Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History: Volume 4, No. 4, South Africa: The Trade Unions

The Trade Unions

The major contribution to the working class movement is described in the documents below. This fills a hole in the writings on South African labour history, part of which must be ascribed to omissions on the part of historians, schooled in the CPSA’s methods of misrepre class="sub"sentation. A fuller account of the work of Gordon, Koza, et al, and of later work in the Progressive Trade Union group can be found in Baruch Hirson’s Yours For the Union . See also the report on the strikes in which Purdy and Lee were involved by ‘Los’ in Fight , Volume 1, no 6, May 1937. This was the journal of CLR James’ Marxist Group.

Yudel Burlak
Draft Thesis: The Trade Union Question

THE PROBLEMS and tactics of the trade unions are determined by the conditions and intensity of the class struggle. As a starting point we take the irrefutable fact that capitalism is in process of decay. The economic crisis throughout the world for the past five years, the enormous masses of the unemployed, the decline in wages, the onslaught on the standards of living, the various developments of Fascism, the imminence of war, all this shows the impossibility of retaining the existing social and economic system, the deadly rule of oppression and exploitation. Against the background of this sharp economic crisis, the social struggle in all countries grows more severe. Strikes of unusual magnitude are breaking out, beginning in the United States, as the proletariat strives to maintain its standards of living under the heavy hand of capitalism.

But in these fights the workers are hampered and betrayed by their own leaders in trade unions. The majority of trade unions in capitalist countries are in the hands of reformists and bureaucrats, the direct servants of the capitalism. Although themselves workers, they are directly or indirectly bribed by the capitalists and their chief activity is to mislead the workers. They put their trust in the goodwill of the bourgeoisie and in class collaboration; they turn away from the class struggle and from the revolutionary fight for a new social order. This dependence upon the bourgeoisie is the main reason for their insistence upon the ‘independence of the trade unions’, and for their favourite slogan: ‘Keep the trade unions clear of politics.’ They accept complacently the additional slogan furnished by the bourgeoisie: ‘You carry on with your economic struggle and we will look after politics.’ The bourgeoisie have always tried to separate the economic fight, which is the basis of the trade union movement, from the political struggle, and the bureaucracy of the trade unions strongly supports this. But under present conditions every economic struggle inevitably takes on political significance. Therefore, the main task of a revolutionary party is to conquer the trade unions. For only by conquering the trade unions can we conquer the masses, that is, win their confidence. And this can only be achieved by systematic, obstinate work along the lines of opposing and unmasking the treachery and slackness of the trade union bureaucracy in the struggle for the daily interests of the workers, and by setting against the policy of class collaboration a steady revolutionary course. The trade union is the workshop and school of a Communist, and our task is by conquering the trade unions to prepare the workers for the overthrow of the capitalist system.

The position of the trade unions in South Africa reflects the backwardness of the South African worker. All the unions are under the control of reformist leaders. Furthermore, the unions are stultified and pacified by a blanket of industrial legislation which aims at settling disputes by mutual agreement instead of by direct action. Most of the unions, and this is the most important point to keep in mind, are the close preserves of the white aristocracy of labour. Natives are debarred or discouraged from entering these unions, and are in the majority of cases completely unorganised and helpless against the continual attacks on the meagre standard of living.

The majority of trade unions in the Cape are affiliated to the Cape Federation of Labour Unions, while those in the northern provinces, as well as a few in the Cape, are affiliated to the Trades and Labour Council. The Cape unions follow a more liberal policy in connection with non-Europeans, and in the majority of unions in the Cape, it is permissible for Natives to join. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the Transvaal, Free State, or Natal.

On the other hand, the Cape Federation of Labour Unions is, in general, one of the most reactionary bodies that ever existed in the ranks of the working class. In no way does it advance beyond the American Federation of Labour, for even the reformist, yellow trade union international (the Amsterdam International) is for the Cape, as for the American Federation, too revolutionary.

When we examine the trade union policy of the two existing workers’ parties, the South African Labour Party and the Communist Party, we see the same erroneous and harmful attitude as towards the Native problem in general, that of the SALP being chauvinist and that of the CP being separatist and sectarian. The policy of the SALP, a policy of white trade unionism, barring the way for Natives in the existing trade unions, is not only most detrimental to the interests of the whole working class of South Africa, which includes both white and black workers, but is even against the interests of the white workers organised in the white trade unions. By barring the way into the trade unions for the great bulk of workers in the various industries of the country, they are serving the ends of the capitalists, who by reason of their division are able to intensify their exploitation, using the white worker as a playball in their hands. The whole history of the working class movement in this country is marked by tragic examples of this fatally shortsighted policy.

The chauvinistic policy of the SALP in conjunction with the chauvinist trade union bureaucracy was responsible in 1922 for the collapse of the General Strike on the Rand, and for the appalling slaughter of the workers there. As a matter of fact, the strike was instigated to prevent Native workers from doing skilled work. It was a strike which clearly reflected the reactionary chauvinistic policy of the SALP. In the same way, the white workers, who mainly owed their allegiance to the SALP, failed to support the strike of the Native mineworkers in 1919. That the Native workers emerged victorious from that strike was due solely to their own militancy, and in spite of the scabbing activities of the white workers.

While we must emphasise the fact that some good work was done in the trade unions by the CP for a number of years prior to 1928, and this should be remembered and appreciated, we must also say frankly that with its entry upon a new ‘ultra-left’ road, the road of adventurism, its policy of the ‘Third Period’, the ‘Native Republics’, the ‘red trade unions’, and more especially its trade union policy, has been since 1928 most harmful and disastrous. Its views on trade unionism found expression in the slogans, ‘Out of the trade unions’, ‘For new revolutionary trade unions’, a policy contrary to the interests to the working class. It is a policy of despair, of pessimism, and corresponds with the general loss of faith in the masses by the Communist parties, the Comintern, and the Profintern. They forgot the teaching of Lenin, which was always against any split in the trade unions: ‘The trade union movement, in spite of the treachery of its leaders, is the historically inevitable form to unite the entire proletariat into one organisation.’ The task of the revolutionary party in the trade unions most certainly does not consist in wresting from the unions the best and class conscious workers in order to create small separate organisations. This policy of a breaking off from the unions on the part of the revolutionary elements plays into the hands of the capitalists and the counter-revolutionary trade union bureaucracy. It is a commonplace that the employers are making use of any and every means in their power to split the ranks of the working class on such questions as the labour of women, or cheap labour, or skilled worker against unskilled and semi-skilled, white against black, employed against unemployed. And then comes along the ‘revolutionary’ CP to help them by splitting the unions! This policy of detaching the best elements from the masses means isolating these revolutionary workers on the one side, and abandoning the great bulk of the workers to the full influence of the trade union bureaucracy on the other side. It is not difficult to see how harmful to the interests of the working class such a policy is.

What Shall Be the Attitude of the New Party to the Trade Unions?

The new revolutionary party will be able to defeat the existing trade union bureaucracy and wrest from them the leadership, only when it has learned how to win the confidence of the masses. This cannot be achieved by detaching the most class conscious element from the masses, but by participating in the daily struggle of the masses, in their daily needs and hopes. The basis for enlarging our influence lies within the economic struggle. Questions of wages, working hours, unemployment, short time, social insurance, compensation, sanitary conditions, and all kinds of grievances must be our concern, but at the same time we must utilise all this for educating class consciousness and militancy. Our task is to work insistently and systematically in the trade unions, giving the masses guidance in the daily struggle as well as practical lessons in the revolutionary spirit and revolutionary Marxism. In the attack, as in the retreat when necessary, we must be at the head, in the forefront. So only can we win the confidence of the masses.

1. The economic struggle should follow the slogans of increase in wages, improvement of labour conditions, and the defence of the fundamental rights and interests of the workers.

2. We must be clear on the point that this cannot be achieved by class collaboration, which is the policy of opportunism and bureaucracy. While not entirely rejecting collective bargaining, we must point out to the workers the relatively slight value of this, and keep in mind the fact that the capitalists always violate the collective contracts whenever it is to their advantage. Therefore the fundamental policy of the trade unions must be direct action.

3. The problem of unemployment must engage our close attention. The capitalists are continually trying to split the workers; they pit those who are still employed against their unemployed comrades. But unemployment menaces every worker, and therefore the struggle must be directed against its causes. For this is a matter of life and death, and we must rally both the employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled in the unions into one united, solid, fighting body.

4. For the same sound reason, the unity of the workers, we must above all fight for the abolition of the ‘Colour Bar’. We must point out to the workers the deadly danger of division, which is in the interests of the capitalist only, and the pressing need of unity of black and white in the trade unions. We must fight for equality of labour and conditions, and equal pay for equal work independent of race or sex.

5. We stand for a united trade union movement of all workers irrespective of race, colour, creed or sex. It is the duty of every member of ours in the trade unions to agitate for the removal of the Colour Bar where such exists. But, until such time as this can be achieved, we must organise into separate bodies all those who are actually debarred from joining the existing trade unions. Under no circumstances, however, do we regard such Native trade unions as opposition trade unions or as a goal in themselves. They are only a step towards the amalgamation of all the trade unions, black and white, into one central organisation of trade unions of all the workers of South Africa.

6. But while conducting or participating in the fight for the improvement of the conditions of labour, for raising the standard of living of the workers, and so on, we should always bear in mind that it is impossible to solve all these problems within the frame of the capitalist system. While gradually forcing concessions from the ruling classes, compelling them to enact social legislation, we shall ever and again point out to the workers that only the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat can solve the social question.

Max Gordon The Scope For Native Employment

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 lesser 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 greater part in productive labour. The ratio of Native labourers employed on the Rand mines, compared with Europeans, artisans and labourers, is 9.9:1, on the coal mines, 16.8:1, 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 growing rationalisation of industry, the practice of substituting unskilled for skilled labour is continually extending, and this process is leading to an ever greater prominence of the Native worker, both numerically and as a producer: this, in spite of the government's ‘White’ civilized labour policy formulated by General Hertzog as early as 1924, the effects of which will be dealt with later.

[Gordon quotes here from the Thesis on the Native Question, from ‘The main characteristic of the South African economic system...’ on page 106, to ‘... the only solution of the Native Problem is the agrarian revolution’ on page 108.1

During the nine months of December to September 1936, £10,740,000 agricultural products were exported, as compared with £18 185 181 for the same period this year. In spite of the increased agricultural production, the wages of farm labourers have remained from £21 to £25 per annum, excluding board and lodging. It is interesting to note that during the later period, £65,992,393 of various minerals were exported. One and a half million Natives are employed in agriculture, as compared with half a million in the mining industry, where the average wage is £46-4-0 per annum, excluding board and lodging.

Industries in the Union have been built up with the help of subsidies, and behind a tariff barrier. The introduction of the government’s policy of protecting secondary industries coincided with Hertzog’s announcement in 1924 of the ‘White’ civilized labour policy. It was made perfectly clear that the rapidly increasing number of poor whites (30,000 before 1910 to 350,000) were to be given employment in the secondary industries, civil service and the railway and harbours. All industrial legislation since promulgated was with this end in view. The Native employment was to be confined to the mines and agriculture.

The last great crisis which deepened and widened the gulf between the productive capacity of the world industry and the consuming capacity of the world markets was reflected in South Africa by the severe cuts in wages. Indirectly, the general wage bill was further lowered by a more complete rationalisation of industry. The introduction of machines which do not require skilled attention inevitably led to the displacement of skilled workers in favour of unskilled and semi-skilled. The unskilled White worker was compelled to accept the low wages paid to the Native. The Bantu workers gradually gained a permanent place in many industries (performing both skilled and unskilled work) from which they can only be dislodged with drastic results to the efficient organisation of the said industries. Only in the newspaper and printing trades, the engineering trades and the building industry have the European skilled workers been able to maintain their monopoly, even in these trades the ratio of Native unskilled to skilled European workers is 8:1.

The laundry industry is today dominated by Africans 95 per cent to five per cent. In the baking industry in 1925, the skilled and semi-skilled employees were entirely Europeans. Today a 5:2 ratio exists in favour of Africans. In the furniture industry a 50:50 basis exists. The Union government, however, claims that the percentage increase of poor whites employed in the secondary industries has increased from 38 per cent to 42 per cent. This may be due to the increased industrialisation, or to the fact that government contracts are only placed with firms employing the maximum amount of European employees, or perhaps in an indirect fashion to the subsidising of the wages of European labourers employed by the municipalities by 50 per cent.

There are about 28 industries in the Union, each employing more than 1000 Africans. About 150,000 Bantu are employed in these industries. Their wages vary from 15/- per week to 30/- per week for unskilled workers.

Native employment can be divided into 10 main avenues:

1. Agriculture
2. Mines.
3. Commerce.
4. Industries.
5. Domestic.
6. Civil service.
7. Municipal.
8. Provincial.
9. Professional.
10. Employment to provide for Native requirements.

Two fifths of the money derived from Native taxation is paid into the Native Development Account to be used for payment of Native education, agricultural instruction, health amenities and departmental expenses. The other three fifths, that is, Native money is paid into the Union Revenue Fund, and is not used for any form of Native requirements or development. From the foregoing it is clear that the government's idea of trusteeship is, as far as possible, to confine Native employment to the mines and agriculture.

The whole economy of the Union is based on the mines and agriculture, which in turn relies [sic] on an adequate supply of cheap Native labour.

In the face of these facts, what solution do we offer so that the African may obtain a living wage, and that 1.5 million of our population may live as human beings and not as beasts of burden?

[Gordon quotes here from the Thesis on the Native Question, from ‘The Native problem is mainly the Agrarian Problem’ to ‘... oppression and subjection of the largest part of the population, continues to prevail on page 112.]

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 racial oppression, and therefore the national question also forms a part of the Native problem, but the Native needs, first of all, land, then national emancipation. Our task is to strive for the unity and mobilisation of all 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 exists [sic] among European 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 our sure conviction that all this can he achieved in the revolutionary struggle, and that our main fight lies in the preparation and mobilisation of all possible forces for the future revolution.

Party and Class Yudel Burlak Concerning the Constitution of the Party

THE FUNDAMENTAL principles of a party are embodied in its programme and theses. The basis of the organisational construction of a party is laid down in its constitution. In the programme are expressed all the essential and fundamental differences which distinguish the party concerned from all others. The aims and objects of reformist parties and those of revolutionary ones are in our epoch diametrically opposed. In the last instance it is the question of preservation or destruction of the present system of class division, of oppression and exploitation. Consequently, the programme and platform of a revolutionary Marxist party and that of a reformist one must be totally different. What is of particular importance to us at the moment is whether this difference both in theory and in practical work must or must not appear in the organisational form, in the structure of the party. This point is especially important, because there are many, even in the ranks of the Left Opposition, who think that the party organisational form and the party programme are not closely interconnected.

During the pre-revolutionary period, the period of comparatively peaceful development, the Social Democratic parties affiliated to the Second International dominated the labour movement, and the parliamentary forms of struggle were the chief forms. Kautsky, defending the Second International for its failure and betrayal of the workers in 1914, declares that the parties composing the Second International were instruments of peace and not of war, and therefore they were not in a position to embark on any serious activity while the war lasted. This is partly true, for these parties were indeed not adapted to the revolutionary struggle of the working class; they were not fighting organisations capable of leading the working class to revolution, to seizure of power. They were merely an electoral apparatus well suited to parliamentary struggles. And therefore the most important political rôle belonged not to the party but to the parliamentary fraction. The party at that time was only an appendix, a servant of the parliamentary fraction. Social Democracy, which rejected the revolutionary fight for the overthrow of capitalism, and has put its faith in democracy and reforms, in the evolutionary ‘process’ in parliamentarianism and the vote, naturally built its parties on a broad basis, for parliamentary struggle, for securing the majority. Here the number, or quantity, was all-important. The strength of such parties lay in the number of their members of parliament. The class consciousness, the fighting spirit, were of little or no importance. The gates of the party were thrown wide open. All kinds of petit-bourgeois ideology, the civil servants, peasants, small shopkeepers, small landowners, and so on, were pouring into the Social Democratic parties.

This dilution of what was originally the workers’ party naturally had as a result the continual abandonment of Marxism. One Marxian principle after another was dropped. The party had to please, to adapt itself to the petit-bourgeoisie, the peasantry, the labour aristocracy. For it needed votes, support in parliamentary elections, and the funds for the press, the cooperatives, the savings banks, and other investments. Assuredly such parties could not prepare the working class for revolution. The first who not only saw that peaceful development was nearing its end and that we were approaching a period of wars and revolutions, but also saw the danger of revisionism and reformism in the theoretical and consequently in the organisational field, was Lenin. As far back as 1902 he foresaw this danger for the future revolution. And the first thing he could do was to fight for a sound foundation and avoidance of this vital mistake at the very beginning in the formation and building up of the Russian party. We know the fight that arose in the Second Congress of that party in 1903. We know the split that came on the question: ‘Who can be a member of the party?’ Or, in other words, [it was] on the question of an open mass party or a close knit cadre party; and we know the subsequent foundation of the Bolshevik Party to which we owe the October Revolution and the establishment of the USSR.

To get to the core of this matter we must examine Lenin’s view of the party. In a speech at the Second Congress in 1903 he said: ‘I would rather see 10 working actively and yet outside the Party, than one idle prattler inside the Party.’ In 1904 he wrote:

‘We are the party of the working class. Consequently, nearly the whole of that class should work under the guidance of our party, should create the closest contact with our party. But we should be guilty of mere empty talk, were we to believe that under capitalism all or nearly all the workers will become class conscious and will be prepared to share the activities of the vanguard, the party. No reasonable Socialist has ever believed that under capitalism even the trade unions (more primitive organisations and therefore congenial to the backward strata of the working class) can succeed in enrolling all or nearly all the members of the working class. We should be deceiving ourselves and closing our eyes to the immensity of our tasks, were we to belittle the difficulties ahead of us, were we to overlook the distinction between the vanguard and the masses which are attracted towards it, were we to forget that the perennial duty of the vanguard is to raise ever wider strata of the proletariat to its own level.’ (Volume 5, pp300-1)[1]

After the Revolution he wrote:

‘The Communist Party as the vanguard of the revolutionary class, enrolling as members all the best elements of that class, consisting of fully class conscious and devoted Communists, who have been enlightened and steeled by their experience in the stubborn revolutionary struggle, inseparably connected with the whole life of the working class, and through this class lined up with the wider mass of the exploited, and enjoying the full confidence of one and all of these—only the Communist Party, if it fulfils all the above-mentioned conditions, is competent to lead the proletariat to the last, the ruthless, the decisive campaign against the united forces of capitalism.’ (Volume 17, p232)[2]

And again:

‘With reformists and Mensheviks in our ranks we cannot hope to lead the revolutionary proletariat to victory, or to preserve the gains of victory. This is fundamental. Moreover, it has been confirmed by recent experiences in Russia and Hungary.’ (Volume 17, p372)[3]

Thus we have on the one hand the party of reforms, of ‘gradualness’, who put their [sic] faith in democracy and parliamentary action, with a broad, open, legal organisational form, aiming to embrace the whole working class and the semi-proletarian masses in its ranks, in order to win some day the majority in parliament and thus ‘gradually grow into Socialism’. And on the other hand we have the Bolshevik Party, the party of Lenin, who had no faith in bourgeois democracy and bourgeois laws, a cadre party, a close knit party, a vanguard only, combining legal and illegal aspects and activity in its organisational form. Such a party carries no ‘dead weight’ and through its members, the best class conscious elements, the pick of the working class, it is able to teach, to guide, to lead the labouring and exploited masses, in order to seize power by revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and through the dictatorship of the proletariat to achieve Socialism, the classless society.

It is therefore clear: 1) that the organisational form of the party is inseparable from and clearly interconnected with its programme and platform, and 2) that the organisational form of the Bolshevik Party was not suitable for a period of peaceful development of capitalism, for reforms and parliamentarianism, just as the organisational form of the old Social Democratic parties is not suitable for our epoch of wars and revolutions, for the fight for power, for the decisive battle against capitalism.

The utter collapse of the broad Social Democratic party with its millions of members and many more millions of voters, and the failure of the Second International, 1914-1933, are at the same time the failure and collapse of the mass parties. The achievement of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, of the little Bolshevik sect following the ‘sectarian’, the ‘isolationist’, the ‘maniac’ Lenin, the triumph of the October Revolution, are at the same time the achievement and the triumph of the revolutionary cadre party, of the revolutionary vanguard.

The October Revolution was able to succeed, not only because ‘revolution’ was written on the Bolshevik banner, whereas ‘reform’ was written on the banner of Social Democracy, but also because the Bolsheviks were a highly organised, centralised, strictly disciplined, small but determined revolutionary army, a real vanguard, which could lead and did lead the working class to victory. The value of quality against quantity was made manifest through the Bolshevik Party of 1917-1921 as clearly and convincingly as it had been proved on the battlefield of Tannenberg.

When we, who call ourselves Bolshevik-Leninists, are purposing to build a revolutionary party, can we discard the greatest work of Lenin, namely, his teaching concerning the party? And can we discount the experience of the last 30 years? We must take into account the fact that every type of party that was born in the epoch of parliamentarism, and accommodated itself to it, has fallen into decay. We must also take into account the fact that the epoch of parliamentarism has passed. The history of the working class for that period, which is mainly the history of the mass parties, demonstrated on a world-wide scale that with mass parties such as those of Western Europe, victory is out of the question. It is therefore imperative that we return to the fundamental teachings of Lenin and to the experience of Bolshevism in the matter of party structure. It must be pointed out that on this question, too, a revision of Lenin's teaching had taken place in the Comintern since Lenin died. The principle of ‘choosing the best of the working class for the party’ was forgotten, and a different organisational method was adopted.

The most striking example of the result of the substituted method is the miserable failure of the Communist Party of Germany. It died in the same inglorious way as the Socialist Party of Germany. For the Communist Party of Germany also relied too much upon democracy and parliamentarism, and only started to build an illegal party when it was already too late. From all the experience of the past it should have been clear to them that the main reason for the failure and degeneration, the inertia and the decay of the mass parties lay in the lack of a strict, illegal, conspiratorial, and professionally educated organisation core, and that without this it is impossible to solve the organisation problem, or to find the correct programme, or to enter upon real action.

But not only this. The Communist Party of Germany forgot the other portion of Lenin's teaching: the distinction between the party vanguard and the mass. The task, according to Lenin, is not to draw the masses into the party, but to serve the mass movement in the correct professional manner, and thus bring them under the influence of the party. But the Communist Party of Germany did exactly the opposite, and as a mass party, could not do otherwise. For the influence of the party in concrete action, there was substituted the influence of the masses, as more and more of the masses were drawn into the party. This was the reason why the swelling of their membership numbers and voting numbers had not increased in the least their real strength, their fighting strength. For the Communist Party as a vanguard did not exist. Instead of concentrating on the upbuilding and educating of the vanguard, which can lead, they concentrated on drawing in the most backward, who can only be led. The vanguard sank to the level of the backward.

Any such combination of a revolutionary programme with a Social Democratic structure is as a lion’s head attached to a lamb’s body, and such experiments are from the outset doomed to failure. Both revolutionary propaganda, which is in the beginning our main task, and revolutionary action are impossible with a loose party structure.

We are Bolshevik-Leninists; we accept the first four Congresses of the Comintern. Yet there are comrades who oppose the building of an illegal party at the same time as, and parallel with, the lawful party. This opposition is grounded on the old belief in democracy. We in South Africa, they say, still have democracy and we are still a long way from Bonapartism and Fascism, a long way from the conditions prevailing in Europe today, or from those which prevailed in Tsarist Russia. But how deceptive is this belief in democracy! And how often it has proved fatal! No one denies that at present we Communists can still carry on in the lawful, open way, utilising to the full the remnants of the so-called freedom of speech, press, propaganda, and meetings. But can a revolutionary party build on the present moment only? Even now the Riotous Assemblies Act has reduced democratic rights to such a degree that only peaceful, ‘harmless’ propaganda is possible. We shall be tolerated insofar as we remain inside the boundaries of harmlessness and impotence, as does the Communist Party. Is there, then, no need for a revolutionary party, revolutionary in the true sense of the word? Anyone who has been studying events in Germany, France, America, Britain, the decay of democracy and the drift towards open or concealed Bonapartism and Fascism, and has compared all this with developments in South Africa, will surely refuse to neglect the brilliant warnings of Lenin and Trotsky at the Second Congress of the Comintern 14 years ago.

Paragraph 12 of the Statues of the Communist International reads:

‘The general state of things in the whole of Europe and America makes necessary for Communists throughout the world an obligatory formation of illegal Communist organisations along with those existing legally. The Executive Committee would take charge of the universal application of this rule.[4]

Thesis 12 reads as follows:

‘For all countries, even for the most free, legal, and peaceful, in the sense of lesser acuteness in the class struggle, the period has arrived when it has become absolutely necessary for every Communist party to join systematically all lawful and illegal work, lawful and illegal organisations. In the most enlightened and free countries with a solid, bourgeois-democratic regime, the governments are systematically recurring, in spite of their false and hypocritical assurances, to the method of keeping lists of communists, to endless violation of their constitution for the semi-secret support of White Guards and the murder of Communists, to secret preparation for the arrest of Communists, the introduction of provocateurs among the Communists, etc. Only the most reactionary petit-bourgeois can dispute this fact or the necessary conclusion—an immediate formation of all Communist parties of illegal organisations for systematic illegal work.[5]

The same is said in point 3 of the 21 Points of admission.

Is South Africa an exception to these universal rules? Were not workers shot in South Africa in 1922? Did we not witness the deportation of militant and revolutionary workers from provinces and even from the Union? Has not an injunction been recently sought and obtained by capitalists against strikers, virtually prohibiting the strike and so breaking it? And has not a political party lately been suppressed in South West Africa and declared illegal, because ‘it is detrimental in its activities to the peace, order, and good government of the territory’? These are precisely the activities which are indispensable to a real revolutionary party.

For every clear-thinking Marxist, it should be obvious that not one revolutionary party on this globe can escape the stage of complete illegality. And as this cannot be helped, the revolutionary party must be prepared for it, not just six or eight weeks beforehand, but in its essence, in its whole structure and character. Only in this way can the party attain stability, security, continuity, revolutionary strength and vitality.


1. Cf VI Lenin, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’, Collected Works , Volume 7, Moscow, 1977, pp258-9.

2. Cf VI Lenin, ‘Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International’, Collected Works , Volume 31, Moscow, 1977, pplS7-8.

3. Cf VI Lenin, ‘On the Struggle Within the Italian Socialist Party’, Collected Works , Volume 31, op cit, pp383.4.

4. Cf ‘Statutes of the Communist International’, A Adler (ed), Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International , London, 1980, p126.

5. Cf ‘Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International’, Adler, op cit, pp137-8.

The Coming War
Moshe Noah Averbach
Draft Thesis on the War Question

[The article starts with a quote from LD Trotsky, ‘War and the Fourth International’, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34, New York, 1975, pp299-300, from: ‘The catastrophic commercial, industrial, agrarian and financial crisis...’, to ‘Only the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the insurgent proletariat can save humanity from a now devastating slaughter of peoples.’]

The disintegration of Europe, the collapse of the League of Nations, the bid of the USA for world hegemony, the Japanese offensive in the Far East, all reveal the desperate plight of world imperialism, and the drive towards a new imperialist war.

It is impossible to predict precisely where and when the first shot will be fired. Circumstances may compel the Japanese military camarilla to strike the first blow, while there is yet time, though under the influence of the Soviet-American agreement, as well as internal difficulties, Japan may be forced into temporary retreat. The Saar basin, the Balkan Peninsula, or the Danubian countries may all provide the initiative. The multitude of factors and the interturning [sic—intertwining?] of conflicting forces exclude the possibility of a concrete prognosis. But the general tendency of development is absolutely clear: the postwar period has simply been transformed into an interval between two wars, and this interval is vanishing before our very eyes. Planned, corporative or state capitalism which goes hand in hand with the authoritarian, Bonapartist or Fascist state, remains a utopia and a lie insofar as it sets itself the official task of a harmonious national economy on the basis of private property. But it is a menacing reality insofar as it is a question of concentrating all the economic forces of the nation for the preparation of a new war. This work is proceeding now with full steam. A new great war is knocking at the gates. It will be crueller, more destructive than its predecessor. This very fact makes the attitude towards the oncoming war the pivotal question of proletarian policy.

The USSR and Imperialist War

[This entire section is a quote from LD Trotsky, ‘War and the Fourth International’, The Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34, New York, 1975, pp303-4.]

South Africa and the Next Imperialist War

Through its economic investments, British imperialism remains the real ruler of South Africa. All the talk about ‘Sovereign Independence’, ‘Free Association of Nations within the British Commonwealth’ etc, is mere camouflage to hide the real rôle of British imperialism in South Africa.

The most important industries, like the gold, coal and diamond mines, the sugar industry and so on, are almost completely controlled by British capital. Most of the government, provincial and municipal loans are raised in the British money market. British capitalists form the majority of railway bond holders. All the vital economic keys of the country, including the banking system, are in the hands of British imperialism.

With this stranglehold on South Africa’s economic resources, British imperialism is able to, and does, play the leading rôle in directing the different political currents of the country. Any one of the major political parties, when in power, whether it is the SAP, Nationalists (Hertzogites and Malanites), Fusionists, etc, can only function as the political executive of British capitalism—the tool of imperialist bandits and exploiters.

The chief political expression of British imperialism and its local representatives, the Chamber of Mines, is the Fusion Party, which takes the place of the old SAP.

Fusion is the political preparation for war—to ensure ‘peace’ internally, while British imperalism is engaged in a bloody struggle to maintain its world supremacy. To this end, war preparations are proceeding at a feverish pace. The Special Service Battalions are the first steps towards the militarisation of the unemployed youth. The Defence Force is being tightened up, the Air and Coastal Defences are being reorganised. Fusion complements on the political field what Pirow is preparing in the military field.

The Malanite section of the Nationalist Party represents the small white agrarian interests, the small or middle farmer, the bywoners, poor whites, etc. It also represents the minor industries (boots, clothes, textiles, etc) which it seeks to protect from ‘foreign’ competition by means of heavy tariff barriers. The Malanites carry on a demagogic campaign against imperialism, which must be exploited to the full by the Communist League. While utilising Malan’s anti-imperialist programme for its own revolutionary ends, the Communist League must make it clear to the toiling masses, that when in power, the Malanites can only act as the lackeys of British imperialism, even as its [sic] forerunners the SAP, Nationalists and Fusionists. That the power of British imperialism can only be broken by the revolutionary action of the toiling masses, and the setting up of a workers' and peasants' government.

The Labour Party will, in the near future, play a rôle of growing importance in South African politics. Painfully, it is already emerging from the swamp into which it was drawn by its own treachery and opportunism. Representing large strata of the privileged white workers, it will continue to draw to its banner, failing a real workers’ party, a Communist Party, those white workers who will in time become disillusioned with the Fusionists and Malanites. Judging by its past record, and by present indications, the SALP can be relied upon to support British imperialism in the coming war.

The minor political currents, represented by the Stallardites (Dominion Party), the Centre Party (Roosites), Grey Shirts and the Communist Party, play an altogether unimportant rôle in South African politics. Of these groups, the Grey Shirts represent the greatest potential menace to the working class, but at present they represent only small sections of shopkeepers, other unimportant sections of the middle class, and misguided workers who lack a revolutionary workers’ party to which they can turn for guidance.

A general survey of the situation reveals the fact that British imperialism has succeeded in entrenching itself more firmly than ever as the dominating force in South Africa, but it is equally true that a growth in the strength of British imperialism leads to a corresponding growth in the anti-imperialist forces within the country.

In the Second World War, which in the existing international, political and economic situation is liable to break out at any moment, British imperialism will, without any doubt, force the government of the country—whichever party is in power—into active participation on its side. But, it is quite possible that a large section of the population will attempt to organise resistance to the government's attempts to inveigle the country in war. If such a thing could happen in the last war, it is even more probable that it will be repeated to a greater extent in the coming war. Without doubt, such an opposition will find its political expression through an opposition parliamentary party. If the Malanite-Nationalists are still an opposition party, then it is more than probable that they will lead the opposition to South Africa’s entry into war. To say in advance that such a campaign for neutrality is doomed to failure, is not correct. In time of world war, when the fate of every belligerent imperialistic power hangs in the balance, any new obstacle can bring down the scale. If the struggle for neutrality will draw in large sections of the black and white toilers—and this is the task of the revolutionary party—and work to arm them, it can be of tremendous significance for the complete emancipation of the exploited masses from the yoke of imperialist-capitalist domination, even if British imperialism does succeed in forcing South Africa into the war.

From this it is clear how essential it is for the revolutionary party to keep in touch with the neutrality sentiments of the masses, to participate actively in that movement and to direct it into a revolutionary channel. Through such action, it will be possible for the Communist League to win the confidence of the masses, and to place itself at the head of the workers and peasants, irrespective of whether the struggle for neutrality is successful or not.

Yudel Burlak Draft Thesis on the War Question

WHEREAS THERE is unanimity concerning the general theses on war (See War and the Fourth International ), there seems to be a difference of opinion when we come to deal with our policy and slogans for South Africa. This flows from divergent views on the possibility of keeping South Africa out of a new world war.

To clear our minds on this point we must make a thorough examination of imperialism; we must consider the correlation of forces in South Africa; we must analyse the political parties and their relations to imperialism and war.

It would be a mistake to include in one formula all the dominions and their relations to Britain. Such a generalisation would not he worthy of a Marxist. It is impossible to draw any useful comparison between Ireland and South Africa, [or] between Canada and New Zealand. There is not only the fact that none of the other Dominions has a subjected and oppressed native population comprising three-fourths of the total population, as is the ease in South Africa. In the Irish Free State there is but a small percentage of British, while in Australia and New Zealand there is a very large preponderance of British. In Canada, as in South Africa, the white population is divided almost equally, in Canada between French and British, in South Africa between Dutch and British. Therefore the natural and cultural bonds between Great Britain on the one hand and New Zealand and Australia on the other, are the strongest, [and] between Great Britain and the Irish Free State the weakest. Midway there stand Canada and South Africa, the last more loosely bound than Canada on account of the hostility of the Dutch population towards Great Britain since the last Boer War.

But not so the economic situation and ties. If in Canada British imperialism has to compete and share with American imperialism, if Australia has her own industries and more external trade with other countries, in South Africa the case is different. Here the grip of British imperialism is strongest.

Except the primary industry of agriculture, almost all the assets of South Africa belong to Britain or Britishers. The gold mines, the greater part of the diamonds, the coal, the sugar industry and the secondary industries such as building, shoemaking, clothing, engineering, Brewery Trust, Tobacco Trust ete, and the transport, airways, shipping, tram and bus services, are in the hands of Britain.

The whole public debt of South Africa is in British hands. The government loans, as well as of the provinces and municipalities, the railways, the electricity supply, all loans are directly or indirectly in the hands of Great Britain. The banks which control industrial life, export, import and credit, the Standard Bank and Barclay’s Bank, belong to British capital and are controlled by British finance. The same is true of the insurance system. So we see that the whole economic life of South Africa is controlled by British finance capital. South Africa is indebted to Great Britain to the extent of 318 millions, and it is this position as a sole creditor that makes the rule of British imperialism in South Africa so impregnable, as long as capitalism rules.

How does the grip and rule of imperialism manifest itself? Directly through the finance and money market of the City of London and through their representatives, the banks, indirectly through the Chamber of Mines, Chamber of Industry, and Chamber of Commerce. Let those simple souls who believe in democracy, who do not understand the nature of the state, and who think that South Africa is ruled by her government and parliament, look for a majority or minority of the South African Party, or the Nationalist Party, or the Malanites, to decide who is at present ruling South Africa, and how the correlation of forces will manifest itself when war breaks out. We Marxists must never lose sight of the indisputable fact that parliament here as elsewhere is a mere show for simple souls. In the present epoch of imperialism the ultimate deciding factor is the dominating finance capital. And more especially will this he the case in a time of crisis such as war.

The best and clearest manifestation of the rule of finance capital was in the matter of the Gold Standard. Although the majority of the country and in parliament was for remaining on the Gold Standard, the pressure of the City of London and the Chamber of Mines forced South Africa off gold and subjected the ‘independent’ South African Pound to the British Pound. Today we are dragged into the inflation policy and currency manipulations of Great Britain automatically and unreservedly, in spite of the existence of the ‘independent’ Reserve Bank, just as if in the same way we should have been without its existence—like Rhodesia or Kenya. It is no longer a secret that Britain is in a state of financial war with the USA, and we in South Africa are automatically dragged into this war. There can be no better example of the rule of finance capital in this country than our course of action in relation to the Gold Standard.

Dependent on the gold industry is the balancing of the budget, our granting of subsidies and bounties to agriculture, our debt settlement, the extension of bonds by the Land Bank, the development of our irrigation schemes. And the greater this dependence on the gold industry, the more powerful is British finance capital and its representative, the Chamber of Mines. It was British finance capital that forced the country off gold; it was British finance capital that forced the coalition upon those who up to that time had been deadly enemies (remember Smuts and Herzog); and it is British finance capital that is now forcing Fusion.

Setting aside the aims of both parties in Fusion, such aims as higher and more stable profits, a settlement of the Native Question, that is, a permanent settlement securing the supply of cheap and yet cheaper labour, eliminating even the existing competition, we can see that by Fusion finance capital will strengthen its position. For Fusion means a breaking up of the Nationalist Party, a split which must weaken it, and on the other hand a consolidation and a strengthening of the South African Party. Even if after Fusion there should come a clash over the war question, the Nationalist Party is broken. The Malanites may gain a few seats here and there, but the strength, even in Parliament, is shifting from the Nationalists to the more willing and pliable tools of imperialism.

We can safely assume that, when England declares war, she will declare it for the whole Empire, consulting of course the governments of the Dominions in accordance with the Dominion Status as defined by the Statute of Westminster. Having the right and obligation of Empire defence, she obviously has the right to control the Empire’s foreign policy. This was true in 1914 and is true now, except that the Irish Free State may declare neutrality, whereupon her strategic points will be occupied by the British Navy. In the case of South Africa, Empire control is the more sure because this country is of vital importance to Great Britain in time of war. The value of the trade routes to India, Australia and New Zealand, the supply of foodstuffs and raw materials, Rhodesian copper, the control of the Southern Atlantic, and the more than ever necessary gold, besides the ‘protection of investments’, would exclude the possibility of England leaving South Africa to her fate, would exclude the possibility of neutrality for South Africa. No sensible man can consider seriously the position, in case of war, of a neutral South Africa, trading with both sides. Who is going to protect the trade in such a situation? Will England allow enemy ships to call at South African ports and allow South Africa to supply the enemy with foodstuffs and gold? Therefore all the talk about the right of neutrality is indeed academic. No statesman can take it earnestly. The significance of the fact that General Smuts would not concede this point of neutrality even for the sake of Fusion, yet nevertheless yielded to Herzog the right to disagree with him, thus allowing him to save his face, the significance of the visit to the Dominions of Lord Hankey, the Chairman of the Empire Defence Committee, the reorganisation of South Africa's wireless system by England’s leading man, of the harbours by England’s leading man, and of the military and air forces by others of Great Britain’s leading men, all this must be kept in mind when we consider the war question in its relation to South Africa. As Colonel Brink said the other day:

‘Colonel Brink said that he need not dilate on the strategic importance of the Cape. It had always been an important point and “I suppose that today it is even more important than ever, and, consequently we must be prepared to deal with any eventuality”.

‘The Cape was the route to the East and was probably more important, from an Imperial than from a South African point of view. The Suez Canal was always a doubtful proposition, as was shown in the last war, when it was nearly captured by the Turks.’ (Cape Times , 12 October 1934)

Or as ‘NES’ wrote in a recent article:

'Though politically we are free to pursue our own destiny and can, theoretically, remain neutral even if other members of the Empire are involved in war, we cannot actually detach ourselves from the reality, from the laws of nature and ignore the economic bonds which bind us to the rest of the world.

‘Markets we must have to sell in and to buy from. Whatever our political opinions may be, it is obvious that our association with the rest of the greatest empire the world has ever known is our economic salvation. There are the bulk of our markets—in some instances our only markets—and, thanks to Britain's vital interests, there lie the safe trade routes, which we could never aspire to maintain from our own resources.

‘The importance of the Cape as the gateway to the East—responsible for the founding of the original Colony—has not been eclipsed entirely by the Suez Canal. That ancient asset will still stand us in good stead in the future for urgent strategical reasons. The Suez Canal might easily be blocked in time of war and the Cape would become one of the most important strategical points in the whole world.

‘Whatever the problems, military and economic, with which we have locally to deal, our only great danger is the possible decline of British sea power through economic causes or political and financial chaos, such as that initiated by the socialistic government which precipitated the great crisis of 1931.

‘Whether Great Britain will be able to maintain her enormous expenditure of £50 million annually on the navy is of vital interest to us.

‘In explaining his recent measures for strengthening our national defence, Mr Pirow, the Minister, made it clear that he appreciated our dependence on Great Britain for our coast defence and sea-borne trade, and that South Africa’s policy would be to cooperate with the British Navy by providing reserves, to be trained by the Africa Squadron, and by strengthening our harbour defences and ensuring the safety of the naval base. Coastal air squadrons are to be provided for scouting purposes and for certain limited offensive measures against possible raiding cruisers.

‘It was last October, when he outlined the reorganisation of the Defence Force, that Mr Pirow said: “The Cabinet has decided that it is our duty to put our coastal defences on a sound footing and has agreed that over a number of years a very considerable sum of money shall be spent to achieve that sound footing. By putting coastal defences on a sound footing I mean putting them on such a footing that they can deal with anything except a large-scale naval attack.” (Cape Argus , 9 and 10 October 1934)

‘It is not possible in the case of a world war for South Africa to stand aside. That is why we should do all in our power to promote world peace.’ (Mr JH Hofmeyr (Minister of the Interior), Cape Argus , 9 November 1934)

South Africa is increasing her military and naval forces, not for neutrality purposes, for if she were left to defend the country by herself, she would need more than anything else such naval defences as minesweepers, submarines and hydroplanes. But she does not speak or dream of providing such weapons, just because the British Navy is sufficiently well equipped.

Needless to say, only backveld farmers can ignore the iron law of quid pro quo . Even if the question of the declaration of war should come before parliament (which is improbable), it would receive the necessary majority. For the majority of both the Fusion and Labour Party would vote for war, and the voice of the minority, Malanites and some of the Fusionists, would just remain a minority recorded in the minutes of the House of Assembly. If the minority should press for a referendum on the question, either this would he ignored, or parliament would be suspended. As Lenin says, no conscience clauses, no objections, no cry of ‘Boycott the war’, no general strikes, can stop war. Only a civil war can stop it.

Now, can we assume that the Malanites will wage a civil war on a grand scale? A rebellion like that of 1914 will have the same effect it had in 1914, and the lesson of De Wet’s fate is not yet forgotten. Can we assume that the Malanites will become a revolutionary force? Surely in such a case the duty of a revolutionary party would be to support the national revolutionary movement in its fight against imperialism. But just here is the point where we must recall the lessons of the Indian revolutionary movement and the revolution in China. The Indian Congress called off the civil disobedience campaign in India, as soon as it saw a beginning of the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants which threatened to outgrow the limited struggle of the Indian national bourgeoisie. Gandhi hastened to compromise with British imperialism. Still more striking was the lesson from China. The Guomindang in the famous bloc of four classes turned against the workers and peasantry as soon as the bourgeoisie saw the danger to itself of the revolutionary spirit of the masses. Although the semi-colonial position of China made the struggle against imperialism more imperative, the fact that such a struggle could only come as a beginning of a democratic revolution, made inevitable the agreement between the national bourgeoisie and the imperialist powers, drove them together in their common fear of the Chinese masses, and the counter-revolution began with the coup d’etat of Chiang-Kai-Shek.

The Malanites, not identical with the national colonial bourgeoisie of India and China, on account of racial bonds with imperialism and hatred towards the native population, are by no means lagging behind the Indian and Chinese bourgeoisie. They are realistic enough, and know well enough the nature and strength of British imperialism, to understand that a serious struggle against it requires an upheaval of the revolutionary masses which would first of all become a menace to the bourgeoisie itself. And it is especially this most reactionary part of the bourgeoisie, the Malanites, the zealous advocates of full and complete segregation, who have to fear the upheaval of the revolutionary masses. If we consider, moreover, that the Malanites constitute only part of the national bourgeoisie (‘national’ only in the sense of being opposed to British imperialism), then it becomes clear that it would be fantastic to expect a civil war or national revolutionary movement on the part of the Malanites which would keep South Africa out of the coming imperialist war.

But does the above argument imply that the Malanites will not launch an anti-war propaganda and strive for neutrality? Certainly they will not fail to do this. But their anti-war propaganda, with individualist, pacifist slogans of passive resistance, sabotage, refusal to enlist, and so on, will be in basic contradiction to the methods of a revolutionary Marxist party. And therefore we must resolutely oppose and condemn any suggestion that we should support the Malanites, or enter with them into a united front, or into a temporary agreement because they are opposing the war and we also oppose the war. Such a suggestion must be condemned for the following reasons:

1. We are against war, but we know that the only way to prevent war is by means of a revolution, not by pacifist talks, meetings, etc, not by calling for a boycott of the war, nor by referendums.

2. We know well enough the reactionary and treacherous nature of the Malanites, enough to exclude the possibility of their joining us in a real revolutionary fight against imperialism. If they did join with us, it would only be in order to betray us, as Chiang-Kai-Slick did in order to compromise with British imperialism. It is only while they remain in opposition that these petit-bourgeois resort to the most unscrupulous demagogy in order to heighten their importance in the eyes of the big bourgeoisie and imperialists. And therefore they are our greatest enemies.

3. To go into a united front with the Malanites, deceiving ourselves with the idea of outmanoeuvring them, would be the greatest possible mistake. Such an ally, who will most certainly become an enemy tomorrow, is worse than none at all:

‘It is the worst and most dangerous thing if a manoeuvre arises out of the impatient, opportunist endeavour to outstrip the development of one’s own party and to jump over the necessary stages of its maturity. To jump over necessary stages with the aid of purely superficial, false, diplomatic, combinatorial and deceitful gathering together and union of contentious organisations and elements—such experiments are always dangerous, but for the young and weak parties they are positively fatal.’[1]

4. The proletariat must always act independently, advance its own revolutionary policy against war, its own slogans and set up a proletarian united front, of all labour parties, trade unions, and other workers’ organisations, against war and against the trampling down of the few remaining democratic rights.

5. We are not pacifists. The transformation of imperialist war into civil war is the general strategic task of every proletarian party, to which the whole work during war should he subordinated. If the proletariat finds it beyond its power to prevent war by means of revolution—and this is the only means of preventing war the workers, together with the whole people, will be forced to enter the army and participate in the war. (see Theses 59, 79)

6. Some contend that, in case war breaks out, the Malanites will uphold the defence of democratic rights, and that through a united front with them we may save our legal position and [allows us to] express our views openly through the medium or support of their newspapers. We must condemn such a policy as sheer opportunism. As Lenin says (Volume 18, p84):

‘Defence of class collaboration, renunciation of the idea of a social revolution and of revolutionary methods of struggle, making a fetish of bourgeois legalism, abolition of the class point of view and the class struggle out of fear of repelling the “broad masses of the population” (read here petit-bourgeois), these are undoubtedly the ideological foundations of opportunism.[2]

And further:

‘The utilisation by the bourgeoisie of the laws of war-time for gagging the proletariat makes it absolutely necessary to create illegal forms of agitation and organisation. Let the opportunists save the “legal organisations” at the price of betraying their convictions.’ (page 82)[3]

Consider the cry that is so often raised: ‘The slogan of “Turn the war into a civil war” is not applicable to South Africa, for here we have specific conditions’, etc. Is not such a cry as this a renunciation of the revolutionary methods of struggle, a badly concealed opportunism? Is not the idea of a united front with the Malanites (in one form or another) a direct betrayal of our convictions for the sake of saving our ‘legality’ and of getting articles published? Are we remembering that we should have to reckon with the censorship of the editors of Die Burger or Die Volkerblad, who are not going to turn into revolutionaries overnight? And the same applies to the ‘legal’ platform. We must not be afraid of repelling the masses by our revolutionary slogans; we must not be afraid of being driven underground and, oh! horror! isolated. We must preserve the whole tradition of revolutionary Marxism, of the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky. ‘Our task consists not in swimming with the current.’ (Volume 18, p66) Remember Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht! Remember that ‘it is necessary to swim against the current’ (see our theses 72).

Now, what shall be our concrete policy and slogans?

1. We must launch an extensive anti-war campaign, carry on a tireless propaganda in lectures, meetings, special public meetings and open air meetings, exposing the military preparations and machinations of capitalism and imperialism, their alliances, the militarisation of youth, and the approaching catastrophe; unmasking the hypocrisy of our statesman and politicians and the misleading capitalist press, and explaining to the masses how the war is going to affect them, how the armament race is affecting their standard of living, how they were fooled in the last war and how they are going to be fooled again to supply the necessary cannon fodder. But we must also tell the workers that their peace sentiment cannot stop war. War is inseparable from capitalism, and therefore the abolition of war is possible only through the abolition of capitalism. And we must tell the workers that they have no country until the working class has captured power and taken the means of production from the exploiters.

2. We must show the masses the futility of pacifism. But in the struggle against pacifism we must always draw a distinction between it and the anti-war sentiment of large masses of the toilers, who are ready to fight against war but who do not as yet understand that the revolutionary method is the only proper way of combating war, and who therefore become a prey to pacifist swindlers, and even themselves become in their turn swindling propagandists of pacifism. The workers must be enlightened and urged to join the revolutionary united front in the struggle against war.

3. We must fight against the bourgeois militarisation of youth, against the increase in the ‘defence’ forces, and against a possible introduction of compulsory military service (conscription) in this country. We must fight also against the bourgeois recruiting campaign for volunteers. It must, however, be made clear to the masses that the struggle against conscription or volunteers is only of secondary importance compared with the fight against imperialist war.

And when war breaks out...

4. In the event of a big mass movement, arising at the moment of the outbreak of war, in favour of boycott, or refusal of military service, we must organise the movement and give it a revolutionary character in the direction of revolutionary mass action. The anti-war sentiment must be utilised for the purpose of revolutionising the masses. But even then we must combat the boycott ideology and the pacifist slogans by explaining that the result of these would be that the most determined and revolutionary, that is, the most class-conscious section of the workers would remain outside the army. And thus the most vital part in the struggle against war, systematic revolutionary work in the army, at the front and in the rear, would be impossible. ‘Boycott the War’ is a stupid slogan. ‘The Communist must participate in every reactionary war’, said Lenin in 1922.[4] Our main strategy, when war is already in progress, is expressed in the slogan, ‘Turn the war into as civil war’, which signifies not a single act, but steady, systematic revolutionary mass action and propaganda in the army for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We must advise the workers and oppressed classes to reject the refusal of military service, to reject the boycott slogans, and to avail themselves of the opportunity to learn the use of arms, to carry on revolutionary work in the army, and at the proper time to turn their weapons against the bourgeoisie.


1. Cf LD Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin , London, 1974, p106.

2. Cf VI Lenin, ‘The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International’, Collected Works , Volume 21, Moscow, 1977, p35.

3. Cf VI Lenin, ‘The War and Russian Social Democracy’, Collected Works , Volume 21, op cit p33.

4. Cf VI Lenin, ‘Notes on the Tasks of Our Delegation at The Hague’, Collected Works , Volume 33, Moscow, 1976, p448.

Updated by ETOL: 28 January 2009