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Fourth International, March 1946


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From Fourth International, March 1946, Vol.7 No.3, p.95.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


South Africa

An active group of South African Trotskyists, who adhere to the Fourth International, publish a paper in Cape Town called Workers Voice. They reprinted Trotsky’s letter in the November 1944 Theoretical Supplement of Workers Voice. (Trotsky’s letter appeared in the November 1945 Fourth International.) In the following issue of July 1945, A. Mon comments on Trotsky’s letter and explains that Trotsky’s views coincide with the positions of his organization. An excerpt from his article reads as follows:

As a result of learning Trotsky’s lesson on the mutual connection between the two slogans (the national and agrarian), the comrades engaged in overthrowing the old muck which cluttered up the minds and path of action of would be militants and revolutionaries, and in formulating our own program, were able to make progress which otherwise would have perhaps taken a longer period and caused the organization to suffer uncomfortably from growing pains. And in the same measure that Trotsky’s letter went a step further than our own theses, so those who worked up Trotsky’s ideas were themselves given a stimulus to enrich the form which Trotsky sketched in his letter, with the content of our concretizcd program for the city and rural masses of South Africa.

In order to understand the present land problem in South Africa, it is necessary to see how it was created. It is necessary to grasp that the landlessness of the Africans in particular has flowed from the imperialist policy of creating a migratory African proletariat kept in readiness in vast reservoirs of labor – the Reserves – driven out of these reserves by landlessness, starvation and the poll tax, and controlled in the cities by means of compounds, pass laws, etc. In short, the land question cannot he separated from the question of the way in which imperialism built up a supply of cheap African labor. Here the land question is not only the problem of fighting against landlordism, but furthermore a problem of fighting imperialism with its strongholds in the cities. Just as the rural African, in most cases, is also a city worker for part of his life, so the land problem is tied up with the problem of the anti-imperialist fight which has its bastions in the big cities of South Africa.

Imperialism has gone about its task of subjugating the toilers here by building up an intricate network of color bars, segregation, race-oppressive legislation and institutions, all of which it has created, built upon and maintained with increasing brutality and intensity in order to preserve, tap and control a supply of cheap labor. In order to have at hand a ready source of controllable cheap labor imperialism has deliberately prevented the development of an African peasantry, for such a peasantry would live off the land, would reduce the number of human beasts of burden to be exploited in the mines, factories and on the farms, and slow down or threaten to stop the migration of cheap labor from town and farm to reserves and back again. Imperialism has uprooted the African tribalist, expropriated the African small farmer, prevented their growth into peasants, extended their landlessness, and kept them in a state of permanent flux between the slave-conditions in the cities and the starvation conditions on the reserves – in short, imperialism has created the land question as part and parcel of its mechanism of depriving the Non-Europeans of their rights, of their land, of opportunities – part of its mechanism of the color bar and segregation and race-persecution. The landless Non-European is landless not merely because he has not got the money to purchase land, but, above all, because the machinery of state mercilessly carries out the Policy of the economic bosses – to oppress the Non-European nationally in order to exploit him economically. His color prevents him from becoming a peasant.

Land and Democratic Rights

Under such conditions it is clear that the struggle for land is an integral part of, and not distinct from or raised above, the struggle for full democratic rights. In the sense that this struggle for democratic rights means the abolition of race discrimination, the struggle for land means the struggle for the rights of Non-Europeans to own land and become farmers. But in the scientific sense of the term “realizing the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution;” the struggle for “democracy” embraces the struggle, furthermore, not merely for the right to the land, but for the actual division of the land (as was the case with the 1789 French Revolution). Finally, since this land cannot be won except through a struggle against imperialism and the South African capitalists, and since the land can be divided only after it has been expropriated from the big land-owners, farmers and land-companies, the struggle for land, as part of the struggle for the realization, of the tasks of bourgeois democracy in South Africa can be won only through the socialist revolution, i.e., only, in Trotsky’s words: “Through methods of proletarian class struggle.” This is the road leading to the solution of the problem of landlessness. This, the road of the toilers of South Africa, can be trod only if we see the road from the past which has brought us to the present position from where we are to set out along the path of national and agrarian emancipation, through the social revolution ... While the Whites robbed the Africans of the land they forced the African into smaller and smaller areas of land which became “reserves,” into which the African was driven or whither he escaped from the attacks of the British and Voortrekkers. By means of brutal wars against the Africans in the Cape, Free State, Natal and the Transvaal, the Africans were savagely driven off their land and herded into small areas (or, in some cases, driven farther north out of the Union). The African was expropriated by sword and fire.

Near the end of this process the imperialists began to industrialize the country and to employ masses of cheap labor on the Natal plantations, on the diamond mines, the gold mines, on the industries connected with these mines, and at the big ports. They used the “reserves” where the expropriated Africans had been driven as real reserves – as reservoirs of cheap labor. To force the Africans off the reserve lands the ruling class tore more and more land out of African ownership and occupation, starved the reserve population, concentrated them into villages inside the reserves, imposed money-taxes on the male Africans (and are now, in the Transvaal Provincial Council, considering a poll tax for African women as well), entangled the tribalist in debt to traders, and recruited Africans through Chamber of Mines recruiting agents. In the cities the bourgeoisie built up an elaborate system of compounds, passes, and regulations to control the migratory labor from the reserves. To prevent the formation of a stable, hereditary urban proletariat which would become used to the traditional methods of organization and struggle – trade union and political – of the city working classes all over the world – the imperialist bourgeoisie segregated the Africans from each other tribally or otherwise, and from city political life by means of compounds, and allowed a drift back to the reserves after some time of slavery in the towns.

At the same time, while preventing the formation of a stable urban African proletariat (which has nevertheless developed as a result of the process of urbanization and industrialization characteristic of all capitalist countries and counteracting the segregation policy of the imperialists here), the imperialists simultaneously and even more energetically prevented the formation of a settled African peasant in this country, either on the farms or in the reserves. In this way the economic purpose of the imperialists – namely, the exploitation of cheap labor – were served through the policy of segregation, and the prevention of both a settled proletariat and peasantry among the Africans. Combined inevitably with the policy of segregation and the color bar went the whittling away of the few rights possessed by the Africans in the form of the vote. The fate befalling the Africans steadily extended itself to the Coloureds and Indians, and segregation, the color bar, and race-discrimination became the modus operandi of the imperialist masters of South Africa, and their central instrument in maintaining and widening their economic exploitation of the peoples and resources of South Africa.

From this outline it is clear that the land question was historically created by the labor demands of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the big farmers. Furthermore, that the land question is inseparately bound up with the whole race-oppression of the Non-Europeans, and that the land struggle cannot be divorced from the fight for full democratic rights. The land problem, created by imperialism, forms part and parcel of the entire problem of national oppression. The land struggle is part of the struggle against imperialism and national oppression. It is from this standpoint that we have to look upon the rural struggle; and it was from this angle that Trotsky approached the question.

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