Document 24 - 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 meaningless.
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 and
(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 limited.
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".
Nevertheless 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 Union.
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 collapsed.
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 shopkeeper.
* 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.