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

The Land Question: Race and Class

Vudel Burlak
Draft Thesis on The Native Question

THE BASIS of the economic structure of South Africa is the native population. This is not only because it is numerically the predominant section, but because the native is the direct producer in agriculture and the mines, and also, though to a less degree, in industry generally. Almost all the productive labour on the farms is performed by the agricultural native labourer. There are about 1.5 million natives forming the land proletariat in South Africa. The productive part played by European labour in agriculture is comparatively insignificant. In the gold, coal, and other mines, as well as on the alluvial diggings, the native plays by far the greatest part in productive labour. In September 1932 the ratio of native labourers employed in the Rand mines compared with Europeans, artisans and labourers, was 9.3:1, in coal mines 16.8:1, and on the alluvial diamond diggings 4.5:1. In this primary industry of mining about half a million native workers are employed.

In other industrial enterprises, as well as in commerce and transport, the native worker is playing an increasingly important part. With the growing rationalisation of industry, the practice of substituting unskilled for skilled labour is continually extending, and this process must lead to an ever greater prominence of the native worker, both numerically and as a producer.

The main characteristic of the South African economic system as it is today is the exceptionally low level of the wages of the unskilled and semi-skilled workers. There are very few countries in the world where capitalism is able to extract such tremendous profits out of the meanest type of exploitation. In England the average rate of the skilled to the unskilled wage is 15:11; in Germany the rate is even more favourable to the unskilled worker. Over the whole range of South African industry the rate of the skilled to the unskilled wage is 6:1. On the Witwatersrand, taking all types of employment, the rate is 7:1. But taking the mining industry only, the rate averages 10:1, in spite of the hard and dangerous nature of the toil involved. In the Railways and Harbours Service the week’s wage of a native labourer is 15/1d, just equal to the day’s pay of a checker or a guard, but less than a day’s pay of an artisan. In the building industry the average wage of a native labourer is 3/6d per day, or £1 per week, while the skilled wage runs from 2/- to 3/- per hour for a 44-hour week.

Because of this intense exploitation of the black workers, the exploitation of the white workers is comparatively much less vigorous. In this way capitalism strives, as always, to divide the workers, and with higher wages bribes the European workers to side with the employers in the event of the black workers venturing to give expression to their discontent.

This was the policy in the past. There are already indications of a change at hand.

The great crisis which deepens and widens the gulf between the productive capacity of world industry and the consuming capacity of world markets is tending to lower the rate of profit. Capitalism, which is interested only in profits, will naturally try to recover these profits by lowering the wage bill. This will be accomplished directly by severe cuts in the wages of the skilled worker, since the unskilled wage cannot be cut down any lower than it is. Indirectly, the wage bill will he further lowered by more complete rationalisation of industry. The introduction of machines which do not require skilled attention will inevitably lead to the displacement of skilled workers in favour of unskilled and semi-skilled, and to a general lowering of the skilled wage. The capitalist will compel the white worker to accept the low wages at present paid to the native, or else will replace the white worker by a native.

In face of this, the present remedy is for the whole working class in South Africa, and every section of it, to strive for the raising of the unskilled wage, and so narrow the gap between skilled and unskilled, and to organise the natives, recognising them as fellow workers, with a right to the same pay as a white man gets for the same work. Only thus will the workers be able to resist the future onslaught of capitalism on their standard of living.

The first task of a revolutionary workers’ party must therefore be to bring class consciousness to every member of the working class. The party must show him that his real interests are in direct opposition to those of the capitalists and imperialists. It must show him the bitter results of a policy framed and followed by a collaboration of classes. And at the same time it must show him clearly the way out of his misery.

What is the way out for the European worker? Is it to accept the crumbs from the superprofits of the capitalists, crumbs which are sweated out of his native fellow-worker, the crumbs which he will inevitably lose tomorrow? Or is it to fight for the emancipation of the whole working class, to fight for the revolution, to fight for the abolition of all oppression and exploitation, to fight for a Soviet South Africa?

But this is only a part of the Native Question. As South Africa is still predominantly an agrarian country, the bulk of the population is to he found on the land, engaged in agriculture. Therefore the far greater part of the Native Question is the Agrarian problem. With the exception of a million urbanised natives (in the Urban Locations) the natives are all peasant in character, notwithstanding the fact that from time to time they work in industry, mines, commerce, that is, when they are forced into the towns. But the special characteristic of this peasantry is that it is a landless peasantry. The constant native farm labourer (500 000), the variable seasonal farm labourer (600 000 to 700 000), the so-called ‘squatters’ (500 000), these three groups, living on land owned by whites, constitute about one-third of the native population, and live in virtual serfdom. The other part of the native population is living in ‘their own territories’, administered partly on a tribal, and partly on an individual ownership basis.

To gain an understanding of the distribution of land in South Africa and the acuteness of the agrarian problem it is necessary to study the following figures:

  • Density of white population in rural districts is 1.44 per square mile.
  • Density of native population in Reserves and Territories is 57.99 per square mile.
  • 96,674,600 morgen[1a] of land are in the hands of the white population.
  • 9,959,000 morgen of land are in the hands of the native population.

Thus, accepting the conservative figures of the Official Year Book, no. 14 (published 1934), which gives 1,889,500 whites to 5,681,100 Bantu, we see that there are 51 morgen of land for every white person and only 1.75 morgen for every native.

The distribution of the land and size of the farms in the hands of the European population is as follows:

  • 3,687 farms under 5 morgen occupy 8,700 morgen.
  • 8,210 farms from 5 to 20 morgen occupy 83,900 morgen.
  • 8,976 farms from 21 to 100 morgen occupy 513,000 morgen.
  • 30,334 Farms from 101 to 500 morgen occupy 9,098,000 morgen.
  • 19,535 farms from 501 to 1,000 morgen occupy 14,443,000 morgen.
  • 13,252 farms from 1,001 to 2,000 morgen occupy 19,049,000 morgen.
  • 4,474 farms from 2,001 to 3,000 morgen occupy 11,223,000 morgen.
  • 3,571 farms from 3,001 to 5,000 morgen occupy 13,861,000 morgen.
  • 2,078 farms from 5,001 to 10,000 morgen occupy 14,443,000 morgan.
  • 832 farms over 10,000 morgen occupy 13,952,000 morgen.

Now if we subtract the 20,873 poor farmers who own only 605,600 morgen, and the 30,334 middle farmers who own 9,098,000 morgen, that is, almost as much as the whole native population, we find that 32,787 farmers own 33,492,000 morgen, which is 32 per cent, and 10,955 farmers own 53,479,000 morgen, which is more than 50 per cent of all the occupied land of South Africa. These figures speak for themselves. They make clear that the only solution of the Native Problem is the agrarian revolution.

Before elaborating our programme for the solution of the Native Question, which means to estimate the development of the revolution in South Africa, its forms, its forces and its reserves, its obstacles, and so on, we should first examine the solutions offered by the other working class parties of South Africa.

It is not necessary to spend much time on the programme of the party of reformism and class collaboration, the South African Labour Party. If the parties of the Second International are covered with the glory of betrayals, with the laurels of treason, the SALP surpasses them by its reactionary role in the labour movement. If the parties of the Second International try to cover themselves with revolutionary slogans and Marxist phraseology, the SALP makes no attempt to hide its pure slave owners’ and slave drivers’ programme, a programme of complete segregation of black and white, a programme of reprisals and discriminations. If the rule of Britain in India was never so brutal, the prisons never so full, the misery never so great, as when the British Labour Party was in power, so the native policy of the government of South Africa was never so ruthless and oppressive as when the SALP participated in the ‘Pact’ government. It was this government that passed the infamous Colour Bar Act and the Amended Masters’ and Servants’ Act. These white chauvinists, hard-headed bureaucrats, and corrupt politicians deny the natives their rights to land, to work, to education. They speak of a ‘White South Africa’, ‘South Africa for Europeans’, ‘the Black menace’, etc. They even ‘ignore the natives’ to the extent of omitting them from ‘the population of South Africa’. These ‘Socialists’ are the greatest enemies of the native workers, and therefore we must recognise them as the greatest enemies of the revolution. By sowing their venomous white chauvinism in the ranks of the white workers they split the working class on racial lines, prevent the workers from attaining class consciousness, [and] prevent unity, and thus preserve the rule of capitalism and imperialism.

Quite different is the programme and aim of the Communist Party of South Africa. They strive for a revolutionary change, for the liberation of the whole working class, and for the full emancipation of the natives. This is undoubtedly their aim. But good intentions are not enough. Good intentions lead only to failure if the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary party do not correspond to the actual situation, if they are not in harmony with reality. The entire programme of the CPSA is based on an incorrect estimation of the revolution and of the correlation of the forces in South Africa. Their whole strategy for the revolution is wrong.

If the white chauvinist policy of the SALP flows from the assumption that South Africa is a ‘white man’s country’, the main and central slogan of the CPSA, the slogan of ‘Native Republics’, flows from the equally false assumption that South Africa is exclusively a ‘black man’s country’. This antithesis, which entirely ignores the white population, is equally harmful, because it is bound to antagonise one section of the working class against another. Instead of uniting the workers it again splits them on racial grounds. To ignore the fact that unlike in India and China, the white population of South Africa does not consist of a temporary officialdom, but is an integral part of the population, means to be blind to reality.

In the red tape style of a bureaucracy, the Comintern from afar and above has forced upon the CPSA a strategy cut to the pattern for India and China, without having learned anything from the blunders and mistakes of the Chinese Revolution. Just as in China, the Comintern suppressed the class struggle and agrarian revolution and supported the national liberation (anti-imperialist) movement, so in South Africa they are basing their strategy on the national-revolutionary struggle instead of on the class struggle. The calling for ‘Native Republics’ involves subordinating the class struggle to the national struggle. As Urnsehenzi says, ‘The Bantu Republic’ will be a ‘democratic peoples’ government’. The revolution will be ‘an anti-imperialist revolution, a democratic revolution, a peoples’ revolution, an agrarian revolution, giving to the African people real national freedom’. In short, it means that the revolution will be a national, bourgeois, democratic revolution. But they forget to consider who is going to accomplish the revolution, who will lead it, under the hegemony of which class it will he brought about. They forget that we are living in the age of imperialism in an epoch of decaying capitalism, when the bourgeoisie is no longer a revolutionary force, and when a revolution, to be successful, must be led by the working class. But by stressing national liberation and ignoring the white workers, the CPSA excludes the possibility of a united revolutionary working class, and only such can lead the revolution. Never in history has the peasantry by itself succeeded in a revolution. The peasantry can make insurrections, but they cannot accomplish a revolution. The native republics (as a step towards the workers’ and peasants’ republic) means a bourgeois republic (not a workers’ and peasants’ republic), even though it implies the overthrow of the rule of British imperialism. Here again is apparent the red tape style.

If it is possible for India and China, at least in the theory of the Comintern, to throw off the yoke of imperialism by a united front of all classes, including the national bourgeoisie, and still retain the old social order, then why not in South Africa? They forget that there is no native bourgeoisie in South Africa, and that there is no native bourgeois democratic national movement of any importance in existence. They forget that all the forces of capitalism, British and Dutch, farmer and industrialist, nationalist and imperialist, republican and monarchist, Malan and Stallard, all will join hands in the counter-revolutionary struggle against any anti-imperialist struggle on the part of the native workers and peasants. It should be obvious that here in South Africa a fight against imperialism is conceivable only as a fight against capitalism. Our revolution will not be a national, but a social revolution.

To sum up, the programme of the CPSA is full of mistakes, blunders, and contradictions, and the most harmful of them is the slogan of ‘Native Republics’.

Since Lenin died, revolutionary Marxism-Leninism has given way in the Comintern to opportunism and scolastieism. The old theory of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’, which was thrown into the dustbin by Lenin in April 1917, was pulled out again. The Marxist theory of the permanence of the revolution was exchanged for the theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’. In conformitywith this theory all countries were divided into four categories, according to their ripeness and ability to build Socialism independently. A schematic theory of preliminary stages of the revolution was invented, from which not one state can escape, of which not one stage can be skipped. National bourgeois revolution, bourgeois democratic revolution, democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants, workers’ and peasants’ government, soviet revolution, then Socialist or proletarian revolution with the dictatorship of the proletariat – all this scholastic scheme of categories, periods and stages, which has led only to defeats, must be condemned. Even if the first tasks which the revolution has to solve are the problems which ought to have been solved by a bourgeois revolution, problems such as national unification, liberation from imperialism, the agrarian difficulty, etc, nevertheless, there can be now no question of a bourgeoisie participating in or supporting a revolution. In every revolution, if it is to succeed, the working class alone must be the leader. The October Revolution, although it had to solve all the above-mentioned problems, was not a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but a proletarian revolution. We need not, therefore, apply to our revolution this scholastic theory of categories and preliminary stages – ’as a step towards it’.

What is Our Programme?

There is no other way of solving the native question than through a revolutionary change of our socio-economic structure. Only hopelessly muddleheaded Fabians, and Liberals of all brands belonging to the bourgeois camp, can speak of a solution of the Native Question by reforms, through education, or democracy. With the decay of capitalism, democracy and reforms are speedily passing away. In the face of the approaching Fascisation, we have to fight for these few democratic rights which are still left, and which are in danger of being taken away. The emancipation of the working class and the liberation of the oppressed races are closely bound together and can be achieved only by throwing off the yoke and chains of capitalism and imperialism.

As in South Africa today, so in Czarist Russia, the majority of the population (57 per cent), the oppressed nationalities and races, groaned under the yoke of Czarism and capitalism, and only the October Revolution, the social revolution, brought their full liberation and emancipation together with that of all the toiling masses of Russia. Until the other parts of the world follow the Russian example, oppression and exploitation, misery, starvation, and unemployment will be the lot of the majority in Africa and America, in China and India. It is time to realise that the so-called national liberation movements of the African National Congress here, of the Swaraj in India, of the Wafd in Egypt, and of the Goumindang in China, are futile, that they can lead to nothing except the betrayal of the workers, and that only the workers can lead the real struggle against capitalism and imperialism. This message must be brought to the native masses. Their way to liberation and freedom lies in the social revolution, in a South African ‘October’.

The native problem is mainly the agrarian problem. In a country predominantly agricultural, where 95 per cent of the population is rural, the axis of the revolution revolves round the agrarian problem. The more [is this] so since the native population of South Africa, 87 per cent of which still lives on the land, is deprived of the land, and is entirely debarred from acquiring land even if it had the means to purchase. Crowded into the Reserves, which cannot give him the barest subsistence for himself and his family, and yet burdened with heavy taxes, poll tax, but tax, quit rent, squatters’ tax, he is forced to find paid work in the mines or on the farms. There, under the infamous pass system, the Masters’ and Servants’ Act, and the Native Service Contract Act, he is reduced to conditions of serfdom. The majority of native farm workers are serfs, if not actual slaves. In a country where 3.3 million people own less than 10 million morgen of land while 43 000 people hold 87 million morgen, it is impossible to talk of agrarian ‘reforms’. Only the revolution can solve this agrarian question, which is the axis, the alpha and omega of the revolution. The pauperisation of the natives, the pauperisation of the small white farmers, the Native Problem and the poor white problem, not only hamper but bar the way for the development of the country. There is no future for South Africa, there is no place for industrial development and growth, until the internal need is studied and supplied, the level of internal consumption raised, and the whole internal market systematically developed. Stagnation and decay, poor whiteism and the degradation of the standard of living to the uncivilised level, that is the lot of the toiling masses if the present system of the oppression and subjection of the largest part of the population continues to prevail. It must be made clear to the workers and intelligentsia of South Africa that the Native Problem, the agrarian problem, is their problem, that the liberation of the native is their liberation.

It is true that the native suffers also from racial oppression, and therefore the national question also forms a part of the Native Problem. But while we by no means deny and neglect the national question, we must not put it in the forefront of our strategy and tactics, as the CPSA does. The national struggle must not obscure the class struggle. We must not pander to the cravings of petit-bourgeois native nationalists. We must not compete with the African National Congress in nationalist slogans in order to win the native masses. We must keep our strategical line clear of the swamp of petit-bourgeois nationalism. National liberation in Russia did not precede the October Revolution. National liberation was a result of the proletarian revolution. A man needs first of all bread, and then liberty. The native needs first of all land, and then national emancipation. The national question is not the fundamental problem of our revolution; the agrarian question is and will remain the basic task. Our main slogans must be ‘Land to the Natives’, and ‘Every man has a right to as much land as he can work’. The unconditional active support of the peasantry will thus be assured to the proletarian revolution. By popularising among the workers the needs of the peasantry, and vice versa, the Bolsheviks succeeded in their revolution. So also can our revolution succeed. By uniting and defending in combined effort the common aim and interests of the workers and peasants, black and white, the revolutionary movement can bring about the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a Soviet South Africa.

The Resources of the Revolution

At the present time the revolutionary forces are very small indeed. The working class is divided into black and white. The level of political education and class consciousness is very low. The trade unions, which embrace only the more skilled workers in the towns (and actually, for the most part, only the white workers) are naturally weak. Their leadership and apparatus are in the hands of a reactionary white chauvinist bureaucracy. Their policy is that of the white labour aristocracy, which accepts the crumbs from the capitalist and imperialist exploitation, and thus indirectly shares in the brutal oppression and exploitation of the unskilled and unorganised workers. The native agricultural workers and the native peasantry, enslaved, downtrodden and backward, are only potentially a great revolutionary reservoir, which so far has not been permeated [and] has to a great extent not even been touched by revolutionary propaganda, revolutionary ideas [and a] revolutionary outlook. The more educated natives are easy victims to the religious influence of the missionaries or the petit-bourgeois National Congress. A very hard and difficult task confronts the revolutionary party. Hard, steady, systematic spade work is necessary – a gigantic task of educating white and black, of spreading propaganda near and far, of organising the unorganised in town and country, of giving a revolutionary lead to the trade unions, and of guiding and winning the confidence of the workers of peasants. Whoever is not afraid of this tremendous task must come to the new revolutionary party – for this is the only way out.

Revolutions are not ‘made’. For a revolution certain objective and subjective conditions are necessary. The discontent of the oppressed is not enough. Tsarism ruled against the wishes of the whole population, and so does Britain in India. But when the four necessary conditions are present, that is:

  • When the disintegration of the ruling class sets in;
  • When the oppressed will no longer tolerate the old system, but demand a change;
  • When the ruling class can no longer rule in the old way;
  • When there is a strong, independent, revolutionary party present to use the revolutionary situation so as to give a lead to the leading class in the revolution, that is, to the workers, and to direct the revolutionary will of the people into the proper channels;
  • Then we have a revolution.

The greatest misfortune that can befall the working class in South Africa is if the fourth necessary condition, the revolutionary party, is not ready when the revolutionary situation arrives. Our task is to prevent this disaster. The capitalists are striving towards the fusion of their reactionary forces. We must strive for the unity and mobilisation of the revolutionary forces, combining all workers, black and white, into one single trade union organisation. We must fight relentlessly any prejudiced, chauvinistic feelings against the oppressed that may exist among the workers. We must fight unceasingly for the removal of all repressive legislation against the natives and all other workers. But while we fight for these partial demands, we must always hold fast to our sure conviction, that all this can be achieved in the revolutionary struggle, and that our main fight lies in the preparation and mobilisation of all possible forces for the future revolution.



1a. A morgen is about two acres.

* * *

Ruth Fischer
Concerning Some Tactical Questions in South Africa

Ruth Fischer (or Dubois) (1895–1961) was a founder member of the Austrian Communist Party, and leader with Arkady Maslow of the left wing of the German Communist Party in the 1920s. This grouping supported Zinoviev in the internal struggles of the Comintern. She went into exile when Hitler assumed power, and was placed on the International Secretariat at Trotsky’s insistence. The German Trotskyists protested, claiming that the Fischer-Maslow group had helped to discredit their cause through their irresponsibility. Fischer was delegated to write a critique of the Native Question, the centre piece of the draft programme of the WPSA. The original first appeared in the International Bulletin of the International Communist League (no. 2, May 1935) in French, but the version printed below was circulated in this English translation in the Cape Town and Johannesburg groups. The advantage of reproducing this version lies in its being the copy that the party’s membership read in 1935. Its interpolations also show where the author of the thesis maintained that Fischer had misinterpreted the original document.

Dear Comrades

Our comrades in South Africa have presented to the IS [International Secretariat] theses on the Native Question, on war, on trade union questions, and on questions of organisation. There are certain divergences on certain points. In what follows we give advice on questions only lightly touched upon in the theses, and we shall add critical remarks.

1. The Native Question

‘The basis of the economic structure of South Africa is the native population. This is not only because it is numerically the predominant section, but because the native is the direct producer in agriculture and the mines, and also, though to a less degree, in industry generally... There are about 1.5 million natives forming the land proletariat in South Africa. The productive part played by European labour in agriculture is comparatively insignificant. In the gold, coal and other mines, as well as in the alluvial gold industry, the natives play the principal role. In September 1932 the number of natives employed in the diamond mines, compared with the corresponding number of whites, was 9.3:1; in the coal industry the proportion was 16.8: 1; in the alluvial gold industry 4.5:1. (Translator’s note: ‘gold’ and ‘diamond’ interchanged; see marginal correction.) In this primary industry of mining about 500,000 natives are employed.’

The proportions establish the following fact: with the rationalisation of industrial methods the levelling process begins; consequently, the native workers, so far as wages go, are brought nearer to the white workers – this is indicated as a tendency – and as a consequence the question of the native workers becomes more and more important. The propositions establish further the formidable difference between the salaries of skilled workers and those of unskilled workers. Whereas in England the proportion of these two categories is expressed by the ratio 15:11, in South Africa it is, when calculated for the general average, 6:1. But there are some industries where this proportion rises as high as 15:1. ‘Because of this intense exploitation of the black worker, the exploitation of the white worker is comparatively much less vigorous.’ Another reflection of the propositions claims that one of the results of the world crisis would be the following: ‘since the wage of the unskilled worker could not be cut down any lower, it is the wage of the skilled worker which is about to fall’. Conclusion: the only remedy for South African workers as a whole is a struggle for a raising of the wage of the unskilled and for equal rights for the black worker.

‘The first task of a revolutionary workers’ party must therefore be to bring class consciousness to every member of the working class. The party must show him that his real interests are in direct opposition to those of the capitalists and imperialists ... What is the way out for the European worker? Is it to accept crumbs from the superprofits of the capitalists, crumbs which are sweated out of his native fellow worker? ... Or is it to fight for the emancipation of the whole working class, to fight for the revolution, to fight for the abolition of all oppression and exploitation, to fight for a Soviet South Africa?’

The principal question of the native problem is the agrarian problem. About a million natives live in the towns. All the others keep their peasant character, but from time to time they work in industry. This peasantry, however, is a landless peasantry. A third of the negro population live in virtual serfdom, upon farms belonging to whites. The rest are settled in territories belonging to them, whether as individual property or as tribal land.

The Official Year Book of 1934 gives, according to the document quoted, the following figures:

  • Density of white population in agrarian districts: 1.44 per square mile.
  • Density of negro population in territories and reserves: 57.99 per square mile.
  • 96,674,600 morgen are in the possession of whites.
  • 9,959,000 morgen are in the possession of the natives.
  • The white population is 1,889,500.
  • The Bantu population is 5,681,100.
  • Which gives 51 morgen for a white, 1.75 morgen for a native.

Other figures complete the picture. Hence it appears that there is a group of farmers white and poor, a more important group of middle farmers, and a still more important group of rich farmers. 10,955 farmers are in possession of more than 50 per cent of the occupied land. ‘These facts show clearly that the only solution of the native problem is the agrarian revolution.’ (Translator’s note: The sentence in quotation marks is seriously misleading; i) it is inexact as to words; ii) its validity depends on a preceding chain of facts and figures of which Dubois’ summary gives a few odd items.)

Social Democracy (translator’s note: the party here referred to is the South African Labour Party) is denounced as an imperialist party, exclusively white, dividing the working class and preventing the development of class consciousness among the workers. The programme of the Communist Party differs absolutely from that of the Social Democracy: it is indisputable that the Communist Party strives for the emancipation of the whole working class. ‘But their entire strategy for the revolution is wrong.’ For the Communist Party establishes the slogan of ‘South Africa – Country of the Blacks’ (Translator’s note: incorrect quotation: Dubois appears to have misunderstood a sentence of the thesis), and preaches native republics, which implies a schism of the working class composed of whites and blacks, who by this slogan are lined up one against the other, instead of being united bythe slogan of a Soviet South Africa, a slogan emanating from a quite different strategy and from a conception widely removed from the so-called national revolution which the Communist Party puts in the place of the class struggle. ‘In short, they are of the opinion that the revolution will be a national bourgeois-democratic revolution.’ (Translator’s note: another misquotation: the six opening words do not appear in the thesis, and the sentence, as it here stands, is not free from ambiguity.) The essential point of the criticism of the propositions quoted is this:

‘The Native Republic as a step towards a workers’ and peasants’ republic means a bourgeois republic, not at all a workers’ and peasants’ republic, even if it implies the overthrow of British imperialism... (Translator’s note: emphasis altered by Dubois’ omission of parenthesis and underlinings.) To sum up, the programme of the CPSA is full of mistakes and blunders, and the MOST HARMFUL of these is the slogan of native republics. (Translator’s note: the capital letters emphasising ‘most harmful’ are not in the original thesis.) Since the death of Lenin, revolutionary Marxism and Leninism has given way, in the interior of the CI [Communist International], to opportunism and scholasticism. The old theory of democratic dictatorship, thrown into the dustbin by Lenin in April 1917, was pulled out again. The Marxist theory of the permanent revolution was changed for the theory of Socialism in one country. In conformity with this theory, all countries were classified in four categories according to their ripeness and ability to build up Socialism independentlyc... National bourgeois revolution, bourgeois and democratic revolution, democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants, workers’ and peasants’ government, soviet revolution, then Socialist or proletarian revolution with the dictatorship of the proletariat – all this scholastic scheme of categories, periods and stages must be condemned ...’

On the other hand, the programme of the comrades who have composed the propositions is this: ‘The way to liberation and to freedom lies in the social revolution and in a South African October.’ In order to support their argument against the slogan of national revolution, the propositions set up the following comparison:

‘National liberation in Russia did not precede the revolution of October. National revolution was the (Translator’s note: the thesis says ‘a’) result of the proletarian revolution. A man needs, first of all, bread, and then liberty. The natives need, first of all, land, and then national emancipation ... Our main slogan must be: land to the natives, and each one has a right to as much land as he can work.’ (Translator’s note: A misquotation here. The thesis gives two distinct slogans, quite clearly set down.)

In this way, say the propositions, the peasants and workers will be drawn nearer together:

‘By popularising among the workers the grievances and needs of the peasants, and vice versa, the Bolsheviks succeeded in their revolution. So also can our revolution succeed.’

The efforts of our South African comrades are not sufficiently supported on the essential point of the question: the point of first importance is to smite English imperialism; all other questions are subordinate questions; their correct solution will be drawn from the solution found for the question which we have just called the question of primary importance. That is to say, that all the strategy, as well as the choice of useful and effective tactical methods in South Africa, clusters round the primary question: How to weaken the English imperialistic domination in South Africa? The slogan of ‘Land for the Natives’, wholly correct in itself, remains altogether inadequate because it is based on no other political slogan than that of mere abstract propaganda, concentrated in the slogan of ‘the South African October’. Although correct as regards giving a perspective, this slogan remains without substance in the actual circumstances. For the rest, the comparison made by our comrades between the Russian October and that – naturally future – of South Africa reveals the hollowness of their conception. We do not dwell upon their over-simple interpretation of the October: the workers hear the grievances of the peasants, the peasants those of the workers (’and vice versa’), after which a union is established and the revolution is won; but what is said in the propositions concerning national liberation in Russia (’after the proletarian revolution’), to justify the haughty disdain towards the slogan of ‘Africa – Republic of Blacks’, shows that the question, though nowhere put, is viewed from an angle at once too narrow and – apparently – too wide. For, if the October remains everywhere and in all circumstances the end to be attained, that is not to say that the repetition of this slogan can set large masses in motion.

Here in Africa the question is of lining up the native population against the whites, who are the English imperialists. That is why the possibilities of an effective slogan are to be studied in detail and with the greatest care. The lack of a black bourgeoisie, or at least of any considerable bourgeois strata among the natives, mentioned in the propositions, shows on the other hand that the ‘nationalist’ slogans apparently will not be harmful, if they will set the black masses in motion. The propositions bring forward in objection reasons of pure statistics. It is true that the statistics say that the share of the white workers imported by imperialism into South Africa is important. But there is no question of galvanising into life the present condition, nor of a schematic equalising of white workers with coloured workers. For unfortunately, the white workers in South Africa (as elsewhere) are in the first place representatives of the oppressors, of the imperialists who utilise them, so to say, for their front line by conceding to them privileges which the black workers do not enjoy, and therefore the stillborn sehematism of our comrades’ propositions does not view the question of questions from the strategical as well as from the tactical standpoint.

It may perhaps be asked: and what is to be done with and for the white workers? But the propositions repeat many times the expression ‘development of class consciousness’, unfortunately with special reference to the negroes. The tactical question which we have just put depends, on the contrary, entirely upon the development of the class consciousness among the white workers, and the external sign of this development is the adoption of the slogan ‘Down with British imperialism’ (not abstract imperialism, in general), that is to say, down with the privileges of the white race, forward the natives, and also proclamation of the right of total separation from the British Empire. Similarly for the agrarian revolution. One cannot imagine an agrarian revolution outside a political framework. The agrarian revolution asks and answers, at one and the same time, what is called ‘the national question’ of this country. That is why the two questions are inseparable. The propositions, instead of giving the connection, neglect it, by separating the two sides of the same question, as though they were independent of each other. That is why these propositions remain bloodless, give no tactical directions, and teach only an abstract and inadequate propaganda.

Dubois 2 April 1935

* * *

Workers Party of South Africa
To the International Secretariat of the International
Communist League (Bolshevik Leninist)

Dear Comrades

We have your letter dated Geneva, 28 March, signed Martin, containing the minutes of your sessions of 19 March, 26 March, and 2 April.

This letter was sent by you in error to the Lenin Club. Insofar as it deals with our Workers Party theses it should have been addressed to Paul Koston, P0 Box 1940, Cape Town. In future, please keep the Workers Party correspondence separate from that of the Lenin Club.

In the minutes of your session of 26 March we note that Comrade Dubois should write to ask for information in order that you may develop your remarks, as it is impossible for you to evaluate our theses without being more fully informed upon the situation in South Africa. We have not yet received a letter from Comrade Dubois. But it has come to our notice that Comrade Pick of the Opposition Group (which now calls itself the ‘Communist League’) has received from Comrade Dubois a detailed criticism of our thesis on the Native Question. This criticism is signed by Comrade Dubois and dated 2 April 1935. It was accompanied by a letter to the ‘Communist League’ signed by Comrade Adolphe.

We are rather surprised that in your minutes of 26 March you accuse us of a ‘certain radicalism (soviets as an immediate slogan, Africa for the negroes, anti-parliamentarism, negation of all collaboration with the national movement, ete), without being sufficiently precise as to the immediate problems of the country’. We made no mention in our theses of ‘soviets as an immediate slogan, Africa for the negroes, [and] anti-parliamentarism’. The basis of our party, as clearly stated in the constitution, is the first four congresses of the Comintern. You surely know that one cannot accept the Second Congress and at the same time be ‘anti-parliamentary.’[1b] And the same may very well apply to ‘soviets as an immediate slogan’. Furthermore, there must be some grave misunderstanding, because nowhere do we mention ‘Africa for the negroes’! We are curious to learn on what grounds you have based your accusations. We are positive that a thorough examination of our theses can give you no grounds for such accusations. With regard to the last point, ‘negation of all collaboration with the national movement’, we would like to know whether you refer to the movement among the natives (African National Congress) or to the so-called ‘national bourgeoisie’, the Malanites. Our theses deal concretely only with the Malanites, the most reactionary part of the bourgeoisie, and the most hated by the natives, as this is a bone of contention between us and the minority, the ‘Communist League’. It is necessary for our work to have an early reply from you.


With Communist Greetings,
for the Central Committee
8 May 1935


1. A resolution carried on 2 August 1920 at the Second Congress of the Comintern declared:

‘Anti-parliamentarianism as a principle, as an absolute and categorical rejection of participation in elections or in revolutionary parliamentary work, is therefore a naive and childish position which does not stand up to criticism.’ (The Communist Party and Parliament, A. Adler (ed.), Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, London 1980, p. l02)

* * *

Workers Party of South Africa
To the International Secretariat of the International
Communist League (Bolshevik Leninist)

Dear Comrades

It is first of all necessary to check up on our correspondence. I will list below the letters we have sent to you and the replies we have received from you and hope that you will confirm this list.

  1. Our first letter to you was dated 14 February 1935, was signed ‘Paul Koston’, and was written in Russian.
  2. We next sent you two copies [of] each of the following:
  • Majority’s Native Thesis
  • Majority’s Thesis on the Party
  • Majority’s War Thesis
  • Minority’s War Thesis
  • Joint Trade Union Thesis
  • Report on Proceedings that Led to the Formation of the Party.

    These documents were sent by Air Mail.

  1. We next received from you a letter dated 9 March, signed Schwartz, and acknowledging our letter of 14 February.
  2. We then sent you a letter dated 15 April, signed ‘Paul Koston’, written in Russian, dealing with the questions raised by Comrade Schwartz in his letter of 9 March. Since then we have received no communications from you addressed to the party.
  3. The Lenin Club has received a letter dated 28 March, signed ‘Martin’, from you, and as this letter dealt with the party, and should have been sent to the party, the Lenin Club handed it to us. We have replied to this letter in:
  4. Our letter dated 8 May, signed ‘Paul Koston’, and written in English.

The minority (Communist League) has allowed us to see your letter dated 24 April 1935, signed ‘Adolphe’, and addressed to ‘Comrades Averbach, etc. of the Lenin Club’. We note that in this letter you comment upon the fact that you have received only the ‘official theses’ from us. Quite so, you received our theses, plus the Minority’s War Thesis, as these were the only theses discussed by the comrades here and in Johannesburg. If you will refer to the Report of the Proceedings that Led to the Formation of the Party you will see how the discussions took place. The Minority prepared their Native Thesis and Party Thesis after the formation of the Workers Party. (At the time of its formation, the party was called the ‘Communist League’. After discussions with the Johannesburg comrades, who pointed out that the word ‘Communist’ would lead to confusion in the minds of the native workers, we changed our name to ‘Workers Party’. Just recently, a few days ago, the Minority picked up the name ‘Communist League’, and now call themselves that.) It is obvious that the last-mentioned two documents of the Minority are not really ‘theses’, but are criticisms of our theses. This would be all right if the views and position of the Minority emerged clearly from their criticism of us – but does it?

We notice also that you point out to the Minority that they would commit a ‘great error’ by refusing to enter the party. This error has already been committed. The Minority, after failing to sabotage completely the work of the Lenin Club, now has declared itself the ‘Communist League’, and tries to carry on independently. But this is not so very important. Most important is the last paragraph of your letter. Here you finally state clearly the question which we are solving in our Native Thesis. The two opposite opinions you speak of, ‘either the black people’s liberation in nationalistic and racialist form’, or ‘our line will be of pure class character’, you, by having posed the question in this way now, are precisely where we were more than a year ago when we first started to work out, to study, [and] to analyse this question.

The first alternative, ‘black nationalism’, is the line of the Stalinists, the line established at the Sixth Congress of the CI [Communist International], the line that is summed up in the Stalinist slogan of ‘Independent Native Republics as a step towards a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic’.

Our native thesis presents a criticism of this line and puts forward the second alternative. This is what our thesis deals with. It does not deal with the tactics of our revolution. It deals with the strategy of our revolution. (Comrade Dubois’ remarks concerning our Native Thesis, which the Minority has permitted us to see, are really out of order, inasmuch as we are concerned with strategy, and he worries about tactics. The whole question of tactics, of the immediate slogans, [of the] fight for democratic rights, for the abolition of colour legislation, for equality of black and white, etc, this whole question has to be fully worked out. We are well aware of this.)

We shall watch with great interest the discussions on this question in the internal bulletin.

But now we must come to the question of our differences with the Minority (Communist League). This difference first emerged during the preparation of the War Thesis (that is why you received the two War Theses simultaneously) and only later did the Minority prepare a separate Native Thesis and Party Thesis.

On the war question the Minority have taken up a position that is wholly opportunistic. They advance the slogan of ‘neutrality’ and collaboration with the Malanites, whom they call the ‘national bourgeoisie’. (The Leninist slogan of ‘turn the imperialist war into a civil war’ is, according to the Minority, ‘un-Marxian for South Africa’ and ‘impracticable’, because here, according to them, we have very special specific differences. True, we have very special differences, we say, but they are not so special that Leninism seems to have no validity when it reaches the Cape of Good Hope.)

The Malanites must under no circumstances be confused with the African National Congress, which is the organisation of the natives. The Malanites are the party of the Dutch farmers, who are engaged in a family quarrel with the imperialists over the spoils of the exploitation of the masses. The Malanites have raised a demagogic campaign in parliament over ‘neutrality’, ‘independence of South Africa’, and so on. The left wing of the Malanites have put forward the slogan of a ‘Republic’, a ‘Republic’ under the protection of the British navy!! For our characterisation of the Malanites, see our theses. For confirmation of our characterisation see the clippings which we are sending, particularly the Malanite Programme of Action.

The Minority, in trying to prove that the Malanites are still a progressive force capable of putting up a real struggle against imperialism and war, had to be consistent. If the Malanites are a progressive force in the struggle against imperialism, then, naturally, they must be our allies. (In this connection the ‘prejudices’ of any ignorant native worker or peasant who hates the Malanites as the old oppressors is worth 10 times as much as the opinions of the ‘Marxist’ of our Minority.) In order to be consistent, that is, to iron out what might be contradictions within their opportunism, the Minority was [sic] forced to produce their Native ‘Thesis’. And because they are opportunists of a certain variety, right wingers, they had to attack our conception of the party and try to establish in its place a conception that would lead in practice to a ‘party’ consisting of anybody and everybody without real discipline.

It is interesting that those who now constitute the Minority pressed for the formation of a party long before any theses were developed or discussions held. They wanted to turn the whole Lenin Club, wives and all, into a party. It was we who restrained this eagerness until theses were prepared. Now we understand that the Minority, taking a hint from you, declare themselves to be a propaganda group and nothing more.

We are sending you under separate cover a number of newspaper clippings from the Cape Argus and Cape Times. These two papers are the organs of the ruling group, and are published by syndicates that control most of the newspapers in this country. The Untsebenzi is the organ of the Communist Party of South Africa (Stalinists), and the others are papers published by groups of natives. We send also copies of the first and second issues of our paper, The Spark.

If there is any information you require we are always ready to do our best to help you. We realise how difficult it must be for you from afar to create a picture of this country, a country that is in many respects more involved and complicated than any other.


Yours fraternally
14 May 1935

* * *

International Secretariat of the
International Communist League(Bolshevik-Leninist)
To the Workers Party of South Africa

Dear Comrades

We presume that meanwhile you have received the article of comrade L.D. Trotsky] which fully deals with all the questions raised in your theses, including the questions concerning organisation. We shall therefore confine ourselves to a few words.

We recommend you to study thoroughly the article of comrade L.D. and believe that a great part of the questions in dispute can be solved on the basis of the direction indicated therein. The best thing to do would be to entrust a committee with the working out of a programme of action; the centre of the demands would naturally be the slogans of the Bantu workers’ and peasants’ struggle; it is thereby not a question of demanding equality between black and white in apolitical vacuum; the question is to direct these demands against British imperialism and its rule in South Africa; to emphasise the right of the natives to the enjoyment of national self-determination up to complete separation from England. Thereupon the demands for equal pay [and] for the possession of the land will obtain political sense and background. We want to stress particularly what comrade LD has to say about the Bantu peasants. Their confining themselves to ‘agrarian’ or ‘economic’ demands is a sign of their backwardness. Your task is to help them to raise their struggle to a higher level, and to make clear to them that agrarian freedom is only obtainable if the struggle of the peasants is linked up with the struggle of the workers for the expulsion of British imperialism and its South African government.

It is clear that the danger of unprincipled blocs with bourgeois nationalist parties and groups is less in South Africa than in other countries, for the simple reason that such bourgeois nationalist movements of the negroes cannot have reached yet a highly organised level (the Dutch nationalist movement is probably to be interpreted quite differently, namely, as a cog in the machinery of British imperialism). We recommend you to study carefully the native movement in the whole of Africa, even insofar as it is under bourgeois influence, and we would he very grateful to you if you could let us have some material on the matter. We are very badly informed, in fact, we are not informed at all.

You already know that according to our opinion the foundation of a party in South Africa is premature, considering the fact that your forces in that great country are very weak. Our advice, however, must have arrived too late. We can therefore only repeat: it would be quite wrong to split and to weaken the few existing forces. Your differences are not of such a kind as to warrant a split. Especially in questions of organisation, a middle course between your two policies is possible, which, instead of being a ‘foul compromise’, would be correct. Naturally there exist now great possibilities for legal activity, and they must be used to the full, particularly the work in the mass organisations. But legality may easily be curtailed if the situation in Europe should become more acute – in which case England would be involved, certainly in the case of war. At the same time the gates of the general organisation must be kept wide open, for reliable comrades can only be found by political experience. You may have to consider illegal work much sooner than it may appear now, if you concentrate your activity upon the organisation of the most advanced Bantu workers and peasants and carry on your agitation mainly among the native masses. To support particularly this type of work we are submitting to you a few organisational proposals, and beg you to let us have your opinion on the matter:

To include in the executive body a number of Bantus, even if, with regard to ‘education’, they should be still backward, as long as their general ideas coincide with yours, and as long as they represent advanced elements. We assume that such elements are to be found among the Bantu workers [and] perhaps also among the peasants and agricultural labourers. Secondly, to admit to all bodies of the organisation Bantus, and to demonstrate this fact publicly; to publish a small Bantu paper (which as many as possible among you should read), even if it should be cyclostyled only; to insert therein numerous correspondences from Bantus; and if the Bantu comrades cannot write, to commission one among you to take down their communications and to publish them.

We are convinced that these few suggestions will be further developed by you, as you are much better acquainted with the conditions than we are. Anyway, be assured that we take the most lively interest in your activity, and expect all your communications with the greatest interest.


With comradely greetings
For the International Secretariat

For Dubois (Sgd) Adolphe[1c]

P.S. We have just received your letter of 8 May, and regret the misunderstandings that have arisen. First of all, we are not in a position here to solve all your differences in detail. We can only state our attitude to the general political principles. We hope that you will be able to find, on the basis of the communication, a general line. We can now ‘recognise’ none of your groups as a section, and consider both parts as sympathising groups, and hope that you will collaborate.

Concerning the national movement, we repeat that we have only spoken of the national movement of the natives, and did of course not mean the Malanites.


In The Spark you announce the Red Flag. This paper has not existed for a long time, nor has the organisation which published it (the former ‘majority’ of our English section). The former ‘minority’ now forms a BolshevikLeninist fraction in the ILP [the Marxist Group], without a public organ. Concerning its activity, vide our bulletin. [2c]




1c. ‘Adolphe’ was the pseudonym of Rudoiphe Klement (1910–1938), Trotsky’s secretary, who was kidnapped and murdered by the GPU on the eve of the foundation of the Fourth International.

2c. The British Trotskyist organisation, the Communist League, split in December 1933 overthe issue of entry into the Independent Labour Party, and the minority entered the ILP and set up the Marxist Group in 1934, working with the American Militant and the New International. The majority, after a period of independent work, later went into the Labour Party. Whilst they were becoming established there they ceased publication of the Red Flag between November 1934 and May 1936. after which they resumed regular publication. Communications were severed for a while between the majority and the International Secretariat, which strongly favoured the tactic of work inside the ILP.

* * *

Workers Party of South Africa
To Leon Trotsky

Dear Comrade

We might indeed have restricted ourselves to the expression of our deepest gratitude and respectful acknowledgement to you for your critical analysis of our theses, which will form the basis for a programme of the party, and to the assurance that these critical remarks of yours will be thoroughly discussed and your advice taken into earnest consideration. Even without this acknowledgement you would know very well that this document from the most authoritative and leading comrade comes to the party in South Africa not only commanding attention but carrying with it the greatest possible weight and significance. Nevertheless, we utilise this opportunity for the purpose of making a few remarks. The main and most important thing is that you have no disagreement with us in principle and you understand that the exaggerated formulation on our part is due to the struggle against the pernicious national policy of Stalinism. No doubt this formulation, ‘equally harmful’, was the worst instance of exaggeration in our theses, and we agree with your criticism of it and sincerely regret this ‘equally’, as well as other less serious expressions of an exaggerated kind.

Those who do not understand that a result of a victorious revolution in South Africa will he a full national liberation of the Bantu and that as a consequence of this the republic in South Africa will emerge as a ‘black’ republic, have no right to call themselves revolutionary Communists, that is Bolshevik-Leninists. When we reject the slogan of a ‘Native Republic as a step towards a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic’, it is not at all because we wish to pander to or make concessions to white chauvinism, or because we think that after the revolution the whites will retain at least some small part of their privileged position, or because we are avoiding an open fight now for the full right (without any reservations) of the oppressed majority of the population for self-determination, but because this slogan means and is based on a national revolution.

  1. A national revolution, with its unavoidable blocs, etc, is here in South Africa more than anywhere else doomed beforehand to failure for these reasons: a) absence of national self-consciousness in the predominant majority of the population, and thus the lack of a broad mass basis; b) absence of a national revolutionary Bantu bourgeoisie; c) apathy of the proletariat towards a national revolution; d) the more than probable presence of a united front of all the whites. And many other reasons might be added to the above.
  2. A national revolution on purely racial slogans of black against white, and that is all that the CF [Communist Party] does here, excludes the possibility of the proletariat as the vanguard of the revolution, because these purely racial slogans draw a fatal line through the ranks of the proletariat. As a red cloth to the bull, they kindle and inflame racial passions, dividing the proletariat into two hostile camps.
  3. A national revolution in South Africa means an ignoring of reality. First of all must be borne in mind the vast difference between South Africa compared with India or China. In South Africa the white population is a fourth of the whole, and it is a permanent element of the population, not a temporary officialdom, a mere part of the apparatus of British imperialism. Moreover, there is in South Africa no Bantu national bourgeoisie. But more important still is the composition of the proletariat. Unlike in India, unlike in China, where the whites are found only at the top of the ladder as managers and chief clerks, that is to say, that in the actual productive processes they play no part whatsoever, here the position is entirely different. Here important economic positions in the production itself are in the hands of the whites. Except in the mines, on the alluvial diggings, on the sugar plantations, and, of course, in agriculture, the whites are the dominant part of the proletariat, not only in regard to skill, but also numerically.

A general strike here without the participation of the white workers is unthinkable. In the recently started heavy industry, in electricity and water supply, in light industry, and in all forms of communication and transport, the economic positions are in the hands of the white workers. In all branches of the repressive apparatus, the standing army, the defence force, the navy and air force, the police, the blacks have no place. In view of all this, is a revolution possible? A general strike and armed insurrection without the active support of one part of the white proletariat and the neutralisation of the other part?

This does not mean that, for the sake of winning over part of the white workers and neutralising the other part, we are to seek the way of opportunism, of pandering to the chauvinistic inclinations and racial prejudices of the whites. Nor are we to choose the way of centrism, of wavering and appeasement, concealing and avoiding all puzzling and thorny questions, following the line of least resistance. We are confident that neither our draft theses nor our programmatic articles in our organ, The Spark, can give any ground for suspecting us of opportunism or eentrism. Against the national revolution of Stalinism we put forward the class revolution, the social revolution, the ‘October’ revolution. Against the factor which divides the proletariat into two hostile camps we put forward a factor which unites it.

It is one thing to win over to the side of the revolution a great part of the white proletariat by methods of class struggle and by education of class consciousness and class solidarity, leading a constant struggle against the racial and chauvinistic prejudices of the whites. It is quite another thing to be continually teasing the bull by means of the red cloth, by kindling the chauvinism of the white worker with purely racial slogans. Such slogans have been the tactics of the CP for the last seven years. But the slogan of a ‘Native Republic’ has not brought good results among the blacks, and indeed could not do so on account of the lack of national self-consciousness among the oppressed black population. The failure of this tactical approach is seen in the diminishing numbers of CP members. (The last report of the CP, dated 27 October 1934, to the ECCI, a report which is in our hands, says: ‘Decline and stagnation in the party membership are the order of the day’, and further, ‘a leading member of the party suffers from defeatism and lack of faith in the masses.’ ‘The masses are afraid of the CP’, says Comrade Ngodlane.) On the other hand, this slogan helped to develop and nourish the racial chauvinism of the white workers and has driven them into the ranks of the chauvinist Labour Party and the bourgeoisie (Malanites).

It is necessary to say that the revolutionary party must all the time stand with its face towards the blacks as the main factor. This is axiomatic. To heighten and develop the national self-consciousness of the Bantu is our task and duty, but it cannot be done by kindling and developing chauvinism, ‘Black against White’, ‘Kick out the Whites’, ‘the boot on the other foot’, slogans often to be heard at CF meetings. Our task is to connect the national slogans with the agrarian slogans. ‘The historical weapon of national liberation can be only through the class struggle.’ The October revolution has proved that both the national and agrarian questions could find their solution only in the social revolution under the hegemony of the working class. We are convinced that under the banner of the social revolution, with the main central slogans ‘Overthrow of British Imperialism and Colonial Capitalism’, and ‘For a Soviet South African Republic’, with the right of all nations and races for self-determination and guarantee of the rights of the minorities, can be united the struggle for the national liberation of the Bantu and Coloured from white oppression with the struggle for the economic and social liberation of the proletariat and peasantry from exploitation and oppression.

20 June 1935

* * *

Moshe Noah Averbach
A Comment on Trotsky’s Letter to South Africa

In 1936 the Communist League, later the Fourth International Organisation of South Africa (FIOSA), printed the first part of an article criticising the WPSA’s thesis on the Native Question. It was not until 1945 that an article written under the name A Mon returned to the question in the Workers Voice (Vol. 1, no. 5, July 1945, pp. 6 11), which was produced as a theoretical supplement. In fact, the Workers Voice had ceased publication, and had been replaced by the ‘supplement’. The article was reproduced in summary form in Foreign Press Clippings: South Africa, Fourth International, Vol. 7, no. 3, March 1946, p. 95. The FIOSA claimed that contrary to the WPSA, it had adopted Trotsky’s position on the points in issue. We reprint the full text below.

The text of Trotsky’s reply to the WPSA’s thesis, On the South African Theses, which is quoted in part in the article below, can be found in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934–35, New York 1971, pp. 248–55. Other articles connected with South Africa by Trotsky are Closer to the Proletarians of the “Coloured” Races, Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination, New York 1978; and Ninety Years of the Communist Manifesto, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937–38, New York 1976, pp. l8–27, a preface for the Afrikaans version. The English translation first appeared with some errors in the January 1938 issue of the New International, and a correction appeared in the February issue. Its publication in South Africa raised howls of disapproval in the liberal press (The Manifesto in Afrikaans, Workers International News, Vol. 1, no. 7, July 1938).

TWELVE YEARS ago, after the South African followers of Trotsky had been expelled from the Communist Party, they formed the Lenin Club in Cape Town. At that time the early Trotskyists were occupied mainly with working out a programme for the oppressed in South Africa. During the course of their discussions in the Lenin Club, two trends began to appear and to conflict. The one trend maintained that the ‘agrarian revolution was the alpha and omega of the South African revolution’; that there were no important differences between the Afrikaner Nationalist bourgeoisie and the British imperialists; and that the first condition for the building up of a revolutionary workers’ party is that it should work illegally. This tendency was in the minority, as against the majority which laid emphasis chiefly on the national struggle for full democratic rights; which characterised the Nationalist bourgeoisie as having differences with British imperialism chiefly over the supply of cheap labour and the political state form (republic); and which held that a workers’ party should work legally as long as there are still possibilities for legal work, should not go ‘underground’ until forced to do so by the ruling class, but should try to prepare for such an emergency while doing its legal work. The minority later became the Workers Party which published The Spark, and which disappeared, from the public eye at any rate, on the eve of the imperialist war in 1939. The majority became the core around which grew the present Fourth International Organisation in South Africa, the only stable Fourth International group to have existed and continued to uphold the banner of revolutionary Marxism in this country for the last 10 years and more. Trotsky’s letter, which we printed in our last number, was written as a reply to the thesis sent to him by the Workers Party elements. The theses of the majority, of those who started our present organisation, were also sent to Trotsky. We have never been able to learn what happened to our theses sent to Trotsky, whether they did not reach him because of his many exile travels [about six words missing – Ed.] before going to Norway), whether they were mislaid, or misdirected, or lost. At any rate Trotsky did not have an opportunity to comment on these theses. Our comrades, on the other hand, have had the opportunity to read and digest the valuable contents of Trotsky’s letter to the Workers Party group, and to develop a transitional programme for South Africa by incorporating Trotsky’s suggestions into the programme which they were producing. Trotsky’s letter deals mainly with the national and land problems in South Africa. In a short paragraph he deals with the problem of illegality, in which he succinctly outlines what our comrades had presented in that part of their thesis dealing with ‘illegality’, and in which he emphasises the need to work inside the trade unions, against the bureaucrats whom he describes as the ‘unofficial police of capitalism’. Since Trotsky devoted little space to this question, and handled chiefly the national and agrarian questions, we restrict our comments here to these last two questions.

Trotsky’s letter substantially contained the criticism of the Workers Party theses which was made by the majority in the Lenin Club. His critique was tactful and very gentle, but nonetheless clearly written to correct what he termed ‘polemical exaggerations arising from the struggle with the pernicious national policy of the Stalinists’ (exaggerations which took the shape, chiefly, of raising the land struggle as the chief, central struggle in South Africa). Trotsky writes that, while he does not know the exact conditions in South Africa, ‘only in certain places I am obliged to express my disagreement with certain aspects of the draft theses’.[1]

This disagreement consisted, as the whole letter shows, in a criticism of the Workers Party’s elevating the land slogan to a central and dominating position, and in pointing out that the land struggle had to be made subordinate to the national struggle, by being used as a lever to raise the rural Africans to political consciousness:

‘... propaganda can and must flow from the slogans of the agrarian revolution, in order that, step by step, on the basis of the experience of the struggle, the peasantry may be brought to the necessary political and national conclusions.’ (Trotsky’s emphasis)[2]

Trotsky draws upon his own experiences, as one of the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia, in order to stress the importance of the national struggle, and criticises those parts of the theses which reduce the significance of the national struggle. His stress of the national struggle against race rule, the colour bar, etc, is shown in the fact that two thirds of his letter deal only with the national question by itself, and more than a half of the remaining third deals with the relationship between this national question and the land problem in South Africa.

His criticism of the theses’ attempt to minimise the importance of the national struggle of the non-Europeans is instanced by:

‘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 of this 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.[3]

This stress on the national question which runs through Trotsky’s letter was also laid in the theses written by the originators of our organisation when they wrote their criticism of the Workers Party theses. In this regard Trotsky’s letter contained the same kind of criticism. But his letter did not merely corroborate the stand taken by our comrades. Had it done so it would not have become the valuable document which it has become. His letter went beyond this stress on the national question, and pointed out the mutual relations between the national and the agrarian slogans. From this lesson our comrades learnt considerably, and his posing of the connection between the national and land slogans helped greatly in the elaboration of our transitional programme for South Africa, and in a clearer understanding of the way in which the land question itself arose historically in conjunction with the national oppression of the non-Europeans. As a result of learning Trotsky’s lesson on the mutual connection between the two slogans, 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 programme, were able to make progress which otherwise would have perhaps taken a longer period and caused the organisation 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 concretised programme for the city and rural masses of South Africa.

How the Land Question Was Created

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 labour – 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 be separated from the question of the way in which imperialism built up a supply of cheap African labour. 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 colour 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 labour. In order to have at hand a ready source of controllable cheap labour, 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 labour from town and farm to the 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 colour 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 colour prevents him from becoming a peasant.

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 ‘realising 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 only be divided after it has been expropriated from the big landowners, farmers and land companies, the struggle for land, as part of the struggle for the realisation of the tasks of bourgeois democracy in South Africa can he won only through the Socialist revolution, that is, 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. The road of the past travelled by imperialism in the course of its industrialisation of the country has been previously described in considerable detail in the articles on the national question in the first two numbers of the theoretical organ. Here we are concerned with this path inasmuch as it led to the land problem as it confronts us today.

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 further north out of the Union). The African was expropriated by sword and fire.

Near the end of this process, the imperialists began to industrialise the country and to employ masses of cheap labour on the Natal plantations, in the diamond mines, the gold mines, in 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 labour. 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 upon the male Africans (and are now, in the Transvaal Provincial Council, considering a poll tax for African women as well), entangled the trihalists 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 labour from the reserves. To prevent the formation of a stable, hereditary urban proletariat which would become used to the traditional methods of organisation 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 urbanisation and industrialisation 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 purposes of the imperialists – namely, the exploitation of cheap labour – 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 colour 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 the segregation, the colour 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 labour demands of the imperialist bourgeoisie and the big farmers. Furthermore, Fit is clear! that the land question is inseparably 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, as is shown by the opening sentence of his critical remarks; a sentence which contains the essence of the correct approach to the national question here: ‘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.[4]

Although this is only a mere sentence, and although Trotsky did not elaborate this, his own description of South Africa, it sums up the entire position, by stating the general fact which stands out when one views the South African scene – namely, the peculiar, unique relations between the national groups which exist in South Africa, and the manner in which these relations are geared to the economic machinery of wage exploitation and profit making. From this correct stating of the main fact of South African conditions – its chief peculiarity – flowed Trotsky’s emphasis on the national question in general with regard to South Africa, and especially in relation to the land question. The factual description of South Africa given briefly by Trotsky is made the more important as a base for a correct approach by the addition of a correct history of the colour bar and land mechanism employed by imperialism in its industrialisation of the country.

The Composition of the Rural Africans

Having used this mechanism to create and preserve a reservoir of cheap migratory African labour, thereby holding back the formation of a settled African city worker, and still more the growth of an African peasantry, imperialism and the rich farmers fashioned a rural African population consisting of the reserve dwellers and the farm workers, leaving practically no room for an African peasantry. The theses to which Trotsky replied informed him of the undeniable demand for land which exists among the rural Africans, but erroneously gave him the impression that there was in existence, economically, materially, in actual fact, a peasantry among the Africans who lived mostly off the land and only wanted more land. Consequently, Trotsky speaks in his letter of the African ‘peasants’. While it is true that millions of Africans cry out for land, and wish to become peasants, they are, in this sense, peasants by aspiration only. They aspire towards becoming a peasantry, but are not a peasantry in actual fact, with the exception of a small layer of small African farmers in the Transkei and, on a very small scale, in other reserve and rural areas. The fact that an African peasantry, speaking generally, does not exist, does not diminish the weight of the slogan for land, but lends added strength to the demand, in view of the pressure which the landlessness exerts on all those Africans driven to work in the towns, against their feeling to till and live off the land.

About one half of the total African population of South Africa is directly dependent for its income upon the labour of the three quarters to one million city African workers. The figures in the Mine Wages Commission Report of 1943–44 showed that the families of the mine workers and the VFP workers were almost entirely dependent upon the wages earned by these workers during their stay in the towns, and that their income from their scanty rural occupations and possessions amounts to a negligible quantity. It is no exaggeration to state that practically the entire reserve population of about half the total Africans in the Union are not dependent on the land, but on the wages of their relatives in the cities. The reserve dwellers are, in fact, tribal-proletarians, and the centre of their livelihood lies in the towns and cities.

These tribal-proletarians are gradually forced to lengthen their stay in the cities, and thus the proletarian side of their social character is steadily becoming the predominant factor, not only in the way of living, but also in their outlook. In spite of the compound system and the pass laws and the various laws and regulations tending to keep them away from becoming proletarians in their outlook and forms of struggle against the employers, the deep process of industrialisation in South Africa, particularly in those industries connected with the mines and in the big ‘secondary’ factories, is increasingly transforming the tribal-proletarian into a city proletarian. Hundreds of thousands of Africans live more or less permanently in the cities, and the remainder spend more and more time, in spite of their continual migration, in the cities. Not only are the overwhelming majority of reserve dwellers not peasants in material fact, but even their peasant outlook is steadily being changed into a proletarian one by the development of industry.

Nevertheless, while this change goes on in the outlook of the reservists, the fact that landlessness, land hunger and intolerable conditions on the infertile reserve lands are used, together with taxes, to hound them into the towns, causes the migratory Africans, even those spending some time in the cities, to see in this landlessness the cause of his travelling to the towns, and consequently to tong for and demand land. The horrible conditions under which he becomes a proletarian encourages him to strive to become a peasant, even while his living is made as a proletarian. The processes connected with migratory workers develop both the proletarian and the peasant sides of his outlook.

The other half of the total Africans in the Union live chiefly on the farms of the rich Afrikaner farmers and the big imperialist land companies, including those farms controlled by the Chamber of Mines. The farm Africans are predominantly agricultural proletarians, and not peasants. Gradually, by means of the application of all sorts of laws and amendments, especially since the 1913 Land Act, the government has discouraged ‘squatting’, tenancy, and share cropping, and today the bulk of African farm workers live off wages paid by the farm owners. According to a statement made in 1944 by the Minister for Native Affairs, about one million Africans on farms are wage earners. This means that virtually the total farm population (African) are agricultural proletarians and their dependents. The tendency towards wage labour on the farms, the destruction of those ‘peasants’ who, in one way or another, were dependent not only on wages, but also on their own plots, crop, cattle, etc, has made it necessary for the African farm worker to struggle for higher wages, shorter hours, etc, as is the case with his urban brother. While being forced to wage this proletarian struggle, the struggle of rural wage labour against capital, the African farm worker also strives for land, especially those who are not living permanently on the farms, but are migratory between the farms and the reserves. On the other hand, those Africans who flow between the cities and the farms more and more look towards higher wages than towards land. Again, the whole process produces two directions – a tendency towards a proletarian outlook, and also towards a peasant’s aspirations. On the farms the struggle for wages has to be coupled with the struggle for land, and both in general cannot be separated from the struggle against the colour bar.

This, then, is the present day composition of the rural Africans. There is no African peasantry of any significance in fact – there is a demand to become a peasantry – and there is a profound and overwhelming tendency towards proletarianisation and a proletarian outlook. Under these conditions it is impossible to make political headway if one isolates the so-called peasant struggle – for land – from the fight which confronts the proletarian, especially the non-White proletarian, in the cities and on the farms.

Linking the Land to the National Slogan

Although Trotsky himself was not furnished with theses which clearly described the rural African in these terms, he nevertheless perceived that the land struggle was factually related to the national problem, and he held that the task of revolutionary Socialists was to link the slogan for land to the slogan for national liberation. He went much further than this, and said that the land struggle is important only inasmuch as it is regarded as a stepping stone towards the national struggle, and that the revolutionary’s duty was to lead the African ruralist, step by step, from the land struggle to national and political consciousness. Trotsky’s emphasis on the need to subordinate the land to the national struggle, and to link it to the national struggle, is revealed in the following lines from his letter:

‘The thesis several times 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 weaken the national slogans with the object of not antagonising the 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... Thus we must seek for another explanation, which is briefly indicated in the very text: the backward native peasant 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. [Here Trotsky, as we showed above, was incorrectly informed by the theses, for the majority of Africans are either

city proletarians or farm workers, although a large percentage aspire towards becoming peasants.] The bulk of the land is in the hands of the 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 enable the peasantry to connect both slogans ... The poor enslaved Bantu hardly entertains more hope in the British King or in 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 the experience of the struggle, the peasantry may be brought to the necessary political and national conclusions. (Our emphasis, except for the last ‘political and national’, which Trotsky himself emphasised.)[5]

Trotsky here clearly subordinates the land to the national struggle. And he does this even working on the assumption that there was a large African peasantry in existence, that is, a mass of people whose mode of living is based upon the possession and occupation of land. But Trotsky’s conclusion that the task is to raise the ruralist to national and political consciousness is made all the more weighty when we take into consideration the fact that, as things are, the national problem bears down upon the ‘rural’ African with tremendous force. It is doubtful whether the majority of Africans feel the shortage of land (’the agrarian oppression’) more than they feel the poll tax, the reserve and compound segregation, the antiAfrican labour laws, the discrimination in social life, the industrial colour bar, the lack of political rights, the pass laws, the non-recognition of African trade unions, and the anti-African land acts (in short, the ‘national oppression’). Under such conditions, Trotsky’s emphasis on the need to subordinate the land struggle to the national struggle becomes still heavier. In the practical struggle the task of translating this emphasis into action is also facilitated by the fact that the colour bar, segregation and all sorts of anti-African laws burden the African terribly, possibly even more than the land hunger itself. At the distance from which he wrote, without even knowing South Africa, Trotsky could yet question the theses’ claim that the land question was more important than the national one, even for the ‘peasants’. Hence Trotsky’s questioning remarks: ‘It is quite possible.’

In thus establishing the connection between the land and the national slogans, Trotsky rendered great assistance to our organisation when it was busy shaping the programme during its first years. As far as the programmatic side of our development was concerned, this was the chief value of the letter. And, with regard to our practical organisation work in handling the land problem and the rural toilers, Trotsky pointed out what our comrades have long maintained: that our first duty is to organise the city workers, and only through the advanced urban workers could we organise and properly approach the rural masses. This is the more important for a party which has not reached the status of a party, has insufficient members, and sorely lacks personnel, everyone being urgently required for the growing volume of work in the cities. As Trotsky writes:

‘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 immediate future, mainly if not exclusively, through the medium 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.[6]

The Alliance Between the City and Rural Workers

From theoretical and organisational considerations Trotsky drew the conclusion that the ruralists can be organised chiefly, if not only, through the medium of the advanced city workers. This task is actually facilitated by the peculiar conditions which exist in South Africa. The fact that the majority of Africans come to the cities and spend a growing period in the mines, or factories, etc, actually brings the ‘fatalists’ into touch economically and politically with the urban workers. The alliance is born in the towns. To this extent the political gulf between town and country is half bridged by the migratory labour situation in this country. The fact that the majority of African reservists are either city proletarians or agricultural proletarians for the major portion of their working if not their whole lives, enormously simplifies the task of establishing contact between the permanent city and city-reserve workers. This does not mean that the task is itself simple. By no means! Not a few have sacrificed their lives in attempting to work inside a compound; who are segregated rigorously from the city influence, from other compounds, and in which tribal feuds are stirred up to divide and rule the Africans. But the work is simpler than doing organisational work among the ruralists in the country itself, and this latter work is rendered a task mainly of the migrant workers themselves upon their temporary return to their territories.

The organisational alliance of the workers of town and country, however, has to be based and can be based on far more than the possibility of contact in the towns. It is made possible and necessary by the fact that both the urban and the rural Africans, and all non-Europeans, are commonly oppressed by their lack of democratic rights. On the basis of the struggle against the colour bar, against segregation and race discrimination – by means of a struggle against the imperialist-National policy of divide and rule and for the unity of the non-Europeans as a major step in the struggle to build up the unity of all the oppressed in the country – both non-White and White – on this basis the alliance between the workers of town and country can and must be built. Here, in this country, it is not so much, in fact hardly, a question of the ‘alliance between the proletariat and peasantry’, but rather a case of building up the alliance of the city workers and the farm workers, the vast majority of whom are wage slaves and commonly oppressed by the colour bar, segregation and lack of rights (including the right to land), and all of whom are held in bondage by imperialism, which is chiefly responsible for their misery. By means of the national struggle and by means of building up a powerful mass national organisation of all the non-Europeans and their White supporters in order to wage a determined struggle against imperialist oppression, the toilers of all nationalities and from town and country will be united against a common foe.

This national organisation is essential to effect this unity. But the national struggle and the national organisation cannot triumph unless the whole course of this struggle for liberation and democratic rights opens up the way to the Socialist revolution, to the setting up of a workers’ government for South Africa and the expropriation of the imperialist and nationalist bourgeoisie – the only revolution and the only government which can introduce democracy for all and divide out the land among the landless in South Africa.

But this organisation and this struggle cannot travel a correct path unless guided by a revolutionary Leninist party of the workers.

Unless this party is built speedily and yet soundly, so that it can organise the city workers politically and shape the policy and orientation of the national organisation by means of this proletarian support exercised inside the national organisation and upon it from outside, unless our party is built, there is no hope for the national movement, nor for the landless toilers. When this party will have been built on such a scale that it can lead the fight for the conquest of power in this country, then the toilers of this land and of all Africa will fully realise the great role which Trotsky’s few lines have played in developing the programme and action of our organisation.



1. L.D. Trotsky, On the South African Theses, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1935–36, New York 1974, p. 248.

2. Op. cit., p. 253.

3. Op. cit., p. 250.

4. Op. cit., p. 249.

5. Op. cit., p. 253.

6. Op. cit., pp. 253–4, original emphasis.



Our thanks to Martin Cook for kindly donating various itemss to the Socialist Platform library.

Updated by ETOL: 28 January 2009