C. Frank Glass

The Labor Movement in South Africa

(March 1930)

Throughout the World of Labor, The Militant, Vol. 3 No. 13, 29 March 1930, p. 5.
Corrected in line with The Militant, Vol. III No. 27, 26 July 1930, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(The following excerpts of a letter take up questions that are yet in the process of discussion and decision in the Communist League of America. No doubt its contents will prove of interest to our readers, besides giving further evidence that the Opposition is making its way into every section of the world. – Ed.)

* * *


The Militant

I was indeed glad to get your letter of the 18th. January, and more particularly the copies of the Militant.

It will also interest you to know that I was a member of the Communist Party (South African section of the Communist International) of which I was a foundation member. The section was formed in 1921, and for many years prior to that I was an active member and official of the Industrial Socialist League which afterwards became the Cape Town branch of the Communist Party. In the Communist Party I held at various times the respective positions of Treasurer, Assistant Secretary and Acting Editor of the party organ, whilst for several years in succession I was a member of the Central Executive. In addition I was for many years secretary of a large trade union (Witwatersrand Tailors’ Association) and treasurer and executive member of the South African Trade Union Congress (an exclusively European body, excluding native workers from membership) which posts I relinquished over two years ago.

The cause which led to the severance of my connection with the C.P. was the newly adopted policy, subsequently confirmed and extended by the C.I., under the central slogan of autonomy for national minorities. [1] In the circumstances it seemed to me to be a gross departure from the principles of Marxism and Leninism. Let me give you a brief outline of the position in South Africa.

The Working Class in South Africa

Our working class is divided on racial lines – Europeans and non-Europeans. The hostility of each of these sections towards the other has been born of their relative positions of superiority and inferiority in every sphere. This hostility has been aggravated by discriminatory laws and more particularly by the action of the Europeans in maintaining a rigid “color bar”. Most of the natives are disenfranchised, they are made to carry “passes” (licenses to be abroad), are subjected to gross ill-treatment and brutality. The native who attains high educational standards is no less contemptuously treated on that account. Europeans refuse to work with natives on certain (skilled or semi-skilled) jobs and they debar them from entering their trade unions (the natives have now commenced organising their own trade unions).

The white population of the Union of South Africa is approximately 1¾ millions; the native approximately 6 millions. The majority of the native workers are agricultural laborers, whilst those whom the development of industry has driven to the towns are engaged in unskilled occupations. The key positions in industry, commerce and communications are held by white workers. On the average natives’ wages are about one quarter of what the whites earn. Needless to remark, the comparatively high wages of the whites in the town are possible because of the very low wage-standards of the native workers – a parallel position with that of British and Indian workers before the war. Capitalism uses the bribe of high wages to retain the loyalty of the whites who can in the circumstances be relied upon to police the mass of discontented under-paid natives.

The artificial color-bar raised by the whites has for some time shown signs of relaxing. It has been found that measures such as these do not stem the advancing tide of the cheap native worker. Europeans’ wage standards were definitely endangered when by a court decision, the color-bar in the gold-mining industry, which debarred natives from skilled occupations, was declared ultra vires the constitution and upset. The European workers then lent readier ear to the message of the Communist Party, bidding them assist, if for no higher motive than self-interest, the native to secure higher wages and thus eliminate competition based on differing wage-standards. The legal color-bar, having gone by the board it was natural that the rest should follow. The Communist slogan: “Workers of all lands, Unite!” found a more ready response among the whites. Some trade unions went the length of admitting non-Europeans to membership.

The Comintern Policy

Then came the Comintern’s new slogan for South .Africa: “An Independent Native Republic, with autonomy for racial minorities”. The Europeans naturally asked: “Why a Native republic? Why not a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic? – why is the white working class (a not insignificant part of the proletariat) contemptuously left out of the programme and relegated to a definite position of inferiority?” To these plain questions there has been no answer forthcoming. Within the C.P. these have been the effects of the new policy:

  1. Racial animosity on the part of the native members towards the European members has grown and is developing to an almost incredible degree, the native members logically interpreting the slogan as implying superiority for themselves over the hated oppressor (white Communists are included here) and
  2. Wholesale desertion of the white proletarian members who would not subscribe to the abandonment of the Marxian slogan “Workers of all lands, unite!” and its substitution by a black (native) chauvinism. Comrade S.P. Bunting, who attended the last world congress in Moscow was contemptuously dubbed a “Social Democrat” when he said that the white workers in South Africa must be taken into account in the framing of the programme. (These same comrades, Bunting and E.R. Roux, voted for Trotsky’s expulsion from the Comintern against their own convictions on the matter.)

The above have been the effects within the Party of the new policy. Translate this to the wider field of the whole working class movement and it will be seen that the Party is now completely isolated from the white section of the proletariat – the most advanced, the most intelligent, the most class conscious, whilst the old racial antagonism has revived in active form Many native workers have been won by the new policy, but at the price of the relinquishment of Marxism and the adoption of petty bourgeois slogans.

It seems to me that the Marxist-Leninist structure of the Comintern has been dangerously undermined, its fundamental principles thrown overboard. For freedom of discussion in the Party ranks has been substituted a so-called discipline which requires as the only virtues in a Communist ability to speak heatedly of the “errors of Trotskyism” and preparedness to sacrifice good comrades to the fetish of the “third period”. Healthy inner-Party criticism is dead (Shades of Lenin!). Loyalty to Stalin and Co. is the supreme virtue.

There are adherents of the Opposition in this country. But we are all scattered. We are, nevertheless, much interested in what is going on in other countries and I welcome the receipt of your paper and will be glad to hear from you from time to time.


With comradely good wishes,
Fraternally yours,


1. In The Militant, Vol. III No. 27, 26 July 1930, p. 5, the following correction appeared:

In the letter from South Africa by comrade C. Frank Glass published in the March 29, 1930 issue of the Militant, an unfortunate error occurred. The third paragraph read: “The cause which led to the severance of my connection with the C.P. was the newly adopted policy laid down by the C.I. This policy, with the central slogan of ‘An Independent Native Republic, with autonomy for national minorities’ (meaning the whites mainly) was one to which I was unable to subscribe.” It should have read: “The cause which led to the severance of my connection with the C.P. was the newly adopted policy, subsequently confirmed and extended by the C.I., under the central slogan of autonomy for national minorities.”

Last updated on 21.10.2012