July 2021 marks the centenary of the birth of the South African Communist Party (SACP): one of the first Marxist-Leninist parties on the continent, and among the oldest surviving parties in the world. The SACP, known as the Communist Party of South Africa until its banning by the apartheid regime in 1950, played a major role in South Africa’s liberation struggle and has, since 1994, been part of the ANC-led governing coalition through the tripartite alliance. 

This milestone provides an opportune moment for reflection, as well as to take stock of the recent scholarship on the SACP and other socialists organisations; review the state of the historiography; collect and put into the public domain archival and other documents that relate to the history of the SACP and other left formations; promote new research on the party and other left traditions by new generations of scholars; and reflect on the contemporary state of socialism in South Africa and internationally.

South African History Online (SAHO), the Wits History Workshop, the Department of History at the University of the Free State, the Department of Development Studies at Nelson Mandela University, the Archie Mafeje Chair in Critical Humanities and Decolonial Studies and the AC Jordan Chair at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town, and the Department of History at the University of Johannesburg are planning a series of discussions to mark this occasion.

We propose to convene a series of regional events hosted locally by the different partners under the rubric of a general programme throughout the course of 2021. Participants will be able to join from anywhere through the internet. In addition to the presentation of academic papers as part of a decentralised conference programme (or series of thematic panels/workshops) involving academic scholars and party members, intellectuals and veterans, we plan to launch the project through an online public debate in early 2021. The project will lead to the publication of an academic edited book drawing from the paper presentations.

Contributions on any topics relating to socialist and SACP history will be welcome. Moreover, these are some of the themes that the proposed programme of events aims to cover:

1)    ‘Red lives’: This has been a major area of new research post-1994 through the publication of numerous biographies and autobiographies. Biography can be a lens through which broader political processes can be illuminated. As well as biographies of leading CP members, we are also interested in uncovering the life stories of ‘ordinary’ communists and socialists and their contribution to the liberation struggle. Moreover, we welcome approaches to biography as both personal and political. 
2)    Ideology and praxis: the SACP has contributed significantly to a South African theory of revolution by linking class and race in its analysis, as well as through its own non-racial praxis. We invite papers analysing the formulation of SACP theories as well as its praxes in their historical context, and the debates these engendered both within the party’s ranks – sometimes leading to splits and divisions and with other socialist and left groups.
3)    The SACP and workers: one of the most important tasks of the Communist Party has been organising black workers. We invite papers that examine the party’s relationship with the working class, its main political constituency, and the party’s approach to independent black trade unions and in providing workers’ education.
4)    The SACP and the national liberation struggle: we seek new perspectives reflecting on the historical unfolding of the ANC-SACP alliance, its role in Umkhonto we Sizwe, as well as in the formation of other united front organisations and alliances at different historical moments. 
5)    The SACP and South Africa’s left tradition: The history of the SACP needs to be located within the broader history of the left in South Africa. How has the party related to rival socialist groups and other ideological traditions? What has been their critique of the SACP, and how has the party in turn responded to this criticism? What has been the flow of ideas between the Party and other socialisms?
6)    The ‘red thread’: the history of the SACP is not just about the history of South Africa but part of a common thread that unites communist parties and anti-imperialist struggles across the world. We invite papers that analyse the SACP’s relations with other communist parties and the world communist movement once led by the Soviet Union, as well aspects of the SACP international policy.
7)    Socialist futures: what has been the SACP’s role in shaping government policy since 1994? What is the future of the tripartite alliance?  What is the legacy of the SACP’s tradition of emancipatory scholarship for research today, for example in terms of building eco-feminist-socialist alternatives from below?

Please submit a proposal including a short bio (100 words), paper title and abstract (300 words) online via this "abstract submission page" by 15 February 2021.

For more information please contact Arianna.Lissoni@wits.ac.za 

We also call on academics, activists and members of the public to submit material - including papers, journal articles, biographies, newspaper clippings, original documents, photographs, etc - for the creation of a free online digital archive on the Communist Party and other Left traditions as part of SAHO’s website.

To upload these, please go to this "submission material page"