80 Harrington Street, Cape Town. 16th June, 1948
My dear Mandela,
Now to the discussion on the question of organisation, which is every day assuming greater importance. Let me state from the outset that I do not support the idea of organising the people for the sake of organisation. People can be organised for good or evil. This on the face of it may seem a childish platitude. But my experience has taught me—as you, too, must have perceived if you have pondered over it—that it is absolutely necessary for every individual to ask himself the question: What purpose does this or that organisation serve? It is not what the members say or think about an organisation that matters. It is not even a question of the good intentions of the leaders. What is of paramount importance is the programme and principles of the organisation. To put it another way, it is not the subjective good-will of the leaders that matters, but the objective function of the organisation, what effect it has on society. In other words, the question to ask is: Whose interests does the organisation serve objectively? This is the only correct approach to the discussion on the present organisations.
I ask you to use this test. Apply it to yourself and the organisation to which you belong. If you use it honestly and rigidly, without prejudice and without any emotion, you are bound to arrive at the correct conclusion. You will remember that when you were here I asked you the following question:
Can you give me any good reason, political reason, why you joined Congress?—apart from the fact that your father or your father's father belonged to it and it was supposed to be an organisation for African people—an argument that is purely sentimental and falling outside the realm of politics.
I have said above that people can be organised for good or evil. I can have no quarrel with any organisation which is built for the purpose of fighting for liberty. Such an organisation, if it is true to its principles, will seek to unite the oppressed people and will at the same time follow a course of non-collaboration with the Government. But I am totally opposed to any organisation whose policy is to collaborate with the Government and disunite the people. And this is the crux of the question.
Let me state here that when I talk of the African National Congress I exclude the Youth League. Politically it does not belong to Congress. It is one of those peculiar anomalies which arise in a political situation where there is lack of crystal clarity in political thinking. If the League followed its political principles to their logical conclusion it would land itself outside the fold of Congress, so that, though you regard yourselves as Congress, I am more correct from a political standpoint in drawing the distinction. In fact, the essential difference between Congress and the Youth League is that Congress is rooted in the past whereas the League is the product of modern conditions, with a modern outlook. It is not my purpose, however, to develop this point at this stage. I am more concerned with giving you an appreciation of the development of our present organisational difficulties. In other words, I am concerned with posing the problem of organisation in the proper way. My task is not a difficult one because recent political events which have taken place amongst the African people have served to open the eyes of many who have laboured under past illusions. All the same, I feel it necessary to give you a resume of the past, for I am conscious of the fact that, because of your youth, you did not have the opportunity of living through the events leading up to the 1936-1948 period. You have therefore been dependent on information from the older men who are all too prone to give you a distorted picture of the events and the issues involved. They do this, not because of any innate propensities for lying, but because of the necessity to justify their personal political position.
Let us therefore briefly recapitulate the past. The beginning of this century closed a chapter in our history—the end of the resistance of the Blacks by military means. It opened a new chapter with new forms of struggle, the political form of struggle. This manifested itself in the formation of Imbumba and Ingqungquthela. These were federations of tribes, natural enough in tribal communities. The year 1912 saw the first creation of an African organisation on an individualist basis, with the breaking up of tribalism. This was a progressive step, i.e. Congress was progressive as compared with the past. Though in form Congress had broken with the past, it did not mean that it had shed completely the tribalist outlook. It could not be otherwise, for an organisation is the product of its time. It ushered in a new outlook more in keeping with the times and therefore deserved the support of all progressives.
As a result of this outlook many other organisations sprang up on an individualist basis of membership. There were the political organisations, professional organisations, trade union organisations and civic bodies, all of which had one purpose, the fight for freedom. The rise of the organisations showed a further progress in the development of the people. But the fight for freedom was undertaken by each organisation in isolation from the rest. The struggle was uncoordinated and this led to disaster, so that by the 1930s all the African organisations had disintegrated and become completely atomised. The characteristic feature of this stage of development was a mutual suspicion, rivalry and hatred between the various organisations. It became the duty of the leaders of one organisation to denounce all others, not because of the difference in political policies or principles, not because they could not brook any rivalry in the leadership. Each one felt that the other organisations were not necessary and that everybody should join the particular organisation where he was the leader. Thus all political fights degenerated into personal squabbles and the leaders exhausted all their energies in fratricidal strife.
Then came 1935, which opened up a new chapter. (It was the year of the notorious Hertzog "Native" Bills.) By now it was evident that the organisations which had sprung up had come to stay. All of them were necessary in their various spheres. But what was needed was a body that would co-ordinate their struggles, create a unified leadership which could give direction to their multifarious activities.
The African people spontaneously created the ALL-AFRICAN CONVENTION. The political exigencies of the time and the crisis (of the new slave Bills) forced the people to organise on a nation-wide scale. So without any premeditated theory the people spontaneously gave birth to a form of organisation which could knit together a whole people into a single compact unit, a fighting force. The predominant idea at the time was unity. This was one higher political level. The predominant thought in everyone's mind was how to remove competition and eliminate all rivalry between the organisations. Each leader was to bring his followers to this body and he together with leaders of other organisations was to form a single leadership with a common aim and a common purpose. The interests of each constituent part were identical with the interests of the whole. Mutual antagonisms and rivalry were replaced by the spirit of co-operation. The leader who jealously guarded his personal position was replaced by a unified leadership and petty sectional considerations gave way to a form of thought which embraced the whole race.
This was a turning point in the organisational history of the African people. That is, 1935-36 was the highest point of development in organisation affecting the African people as a group. It was expected that this would constitute a point of departure for all our activities and that any further political development would have as its basis the form adopted in 1935. I have said above that the African people spontaneously created this form of organisation. Not even the leaders themselves had at any time stopped to examine theoretically and evaluate its possibilities. In other words, they did not fully appreciate the potentialities and the full value of their discovery.
The ruling class, however, was fully alive to the danger to itself inherent in this development. It was not the form of organisation per se that worried them so much, but a further development which was bound to follow from it. It could prove the basis for a new outlook. They are aware of the interconnection of the form of organisation and a political outlook. This cleared the road for a national outlook which would prove the logical outcome of this stage of development. A national outlook of an oppressed people constitutes the first stage of a threat to white domination. Such an outlook had to be stopped by the ruling class at all costs. What I am trying to emphasise to you is this, that if the African people had progressed from 1935 as a unit, they would by now have reached a stage whereby their whole outlook, their propaganda and their agitation, their energies and their manual resources would have put them in a position to challenge the existence of the Herrenvolk.
It was to stop this that the Herrenvolk did their best to sow confusion amongst the African people. The idea of the All-African Convention had to be smashed at its birth. It was comparatively easy for the rulers to succeed, at least in part, for the idea had not yet become part and parcel of the people's thinking. They found a willing stooge in the person of the late Dr. Dube, at that time, Mr. Dube, a principal of some secondary school in Natal. He was the first one to break away from Convention, and with him went practically the whole of Natal. The white Press acclaimed him as a great statesman, a moderate, a practical politician and in fact an epitome of all virtues. They crowned him with a halo of greatness and conferred a doctorate on him. It was as Dr. Dube that he led the Zulus back to tribalism, where they still stagnate to-day.
This was a brilliant move on the part of the oppressors. Seeing the rewards and honours heaped upon Dube, the Themas and others of the same brand followed suit. But still these people could not smash the All-African Convention by the mere fact of breaking away and asking others to follow suit. For this deed an organisation was necessary. Thus Congress was resuscitated by these very individuals. At that time they held out to the people that Congress was going to be used to gather the unorganised masses and bring them into Convention. But once Congress had gathered to itself a fairly respectable number of people, they wrenched the organisation away from the All-African Convention. By this time. Dr. Xuma, an ex-president of Convention, was head of Congress. The white Press picked him up, built him up as a great leader, a great champion of the cause of the African people. This they did with an end in view.
The young intellectuals who left school at the end of the thirties or the beginning of the forties and who entered the political arena at this time, found Dr. Xuma as the proclaimed leader of the African people, and without asking any questions they threw in their lot with him. He shouted unity from the house-tops. The press helped him to unite people under Congress. Why? Because to unite people in a splinter organisation is to foster organised disunity, and that was the surest way of disuniting the African people. The oppressors had to foster and support, by every means at their disposal, an organisation which sets itself up in opposition to the All-African Convention in order to kill the very spirit of real unity on a higher plane, for it was this that had given rise to the All-African Convention. What the rulers succeeded in. doing—and this the younger intellectuals do not know—was to plunge the African people back to the pre-1935 period, that whole epoch in which the struggles of the people were reduced to a stale-mate by fratricidal strife.
I know that you have often wondered why we are so intransigent and yet we say we want unity. In fact, I suspect you think we are just plainly bigoted and obstinate. The truth of the matter is that we are defending a position which was conquered by the African people in 1935. We want unity on that basis, i.e. real unity on the basis of the existing organisations, in such a way that the interests of each are the interests of the whole, a unity in which the growth of a part automatically means the strengthening of the whole, a unity which will serve as the basis for a further development leading to a truly national movement, nationalism. And this is the very antithesis of sectionalism or racialism.
If you consider the ground already covered by the African people in their development, and if you visualise what might have been accomplished by this time, if this retrograde step had not been taken, then you become aware of the enormity of the crime committed by Congress against a whole people.
Up to now I have not said anything about the divergence of political outlook between Congress and Convention, the yawning gap that separates the two organisations in the matter of principles. This is not because I think political differences are of lesser importance, it is simply because I want to give you some idea of the past history of our political development. As it is, the letter has become too long, so I propose to postpone this aspect to a later date, if you wish to discuss it any further.
At the moment I can only add that those organisations which are affiliated to Convention are facing in one direction while Congress is facing in the very opposite direction. The first group have rejected the superiority of the White race over the Black; they have rejected trusteeship with all that it implies: segregation, sectionalism and tribalism. The Convention has openly stated its policy, which is in line with this outlook, and it is following a clearly defined course without any concessions, compromises or deviations. Congress, on the other hand, is doing the very opposite of all these things. Many critics of Congress often say. "The trouble with Congress is that it has no policy." There could be nothing further from the truth than this statement. Congress has a definite policy. Only it is not openly stated for it cannot bear examination. Those who are interested can only divine this policy by watching the activities of Congress over a long period. They will find that at every critical moment Congress has played into the hands of the Government, either by directly siding with the Government against the people (e.g. in the case of the Boycott) or by sowing confusion in the ranks of the people to such an extent that all efforts at gathering them together for a concerted fight against the Government are rendered ineffectual. The history of the Congress in the last five years is too well known to require recapitulation. It is too painful even to contemplate. What I consider as the most despicable deed is the fact that some of the Congress leaders are not merely satisfied with sowing confusion within the African section. They now seek to extend their wrecking tactics to a broader plane and are bringing disruption and confusion amongst the ranks of the Non-Europeans who are striving to come together.
To mention only two examples: Xuma's pact with the two Indian doctors, and now there is the Votes For All Assembly. Anything and everything to create excitement for the moment. It does not avail the Mosakas and the Xumas to deny any connection with this new hoax, the Votes For All Assembly. They must take the blame for it. The Press has proved conclusively that Mosaka was one of the sponsors, by publishing the facsimile of the document with his signature. Xuma was cute enough not to sign anything, but he made a silly slip-up in connection with the funds. If you examine the financial statement published in the minutes of this august assembly, you will find that there is an item of expenditure amounting to £22.17.6. for Dr. Xuma's Press Conference. Let Dr. Xuma explain this away. But, apart altogether from these lesser connections, there is the bigger connection, a political tie-up between Xuma and the organisers of the Assembly. There has been a flirtation going on between them for the past few years. Naturally they depended on his help to go through with this fraud.
To make myself clear, let me put it this way. If Xuma and "his" Congress had been in the Convention and therefore working in harmony with the Non-European Unity Movement, on the basis of a principled programme, the 10-Point Programme, nobody would have even dreamed of asking him to support such fraudulent schemes. In point of fact, the organisers of the "Votes For All" would not have found it possible even to contemplate starting such a move. The Communist Party would not have had a foothold amongst the African people, who are to-day used as a cover for all the nefarious deeds of all the careerists and opportunists.
I have brought up these various points for your serious consideration. You have to take up your stand in this light. Finally, let me mention one aspect of your position which I feel sure you have not considered. You and all your fellow-members of the Youth League are talking with two voices at one and the same time. As members of the Youth League you speak the language of the modern intellectual—progressive, independent, rejecting inferiority. But as members of the African National Congress your language is the very negation of all these things. You accept the theory of inferiority and trusteeship with all its political manifestations, e.g. segregated institutions like the Native Representative Council, Advisory Boards, the Bunga, etc.
I can hear you already protesting that never at any time did you and the Youth League accept these things. Yes, you may not have done so in words, but you have done so in fact and in deed. The Youth League is part and parcel of the organic body of Congress, which does these things. That fact alone speaks more emphatically than words themselves. It is no use you protesting that the Youth League was originally organised by Congress. Granted that it makes its public statements on events, proclaims its policy and passes its own resolutions on the fundamental questions of the day, all of which are diametrically opposed to the policy and actions of Congress. Nevertheless it remains an entity within Congress, voluntarily. This puts you in the position of being political Januses, with two heads facing in two different directions at one and the same time. This in politics is known as opportunism and opportunism is the worst disease that can infect any political organisation. In fact it is the canker that has claimed the greatest toll of all our organisations up to the present day.
It is possible that you are not aware of your contradictory position or if you are aware of it you excuse yourselves by some such argument that you want to keep the people together, that you want unity and are opposed to splitting tactics. But this kind of argument is the essence of opportunism. Any attempt at unity without a principled basis (programme) can only lead to confusion and political paralysis and end in ultimate disunity. Principles are the backbone of any movement. To put it another way, any organisation which is not founded on the solid rock of principles is a prey to every wind that blows. It was the failure to recognise this important fact that was primarily responsible for the fall of so many of our organisations in the past. We have had large organisations which were at first hailed with enthusiasm. But they have vanished away, leaving no trace behind.
Now, Mandela, it's time I gave you a rest, and incidentally myself, too. If you curse me for having written so long a letter, remember that you have yourself to blame. I have added this last page because I think it is of paramount importance for a man, and especially a young man entering politics, to establish the habit of basing his actions on principles. He must be ready if necessary to swim against the stream. Thus armed, he is protected against the temptations of seeking popularity and ephemeral success.
I hope to hear from you soon,
Yours sincerely, I. B. Tabata.