Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History: Volume 4, No. 4, South Africa: Preliminary Correspondence

Preliminary Correspondence

TW Thibedi To the Communist League of America

Dear Comrade
In our last meeting held on 22 April 1932 at 9 Fuller Street, Bertrams, Johannesburg, all the undermentioned negro comrades decided to apply for membership to your League. Regarding your appeal for your literature agents it was agreed that we request to send us eight dozen copies of the Militant per week, which we hope to sell and return you the money. We are particularly anxious to introduce the Militant amongst the African workers, and for handling the same a committee consisting of 12 of us has already been selected. Send us two dozen copies of your constitution, send us, say 12 copies of advertising bills with attractive cartoons if you consider neces-sary with every issue of the Militant. Send us from time to time propaganda leaflets for free distribution if you have any.

The first copy of the Militant that came to our notice is Volume Five, whole No 97 dated 2 January1932, in which we find on page three an article entitled ‘Stalin and the Chinese Revolution’, but we were disappointed for not having been able to obtain a previous copy of the Militant, the issue which we believe contains the first part of that article, so will you by the next mail send us two copies which we desire to keep on our files.

Comrades, do not be worried in seeing all these applicants being negroes and think that we are purposely refusing to unite with European comrades, no we are not. It is only about two months ago that we have been considering joining your League. Although it is difficult for a negro com-rade to organise a European worker, we hope that later on white militants follow our lead. The colour question makes organising difficult. Negro workers are generally considered inferior even on such revolutionary or-ganisations, and as usual European workers are considered superior. We have been calling ourselves ‘Communist Party of Africa’.

The undermentioned negro comrades pledge themselves to see that your instructions in connection with the revolutionary movement for a complete overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Communism in Africa are carried out. Please address all communications to the Secretary. We are:

George Malefo, Chairman; TW Thibedi, Secretary; Simon Molefi, Treasurer; Scott M Seroke, Jim Makapane, James Mokwane, Alfred Mokgatle, Cyrus M Letlojane, B Dan Madiseng, Stephen Mokkethoa, Johannes Maskigo, Alpheus Maliba, George Makua, Thomas Maiketsi, France Mo-pu, Rapalana J Tjekele, Timothy Pongosi, J Chusi, Lucas Malop, Johannes Chiloane, Samuel Mohlati, Sam Khuduga, etc.

I am, Yours for a speedy revolution.
TW Thibedi
Secretary, Communist Party of Africa
26 April 1932

Communist League of America To TW Thibedi

Dear Comrade
We sincerely welcome the announcement of your decision contained in your letter of 26 April. This is the very first information which we have had about your group, and naturally we are not yet well acquainted. We are therefore desirous of obtaining some information from you in order to be able to learn about your group and to reciprocate by likewise informing you about our position as fully as we are able.

Is your group newly constituted or has it been functioning for some time under its present name or under any other name? If you can, will you give us in brief outline information about the history, and development about your group. That we would appreciate very much and it would help facilitate our mutual acquaintance, understanding and possible harmony. If you can in this information also include a description of the kind and character of activities in which you have been engaged, adding also information about what influence, following and contact you may have.

Second: has your group formulated a programme or platform on its views? If you have such, will you kindly let us have a copy or give us the information of its main contents?

Third: have you any relations with the official Communist Party of Africa, the section which is affiliated to the Communist International, or does your party constitute that section? Are you or have you been affiliated to the Communist International? Would you kindly clarify us on this point?

Lastly: we assume you know that the Communist International under the present Stalinist leadership has adopted a policy of self-determination for Negroes. We do not presume to express an opinion on what this policy would mean in South Africa or apply to actual existing conditions there. But we do know that the policy will have some implication when applied to the actual existing conditions in the United States, and we are now con-sidering a final formulation of our attitude to this question as it presents itself here in the United States. Will you give us your views on the question?

As you have read some copies of the Militant we assume that you are fully informed that the Communist League of America (Opposition) represents the views of the Left Opposition. We do not know how well you are familiar with the history and developments of the Left Opposition. That you will be able to learn from a continued reading of the Militant and from our literature. Being a faction of the Communist movement, representing the views of the Communist International under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky and concretely formulated in the first four Congresses, today, the Left Opposition considers its main objective to be the struggle to influence the official Communist parties sufficiently to return to those views of the Communist International. In that struggle we come into an irreconcilable conflict with the present Stalinist bureaucracy and the policies it represents. Our League is made up, as are all the sections of the Left Opposition, in the main of members expelled from the official Communist parties. But we recruit to our ranks all Communist workers we find having sympathy and in agreement with our Left Opposition platform.

Since we are only one section of the International Left Opposition, we will later have some substantial proposals to make to you in regard to affiliation. Should we find that after a little mutual communication and clarification that we are in agreement, that you accept the Left Opposition platform, which we hope to already be the case, then we expect our proposal to you to be to affiliate directly to the Left Opposition as the Left Opposition in South Africa, affiliated to the International Left Opposition, and not directly to the Communist League of America.

Any subsequent and practical proposals to be worked out in this connection we can take up later if and when we find that we are in agreement. We will therefore submit a copy of your letter to the Interna-tional Secretariat of the Left Opposition which is located in Berlin, and we will attach a copy of this reply to your communication and similarly send the same material to Comrade Trotsky.

Meanwhile, however, we would appreciate it if you would consider us the connecting link for this discussion and any proposals which you may have to make and which the International Secretariat will have to make until such time when this question is settled to mutual satisfaction. Naturally, we would also appreciate it if you would keep in constant touch with us about your views.

We have already entered you on our mailing list to receive the Militant. Of this issue we have sent you only 50 copies, but we shall increase the future issues to 100 as you request. We will also send you along some advertising material which we have for the Militant. We do not possess much in this respect, neither do we at the present have any leaflets for mass distribution. But we have published considerable literature, a full description of which you will find in the Militant. Our books and pamphlets can already today be obtained by Vanguard Booksellers, 51a Von Brandis Street, Johannesburg, South Africa. We shall send you a complete set (one of each) of all our literature, expecting that you will be able to remit for it, and should you desire to handle it direct, we shall be very glad to furnish it to you. We will send you bills and statements regularly, as, being a proletarian organisation, poor in the financial sense, we would appreciate prompt remittances. We also sent you a few copies of the special Militant issue which you request and should you desire it, we shall try to gather a complete file of the Militant from the first issue published and send it to you, even though some of the numbers are very scarce.

We repeat, we sincerely welcome the fact that such a group exists in South Africa and agree with you that no distinction is made in our ranks of Negro and white revolutionary workers, as no such distinction is made in any Communist revolutionary organisation. We welcome the fact that such a group exists in South Africa, holding the views which we have expressed, which we consider essential in the task of the proletarian revolution. With revolutionary greetings, we remain:

For the Communist League of America
Arne Swabeck
30 May 1932

TW Thibedi
To Leon Trotsky

Dear Comrade Trotsky
I hope that by the time you receive this letter from me you shall have seen a letter I send to the Communist League of America Opposition. Quite a lot has happened in the Communist Party of South Africa, private meetings are still continuing, expelled Stalinists and those still in the party are forming a common front in killing off the Communist League of Africa instead of specialising in fighting against the true enemy of the oppressed people of Africa viz Capitalists they waist [sic—waste] time in fighting the most revolutionary (the left opposition) in trying to bluff the left opposition they tell us that Trotsky is an outcast and that the left opposition only exists in America and nowhere else and yet if one reads the Militant regularly would see through the tactics of the Stalinist worshippers in the Communist Party of South Africa. They tell us that the Left Oppositionists are lazy individuals who only sit down in their office criticising the leadership of the Communist International, that the left opposition is going to help the capitalists when the next war against the USSR is made by the Capitalists. They consider the Militant a very dangerous paper to be read by the negro workers of Africa in particular. But all these negro workers who has been reading the Militant do not want to part with the same, I hope that by next year we shall be able to start the paper to be written in the languages spoken by the South African negroes, by this I mean a paper for the spreading the views of the left opposition in South Africa. We need a lot of articles on the conditions in South Africa to appear in the Militant. We are busy organising the negro trade unions and we are already considering forming ‘Artuo’ (African Red Trade Union Oppositions) and for the Communist League of Africa (Left Opposition). We have already taken an office at 9 Berea Street, City and Suburban, Johannesburg from where these trade unions are being organised. We received few pamphlets from comrade T Stamm of the Communist League of America these we keep in our office for those comrades who cannot afford to buy to read at our office we need plenty more literature of the Left Opposition because the Stalinist bureaucrats has for some years been hiding such literature to be known by the African Negro workers, I must thank Comrade Victor Danchin who helped to get some of the left opposition translated for me from the Russian left oppositionliterature, because today I can a lot in seeing some negro workers to understand the unpardonable mistakes which are purposely being com-mitted by the Stalinist bureaucrats who govern the Communist Party of South Africa.

Perhaps this shall interest the members of the Left Opposition to hear that there is a great selfishness that is being done by the Stalinists in South Africa, viz students from negro comrades who have proved themselves absolutely loyal to the instructions from boss Stalin are now being [sent] for their education from Moscow but all those who have tryed [sic] to argue are being expelled from the CPSA and are being left out not to be given a chance to go and learn but the left opposition in South Africa is quite alive to these manoeuvrings of the Stalinists when these students return shall fight bitterly against the Left Opposition of South Africa again these creatures refuse us to buy and read the official organ of the ECCI. I think they are afraid we shall compare it with the Militant.

I joined the revolutionary movement in 1916 and since that time I have been on its EC and for many years the only negro comrade, from 1928 we organised the following trade unions: Laundry Workers Union, Clothing Workers Union, Furniture Workers, Metal Workers, Meat and Cold Stor-age Workers, Canvas and Rope Workers, Transport Workers, Chemical Workers, International and Working Women Mechanic and Motor Drivers Union, etc, etc. I also formed the following branches of the Communist Party of South Africa: Pretoria, Potchfestroom, Evaton, Vereeniging, Paardekop, Bloemfontein, and at Ndabeni Location (Cape Town). We formed the Federation of Trade Unions in October 1928 but today there is no longer any single Trade Union under the control of the Party. Almost all the branches are now dead are purposely left to die by the Stalin bureau-crats of the Communist Party of South Africa and yet if people reads the official organ Umsebenzi would think that these bureaucrats are doing a splendid job for the revolutionary movement in South Africa. If Joseph Stalin did not know that he was being told lies about the conditions in South Africa left [sic-let] him hear it from the Militant he should also try to fined [sic—find] out why the negroes are living [sic—leaving] the party apart from those who are expelled. They are turning the Official paper of the Party into a lying organ for no-one would believe being in South Africa Umsebenzi . Since the beginning of this year a long prayer has been drawn up by Comrade SP Bunting, and signed by Comrade Gana Makabeni, Simon Mafisa, Willie B Twayl and B Dan Madiseng all negro comrades some do not know the contents of that prayer to Boss Stalin requesting him to be merciful and reinstate them into the Communist Party of South Africa, I personally was refused admittance the day when that prayer was finally read to be send these immediately created suspicion for I should have been left to hear what it was for I am alone an expelled member of the party. So far no reply has been received to that prayer, the drawer of these long prayers is not prepared to join the Left Opposition and yet those who signed have no objection to joining the Left Opposition.

We received a letter from comrade Vitte [Witte] of the International Secretariate of the Left Opposition but he did not give his address I can’t reply to him direct. Please tell him I do not read German or French but read English, Dutch, Zulu, Sesutu, Chiswina, Shangaan, Venda, Xhosa and various other negro languages.

Hoping to hear from you Yours for the Overthrow of Capitalism in Africa P0 Box 4143, Johannesburg, Communist League of Africa Left Opposition 10 August 1932

There is a note in French added to the letter, perhaps in Trotsky’s handwriting: Que est Danschin? (Who is Danschin?)

Leon Trotsky
To TW Thibedi

Dear Comrade Thibedi

Thank you very much for your communication which I am transmitting to Comrade Witte.

It would be a very great step forward if we could establish an organ in the negro language. I suppose that the material hindrances would be great in this time of deep crisis. Are many negro comrades unemployed in Johannesburg and in South Africa in general?

The Stalinists state that the Left Opposition is almost non-existent. The information is not correct. It is true that we are only at the beginning of our great educational and organisational war, but our progress in the last year is very satisfactory in many of the European countries, and we can hope that the comrades who work in the double persecution of the bourgeois state and Stalinist bureaucracy will become steeled into good revolutionaries. Discipline is necessary, but discipline alone is sufficient for a capitalist army, not for a revolutionary party. We are far from exaggerating our forces. The revolutionary movement must remain very honest in the estimation of its own power: it is the only way to win the confidence of the workers.

Have you among your comrades, workers and students, and what is the proportion of the one to the other?

Have you any connections with negroes in America? I hope that the hour is near when the great awakening of the exploited negro masses will give rise to good Marxists and theoreticians from among their ranks. My Communist greetings and best wishes for the success of your work.

4 September 1932

Joe Pick
To the International Secretariat

Dear Comrade
There are some comrades here who were recently expelled by the Stalinists from the Party, and who are followers of the platform of the Left Opposition, comrades who have helped in the formation of the Communist Party here, and stood in the forefront of the party since its formation. Some of us are taking leading parts in the trade union movement. We have therefore decided to get in touch with you for the purpose of forming here a section of the Left Opposition and to be attached to the International Secretariat. We have written to Communist League of America and they gave us this address. We would be very pleased if you would let us know the conditions of affiliation to the International Secretariat.

You must realise that we are only small groups at present, as the party in general is very small in South Africa. We are sure however that we will be able to form very active groups of comrades who are at present scattered all over the country and who are willing as in the past [to] carry the banner of Communism as outlined by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

We would be pleased if you would send us a few copies of your organ The Permanent Revolution.

Trusting to hear from you
With Communist Greetings
J Pick
22 September 1932

Workers Party of South Africa
To the International Secretariat

Dear Comrades
We have received the letter of Comrade Dubois, dated 12 October, and we have considered it with great attention both here and in Johannesburg. After full deliberation, we have come to the decision that we must reject Comrade Dubois’ proposal for unity between the Workers Party and the Communist League.

It will help you to understand the position here if we say a few words about it. Both the Workers Party and the Communist League are small groups. This is undeniable. But there is an important difference between them. When we were together in one organisation, we could not work. All our energies went in trying to hammer into the heads of individuals what we knew to be the correct line. It was in the course of this struggle that the principal differences on all the most fundamental questions became clear. Now, as a separate group, we are able to work, we are able to face outwards towards the workers instead of facing inwards among ourselves.

The war question was one of the real principled differences between us. It still is. In our articles in our Spark we made clear our position on the war question. On 6 October we issued 4000 leaflets on the Italo-Abyssinian Conflict. If you will study this leaflet you will see that it is a clear exposition of our international line on the war. The leaflet was drafted and issued before we had received any materials from the IS [International Secretariat] or any of the sections. You will notice that this leaflet attacks the SA Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy which take up a position similar to that of the British Labour Party and the TUC. The SA Labour Party has pledged itself to support the government. This is to be expected. What is not to be expected is that the Communist League opens the pages of its organ, the Workers Voice, to one of the leading members of the SA Labour Party. We are sending you a copy of the Workers Voice and of The Spark .

It is because of the immediate tasks, because of all our tasks, that we cannot entertain the idea of uniting with the Communist League. We know that this group is doomed. Some of its members will go to the SA Labour Party where they belong. Others will go to the Stalinists. Although we are small we feel that we have a future and that while they are also small, they have no future. To unite with them will mean an end to all real work.

With Communist greetings
For the Central Committee
11 November 1935

Updated by ETOL: 28 January 2009