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

Document 89 "People's Front and the Cry for Unity in South Africa", The Spark, 2, 4, April 1936

The drive for Unity in the working class and for the establishment of a broad "People's Front" to stop fascism and war, proclaimed by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International as a panacea for all ills in all countries, was bound eventually to reach South Africa. Together with all the other Stalinist parties, the Communist Party of South Africa, i.e... the few officials left from the former Party, received this important communication. And as they have to carry out the instructions, no matter whether they are or are not suitable or even possible, they tried to do their best, just as they had done before with the separate "Red" Trade Unions, or with the "Native Republics" as a step towards a Workers' and Peasants' Republic.

A "broad" League against fascism and war was duly formed -on paper, of course; and, when the Italo-Abyssinian War broke out, a subsidiary organisation of this League sprang up with a fine-sounding name: "Hands off Abyssinia Committee", and with the usual principles of the broad People's Front, that is to say, without principles. Anybody and everybody was welcome, from the Fabians to the Young Men's Christian Association, and from the University Women's Association to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And as might be expected, the most prominent place was given to the Churches. It is true that some of the Churches did not make use of this golden opportunity to show their ardent desire for peace. Especially conspicuous was the absence of the Roman Catholic representative, though we had been told by the Stalinists that the hostility of the Catholic masses towards war is astounding and to-day more than ever. We presume that all the Churches and denominations (are they not all for peace?) were invited. In spite, however, of this broad mass (!) basis, and good advertising, the People's Front did not prove a success. It may be argued that here as everywhere else it accomplished its task, viz., to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to fulfill its obligation to the League of Nations and apply sanctions. As a matter of fact, the Hands off Abyssinia Committee did send a wire to the Prime Minister to this effect. But, since the Prime Minister stated that without their reminder the Union of South Africa had already voluntarily subscribed to all the League sanctions (including the payment of £150,000 to Italy, the annual shipping subsidy, paid with the approval of the League of Nations), there was nothing left for the Hands off Abyssinia Committee to do than to die peacefully with a clear conscience, feeling that it had done everything possible for Abyssinia and against Mussolini.

But the People's Front idea has not died. It may seem that as a good article to have in stock, it soon found imitations in all comers, set up by every would-be leader. The cry for Unity was always a strong card in the S.A. Labour movement, and was used by every Labour politician and demagogue. But it had grown stale. Here was something new. And during the last two months the so-called Labour Press has been full of appeals for United Fronts and broad People's Fronts against fascism and war. But it does not take long to discover that they are the same old trash that is repeated every week in the official organ of Stalinism, "The Inprecor" and it does not take long to discover that the leaders are the same old and young bureaucrats and demagogues, who used the Labour movement as a source of income and now look upon it as a hunting ground for fatter jobs; they are the same unscrupulous officials who will go over to any party that promises a better job. Fusion nowadays is so popular with the bureaucracies of the Second and the Third International everywhere, why not Fusion in South Africa? And People's Fronts are so popular with those bureaucracies everywhere, why not in South Africa? It is true that the fusion of two corpses, such as the Stalinist Communist Party and the Labour Party, will produce nothing but a bigger stink. But why worry? The main thing is the job.

That old demagogue, E. Sacks, in a "statesmanlike" review of the whole situation, makes a fiery appeal for (i) a United Front of workers and poor farmers, and (ii) for a People's Front against fascism and war, and (iii) for a United Trade Union movement ("Forward", 14.2.36).As a way out he makes the following suggestions: "Given the necessary leadership, energy, courage, and determination, a mighty United front of mine workers, railway workers, workers in the secondary industries, civil servants, shop and office workers, the landless and those struggling with a bit of land, the intellectuals and lower middle class people, and all people who value the hard-earned democratic rights, can be built up, both on the industrial and political." (Our emphasis. Ed.) Then, after calling upon the leaders of the Labour Party and the rest, to remember the solemn duty resting upon them, he concludes with the question: Who will take the lead?"

First of all, like every statesman in this country, he speaks only of the white population, the white miners, the poor white landless, etc. And then this Trade Union leader, who calls himself a Marxist, who was once a member of the C.P., proposes a United front of all the people of South Africa. If in the first part of his proposition the big capitalists and mine-owners are not included, they may still come into this mighty United front, according to the second part. All people who value the democratic rights may come in! And who but the Grey Shirts do not value the democratic rights? Even General Smuts, even Abe Bailey value the democratic rights.' But "friend" Sacks is not very original, because two or three months before his appeal, there was a similar appeal made in the United States by the leader of the American Communist Party. who went even further: "The new anti-fascist mass party of toilers should also strive to include sections of the sprouting fascist or partly fascist organisations and tendencies, such as Company Unions, American Legion Posts, and groups of the Coughlin and Huey Long movements", etc. (The Communist, Oct. 1935.)

The appeal was, of course, promptly accepted by Henderson, Secretary of the Labour Party, who agrees that "something must be done for the good of the people", and is prepared to take the lead!

He admits that he cannot promise a Utopia, but you must consider the advantage of having "one political organisation entitled to speak on behalf of the workers". And of course this organisation will be the South African Labour Party with its programme of complete segregation of black and white!

"In taking this step, the Labour Party wish it to be clearly understood that there is no question of fraternising or pacts with any other political party".

In other words, the Stalinists shall hand in an application for affiliation in the Labour Party, as they have already done in Great Britain? Otherwise, no People's Front, no lead for the workers? Poor South Africa! It will have to remain without a People's Front, in spite of the fraternisation of Weinberg with Burnside. For, after all, the exclusion of the Bantu and Coloured could be done once (at the inaugural meeting of the League against Fascism in Cape Town), but a second time it might be too much even for the well-drilled Stalinist corps.

The Labour Party is dead. Even the most prominent members of the Labour Party themselves have admitted that the Party is dead. If Mr. Sacks wants to resurrect the Labour Party, having in mind some leadership, or -who knows'? -a seat in Parliament for himself; if the C.P. wants to resurrect the Labour Party in order to carry out the instructions of the Comintern, for the sake of' building a United front or a "broad" People's front, the working class in South Africa has no interest whatever in the resurrection of the S.A. Labour Party. Let the sleeping dogs lie; let the dying dogs die. A party which has produced only traitors to the working-class cause, a party which has always been a place of refuge for adventurers and job-hunters, a party which has lately become infected with vermin, infected with fascism, to such a degree that the few old die-hard supporters have had to leave it a party which was always, even at its best, based on racialism, on patriotism, on white chauvinism, a party which supported the bourgeoisie against the workers, neglecting working-class interests for the sake of the small aristocracy of Labour, a party which put on its banner: "Keep the Kafir in his place", has itself no place in the Labour Movement today. Not only on the question of war, but even on the question of fascism, there can be no talk of United Front with the so-called Labour Party, for how can a party, which supports all anti-native (fascist) legislation, fight against fascism? And how can a party which is not a working-class party do the work of a true Labour Party?

There is no need to argue that the Communist Party is dead. The thing is obvious. Everyone knows it. The few leaders left are fighting each other, and that makes a noise. But children learn at school that it is the empty barrel that makes the noise, not the barrel that is full of wine. The C.P. is pretending in order to be kept going -not by its membership; it has almost no members but by the few intellectual lawyers and doctors, who have no need of theory, Marxism, criticism, class struggle. They are satisfied with the prestige of the Soviet Union, and flattered by the friendship or the services of the Stalinist bureaucracy. When they can go to Moscow for a trip -and they can afford to go -and are received there in princely fashion, they lose their head completely and are happy serving without asking questions. People's fronts are the real place for these loose adherents. It gives them a chance to call themselves revolutionaries, feeling sure that the Revolution will not come in their time. "Let Socialism be built in the Soviet Union and we will be satisfied with this shining example and conversion by means of it". Yet they mean well. It is not their fault that they are not Marxists. There is so little time for reading and study!

United Fronts! This term is too much and too often abused and misunderstood. A united front is not a remedy, a cure for everything under any circumstances. For in the last instance a United front is only a part of revolutionary tactics in a revolutionary situation. With the exception of a united front for specific, strictly defined issues, it serves no purpose to establish United Fronts where no revolutionary situation exists. Yet another condition is necessary for a United front, namely, the presence of parties which have a big following, which have the masses of the workers behind them. But besides the fact that there is as yet no revolutionary situation in South Africa, where are the parties which can claim to have the masses of the workers behind them? The Communist Party? the Labour Party? the Farmers and Workers Party? It is therefore ridiculous to indulge in talk about marching separately and striking together, as many of our demagogic revolutionaries in all quarters are doing, including even some who claim to be followers of the Fourth International.

So, then, it is idle to talk of United fronts, for we have no parties to form them. We have only shadows and corpses. Even more foolish is it to talk of People's fronts, to fight the battles against fascism and war, battles which only the working class can fight out. None will do it for us; we ourselves must do it. But for this a new Party is necessary. Not based on chauvinism like the Labour Party; not based on the orders and ukases of a bureaucracy which is concerned only with building Socialism in one country; not based on fantastic dreams and appeals to morality and justice like the Lucas group. Not these, but a party based on the science of Revolutionary Marxism, on the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, a Party which represents the true interests of the whole working class, with a clear revolutionary programme, corresponding to the real national and international situation. Only such a Party will be able to fight the decisive battle against fascism and war, which means in the last instance the battle for the Social Revolution.