E. R. Roux, Thesis on South Africa, presented at the Sixth Comintern Congress, 28 July 1928

The E.C.C.I. Resolution on South Africa contains the following passage: "The
Party should put forward as its immediate political slogan in the
fight against British domination an independent Native South African
Republic, as a stage towards a Workers and Peasants Republic, with
full safeguards and equal rights for all minorities."

The resolution of the E.C.C.I. suggests that the independent native
republic will not be founded on the proletarian dictatorship. It
will be merely a stage towards a Workers and Peasants' Republic.
During this transitional stage what form will the government take?
If it is an independent, democratic, bourgeois native republic it
presupposes the existence of a native bourgeoisie. If all the natives
are workers or semi proletarian peasants, the distinction between
a native republic and a native workers and peasants' republic is

Now if South
Africa were like India or Egypt this confusion of terms would not
arise; for in the typical colonial
country the programme
of the Communist International envisages two stages in the revolution:

(1) the national revolution led by the native bourgeoisie and embracing
all sections of the population, leading to a weakening of imperialism
as a result of the separation of the colony from the "mother" country

(2) the proletarian revolution, in which the native bourgeoisie in
turn is overthrown by the workers and peasants. A number of variations
in this main theme are admitted, depending on the relative strength
of the native bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, the degree of development
of the proletariat, the composition of the peasantry, etc.; It is
recognised that certain upper sections of the native bourgeoisie
may go over to the imperialists at any early stage in the national
revolution, and it will rest with the masses of the petty bourgeoisie,
the workers and peasants to carry through the national revolution
under the slogan of a Native Republic or "national independence".

In the case of very backward colonies like Southern Nigeria where
the native bourgeoisie is extremely weak or non-existent, the supposition
is made that this class will inevitably develop and the stage of
a bourgeois native nationalist republic prove unavoidable. The possibility
of the complete telescoping of the bourgeois nationalist revolution
and the development of the proletarian revolution in the absence
of a native bourgeoisie is not admitted in the thesis of the C.I.

This problem has never been fully discussed. This is due largely
to the fact that conditions in tropical and southern Africa have
hitherto hardly received any attention from the E.C.C.I. The more
rapid development of anti-imperialist revolt in Asia has resulted
in the neglect of African questions.

In Africa the conditions for the development of a native bourgeoisie
are not as favourable as in India, China, Egypt, Turkey, etc. In
tropical Africa monopolist capital comes into contact with people
living under tribal conditions. Primitive tribal communism on the
one hand, highly monopolist syndicates on the other! There is little
chance for a class of native middlemen to develop under these conditions.
Native industry is only allowed at the pleasure of the white rulers.
The chances of the accumulation of capital in native hands are very

1. In West Africa white settlement is impracticable; the natives
are allowed to keep their land and are encouraged to produce crops
for sale to the white trading syndicates. The natives are exploited
commercially and also by taxation. Nevertheless a class of native
landlords begins to develop and a small but increasing number of
formerly independent producers are robbed of their land and reduced
to the condition of propertyless wage earners or poor tenants. The
white imperialists also introduce railways and other improvements
(often using for this purpose forced, unpaid native labour). Mineral
wealth where it exists is exploited. The imperialists find it necessary
to train a class of skilled native artisans - train drivers, masons,
etc. They also require trained natives for lower posts in the civil
service - postmen, clerks, etc. A certain amount of education is
therefore given to natives, e.g., the university recently established
on the Gold Coast. These factors favour the development of a class
of native land-owners, petty-bourgeoisie intelligentsia, aristocracy
of labour, etc. in West Africa. But the complete domination of the
entire trade of the country by the big imperialist trusts and the
fact that the rulers have complete control from the beginning over
a technically backward and illiterate people necessarily renders
the growth of a native nationalist movement a very slow process.
The imperialists are in a position scientifically to control the
social development of the country in their own interests. So conscious
are they of their power that they are already beginning to employ
anthropologists to study local tribal customs, in order that imperialist
rule may make full use of tribal rites and superstitions! An example
of this was seen in Ashanti, where a powerful and warlike native
tribe was pacified by the mock obeisance of British representatives
before the tribal fetish - a golden stool. In this work the imperialists
are receiving valuable assistance from the missionaries who are now
adapting their Christianity to "suit the psychological needs
of the African peoples".

conditions for the native masses remain much better in West Africa
than in the rest of British Africa (with
the exception
of the colonies like Uganda and Basutoland (where the "West
African policy" prevails). The chances of a native bourgeoisie
and nationalist intelligentsia developing are similarly greater in
British West Africa than in Kenya, Rhodesia or the South African

2. In Kenya the presence of highlands makes it possible for Europeans
to settle in appreciable numbers. The best land is alienated to whites,
the natives crowded into reserves, a tax is imposed in order to compel
natives to work for the white farmers, native agriculture is prevented
as far as possible, the "pass" system is introduced. These
are the distinguishing features of the "East African" policy.
Here, conditions for the development of a native bourgeoisie and
intelligentsia are less favourable than in West Africa, though much
more favourable than in South Africa. A greater number of whites
are employed in the Government service and as skilled workers but
their number is limited and there is a chance for natives to get
work in various skilled and semi-skilled occupations. In the coastal
regions where non-Europeans are allowed to acquire land there is
an opportunity for native and Arab landlordism to develop. The immigrant
Indian population (which outnumbers the whites by three to one) consists
very largely of traders, and also contains certain professional elements.

3. South Africa possesses all the evil features of the Kenya land
system and also certain additional features of its own which render
the development of a native bourgeoisie and intelligentsia almost
impossible. South Africa has a large and well established white population
including a large number of unemployed and poor whites.

Except in the Cape Province natives are barred from skilled work.
The white aristocracy of labour reserves to itself all posts except
those of unskilled workers. The colour-bar, which is industrial,
educational, social and political, renders the development of a native
intelligentsia impossible under existing conditions.

We see then in Africa (1) a rapid and intense development of the
organs of imperialist exploitation, resulting in the break-up of
tribal society and the reduction of the main mass of natives to the
condition of proletarians or peasant proletarians* and leading to
a rapid accentuation of the class struggle in which the native population
comes into direct conflict with the white landowners and industrialists,
and (2) the development of this conflict in the absence of a literate,
politically conscious section of the natives.

To these two facts are due the spasmodic and top-heavy but extremely
revolutionary nature of the native labour movement. The potentiality
of a mass movement exists in every region where large numbers of
natives are employed, but in the absence of any sort of leaders nothing
appears on the surface.
Where leaders appear the revolutionary movement flares up suddenly,
only to die down again when the leaders go to a new district or fail "to
deliver the goods".

In Kenya there is no native labour movement strictly speaking. There
are only the Kavirondo Taxpayers and the Kikuyu Association, native
peasant organisations, owing their existence very largely to the
assistance of two or three white negrophiles. However, in 1922, under
the leadership of Harry Thuku, a series of demonstrations against
the "kopani" (pass system) took place. In Nairobi in March
1922, a demonstration was dispersed by the military, a number of
natives being killed and wounded. Harry Thuku was banished to the
desert, where he still is. With his removal the revolutionary movement

In South Africa the presence of white communists has made possible
the growth of a predominantly native Communist Party. It is not an
exaggeration to say that the native labour movement owes its existence
very largely to the efforts of white communists. Even Kadalie, the
leader of the I.C.U. learnt his first lessons in socialism from the
white comrades of the Cape Town Branch of the C.P.

The structure and policy of the I.C.U. too illustrates the top-heavy
nature of native political movements. This organisation which claims
to have attained the amazing membership of 120,000 at the peak of
its growth, was largely the outcome of the energy and ability of
a single native leader. It is significant too that Kadalie himself
is not a native of South Africa, but comes from British Nyasaland
where he received a mission school education.

It is conceivable therefore that the Communist Party of South Africa
if it succeeds in training the necessary number of capable native
organisers will grow into a mass party in a very short time and will
even be able to lead the native movement of the African continent
as a whole. There is no particular reason why the Party should first
set about the building of a nationalist movement. The absence of
a native bourgeoisie and the intensification of the class struggle
in tropical and Southern Africa makes the organisation of a proletarian
mass party a possibility of the immediate future, provided only the
trained organisers are forthcoming. There is no need to go through
the laborious and (from the point of view of the revolution) dangerous
process of building up a native bourgeois nationalist movement the
leadership of which must be displaced before the proletarian revolution
can be achieved.

In South Africa where valuable lessons (of international solidarity,
of trade union organisations, of the technique of civilisation) can
be learnt from contact with while workers it would be criminal to
allow the movement to develop along purely racial lines. Here where
the white workers have already had many bitter conflicts with the
imperialist bourgeoisie (1913, 1914, 1922) and where a white trade
union movement exists, the slogan of an Independent Workers and Peasants
Republic with equal rights for all toilers is the obvious immediate
and practicable slogan. The slogan of a "Black Republic" presupposes
the presence of a native bourgeoisie and the absence of a large class
of white proletarians capable of becoming the allies of the natives
in their struggle. For the other African colonies, apart from South
Africa, and for native states like Basutoland the slogan of complete
national autonomy and freedom to join or secede from an African Federation
would be quite appropriate. But here too, as the establishment of
native Soviets will become practicable immediately the imperialists
are defeated, the slogan of a Workers and Peasants Soviet Government
can be combined with the demand for national independence. Unless
it is so combined the slogan of a Republic will be quite useless,
for the African is an exploited proletarian not a petty bourgeois

* I use this word for those natives who are recruited under the indenture
system for work on the mines, farms, etc. and who return to their
families in the tribal areas periodically. The 300,000 native miners,
the most important section of the S. African working class are peasant-proletarians
of this sort.


Last updated : 31-Mar-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011