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

Document 38 - "How to Build o Revolutionary Mass Party in South Africa: A letter from the Executive Committee of the Communist International, "Umsebenzi, 12 December 1930

To the Communist Party of South Africa.

Dear Comrades,

Recent events in South Africa show that this country, which has the formal right of a British Dominion, but which in reality is a semi-colony, has entered a period of deep crisis, which finds expression in: (a) the crisis in a number of branches of industry and a sharpening of the general agrarian crisis; (b) the attack of the bourgeois ruling classes on the native working masses and on the lower paid section of the white workers; (c) in the upsurge of the class struggle and the struggle for national liberation.

The maturing world economic crisis has affected with special force the whole of the Negro part ot' Africa, where already mass revolts have broken out in recent months in French Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Gambia, the Lower Sudan and Rhodesia.

Growing Economic Crisis

1. The growing disparity between the growth of South African industry and the limited internal market owing to the extremely low standard of living of the broad masses of the native population, the inability of the technically backward South African industry successfully to emerge on the world market, the penetration of foreign capital, especially of British capital, into the country in spite of the protective policy of the nationalist government, and, finally, the fall in prices on the world market of a number of the principal products of South Africa (wool, grain, sugar, fruit, diamonds, etc., which comprise 50% of ihe exports of the country), all this has brought about a crisis in a umber of branches of industry (diamond, clothing, etc,).

The continuous increase in the native population in an already frightfully congested territory, in which they live, the so-called reserves, the simultaneous worsening of the conditions of the mass of the native land workers in the European districts, and the continuous decline in prices for agricultural products while the price of land is greatly inflated. are the causes of the growth and sharpening of the agrarian crisis.

Hertzog's Repressive Land Policy

This situation has induced the parasitic land-owning class, assisted by the colonial government, to accclerate the process of transformation of the present feudal-Iike system of land utilisalion represented by the squatters' system - labour tenantry and share-cropping, into large-scalc intensive farming employing actual serf lahour. The amendmcnts to the Land Act of 1913, contained in the proposed Native Bills, will, if passed, result in the nativc peasantry being reduced from the position ofa semi-serf to a position worse than slavery; the share croppers and labour tenants will be converted into "servants", obliged to work 180 days a year for the right to live on the land. This would enable the landowners to develop large-scale intensive farming.

Poor Whites

Simultaneously,with the worsening of the situation of the native masses,the poor white farmers and espccially "bywoners" are being expropriated and compelled to migrate to the cities to swell the growing ranks of the unemployed, who are competing with the miserably paid native workers, and this sharpens the "poor white problem."

Fierce Attack on Native Toilers

2. The European ruling class, represented by the Hertzog Government, which depends on the nationalist party (the slave- owner Party ofthe Boer farmers) and by the South African Party. which represents the interest.s of British imperialism, - primarily the industrialists and particularly mining industrialists, in its efforts to find a way out of the impasse into which the economy of the country has landed, has commenced a fierce attack on thc native toilers and the poorer sections of the white workers. The attack finds its cxpression in the efforts to force down the standard of living of the workers in general and in the introduction of a whole series of legislative measuresdirected against the revolutionary movcment of the native toilers. The conflict between the two parties of the European ruling class over the "Native Bills" which became more acute during the recent election campaign, is merely a conflict between slave-owners, who are disputing as to the methods of attaining their common end, i.e., to transfer the burden of the crisis to the shoulders of the Native toilers, who are already inhumanly exploited, and to crush the rising revolutionary movement.

S.A.P. Smoke Screen

The present role of the South African Party, aided by the Native reformists and under the cloak of hypocritical liberal phrases is to furnish a smoke-screen for the policy of the Hertzog Government, which takes part in all repressive measures against the Natives. The raid on the Native quarter of Durban was carried out by a bloc of all the bourgeois parties, including the "Labour" Party.

3. The Native masses, groaning under the yoke of ever-increasing oppression and the danger of their already unbearable conditions becoming worse, are in their struggle passing to acounter- offensive against the European slave-owners. This is seen in the increase in the number of strikes, which rapidly assume a political character, the riots in Durban and Robertson, which were accompanied by despérate clashes with the police, the boycott movement, the revolts in Northern Transvaal, the mass demonstrations of the unemployed in Johannesburg, the demonstrations in connection with the Riotous Assemblies Act, in open violation of slave laws, like the pass laws, refusal to pay taxes, etc. These processes now taking place within the labour and nationalist movements have already strengthened the Communist Party and the revolutionary trade unions.

Communist Party Weaknesses

4. The Party' s work has resulted in certain achievements: partial successes in the recent election campaign; the increase in agitation among the Native masses, the large number of Native workers recruited for the Party, etc., all of which proves that the Party has become a real political force in the country, which in turn has called forth increased persecutions on the part of Ihe bourgeoisie.

Nevertheless, the ideological and political influence of the Communist Party is by no means keeping pace with the growmg mass discontent. The influence and activity of the latter is still confined to a narrow sphere chiefly around Johannesburg. The Communist Party has not yet begun seriously to tackle the question of establishing contacts with the basic masses of Native workers. It still has little or no contact with the workers in the mines. The contacts of the Party with the basic masses of Native workers are so weak that it is practically isolated from the spontaneous movement of the masses, and it drags at the tail of that movement.

The Party leaders are commiuing serious mistakes of a Right opportunist character. The reason for this is the fact that the Party leaders have not yet carried out the 1928 resolution of the C.L, which demands that the Party take the initiative in and lead the struggle of the Natives against the foreign yoke under the slogan of an Independent Native Republic.

An Independent Native Republic means, primarily, the return of the land to the landless population and those with little land, which is impossible without revolutionary liberation from Brit.ish imperialism and the organisation of a revolutionary workers' and peasants' government on the basis of Soviets. The correctness of this slogan has been doubly confirmed by the desperate attacks of the South African ruling classes against it, by the opposition of former members of the Party known for their chauvinism and opportunism, e.g. Andrews, and especially by the development of the Native national movement. The principal feature of the Right opportumst mistakes committed by the Party is the failure to understand the decisive importance of the hegemony of the proletariat and the complete independence of the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat, the Communist Party, in the nationalist revolutionary movement and the failure to understand the significance of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the social revolution. (To be continued)

" How To Build a Revolutionary Mass Party in South Africa:

A letter from the Executive Committee of the Communist Intefnational", Umsebenzi, 19 December 1930 (continued from last week)

5. In a country like South Africa, where the overwhelming majority of the population consists of peasants, the revolution, in its first stages, can be only a bourgeois democratic revolution, carried out by the peasants and workers under the leadership of the latter.

But the nationalist revolutionary movement in South Africa can be victorious and bring about an Independent Native Republic only under the leadership of the working class. There is no other class in South Africa capable of uniting the diffused, scattered and unorganised masses of Natives who are already rising for the agrarian revolution and forthe revolutionary struggle for national liberation. The Native bourgeoisie exists only in an embryonic form. The intellectuals (Native teachers, Native parsons) are mostly in the service of the European ruling class. The only class capable of uniting the national revolutionary fighting front is the Native proletariat, supported by the most exploited masses of the white proletariat. Without leadership from the proletariat, the nationalist revolutionary movement which is overwhelmingly a peasant movement, is inevitably doomed to defeat, as is every peasant war.

But the proletariat cannot restrict its task only to the nationalist revolution. The latter is a task which does not exceed the boundaries of a bourgeois-democratic revolution, and history provides examples when historical tasks like these were carried out by the bourgeoisie. The agrarian revolution and liberation from the imperialist yoke, which are the main content of the South African nationalist revolutionary movement, have no further aim than the reform of bourgeois society. The proletariat, however, can emancipate itself and the toiling masses from exploitation only under socialist society. For this reason, the proletariat will not stop at an Independent Native Republic; it will go further, and transform this republic into a Socialist Republic.

This ultimate aim must not be lost sight offor a moment, To forget this will inevitably lead to the proletariat becoming absorbed in a petty-bourgeois nationalist movement; the leadership will then pass into the hands of petty-bourgeois politicians and adventurists like Kadalie, and this will inevitably lead to the defeat of the movement.

Communists must always bear in mind the example of the Mexican revolution inwhich the Mexican proletariat failed to win the hegemony." Only by being organised as a separate and independent force, with its own aims and carrying on its independent policy, will the proletariat succeed in winning the leadership of the nationalist revolutionary movement.

This indcpendence of the proletariat can be guaranteed only by its vanguard being organised into an independent class revolutionary Party, having for its aim the complete carrying through of the nationalist revolutionary struggle, and, as the subsequent stage, the socialist revolution. The South African Communist Party must be such a Party.

6. Failure to understand the bourgeois-democratic and the socialist tasks of the South African proletariat is reflected in the fact that both the leaders and the members of the Party have not yet understood the significance of the slogan of Independent Native Republic. The white members of the Party, who have not yet cast off the remnants of white chauvinism, do not understand the nationalist tasks ofthe revolution, and try to reduce the whole of the struggle of the South African proletariat to a purely proletarian class struggle, while the Native members, who are still influenced by petty-bourgeois-peasant nationalism, on the contrary do not understand the tasks of the proletarian class struggle, and try to reduce the struggle to a nationalist- revolutionary rnovement. The whites do not understand the necessity for the hegemony of the proletanat in a nationalist revolution. The Natives do not understand the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat in the social revolution.

This lack of understanding leads, in practice, to a position where both sections of the Party, in different ways, commit the same mistake with regard to the growing nationalist revolutionary movement. The whites simply deny the nationalist revolutiouary tasks of the proletariat and in this way deny the hegemony ofthe proletariat in this movement. The Natives, by restricting the tasks of the proletariat solely to nationalist revolutionary tasks, in practice would cause the proletariat to become absorbed in the broad petty-bourgeois movement, and in this way destroy its hegemony in this movement.

7. In practice, this fundamental mistake (failure to understand the hegemony of the proletariat in the nalionalist revolution and its dictatorship in the social revolution, and in connection with this, failure to understand the importance of an independent Communist Party with an independent policy) has given rise to a number of other mistakes.

The policy carried by the Party leaders in the League of African Rights is an example of how the Communist Party abandons its independent role. The League bears the character of a political party with a reformist programme. By allowing this League to serve as a substitute for our Party, our Party not only abandons its independent role, but the Communist programme of the Party is eclipsed by the reformist programme of the League.

The League's programme shows to what extent the Party is lagging behind the Native movement. At a time when the Natives are proving their revolutionary determination to struggle by openly violating the slave laws - refusing to pay taxes, - the Party, through the agency of the League, puts forward an extremely mild reformist programme, well within the framework of South African legality, aprogramme from which the slogan of an Independent Native Republic is completely absent. While Native reformist organisations like the National Congress advance radical slogans in order to catch the masses (for instance, the Cape National Congress put forward the slogan "Africa for the Africans" and advocates an extension of the boycott, etc.) our Party, during the Durban raids, issued a manifesto in which it urges the Native toilers to "keep cool keep your heads, do not be rushed or bluffed into false moves even by your leaders".

After organising the League the Party handed it over to the reformists, like Gumede and others, and joined the League itself as a Communist Party, thus surrendering the right to criticise the reformists. In this way the Party accepts full responsibility before the Native masses fbr the waverings of the reformisls, including the low treachery of the vice-chairperson of the league, Modiakgotla, who, speaking in the name of the League at the recent conference of non-European clergy in Bloemfonlein, openly supported thc Nalive Bills on the ground that they were beneficial to the Natives. Thus we have an actual union of the Communists with the national reformists in the League which makes the Native masses believe that not only the League, but the C.P. itself does not differ from the nationalist reformist organisations. One of the fundamental conditions for the independence of the Party is that it openly ceases its affiliation with the League because of its failure to put up a real fight for the rights of the Natives.

8. In close connection with the failure to understand the significance ef the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois- democratic revolution, are the reformist methods of struggle adopted by the Party in fighting against the Native Bills and the preparation for the demonstration on Dingaans Day. It is quite evident that the struggle against the Native Bill is transforming itself into a struggle against the entire system of imperialist oppression. Therefore, special attention must be paid to this struggle.

Increasing numhers of Natives are being drawn into this struggle. The Party hould have tried to develop this spontaneous movement of the masses into one for the refusal to observe laws and for the boycott. It should have elevated this struggle to a higher plane.The Party should have organised dcmonstrations of protest among the Native and white workers, organised commitees or action, declared strikes in factories and ought to have turned December 16th into a review of the revolutionary forces which are ready to struggle against the cxisting political order, against the slave-owning government, against its parliament, against the constilution, for an Independent Native Republic and for the defence of the Soviet Union. rnstead of this revolutionary mobilisation of the masses, the Party gathered signatures to a petition to the South African slave-owning imperialist parliament. Instead of coming out boldly at the head of the nationalist revolutionary movement and leading the masses, which is the only way of guaranteeing the hegemony ol 'the proletariat in this movement, the Party attempted in the manner of the reformists to turn the masses from the revolutionary road.

(To be continued)