From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume Two 1943 - 1964, by Allison Drew

Document 50 - Socialist League of Africa , "South Africa: Ten Years of the Stay-at-Home", International Socialism, 5, Summer 1961

[....] In March and April 1960, the African population staged a series of demonstrations, marches and stay-at-homes in all the large towns of South Africa. In the month of action that followed the shootings at Langa and Sharpeville, the African working class emerged as the only force capable of leading the fight against oppression in this country, and showed that it was capable of paralysing the economy of South Africa by withdrawing its labour.

The one dominant feature that emerges from these happenings is that it was the worker who stood at the head of events; also a specific working class method (the withdrawal of labour) was used, and the action was confined to the large industrial centres of South Africa.

And yet the events centred on an anti-pass campaign and drew in the entire African township population, so that it would appear that this was a national fight rather than a working class struggle.

Because of this there has been endless confusion in the ranks of the liberation movement. To some the fight has appeared to be simply that of African versus White. To others who have tried to examine events more deeply, the events seem to show that the fight is a broad liberation struggle of the whole African people. Because the pass laws are the symbol of colour oppression, it has been argued that the people as a whole are fighting a nationalist cause. And of course there is truth in this argument. The entire African population - every single African man and woman feels the burden of the pass laws above every other colour bar law. It is no accident that every major fight since 1919 has been against the pass laws. This piece of paper has stood as barrier against the advancement of the whole people-and it has been the greatest source of bitterness throughout the country.

Nevertheless we want to say that the nature of our struggle goes even deeper. In our Fight for democracy and for full equality, in our demand that the people shall govern, we believe that the basic clash is between the working class and the governing capitalist class. At the present stage, the specific working class aspect of the struggle is hidden by the apparent clash of colour. The dominant note in all our struggles seems to be that of an oppressed people against a white minority. But we must beware of so simple an explanation. The first stages of political struggle in any country are always based on he broadest democratic demands and give no indication of the way events will move To examine the course that events will take in any political struggle we must show clearly what class forces exist and examine their strength, for only then will we understand their direction. The nature of any struggle depends on the relative class strengths in society and in South Africa the major force is the working class of the towns and the farms. This group, when it draws closer to the people of the reserves, will act as the natural leaders of the struggle for liberation.

Already in South Africa the methods used in the struggle are those of the working class and as the struggle develops it will become clear to all that it is only the worker that can give the lead to our fight for democracy.

We also believe that, as it will be predominantly a working class struggle, the aims of this struggle must be for the realisation of working class demands. This must be socialism, and at no time can we allow this aim to be obscured. [....]

The first beginnings

The struggle in South Africa has a long history, but there can be little doubt that an entirely new phase opened up as a result of the Second World War.

The war of 1939-45 led to a remarkable change in the economy of the Union of South Africa, and in the process there was an equally remarkable development of the African urban working class. The restrictions on entering the towns were partially lifted by Smuts in order to supply the labour force that was needed to man the ever-growing industries. The main industrial centres grew at a greatly accelerated pace and thousands of workers were needed to man the machines. The townships and locations grew at a fantastic rate, as more and more workers came into the towns. Semi-skilled jobs were opened to Africans and the black proletariat became a force in the economy.

The overcrowding of the townships (and the complete lack of new houses) erupted into the shanty towns movement started by Sofosonko Mpanza; the problems of transport led to the first great bus boycott in Alexandra; the new political awareness was expressed by the formation of the African National Congress Youth League under Lembedi; the starvation wages led to the series of illegal strikes among the VFP (power) workers, the milling workers, the coal distributive workers, the timber workers, and the building of the powerful Non-European council of Trade Unions under Makabeni, Tloome, Marks and others. These wage struggles culminated in the great Mine-work­ers' Strike in 1946 and tentative plans for a general strike in sympathy,

The workers of the post-war period were building a new tradition of industrial action, and although they drew strength from the earlier struggles in the 1930's, an entirely new generation of workers was being drawn into Trade Union action.

The overall inexperience and the rootlessness of the young working class was not able to sustain this rapid growth of Trade Unionism; and, weakened as they were by the anti-strike laws of Smuts, the movement went into decline after 1946. This partial decline can only be explained if we take into account the fact that the worker was preoccupied with the sheer problem of living, which was so overwhelming. He lacked transport, houses and food. His daily struggle to exist in the squalor of the wartime locations exhausted him, and his immediate needs led him to embark on struggles over rent, houses, bus fares, etc. In the process, the trade union struggle was overshadowed and tended to decline in relative importance. [....]

In this climate the young students of Fort Hare gathered around the radical solutions offered by the Youth League: many of the town workers were attracted not only by the Trade Unions, but also by the radical program of the Communist Party. There was also general discontent with the backwardness of the ANC leaders like Dr Xuma, Thema, Vundla, and several splinter movements arose as an expression of the radical mood.

It was the 1946 mine workers strike that led to a radical change in the political scene. The brutal violence of the Smuts government led to the permanent adjournment of the Representative Council; led to the first of the series of political trials (when the Transvaal executive of the Communist Party was arrested); and led to the growth of a new spirit inside the ANC - most particularly inside the young Youth League.

At the 1949 conference of the ANC this new spirit came to the fore. Led by the Youth Leaguers, the movement adopted a program of action aimed at non-collaboration, disobedience campaign and a general withdrawal of labour. The old leadership was replaced; Dr Moroka took the place of Dr Xuma; a plan was proposed for revitalizing Congress after years of inactivity; and Congress said boldly that it "demanded control government by Africans themselves". [....]

The new spirit and the Nationalist government

The ANC, now under new, even if vacillating, leadership, called on the peopled Johannesburg to observe 1 May l950 as a day of protest and stay-at-home. The response was immediate - the new urban proletariat was ready for a call to action and the result overwhelming. Many areas (Sophiatown in particular) stayed home in large numbers and the day appeared to pass peacefully. In the evening crowds collected at street corners in Sophiatown and the police appeared and started firing. 18 people were killed, and many more injured. The government followed with drastic action and declared a ban on all meetings in order to clamp down on the anger that resulted. A pattern was established that was to be enacted on a larger scale ten years later.

The ANC called for a new protest and 26 June 1950 was set aside as a day of mourning for the dead. Once again the people of Witwatersrand responded, and on the there was a large-scale stoppage of work. However, the response was uneven and demonstrated that Congress was organized only in isolated towns. There was certainly no possibility of moving all the urban centres, and the vast rural hinterland was unaffected by the emerging struggle.

There could be little doubt that in the stay-at-home the Congress movement had forged a new and powerful weapon. It was easy to organise such a campaign in the compact crowded townships where thousands of workers were concentrated. By closing a few entrances (or stationing pickets appropriately) an entire town's working population could be organized into mass defiance. The working force of a town could be withheld by stopping labour at its very source.

The compactness of the townships made contact easy; organizational work wit as primitive (and unfortunately still is primitive) was overcome by the solidarity of these vast working class slums. A new-found strength was discovered, and an effective stoppage of industrial and commercial work had become possible. Even more particularly, as Trade Unions were weak (and often non-existent) and industrial as industrial strikes were illegal under the old war measure 1425, this new Industrial action in the residential areas seemed to offer a solution to the problem of effective working class action.

This was the second successive use of 26 June as a day of protest, and it now became established as a national day of struggle (later to be called Freedom Day). It also established the tradition of the stay-at-home as a weapon of the struggle. Since he African worker has come to look upon the stay-at-home as the possible answer to government oppression.

Whereas previous strike action had been brutally suppressed (Mine workers and VFP), or had failed through mass arrests, this new method seemed to provide the answer. That it was indeed a powerful weapon is beyond question and it was to be used more and more in the years to cone. However, we will comeback to the question of this tactic below, and discuss its use more fully.

The Defiance campaign

For the past ten years two main methods of struggle have been used in South Africa. The first is the stay-at-home (or political strike), and the second is the method of passive resistance (or defiance campaign).

The first passive resistance campaign took place against the United Party pegging act. Indians in Natal opposed the UP legislation which denied them land outside certain areas, and organized a campaign of defiance. They occupied land illegally and offered themselves for arrest. The campaign failed against a government that was arrogantly determined to force the legislation through. However this tradition of non-violent defiance was to be taken up again by the ANC, in co-operation with the Indian Congress in 1952.

Congress singled out for attack seven unjust laws that included the Group Areas Act and the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950. The latter having defined communism in such a way as to effectively outlaw any movement that proposed change in the form of government in South Africa.

Passive resistance is open to criticism on many fronts, and particularly as it was to be used again in 1960 by the PAC, an understanding of this tactic is necessary. For the record it must be stated that there is no instance in the history of struggle where this tactic has succeeded. In India, where Gandhi used it on a large scale, it did not by itself win freedom, and in fact, as Palme Dutt points out in his "India Today ", it served as means of tying down or restraining the mass movement of workers and peasants.

The philosophy of passive resistance is one that flows from a middle class leadership which places no reliance on the masses and their ability to pursue militant tactics. It is a glorification of the leaders and elevates them as political martyrs. Its stress is on the leaders surrendering themselves to the police in protest against bad laws, without at the same time calling for mass action in support of the campaign, for in this way the tactic assumes that it can lead to a change of heart on the part of the ruling class. [....]

The campaign to end the seven unjust laws thus failed in its objective, and for several years there was a depressing quiet on the African political front. It was a time of retreat while the people sought to regain their confidence and establish their organizational strength.

The Freedom Charter

In 1954 there was a call for a people's convention to draw up a charter of rights. The declared aim was to elect representatives from every district that would come together as a true convention of the people. This was an excellent project, but it never came to fruition. As the day of the meeting drew close, the nature of the project was changed, and on 26 and 27 June several thousand Congress supporters met at Kliptown (Johan­nesburg). At this rally the "Freedom Charter" was presented and enthusiastically received. [....]

However it was stated subsequently, after the ANC had accepted the Charter as its own program, that this replaced the Programme of Action of 1949. In many ways tactics must be elastic, and must be chosen to suit the needs and conditions of the time. But the Congress movement needs guidance in the methods of struggle. The 1949 program offered civil disobedience, boycotts and general strikes as the method of campaigning. There has been no word since 1952 to suggest that this remains the policy of the movement, and-in fact we have indication that passive resistance is to become the main method and that the stay-at-home will be employed as a demonstration of protest. [....]

The bus boycott

Since 1953, when the defiance campaign collapsed, there has been no struggle that captured the popular imagination as much as the bus boycotts.

The first took place in Evaton in 1956. The people of Evaton boycotted the buses for months, but unfortunately never received the support they needed from the rest of the country. That they won their demands is a tribute to their resolution, their cotoc and their discipline. However, their isolation and the failure of the national Congress movement to come to their aid are contributory factors that led this comer of the Transvaal (Vereeniging - v.d. Bijl Park - Evaton) to turn most readily to the PAC at a later date.

The people were now emerging from the lethargy that followed the previous defeats, and full emergence was to come from some bold campaign. The people of Alexandra were to provide the basis for the resurgence of confidence.

The issue of struggle in Alexandra itself was the attempt at the beginning of 1957 to raise the bus fare from Alexandra to Johannesburg central (a distance of nine miles from four pence to five pence. A united front committee composed of representatives of every organization in the township called for a boycott of the buses and received a unanimous response. For the next three months the township population walked 18 miles a day to prevent this rise in fares. The issue was the penny fare, and the people stood determinedly together to fight this issue.

To understand this determination we would have to look at the mood in South Africa at this time. Wages had lagged severely behind the rising cost of living, and averaged £10 per month. Whole families depended on this paltry sum for survival. The penny rise was the bitter end for the worker who was unable to provide sufficient food forte family. There was one place where he knew, from his efforts in the earlier boycott; he could fight with some chance of success. Furthermore, there was the example of Evaton to support the worker in his determination. But perhaps more than this there waste obvious turbulence throughout the country that followed the stories of both Suez and Hungary. 13 Also there was the arrest of 156 Congress men on charges of High reason followed by the mass demonstrations in Johannesburg when the preparatory examination started.

There was a feeling of disturbance in Johannesburg and this mood must have affects the population of 80 000 in Alexandra as well as the rest of the country which came to the assistance of the marchers. Lady Selbourne residents in Pretoria joined the bow marchers in a similar protest against an increase in their bus fares, and people as far away as Bloemfontein and Port Elisabeth staged sympathy boycotts.

The committee that led the Alexandra boycott was, as we said above, a united front of all political groups in the township. But the ANC had the largest single group;' delegates and at first played the dominant role in policy formulation. Due to the to treason arrests the ANC leadership was composed of relatively inexperienced men and women. They looked to the national leadership, concentrated in Johannesburg at the trial, for guidance.

The national leadership showed itself to be out of contact with the new mood in Johannesburg. They failed to give any real guidance, and at a very early stage pressed for negotiations and an early end to the boycott. So eager were they to compromise that they supported the bus company's phoney solution of paying the full fare and later refunding the extra penny.

A mass meeting in the township indignantly rejected this, and the leadership passed to a small group of militants who came from small political groupings inside the township.

The ANC leadership did not seem to grasp the significance of this development. They were unable to respond to the new militancy, to the new determination that defied the government (who had threatened to smash the boycott with all their power) and the police (who used every tactic of provocation). .

In the end the people of Alexandra won their demand, but instead of concluding on the triumphant note of victory, there were overtones of defeat. Lady Selbourne residents were left out of the unilateral settlement, and to this day the people of Pretoria feel that they were deserted. The buses were boarded in Alexandra itself in a state of confusion instead of in a spirit of victory.

Nonetheless, here was a victory, and throughout the country the people were heartened. The mood in Johannesburg itself was high and when a stay-at-home was called for 26 June, as a day of freedom, there was an 80 percent response. [....]

The £1 a day campaign

Despite the success of 26 June 1957, Congress as a whole made little organizational headway, and there was a complete lack in initiative in providing a lead to the discontent that was evident everywhere.

The Transvaal ANC was split internally, and the ANC Conference in the Transvaal ended in confusion with rival groups hurling abuse at each other. Strife had emerged internally for a number of reasons. On the one hand there was genuine resentment at the bureaucratic mismanagement of the movement. On the other hand Africanism was emerging again to demand an African ANC free of all inter-racial co-operation. In the Western Cape the Africanist grouping was even able to take over the machinery of the Congress for a short time. [....]

The struggle between rival factions brought all Congress work to a standstill and the national leadership was unable to offer a solution and direction out of this factional bickering.

Yet the militancy in the country was high, and the people were in every respect way ahead of their leaders. This was borne out by the one Congress campaign of the time. The attempt of the government to force the women to take the pass was opposed vigorously by the militant women's organization. In the course of a determined struggle 20000 women converged on Pretoria in convoy to voice their protest.

And yet here too, the national leadership suddenly called off when the women showed the greatest militancy and organized demonstrations in Johannesburg the campaign. There is no document explaining this miserable ending to the heroic women's struggle, and so we can only assume on the basis of the talk of the time that Congress was not prepared to embark on a militant struggle over this issue.

At this time the South African Congress of Trade Unions was organizing the workers, and definite progress was being recorded. At the end of 1959 SACTU launched a new organizing campaign under the slogan £1 a day. 14 This wage demand was modest enough and yet it was not even realisable at the time on a large scale. To achieve this wage would have meant a 50 percent or greater increase for many worker but the growing militancy of the workers called for a bold imaginative slogan and 11 a day" caught on as an immediate demand.

SACTU was enthusiastic and at the December 1957 conference there was talk of strike action to achieve this demand. A mass national conference of workers was called for is Johannesburg in March 1958 to start a general campaign for this minimum wage demand.

However, what started out as a Trade Union matter was soon extended to become united Congress campaign. And with this also came new slogans. At first £1 a day headed the demands and to it were added demands against Group Areas, and the slogan "The Nats must go". By April 1958, however "The Nats must go" had become the major slogan and £1 a day took second place.

The leadership of Congress had transformed an essentially working class campaign into a broad political front and placed at the fore a false slogan which related to the coming general election. And yet the ANC itself refused to put its name to the call for a stay-at-home. Confusion reigned throughout the preparation for 15 April. In Natal the Congress movement was completely divided over the decision and there was no united preparation for the campaign. Yet the national leadership did not intervene. In other provinces organization was half-hearted and, except for isolated areas, no directives were even given.

15 April was a complete fiasco. Except for Sophiatown and a few other areas the response was poor. Leading Congress officials in many Rand towns openly broke the call, and the workers were left in confusion. At the end of that day, however, and A.N.C. top official called off the whole campaign which was scheduled for 3 days, thus raising the question - was it, or was it not a Congress campaign?

Why did this campaign fail after the obvious enthusiasm of the workers' conference? The Congress never offered an analysis of those days, and the workers were to pay for this failure to learn the lesson just two years later.

We cannot say definitely that the campaign would have succeeded - that must remain unanswered because that would take us into the realm of speculation. But there could have been a greater response if the slogan had been confined to "£1 a day" - a slogan which had the support of the entire urban working class. It could have been more successful if the trade union movement had been the centre of the campaign and if the appeal had been directed mainly to the industrial worker.

Whereas an economic struggle can get a response when the demand has the sup of the workers, a political strike, directed at affecting an all-white election cannot get the response that was needed to keep the workers at home. And the workers said quite openly that they failed to see how a strike called for one day, or even three days, could win them their wage demands.

We cannot overlook the intense intimidation by the police and army during the week that preceded 15 April. This large-scale show of armed force by the state certainly played a part in influencing the people. But we cannot accept the Congress statements that a scribed most of the failure to this police action. However, as we will show this force is a factor we will have to come to grips with, and we dare not overlook the power of the state in preparing our fight.

The result of this defeat was to act as a check in the growth of the liberation movement, and SACTU suffered as well. This body made little effort to explain the reasons for failure to their workers, and the working class never learned the reasons.

We cannot leave this episode without placing a share of the blame for the confusion of these events on a group inside Congress who professed to be Marxists. They kept discreetly silent, stifled open criticism, and never explained the importance of inde­pendent working class action.

These groups of people have concealed all their ideas behind the front of democratic demands. They have never played an independent role, and have opportunistically shielded their ideas behind talk of national unity, of broad democratic struggles etc. They have surrendered the working class to the mercy of a middle class leadership and abdicated the right of the worker to his own independent organization. The worker will still pay dearly for this class negation in the interests of a clique of careerists, who sully the name of Communism, unless a clear working class party comes forward and gives a lead for independent class action.

The rural struggle

Throughout the long history in South Africa, there have been two parallel sets of activity -in the rural areas and in the towns. To date, they have remained largely separate. The fight has flared up in the reserves over the rehabilitation scheme, the culling of cattle, the dipping tanks, and, more recently, over the Bantu Authorities and the issue of passes to women. It is not our purpose to investigate the specific campaigns here. The more recent, in Zeerust and Sekhukhuneland have been discussed fully in Fighting Talk, Africa South, and elsewhere.

We mention them here because the struggles of Zeerust and Sekhukhuneland took place while the urban areas were quiet and helped restore confidence to the working class. But we must state explicitly that they have never been organized by Congress (or any other political group), and these events took the ANC by surprise. It will be essential, if our struggle is to succeed, to draw closer to the reserves, to organize these areas, to plan joint campaigns of town and country, and to direct the militancy of the reserve areas so that the struggle advances more uniformly in the future.

In many ways, the reserves offer us a base for activity that might become impossible in the towns. The solidarity of the people, their desire for fight, their obvious capacity for resourcefulness, together with their desperate need to break down the reserve system and the restrictions on movement will make this section of the population fighters of the utmost importance. [....]

March 1960

The ANC declared 1959 an anti-pass year. From the beginning this campaign can only be called phoney - because there was no campaign. At first a scheme was produced that called for the boycott of beer-halls, the holding of several mass-meetings, the summoning of regional and national conferences etc. Either they were irrelevant or, as in the case of the national conference, they produced nothing. The only positive step -the calling of the potato boycott - emerged from a set of legal cases against enforced farm labour for pass offenses. The credit for this was undoubtedly due to the zeal of a Johannesburg attorney not connected with Congress. The revelations, which aroused such widespread publicity, rallied the man-in-the-street as never before against this convict labour. Congress, sensing this, was able to offer the one and only positive lead in the whole year of so-called anti-pass campaigning.

When pressed, the ANC leadership said that this was a year of propaganda and education. We must say with all honesty that there was little evidence of education, but propaganda did lead to a positive response. The people at all conferences grew impatient and demanded a lead. By December there were again calls from the rank and file for a general strike against the passes. This demand became pressing and at a worker' conference early in 1960 there was again talk from the delegates of a national stay-at-home.

The Africanists - organised as the Pan-African Congress - had till now concentrated on a campaign known as the "status campaign", and had announced its intention of organizing economic boycotts against firms that discriminated against Africans. This was their answer to the ANC boycott of Nationalist products.

However, the status campaign never eventuated, and early in 1960 they suddenly announced their own anti-pass campaign. They offered a strictly Gandhiist campaign of voluntary invitation to arrest for non-possession of passes, and declared 21 Mar 1960 as the opening date.

By this new move the PAC scored a notable victory psychologically. As a movement they were unprepared for a national campaign of such magnitude, and in fact on A national scale they failed miserably. In Johannesburg a small handful of PAC member responded. Only in the Vereeniging complex did they get a response in the Transvaal. In Natal just less than 150 responded. But in Cape Town the two major African townships did rally to PAC organization and these areas were to become for the coming weeks the centre of the new struggle.

Even then it was police provocation that produced the events, which followed 21 March. At Sharpeville a trigger-happy police force, backed by Saracen armoured can, shot down hundreds of peacefully demonstrating Africans. 87 were killed. In Langa (Cape Town) further shooting accounted for some 17 dead.

The revulsion, both in South Africa and externally, is too well known to be discussion here. The ANC which had stood aside before 21 March, now called for a national day of mourning on the following Monday 28 March and the national stay-at-home followed. In most large industrial areas the workers stayed at home and in most areas where this occurred there was a 90 percent response. In Sharpeville and Langa themselves the stay-at-home was not for a day, but over an extended period, and lasted for more than a week.

At first the government seemed to waver - the pass laws were-even suspended-and ANC president Luthuli called for the burning of all passes.

On 30 March the police swooped and detained hundreds of men and women. Events followed rapidly. A young PAC organizer in Cape Town led 30 000 men and women in a march into the centre of Cape Town. Durban followed and there were soon 1 700 detainees in jail and a total of 18 000 arrested in the countryside. At the same time the PAC and ANC were outlawed:

The army was mobilized; the active citizen force kept the alert; all police leave as cancelled. The authorities moved to break the strike and were soon able to do so. They regained their old arrogant confidence and the struggle gradually died down. Once again the authorities had shown their obvious superiority - but not before admitting to indecision and a marked nervousness.

However, the overall result of this campaign was a failure despite the great lifting of morale in the earlier stages. It is to this failure that we must direct our attention.

Why did we fail?

[”¦.] Firstly, no organization was prepared for a full-scale attack on the government -not on the pass issue or any other of the apartheid laws. The way in which the organizations collapsed when the government swooped is an indication of the lack of preparation. Only in Cape Town did the townships stand firm and then only for a short time, and without the necessary support from the surrounding districts. When an important bastion of the colour bar like the passes is at stake, the government will always bring out its entire forces - and, unless we can meet their attack we cannot expect success. The fight against the pass laws is something which must continue; we must never stop until they are gone, but we must choose our timing and methods more carefully in the future.

Secondly we face a strong, arrogant and confident ruling class. A state machine on which it can rely fortifies it. Above all else it has an army, a police force and auxiliaries like the skiet commandos upon which it can rely at all times. The present government and its supporters are also not immediately hit by the withdrawal of labour, because they are not the direct owners of the mines, or the factories, or the large commercial houses. As the Nationalist party's financial bases are the farms and the finance houses, they do not look upon the labour force in the same way as the Chamber of Mines, Commerce and Industries. They are intent on controlling the labour force, but the effects of strike action act as a secondary factor in their own profit structure. This is another reason for urging that farm labour be organized so that the Nationalists feel more directly any action of ours in the future.

On tactics

Both ANC and PAC call for methods of non-violence and passive resistance. But the way they make this claim can only lead to confusion. The people as a whole never urge violence. For the most part they are peaceful. They are aware of the dangers of violence and do not wish to initiate it. They do not have arms, and do not think in these terms. However the police and the army are ever ready to use violence in order to protect the government. Once the authorities introduce violence - and it in variably is -the workers cannot sit by passively. They have to move in some way to protect them. And when they do so non-violence ceases to have meaning.

Nor can there be passive resistance in the Gandhiist form. When the people of Sharpeville offered themselves up for arrest the answer was spelt out in bullets. But even if this could be avoided we have no confidence in this limited kind of action. Sooner or later the masses must be called on to demonstrate their demands, and this means that they must come into action. This is alien to Gandhi's methods.

The National movement thought it had the reply to the problem by calling on the people to stay peacefully at home. But even this cannot work and the events of April amply demonstrate this. Firstly, the people of the townships cannot stay home indefi­nitely. To do so is to starve. Even if food is stored in advance the families cannot hold nut for long because of the presence of the children, the sick and the aged. The townships can be sealed off and starved out only too effectively by small detachments of the army and the police. But, far worse, the army and police showed in Langa and Nyanga that Hey could go from house to house, drag the inhabitants out, beat them up and force them to work. Our basic weaknesses, which have led to our present tactics, cannot be turned into strength merely by a movement claiming that it is strong.

Secondly, by staying in the townships, the worker surrenders all initiative. He cuts himself off from his fellow-workers in other townships. He divides himself from his allies in the rural areas, and he surrenders the entire economic centre to his enemies. It was this realisation, whether consciously stated or not, that led to the mass protest marches in Cape Town and Durban. Once we leave the townships, then there must be clearly stated objectives, or else the demonstrations are empty of meaning, and once we march out of the townships, talk of peacefully remaining at home ceases to have meaning!

By using the stay-at-home and by claiming as they do that we can bring the country to a halt by withdrawing our labour both the ANC and the PAC have called for the use of the traditional workers' weapon. This follows from the general recognition that the largest and most capable force ready for struggle in the country is the working class. But there is no analysis of the consequences of this recognition. It is vital that we accept once and for all the fact that future of the struggle rests on the organization of the worker as a class; that it will be this body of men and women in alliance with the rural worker that will lead to eventual victory.

In that case it is urgent that the workers be organized into their own party, with their own aims, and with their own methods of struggle. The Trade Unions must organize the industrial worker, and the strike weapon must be used to secure higher wages and better living conditions. Industrial action must be centred on the factories rather than on the townships - as distinct from the National Liberatory movement itself which has its base in the townships.

A close co-ordination of the two movements can lead the township organization into support of any future industrial action either by picketing or by introducing subsidiary campaigns, such as boycott action against factory produce etc.

The strike is one of our most powerful weapons. Its first use is in the field of economic struggle. Its use as a political weapon is very much more difficult and must be reserved for special periods. We: must stop believing that the workers can be called out for each and every political occasion. And when we do in the future wish to employ the general strike, it must be supplemented by other methods of struggle or else we will find that a trigger-happy police force will be able to break it up far too easily. [”¦.]

Once the" worker is organized as an independent force, he will be in the forefront of the struggle for freedom, and there will be no clash of interests between his first loyalty to the socialist movement and his work inside the national movement. By knowing hi' own strength, he will be able to lead the whole population through to democracy an, be able to show that socialization of the means of production provides the answer to a new economic order.

But in order to reach this organizational stage the worker must clearly understate both the strength and the limitations of the general strike. He must know that this is a constant testing ground - against the employers first and at a later stage against the entire state machinery.

If the worker is prepared for this struggle and if there is a clear understanding of the nature of the weapons open to us, we shall truly achieve freedom in our lifetime!


1 The 1914 general strike-was catalysed by the government's decision to retrench railway workers in the National Union of Railway and Harbour Servants on Christmas Eve 1913. Martial law was imposed from January to March 1914. The nine strike leaders were abducted from jail by the government and deported to Britain without trial on January 30. They were repatriated later that year.

2 The all-white 1922 Rand Revolt was the first major white mining strike after the entry of unskilled Afrikaners into the mines and, accordingly, the first mining strike led by industrial rather than craft trade unions. Just as craft workers had felt the threat of semi-skilled blacks and unskilled whites fifteen years earlier, newly proletarianised Afrikaners felt vulnerable to replacement by cheaper labour if the colour bar was modified. Consequently, they were the most militant strikers in 1922, and rural Afrikaners gave them material and moral support. Communists were sympathetic to the vulnerability and poor working conditions of white workers and hoped that their propaganda would push them towards unity with black workers. The strike was brutally smashed, leaving organised white labour in disarray.

3 Colonel Frederic H. P. Creswell was a staunch advocate of white labour. He led the struggle against the importation of Chinese workers and was arrested for his role in the 1914 strike. As leader of the SALP, following his return from a campaign in South-West Africa in June 1915, he promoted the "See It Through" policy, calling for intensified backing for the war. At the SALP conference in August 1915, Creswell's pro-war resolution carried, precipitating the formation of the ISL, first as a faction of the SALP, and later as an independent body. Creswell later became Minister of Labour in the Pact Government and promoted the "civilised labour policies" which protected white labour.

4 The SATUC was generally not sympathetic to the ICU. In 1927 the ICU applied for affiliation on the basis of its claimed 100 000 members to the South African Trades Union Co-ordinating Council, a joint body representing the all-white Johannesburg-based SATUC and the CFLU, whose affiliates included some coloured members. The SATUCC responded with the possibility of affiliation on the basis of 5 000 members, which Clements Kadalie rejected. Kadalie (1970:178,221) notes that W. H. Andrews was largely responsible for any co-operation from SATUC and that although the ICU and the SATUC did hold some joint meetings, a split in the SATUC put an end to that.

5 The ICU organised African workers in the Johannesburg General Post Office and Clements Kadalie met-with W. B. Madeley, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, to seek better working conditions for them. According to Kadalie, this meeting precipitated a government crisis. Kadalie recounts (1970:180-81) that Prime Minister Hertzog had indicated that he did not want Cabinet Ministers to negotiate with the ICU. Madeley, however, agreed to meet with the ICU under the auspices of the SATUC, with W. H. Andrews as intermediary. Although Kadalie contends that Hertzog had the Cabinet reshuffled and left Madeley out as a result of this meeting, Roux (1964:) 82) argues that this meeting was fortuitous and that the reshuffling reflected disagreements over the accountability of Ministers to the Labour Party rather than to the Cabinet.

6. In the late 1930s Gana Makabeni was leader of a new group of trade unions under African leadership, which in 1938 joined with Max Gordon's Joint Committee of African Trade Unions to form the short-lived Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee. The CNETU was formed in 1942 under Makabeni's leadership after black trade unionists decided not to affiliate to the SATLC. the descendant of the SATUC. Il upheld black leadership of the black trade-union movement. In 1945 Communist J. B. Marks became Chair, and CNETU expelled members of the Trotskyist-influenced PTU group.

7 The 1840s Chartist movement in Britain advocated a six-point democratic programme. Their campaign culminated in a mass petition as part of a mobilisation in 1848. Although the campaign was effectively defeated by the British state, its radical democratic legacies were significant for both British Liberalism and the labour and socialist movements.

8 Daniel Tloome, a veteran trade unionist, joined the CPSA in the 1930s, was on the CNETU leadership from 1941 to the mid-1950s and was a leading ANC member. In 1945 he became Chair of the Orlando ANC and in 1949 a member of the National Executive, helping to plan the Defiance Campaign. He was subsequently banned and became printer and publisher of Liberation. In 1962 he became a member of the SACP Central Committee, and in 1963 he was house-arrested and went into exile. He later became ANC Deputy-Secretary-General and a member of its National Executive Committee. In 1987 he became SACP National Chair and in 1990 a member of its Politburo and Interim Leadership Group.

9 After the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act, overt political discussion and criticism became increasingly difficult and had to be carried on in non-political organisations. Mainly Communists formed the Johannesburg Discus­sion Club in 1952. Its primary concern was the national question and the relationship of the working-class movement with the national liberation struggle. With the reconstitution of the SACP in 1953 this debate was submerged as the colonialism of a special type thesis became the Party's dominant paradigm, and the Johannesburg Discussion Club faded away. Viewpoints and Perspectives was its publication.

10 See Document 9.

11 The ANC National Executive, in consultation with its National Action Committee and the SAIC around 1953, formulated me The M-Plan. It recognised that, because of the repressive laws passed as a result of the Defiance Campaign, the liberation struggle could no longer be based mainly on public meetings and announcements. It aimed to streamline Congress machinery; to facilitate communication between local and national levels without recourse to public meetings; to strengthen local branches and national leadership; and to enhance the relationship between Congress and the people. See Mandela's 1953 Presidential Address to the Transvaal ANC, "No Easy Walk to Freedom" (Karis and Carter 1977a: 112).

12 The Socialist League of Africa was a tiny Johannesburg-based group of the late 1950s and early '60s which produced several ephemeral publications: Analysis (No. 1, February 1958; No. 2, April 1958; No. 3, May 1958); Lekhotla La Basabetsi (No. 1, April 1959); and The Spark (No. 2, May 1960; No. 3, June 1960; No. 4, June 1960; Vol. 2, No. 1, December 1960; Vol. 2, No. 3, [c. 1961]). At least one member, Baruch Hirson, worked in COD and tried to provide an internal left critique of what he saw as the moderating influence of Communists. In May 1962 it merged into the NCL. Copies of some of its publications are in the Hirson Papers and in the Mr. P. Duncan Papers (folder 8-71), both at the Borthwick Institute, University of York. This document was originally published as a discussion paper. Hirson (1995:297) states that he authored the document and that it provoked a critical response from Michael Harmel of the SACP. Harmel's critique noted some factual errors which were addressed in a postscript when published in International Socialism. See also A. N. Iphongoma and K. Shanker [Baruch Hirson], "Why did the stay-at-home fail?", Analysis, No. 3, May 1958 and "South Africa: Once again on the stay-at-home", International Socialism, 6, Autumn 1961, 12-14.

13 Autumn 1956 saw two major international crises. The British, French and Israeli governments conspired o overthrow the Nasser regime in Egypt through military intervention. The action failed faced with international, and particularly American, opposition. It was seen as a major episode in the relinquishing if British and French colonial ambitions. The Suez crisis in Egypt overlapped with the Soviet invasion if Hungary. The objective which was attained was to overthrow a reform government which threatened Soviet hegemony and to replace it with a more compliant administration. This intervention followed closely on the revelations of Stalinist crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Together, they made 1956 a critical year for the international Communist movement.

14 SACTU began organising the £l-a-day campaign in late 1957. See "Unions ready to fight for £1 a day victory" and '"£1 A DAY ... WE WANT £1 A DAY'" in SACTU's “bulletin. Workers' Unity, 3,24 August/September 1957.


Because of the class composition of South Africa's black population, most so­cialists in the 1940s and 1950s believed that the national question was inextri­cably linked to the class struggle. However, Communists elaborated their views of the national question through the theory of "colonialism of a special type". This theory lends itself to a two-stage process of social change in which a multi-class alliance for national liberation is seen as a necessary pre­condition for the struggle for socialism. Trotskyists analysed the divided pol­ity in terms of the concept of combined and uneven development and believed in the possibility of a permanent revolution. They generally saw the struggle against the colour bar and for democracy as a direct assault on capitalism, believing that socialism was a precondition for democracy. These theoretical 'approaches were reflected in organisational practice. The moderate wing of the Congress movement, along with Communists, used a multi-racial or multi­national paradigm, while the NEUM saw building a non-racial nation as the road to national liberation and democracy. Africanists, by contrast, saw build­ing an African nation as a precondition for broader black unity and for the overthrow of white supremacy.