From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

Document 121 - A. Mon (M. N. Averbach), "The Colour Bar and the National Struggle for Full Democratic Rights", Workers' Voice, 1, 2, November 1944

To some people in the Left movement it may still sound strange that we should put great emphasis on the national unification and organisation of the non-European for the purpose of achieving full democratic rights. There are still some whose memories float back to the dreamy days when "socialists" in South Africa were mainly European and concerned themselves mainly with the Europeans, v think that this national struggle and unification is at variance with the ideas of class struggle. We, on the other hand, who consider ourselves the best follower; Marx and Engels in this country, attach importance to the anti-imperial national liberatory struggle and organisation precisely on account of a pro] application of the Marxist principle of the class struggle to the peculiar condition obtaining in South Africa. People who minimise the importance of the anti-imperialist, mainly non-European, movement and organisation, do not understand class structure of South African society, and therefore cannot understand I relationship of social forces here. This way of thinking formed the approach of people who built the Labour Party and the White trade unions. And what do see as a result of their work? Not only did they not bring us one step nearer socialism, but, on the contrary, they helped to form the social bulwark for reaction - segregation and the colour bar - in South Africa, the White labour aristocracy in particular.


This, likewise, was the approach and attitude of the people who formed and built the Communist Party here. They also approached the South African scene with a pure abstract and mechanical handling of the Marxist principle of the class struggle. Hem their meagre and trivial achievements in the field of the South African class struggle the quarter of a century of their miserable existence here. The "Black Republic" was their highest achievement, their climax and anti-climax, and at the same time the starting point of their disintegration, until they were partly revived by the victories of the Red Army and the fact that the Soviet Union came into the camp of the Allies. Nor should it be forgotten that the "Black Republic" theory was not the outcome of an intern theoretical development, but something brought in from outside, imposed from above by the Stalinist bureaucracy in 1928.

We do not want to create the impression that we consider the slogan a correct one. Far from it! We are not attacking this slogan from the right, as it was by the Communist Party elements here at the time, but from the left. We do not attack it from the point of view the White labour aristocracy, but from the viewpoint of the non-European toilers. We say it is empty and hollow; it does not create a method of struggle; it does not express the real situation and sentiment of the non-European people as they are.

This slogan of a Black Republic does not express the desire of the non-European masses, awakening to-day to political consciousness. The real desire of the non-Euro­peans, a desire expressed by the embryonic Unity Movement, is for Full Democratic Rights for All. It is for equality with the Europeans, for the abolition of all discrimina­tory distinctions between European and non-European, for a State where European and non-European will no longer exist as hostile, race-warring groups, and where race-op­pression of one colour by another will be neither contemplated nor practiced. There is no politically expressed desire on the part of the non-European to oppress the European. The growth of the movement for full democratic rights, drawing in more and more Europeans over to the side of the non-Europeans to achieve full democratic rights for all, irrespective of colour, must more and more attenuate anti-White feeling. At the same time, the intensification of oppression of non-European by the European rulers naturally produces an anti-White reaction. But because it is in the interests of the democratic movement to unite the oppressed of all races, it strives always to build up not an anti-White front, but a front against segregation and the other policies of reaction.

Not only is it 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". More than this. We do not envisage a perspective where one race will rule another race in South Africa. The very coming into being, into power, of a democratic State in South Africa will depend upon the collaboration of the bulk of the non-White and White toilers. Otherwise, it is an impossibility. The nature of the struggle, the unification of the exploited and oppressed of all races and colours, must determine the nature of the State, the government, which will arise out of this struggle. Should the struggle be defeated, and reaction triumph, then race-rule will continue and be worsened. Should the struggle succeed, and it can do so only through the eventual unity of the bulk of the population, non-European and European, then race-rule will be thrown upon the rubbish-heaps of our history. A revolutionary perspective for South Africa precludes race-rule and oppression of one nationality by another.

The "Black Republic" slogan went counter to this perspective. Its effects were purely negative - alienating a potentially White ally from the non-Europeans. If offered nothing positive as is contained in the demand for full democratic rights. The "Black Republic" slogan did not even hint at this simple idea.


Now, the question arises: How will this ideal, which lives in the heart first of every non-European, whether educated or not, and also in the hearts of a large number of Europeans, be realised? The immediate reaction as a "pure and simple" socialist will be: "Why, socialism is the solution! That is the key to the problem!" Yes, we reply, it is quite correct that socialism will bring full democracy to the people who do not possess it now. We go yet a step further and say that without socialism it is unimaginable that democracy can be materialised and the colour bar abolished. This, in spite of a recent editorial in the "Guardian" that the colour bar is not an essential feature of capitalism in South Africa. Capitalism, wrote the Stalinist editor, may continue to exist nicely and develop without the colour bar - again a lack of understanding of the elemental condition of South Africa' capitalist economic structure. But, and this is the whole crux of the matter: How can socialism be materialised in South Africa? What are the forces which will bring it about?


The history of the last 30 years of a White "socialist workers'" movement is sufficient to prove to anyone who wants to see the truth that not only was it not a movement towards socialism, but a movement away from it: that it was a factor towards reaction, social bulwark for the colour bar and race-oppression. The ruling class, both imperialist and local, always used the White trade unions and Labour Party in order to fortify its colour bar and "civilised labour" policy. The White worker is always in between the road mass of super-exploited non-European labour, and the White ruling class. There is economic, social and political position is always privileged, and at the same time threatened by the surge of cheap labour. Greater and greater sections of the lower Whites are reduced in the social ladder and transformed into Poor Whites. Therefore, when ere is economic prosperity, then their prosperity rests on the super-exploitation of the Non-European workers; and when there is a crisis and poverty, the remedy of the ruling ass is to increase the misery of the non-European and also widen the gulf between Black and White. And so it was with the White workers in general always in any social crisis in the history of the last 50 years, whether it was to build the colour bar for a White South Africa in the 1922 Rand strike, or whether it was in their flocking to the Greyshirts, O.B. and other fascist bodies. The White labour aristocracy is part of the social bulwark of imperialism in this country. But imperialism views this aristocracy with an ambivalence of emotions. It uses it as a social base for its policy of segregation, colour bar and race rule against the Non-Europeans. Its main slogans, in this regard, are "White civilisation must be maintained", "White Labour Policy", etc. At the same time, and on the other hand, imperialism finds this social bulwark rather expensive. Its high wages, among the best in the world, make their costs of production uncomfortably high, especially in me of economic crisis. It would like to reduce this expense of maintaining its bulwark, and at the same time trembles lest is lose this social support. To cut down the burden, to it, of sharing its super-profits with the privileged White workers, it brings in slogan of "Equal pay for equal work". In this way it strives to replace highly-paid White labour by lowly-paid, un-skilled non-European labour, and thereby to reduce its s of production. But the way in which it carries out its stratagem is such that the White worker sees the danger not as coming to him from above, from imperialism, so h, as rather from below, from the non-European workers. Feeling rises, as it did in 1922, against the non-European workers, and the divide and rule policy of British imperialism once more triumphs. Imperialism in this country tries to ride two seeds - the White labour aristocratic stallion, and the non-European beast of burden. For the imperialist rider to be unseated, the steeds must wrench the reins of power out of the hands of the imperialist.

In order that the greatest section of the White workers should turn towards socialism, it is absolutely essential that the greatest bulk of the South African population, the actually producing and exploited ones, the eight million non-Europeans, the 80 per cent of the whole population, should itself become an active, forward-striving, political movement, an independent force to reckon with. Only then will a real possibility be given to the White worker to help materialise socialism on a sound basis, and so save the White workers from themselves.

It is high time to realise that the main basis, the foundation for any revolutionary change for South Africa, which alone can solve the many complex problems in this country, is the non-European. Either he will perform this change, or there will be no revolution at all in South Africa! Now, when we come to this conclusion, then such a conclusion will determine the character and form of the organisation which is best suited for the struggle here, and which flows from the nature of the elements comprising the movement.


Before going further, let us stop here a while to consider another question. The question is: How explain the fact that for the last 75 years, so stormy in South African history of the final subjugation of the African, pushing him into reserves, compounds and locations, transforming him into a beast of burden, taking away any vestige of human rights, putting on him all kinds of taxes and passes - that in all this long period we see almost no form of social protest, no uprising, no political, national or cultural movement in which the whole misery, humiliation and oppression of the African should somehow find a form of expression? Why were the few incidents like the Boelhoek affair and the I.C.U. movement so sporadic, local (except the I.C.U.) and so early in their disintegra­tion? Why do we not find a wide agrarian movement with its national ideologies accompanying it, as we find in other countries in similar situations?

The only proper answer to this question is to be found when we analyse the nature of the forces which caused and the methods whereby these forces subjugated completely the non-European in this country. These forces were those of the British imperialists - the most modern, the cleverest and most cunning of all imperialisms which have ever existed. They fell on, and attacked like birds of prey with the most modern and best equipped technique, a primitive and helpless people. They did this in such a way that they succeeded in breaking up and completely disintegrating, pulverising and atomising the whole African economic and social structure, preserving only those forms of tribal life which could be made use of for the benefit of the subjugator. These forms they call "allowing the Native to live his own way of life". But this was not yet enough. No. On the ruins they built such a superstructure of laws, rules, regulations, paragraphs and by-laws that it became impossible for the broken Africans to stabilise themselves on the land permanently as agrarians, as agriculturists, as a peasantry. By the whole taxation and labour-conscription system, the African was forced to go to the mines and farms as cheap labour.

But, once in the mining and industrial centres, the African could not settle there either, and become urbanized and crystallized as a modern city proletariat. No, this would be too dangerous! He may form trade unions and acquire political ideas, which, may develop him and transform him into a very revolutionary element! And so the imperialist built up in the mining industrial centres compounds and locations, and the whole infamous system of the colour bar and segregation upon which the whole capitalist system in South Africa rests.

Now, we can see how superficial is the view expressed by the "Guardian" and mentioned above, that after all the colour bar is not an essential feature of capitalism in South Africa. Exactly the opposite. The colour bar is the iron hoop, which binds together the whole structure of imperialist-capitalist exploitation and oppression. It does not allow the formation of an African peasantry. Nor does it allow the settling down and crystallisation of an urbanised proletariat. It keeps the African always in permanent flow from reserve to compounds and locations and back again.

And so, up to now, the African did not succeed in stabilising himself in the ordinary class formations of any settled society, which is the basis of any social, political, cultural and national movement. The colour bar makes it possible to keep the reservoir of just atomised, nearly classless, human cheap labour to supply the bottomless mines and farms and industries with labour, the demand for which can never be completely satisfied. This is the position of the African, who numbers about seven million out of about eleven million in general.


The position of the Coloured people, numbering nearly one million, is not much better. The Coloured people, living mostly in towns of the Western Cape, really supplied for over two centuries after the White settlement here all the trades and crafts, which the young and slow-growing population needed. During the last 50 years the position of the Coloured community has deteriorated tremendously, due to the imperialist indus­trialisation of South Africa, to building up of the whole net of colour bars to its perfection which have cut off the way of progress along the lines of becoming more integrated in society and its classes. And so they became isolated, segregated, locationised, cut off from nearly all trades, skilled arts and crafts, and forced into the only possible development left open: the unskilled job, slumdom, tuberculosis, and skolly-dom recruited from the declassed Coloured toilers.

However, contrary to the African, the Coloured people formed a community which in the course of 250 years of assimilation and absorption with the White community, taking over their language and many customs, feel more strongly and are much more sensitive to the dwindling and loss of the little rights they ever possessed. Their reaction against it is much more concentrated, and takes the character of a national and political movement. This movement is all the more mature, especially when compared with that of the African, because the bulk of the Coloureds are permanently urbanised, and hereditary proletarians of the cities and towns of the Cape; and because of the existence of a large Coloured intelligentsia which has sprung from the loins of the Coloured working class.


The position of the Indians is slightly different, because of their comparatively late appearance on the South African scene, with the opening of the sugar industry in Natal, and because of the existence of an Indian capitalist here. Their ties are still strong with their mother country, India (ties fostered by the Indian merchants), under the Indian capitalists, and they keep themselves partly aloof from the general non-European community. But their problems are fundamentally the same, for they are also within the orbit of the colour bar, whose wheels are strangling and crushing them.

This, then, is the lot of the eight million non-Europeans in South African under the colour bar system.


Now, if it is clear to us already that any radical decisive change cannot come from a movement flowing from a White section only, then we must realise that it must originate, develop and get strong and powerful through being a flood which can engulf the whole of oppressed South Africa including the Whites. This means that it must basically be a non-European movement.

But here the problem arises. We are all accustomed to think, and quite correctly, that any social movement (progressive or reactionary) must be based on definite social classes, on the working class or the peasantry, or the middle classes, or the capitalists, or the aristocracy. And here in the vast sea of the non-Europeans from whom the revolutionary movement must flow we do not find crystallised, settled classes at all, due to the colour bar system here. So what can we do about it? This is not merely an abstract theoretical difficulty. It actually gave a theoretical justification for many an honest but hopelessly confused socialist or communist in the past 50 years here for ideas such as "civilised labour policy", "equal pay for equal work", "separation instead of segregation", and "the colour bar is not essential to capitalism", etc.

We come to the conclusion that we must find the weakest point of our enemy, and then attack him there. The colour bar is the iron hoop of imperialist-capitalism in South Africa, to keep together the structure of South Africa's degrading and oppressing society. Why not take the imperialist's own method and use it for our own advantage - to break these iron hoops, so that the enemy's whole structure will fall to pieces? We shall use his colour bar, by fighting it, as a means to unite all the oppressed, exploited, impoverished and starved masses, first of all the non-Europeans, in one single mighty movement, which will erase and smother the whole imperialist-capitalist system.

When we come to scattered, dispersed, detribalised, declassed, disenfranchised masses with the beautiful ideas of a socialist society, they look at it as a dream, an illusion, beautiful but unrealisable. But when we bring the message of a national organisation to fight the colour bar in all its ramifications, in order to achieve full democratic rights, then it is tangible, it is real, it is a means to snap the iron chains which bind every and any section of the non-Europeans from the cradle to the grave. The oppressed must fight in order to live; he must break the colour bar in order to save himself from being strangled by it. To do this he will build this national organisation and this national organisation will be the means by which he will forge the weapon to transform himself into a mighty political force, something to reckon with.

This is something which has never happened yet in the terrible, long history of non-European suffering in this country. And this force, this weapon of a national organisation, when it will start working, will be effective to such an extent that it will go far beyond its original borders. It has often happened thus in human history. As the biblical story goes: One goes to look after the forlorn asses and finds a Kingdom.