David Ivon Jones was born in 1883 in Aberystwyth, Wales. Jones was orphaned as a young child. He was brought up by his grandparents, but his grandmother also died when he was a boy. While he was still in his teens, he converted from Methodism to Unitarianism, braving ostracism from his family and community. David Ivon Jones was an avid rabbit hunter. Jones left his birthplace in search of drier climate to alleviate his illness. He spent three years in New Zealand where he hunted rabbits for a living before moving to South Africa in 1909. He settled in the Orange Free State (now Free State) and joining his brother who had opened a trading store. Later, five of his eight siblings also moved from Aberystwyth to South Africa, while a sixth settled in Canada.
Jones then set out to make a living for himself in South Africa initially settling into the Rand society in the turbulent years of 1912-14. Jones’s keen intellect was spurred to question the situation in which he found himself. White labour was under tremendous pressure, with lower wage rates and worse conditions of work than elsewhere, squeezed by the ‘Randlord’ employers’ attempts to undercut rates and conditions by using unskilled black labour held under conditions of virtual slavery. White labour was hitting out almost blindly in all directions, leading to a series of violent clashes with the authorities, whilst engaging against employers one minute, and against the contrived ‘black threat’ the next. The desperate depths of the struggle led Jones first to the conclusion that it was the very treatment of white workers as human beings that was at stake: “They were not engaged in a revolt merely to raise the standards of wages, but to raise the standard of manhood” he pointed out. This led him straight to the tiny handful who were already declaring that they needed to ‘fight for human rights, whether for the coloured or white people’.
He joined F. H. P. Creswell's Labour Party and was elected its general secretary in 1914. In the same year, he won a seat on the Transvaal Provincial Council. He later moved to Johannesburg and joined the South African Labour Party (SALP) in 1911 and played a minor part in the general strikes by white workers that rocked the Witwatersrand in 1913.
In 1915, with W. H. Andrews and others, he broke with the Labour Party to form the International Socialist League (ISL), which in 1921 merged into the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA). Thus, Jones became one of the founder members of the CPSA. Within the ISL, he and S. P. Bunting were the leading proponents of the view that blacks were the true proletariat. Even though Jones combined this view with a somewhat paternalistic belief that whites would inevitably be the vanguard of the socialist revolution, he was ahead of his time in urging the promotion of trade unionism among Africans. He became the first Secretary-editor of the ISL, responsible for producing the weekly newspaper, The International.
Between 1917 and 1919, Jones together with Bunting attempted to form a broad workers' movement called the Industrial Workers of Africa, but this did not succeed. Jones also started some of the first night classes for African workers. According to Roux, Jones was a good linguist and "a man full of dynamic spiritual energy."
In 1918, while undergoing health treatment in Pietermaritzburg, he was convicted of illegally publishing a pamphlet, The Bolsheviks Are Coming, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In November 1920, Jones left South Africa for the south of France, never to return. From France he went to Russia to attend the second congress of the Communist International. While on his way to Moscow he wrote a long report on South Africa for the Communist International, stating that although Africans were no more than cheap sources of labour in the colonial system, they soon became good trade unionists and loyal agitators for their class. National interests could not be distinguished from class interests, and formed the basis of `a revolutionary nationalist movement in the fullest meaning of Lenin`s term`.
Remaining in Russia, he is one of the first persons to have translated a number of Lenin's (the Russian Communist leader) works into English. In his last letter to Bill Andrews, written shortly before he died he argued that the struggle of South Africa took the form of a `colonial national movement of liberation`. The appropriate standards to apply were set out in the Theses on the National and Colonial Question. `We stand for Bolshevism, and in all minds Bolshevism stands for the native worker`, he proudly affirmed.
David Ivon Jones died in a Yalta sanatorium on 13 April 1924. His grave is in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.
• Anon, David Ivon Jones, from the BBC, [online], Available at www.bbc.co.uk. [Accessed on 7 June 2011]
• Anon, David Ivon Jones, from the South African Communist Party, [online], Available at www.sacp.org.za [ Accessed on 7 June 2011]
• Hunter I, The Delegate For Africa: David Ivon Jones 1883-1924, from Revolutionary History, [online] Available at www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk [Accessed on 7 June 2011]
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.