Leon Trotsky, Remarks on the Draft Theses of the Workers' Party of South Africa, 20 April 1935

The theses are written without doubt on the basis of a serious study
ofboth the economic and political conditions of South Africa as well
as of the literature of Marxism and Leninism, particularly that of
the Bolshcvik-Leninists. A serious scientific approach to all questions
is one of the most important conditions tbr the success of a revolutionary
organisation. The example of our South African friends again confirms
the fact that in the present epoch only the Bolshcvik-Leninists, i.e.,
the consistent proletarian revolutionaries, take a serious allitude
to theory, analyse the realities, and are learning themselves before
they teach others. The Stalinist bureaucracy has long ago substituted
a combination of ignorance and impudence for Marxism.

In the following lines I wish to make certain remarks with regard to
the draft theses which will serve as a programme for the Workers Party
of South Atrica. Under no circumstances do I bring forward these remarks
in opposition to the text ofthe theses. I am too insufficiently acquainted
with the conditions in South Africa to pretend to a full conclusive
opinion on a series of practical questions. Only in certain places
I am obliged to express my disagreement with certain aspects of the
draft theses. But here also, insofar as I can judge from afar, we have
no differences in principles with the authors of the theses. It is
rather a matter of certain polemical exaggerations arising from the
struggle with the pernicious national policy of Stalinism. But it is
in the interest of the cause not to smooth over even slight inaccuracies
in presentation but, on the contrary, to expose them for open deliberations
in order to arrive at the most clear and blameless text. Such is the
aim of the following lines dictated by the desire to give some assistance
to our South African Bolshevik-Leninists in this great and responsible
work to which they have set themselves.

The South African possessions of Great Britain form a Dominion only
from the point of view of the white minority. From the point of view
of the black majority South Africa is a Slave Colony.

No social upheaval (in the first instance, an agrarian revolution)
is thinkable with the retention of British Imperialism in the South
African Dominion. The overthrow of British lmperialism in South Africa
isj ust as indispensable for the triumph of Socialism in South Africa
as it is for Great Britain itself.

If, as it is possible to assume, the revolution will start first in
Great Britain, the less support the British bourgeoisie will find in
the Colonies and Dominions, including so irnportant a possession as
South Africa, the quicker will be their defeat at home. The struggle
for the expulsion of British Imperialism, its tools and agents, thus
enters as an indispensable part of the programme of the South African
proletarian party.

The overthrow of the hegemony of British Imperialism in South Africa
can come about as the result of a military defeat of Great Britain
and the disintegration of the Empire; in this case the South African
whites can still for a certain period, hardly a considerable one, retain
their domination over the blacks. Another possibility, which in practice
could be connected with the first, is a revolution in Great Britain
and her possessions. Three-quarters of the population of South Africa
(almost six million of almost eight million) is composed of non-Europeans.
A victorious revolution is unthinkable without the awakening of the
Native masses; in its turn it will give them what they are so lacking
today, confidence in their strength, a heightened personal consciousness,
a cultural growth. Under these conditions the South African Republic
will emerge first of 'all as a "black Republic; this does not
exclude, of course, either full equality for whites or brotherly relations
between the two races (which depends mainly upon the conduct of the
whites). But it is entirely obvious that the predominant majority of
the population, liberated from slavish dependence, will put a certain
imprint on the State.

Insofar as a victoriou.s revolution will radically change not only
the relation between the classes, but also between the races, and will
assure to the blacks that place in the State which corresponds to their
numbers, insofar will the Social Revolution in South Africa also have
a national character. We have not the slightest reason to close our
eyes to this side of the question or to diminish its significance.
On the contrary the proletarian party should in words and in deeds
openly and boldly take the solution ofthe national (racial) problem
in its hands.

Nevertheless the proletarian party can and must solve the national
problem by its own methods.

The historical weapon of national liberation can be only the Class
Struggle. The Comintern, heginning from 1924. transformed the programme
of national liberation of colonial people into an empty democratic
abstraction which is elevated above the reality of the class relations.
In the struggle against national oppression different classes liberate
themselves (temporarily!) from material interests and become simple "anti-im-perialist" forces.
In order that these spiritual "forces" bravely fulfill the
task assigned to them by the Comintern, they are promised, as a reward,
a spiritual "national-democratic" state (with the unavoidable
reference to Lenin's formula, "democratic dictatorship ofthe proletariat
and peasantry").19

The thesis points out that in 1917 Lenin openly and once and for all
discarded the slogan of "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat
and peasantry" as if it were a necessary condition for the solution
ot' the agrarian question. This is entirely correct. But to avoid misunderstanding
it should be added (a) Lenin always spoke of a revolutionary bourgeois
democratic dictatorship and not about a spiritual "peoples" State,
(b) in the struggle for a bourgeoise democratic dictatorship he offered
not a bloc of all "anti-tsarist forces" but carried outan
independent class policy of the proletariat. An "anti-tsarist" bloc
was the idea ofthe Russian Social-Revolutionaries and the Left Cadets
i.e., the parties of the petty and middle bourgeoisie. Against these
parties the Bolsheviks always waged an irreconcilable struggle.

When the thesis says that the slogan of a "Black Republic" is
equally harmful for the revolutionary cause as is the slogan of a "South
Africa for the whites", then we cannot agree with the form ofthis
statement: whereas in the latter there is the case of supporting complete
oppression, in the former, there is the case of taking the first steps
towards liberation. We must accept with all decisiveness and without
any reservations the complete and unconditional right of the blacks
to independence. Only on the basis of a mutual struggle against the
domination of the white exploiters can be cultivated and strengthened
the solidarity of the black and white toilers. It is possible that
the blacks will after victory find it unnecessary to form a separate
black State in South Africa; certainly we will not force them to establish
a separate State; but let them make this
admission freely, on the basis of their own experience, and not forced
by the sjambok of the white oppressors. The proletarian revolutionaries
must never forget the fight of the oppressed nationalities to self-determination,
including a full separation, and of the duty of the proletariat of
the oppressing nation to defend this right with arms in hand when necessary!

The thesis quite correctly underlines the fact that the solution
ofthe national question in Russia was brought about by the October
Revolution. National democratic movements by themselves were powerless
to cope with the national oppression of Tsarism. Only because of
the fact that the movement of the oppressed nationalities, as well
as the agrarian movement of the peasantry gave the proletariat the
possibility of seizing
power and establishing its dictatorship, the national question as
well as the agrarian found a bold and decisive solution. But the
very conjunction of the national movements with the struggle of the
proletariat for power was made politically possible only thanks to
the fact that the Bolsheviks during the whole of their history carried
on an irreconcilable struggle with the Great Russian oppressors,
supporting always and without reservations the right of the oppressed
nationalities to self-determination including
separation from Russia.

The policy of Lenin in regard to the oppressed nations
did not, however, have anything in common with the policy of the
The Bolshevik Party defended the right of the oppressed nations to
self-determination, with methods of proletarian class struggle, entirely
rejecting the charlatan "anti-imperialist" blocs with the
numerous petty-bourgeois "national" parties of Tsarist
Russia (P.P.S., the party of Pilsudski in Tsarist Poland, Dashnaki
in Armenia, the Ukrainian nationalist, the Jewish Zionists, etc.,
etc.20'The Bolsheviks have always mercilessly unmasked these parties,
as well as the Russian Social-Revolutionaries, their vacillations
and adventurism, but especially their ideological lie of being above
the class struggle. Lenin did not stop his intransigent criticism
even when circumstances forced upon him this or that episodic, strictly
practical agreement with them. There could be no question of any
permanent alliance with them under the banner of "anti-Tsarism".
Only thanks to its irreconcilable class policy was Bolshevism able
to succeed in the time of the Revolution to throw aside the Mensheviks,
the Social-Revolutionaries, the national petty-bourgeois parties,
and gather around the proletariat the masses ofthe peasantry and
the oppressed nationalities.

"We must not". says the thesis, "compete with the African
National Congress in Nationalisl slogans in order to win the Native
masses". The idea is in itself correct, but it requires concrete
amplification. Being insufficiently acquainted with the activities
of the National Congress, I can only on the basis of analogies outline
our policy concerning it, stating beforehand my readiness to supplement
my recommendations with all the necessary modifications.

1. The Bolshevik-Leninists put themselves in defence of the Congress
as it is in all cases when it is being attacked by the white oppressors
and their chauvinistic agents in the ranks of the workers' organisations.
2. The Bolshevik-Leninists place the progressive over, against the
reactionary tendencies in the programme of the Congress.
3. The Bolshevik-Leninists unmask before the Native masses the inability
of the Congress to achieve the realisation of even its own demands,
because of its superficial, conciliatory policy, and develop in contradistinction
to the Congress a programme of Class Revolutionary Struggle.
4. Separate, episodic agreements with the Congress, if they are forced
by circumstances, are permissible only within the framework of strictly
defined practical tasks, with the retention of full and complete
independence ofour own organisation and freedom of political criticism.

The thesis brings out as the main political slogan
not a "national
democratic State", but a South African "October".
The thesis proves, and proves convincingly,
a) that the national and agrarian questions in South Africa coincide
in their bases;
b) that both these questions can be solved only in a revolutionary
c) that the revolutionary solution of these questions leads inevitably
to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat which guides the Native peasant
d)that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will open an era of a
Soviet regime and Soviet regime and Socialist construction.

This conclusion is the corner-stone of the whole structure of the
programme. Here we are in complete agreement.

But the masses must be brought to this general "strategic" formula
through the medium of a series of tactical slogans. It is possible
to work out these slogans,at evey given stage, only on the basis
of an analysis of the concrete circumstances of life and struggle
of the proletariat and peasantry and the whole internal and international
situation. Without going deeply into this matter, I would like briefly
to deal the mutual relations of the national and agrarian slogans.

The thesis several timcs underlines that the agrarian and not the
national demands must be put in the first place. This is a very important
question which deserves serious attention. To push aside or to weaken
the national slogans with the object of not antagonising white chauvinists
in the ranks of the working class would be,of course,criminal opportunism,
which is absolutely alien to the authors and supporters of the thesis:
this flows clearly from the text of the thesis, which is permeated
with the spirit of revolutionary internationalism. The thesis admirably
says of those "socialists" who are fighting privileges
of the whites that "we must recognise them as the greatest enemies
of the Revolution". Thus we must seek for another explanation,
which is briefly indicated in the very text: the backward Native
peasant in masses directly feel the agrarian oppression much more
than they do the national oppression. It is quite possible: the majority
of' the Natives are peasants: the bulk of the land is in the hands
of a white minority. The Russian PEASANTS during their struggle for
land had for long put their faith in the Tsar and stubbornly refused
to draw political conclusions. From the revolutionary intelligentsia's
traditional slogan, "Land and Liberty", the peasant for
a long time accepted only the first part. It requires decades of
agrarian unrest and the influence and action of the town workers
to enabling peasantry to connect both slogans.

The poor enslaved Bantu hardly entertains more hope in the British
King or MacDonald. But his extreme political backwardness is also
expressed in his lack of national self- consciousness. At the same
time he feels very sharply the land and fiscal bondage. Given these
conditions, propaganda can and must first of all flow from the slogans
of the Agrarian Revolution, in order that, step by step, on the basis
of experiences of the struggle, the peasantry may be brought to the
necessary pollitical and national conclusions. If these hypothetical
considerations are correct, then we are not concerned here with the
programine itself, but rather with the ways and MEANS OF carrying
this programme to the consciousness of the Native masses.

Considering the small numbers of the revolutionary cadres and the
extreme diffusion of the peasantry, it will be possible to influence
the peasantry, at least in the imediate future, mainly if not exclusively,
through the mediuin of the advanced workers.

Therefore it is of the utmost importance to train the advanced workers
in the spirit of a clear understanding of the significance of the
Agrarian Revolution for the historical fate of South Africa.

The proletariat of the country consists of backward black pariahs
and a privilleaged arrogant caste of whites. In this lies the greatest
difficulty of the whole situation. As the thesis correctly states,
the economic convulsions of rotting Capitalism must strongly shake
the old barriers and facilitate the work of revolutionary coalescence.In
any case, the worst crime on the part of the revolutionaries would
be to give the smallest concessions to the privileges and prejudices
of the whites. Whoever gives his little finger to the devil of chauvinism
is lost. The revolutionary Party must put before every white worker
the following alternative: either with British Imperialism and with
the white bourgeoisie ot' South Africa, or, with the black workers
and pcasants against the white feudalists and slave-owners and their
agents in the ranks of the working class itself.

The overthrow of the British domination over the black population
of South Africa will not, of course, mean an economic and cultural
break with the previous mother-country, if the latter will liberate
itself from the oppression of its imperialist plunders.

A Soviet England will be able to exercise a political economic and
cultural influence on South Africa through the medium of those whites
who in deed, in actual struggle, will have bound up their fate with
that of the present colonial slaves. This influence will be based,
not on domination, but on proletarian mulual co-operation.

But more important in all probability will be the influence which
a Soviet South African will exercise over the whole black continent.
To help the negroes to catch up to the white race, in order to ascend
hand in hand with them to new cultural heights, this will be one
of the grand and noble tasks of a victorious Socialism.

In conclusion, I want lo say a few words on the question of a legal
and illegal organisation (Concerning the Constitution of the Party).

The Thesis correctly underlines the inseparable connection between
organisation, programme, and tactics of a Party. An organisation
must assure the execution of all revolutionary tasks, supplementing
the legal apparatus with an illegal one. Nobody, of course, is proposing
to create an illegal apparatus for such functions as in the given
conditions can be executed by legal organs. But in conditions of
an approaching political crisis there must be created special illegal
nuclei of the party apparatus, which will develop as need arises.
A certain part, and by the way a very important part, of the work
cannot under any circumstances be carried out openly, that is, before
the eyes of the class enemies.

Nevertheless, for the given period, the most important form of the
illegal or semi-legal work of revolutionaries is the work in mass
organisations, particularly in the trade unions. The leaders of the
trade unions are the unofficial police of Capitalism; they conduct
a merciless struggle againsl revolutionaries. We must have the ability
to work in mass organisations, not falling under the blows of the
reactionary apparatus. This is a very important, for the given period
most important, part of the illegal work.

A revolutionary group in a trade union which has learned in practice
all the necessary rules of conspiracy, will be able to transform
its work to an illegal status, when circumsiances require ihis.


Last updated : 31-Mar-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011

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