primary god of the unity of the working class irrespective of colour could be realised by cooperating with the ANC.
Like the Communist Parties in other countries, the CPSA was born under the impetus of the Great October Revolution and the revolutionary events that shook Europe at the end of the First World War. Membership of the CPSA fell dramatically after the 1922 strike and especially after 1924. It now started looking and debating in the direction of the black workers. The Young Communist League (YCL), formed in 1921, with leaders such as Eddie Roux and Willy Kalk, however, took the initiative. At the CPSA conference held in Johannesburg during the Christmas holidays in 1924, the main item on the agenda was "the Native question". The conference was spilt between the radicals, who argued that the black workers were the main revolutionary force (with certain reservations), and led by Bunting; and the conservatives led by Bill Andrews, F. Glass and E.S. Sacks, who argued that the militant white workers were the main revolutionary force. The YCL ranged them behind Bunting.
Just before this conference, a branch of the YCL was formed in Cape Town. As a hangover from his more active ISL days (in name he was still a member) Gomas attended a meeting of the YCL in December 1924. Roux was addressing the largely white audience in sophisticated, academic style. Flanked by Thomas Mbeki art Stanley Silwana, he cut an impressive, "non-racial" picture on a stage in South Africa in 1924. Apparently Roux was not much of a speaker, but it was his analysis of the South African society that impressed Gomas most. He must have felt himself in good company, a feeling that led to the next logical step, namely joining the CPSA. That was in January 1925, and in December 1925, he was elected Cape Provincial Secretary. With Bunting and Roux as chairperson and vice-chairperson of the CPSA respectively, the Party, in theory, ceased to be the radical wing of white labour. From December 1925 to be a member of the CPSA meant to identify openly with the movement for the emancipation of blacks. The CPSA had declared itself, in words, the leader of the black masses, but still had to make itself so in fact.
Early in 1927 Gumede, national president of the ANC became a "fellow-traveller to Moscow". On his return he declared that he had been to "the new Jerusalem", thus declaring his support for Stalinist Russia. The CPSA might have become, had its interpenetration of the ANC gone far enough, a "people's party". In Gumede's absence, Gomas was acting-president and communist influence in the ANC was extended considerably. ANC members took with them copies of the CPSA paper South African Worker/Umsebenzi (which had become a black paper by then) and sold them at meetings; and ANC branches were spreading from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, through Worcester to Middelburg and Cradock in the Eastern Cape.
But the hope of optimists such as Gomas of black-white coÂoperation received a severe blow in 1924 when the South African Labour Party and the National Party of Hertzog, political representative of "poor farmers" and poor whites and the ideological home of Afrikaner nationalism, formed the Pact Government after having ousted Smuts in the election. "In 1924 ... the historic compromise between the white workers and the white capitalist and middle classes resolved the bitter struggles of the previous two decades between them. The white working class became a junior partner in the class alliance that governed South Africa for the profit of the local and foreign owners of the mines, the farms, the factories, the shops and the banks. The white workers formally entrenched their vested interest in perpetuating the system of racial capitalism. More than for any other class of people on earth, the belief in white superiority and white supremacy became for the white South African workers a vital principle". One of the first laws of the Pact Government was the Native Administration Act. This act equipped the Native Affairs Department (NAD) with enormous powers. It granted the NAD "wide powers to curb sedition and dissent and to control the free movement of Africans". Supported by the opposition South African Party and the SALP (with three dissidents) the Pact Government passed this Act in 1927. It gave the governor-general power to legislate by proclamation on "African Affairs" and it included a "hostility clause" under which anyone "inciting hostility between black and white" was liable to prosecution and punishment.
These were times of upheavals and unemployment among oppressed workers. The Pact's Civilized Labour Policy ensured that Africans were replaced by poor whites at inflated wage rates in a wide range of unskilled jobs, particularly in government controlled enterprises such as the railways, while the Mines and Works Amendment Act made it illegal to employ Africans in a wide variety of skilled and semi-skilled jobs on the mines. In the direct and indirect confrontations between the workers and the government, the latter revealed its determination to violently suppress any challenge to the status quo. The Native Administration Act was gazette in September 1927, and in December 1927, a policeman, one Bleeker, who demanded to see their passes, accosted three Africans in Paarl. When they failed to produce them and starts running away, shots were fired, killing one of them. A second person was seriously wounded and died ten days later in hospital. Bleeker was subsequently not prosecuted. Such an outrage was not allowed to pass unchallenged, not while a person such as Gomas was around. Elizabeth recalled the incident many years later. How with some bitterness that she remarked that Gomas was always present wherever there was "trouble"; while he was never there when his immediate family was in trouble. A few weeks before the Paarl Shootings, Gomas had met Ruby Meyer at a political meeting and he married her shortly afterwards. Leaving his new bride with his mother at their home in Wynberg, he immediately proceeded to organise protests at Paarl. Accompanied by Stanley Silwana and Bransby Ndobe, he went to Paarl where they distributed pamphlet and called for a demonstration meeting: "The Paarl Shooting Tragedy - Show your Respect to your Dead and Injured Comrade by attending in thousands". The meeting took place on Christmas Day at Huguenot and was attended by about 400 people. Gomas Silwana and Ndobe addressed the meeting in words which would later be described as "highly inflammatory". Attempts to reconstruct or quote from these speeches would be fruitless since transcripts by one Sergeant Ackerman are so full of grammatical and stylistic errors as to render them almost unintelligible. The three were arrested by one Sergeant Griffith and in March 1928 the appeared in court before magistrate H. Borcherds on a charger "inciting hostility between black and white", thus becoming the to victims of the Hostility Clause (Section 29 (1) of Act 38 of 1927) of the Native Administration Act. Gomas was the next defendant. "It is common cause," magistrate Borcherds contended, "that the accused, who styles himself the Vice President of the African National Congress in the Western Province addressed a meeting held at Paarl on the 25th December 1927 at which natives, coloured people and some Europeans were present, numbering from 250-300 altogether, but composed for the most part of natives. This meeting was held shortly after the shooting by Constable Bleeker of two natives in self defence ... Accused spoke in the English languages and there was no doubt in my mind that his speech carried weigh amongst the native audience ... and that the speech created feeling of hostility in his (Sergeant Griffith's) mind."
The three appealed against the sentence of three months' hard labour each, and in June 1928 they appeared in the Supreme Court, conducting their own appeal. Silwana and Ndobe both addressed the court at some length, but it was Gomas's fighting speech which really enraged Justice Twentyman Jones. Blaming the prevailing conditions for the hostility between black and white, Gomas declared that when he referred to the majority in the House of Parliament "it is quite constitutional", so why could his speech not be "wholly constitutional" since it dealt with the contradictions between those represented in Parliament and those without representation.
His thunderous voice bore down, with utter contempt, on the court. He began to cite the Greytown incident and the burning of the ICU offices by white hooligans when he was checked by Mr. Justice Jones and sharply reprimanded by Mr. Justice Benjamin. He then went on to declare that justice was dealt to one section and not to the other. The judicial official, he said, had a social and political prejudice against blacks. Mr. Justice Jones retorted angrily: "That is not the language we are going to allow you to use here. Stick to the evidence and leave that alone." In the summing up, the judge stated:" Well if the language attributed to them is correct, all I can say is, that instead of the sentences being excessive, I think the magistrate, if anything, erred in imposing too lenient a sentence, because the language used by all three accused as set out in the charge sheets was of a highly inflammatory nature. For these reasons I think the appeals in all three cases must be dismissed and the sentences confirmed."
In a letter, pulsating with "the belief in the justness of the black struggle for freedom", and sent from prison where he was in solitary confinement, Gomas appealed for books: "I was hoping to make a complete study of Lenin's Materialism and Empiric-Criticism , but as all books are confiscated by the Prison, I do not like to lose such a valuable copy." He and the others found that in prison "our wits become exceptionally sensitive and especially in our single cells ... our thoughts are alive and every minute of the working day, we are reviewing in our minds the intolerable conditions which are the lot of our people in this country. Our bitterness increases with our extended confinement, and the feeling of revulsion which is continually with each one of us, stabilises and strengthens our determination to work for the freedom of all oppressed people." The letter ended with a verse from "The Red Flag" and with revolutionary greetings and was signed by Gomas.
Gomas's request for a copy of Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism revealed his desire to expand his embryonic materialist philosophy. He had long since discarded religion and mysticism. According to a confidante, Gomas always treasured his friendship with Eddie Roux, since it was Roux who "really introduced him to ideas". Together the two friends used to import communist and trade union literature from the United States of America. His superficial readings of Marxist doctrines moved him to action but action, in the absence of theory, was hardly enough for a perfectionist and serious fighter for liberation. He felt that he required more philosophy, more analysis in his search for strategy. It is only in a Gramscian sense that Gomas could be described as an "intellectual", as the "thinking and organising element" of the working class in South Africa. He has to be characterised by his functions in directing the ideas and aspirations of the black working class to which he organically belonged. Was the CPSA on the right road? For the time being Gomas accepted that it was. It was making a splendid job of the inheritance from the ICU, was organising blacks in all the main urban and industrial centres, and was forming trade unions for blacks. Any possible doubt about the CPSA as a party for black liberation was totally erased from Gomas's mind. It remained the task of the CPSA as the vanguard revolutionary party to bring socialist consciousness to the working class. Indeed socialism as represented by Stalin's followers in Russia and the Comintern, and by the party in South Africa was the answer for him.
A photograph taken in September 1928 after their release from Roeland Street Prison, showed Gomas's rugged and unshaven face" with maybe a glint of sadness in the slightly sunken eyes; eyes that belied the determination with which the young Stalinist would throw himself into the task of making the CPSA a "people's party" in deeds. He was to be constantly reminded of this task by the larger than life-size picture of Stalin's smiling face on the door of his bedroom. The party in South Africa certainly had reason to over the gain it had made in the form of John Gomas.
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.