This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Letter from E. R. Roux to Douglas Wolton, 5 September 1928
British Association for the Advancement of Science
UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW
5 September, 1928 General Secretary
C.P.S.A. [Communist Party of South Africa]
I am at present attending the science congress here, having just returned from the continent.
When I left Moscow the question of the new slogan had not yet been finally disposed of though the Negro Commission (in which the matter was discussed at some length though not as fully as I should have liked) had already delivered its judgement. You will probably have heard of the result of our final appeal by the time this reaches you. I hope to see S.P.B. on his return to England and get acquainted with the final position.
However, as a result of the discussions in Moscow I have come to a number of conclusions with regard to the slogan and with regard to Party policy in general, and I think my views might interest the C.E.C.P.S.A. Hence this letter.
In the first place I think the decision has shown that it is time the C.P.S.A. put its theoretical house in order. We have been content too long to jog along with a minimum of theory, and I think this is as true of those who supported as of those who opposed the new slogan.
In my opinion we have got to distinguish clearly between the natives as a subject race and the natives as members of the S. African working class. We have got to put forward definite race demands on behalf of the natives, demands which we must fight for in the face of opposition from all sections of whites, even the white workers.
Our trade union work, important as it is, is only a part of our activities. Our slogan on the trade union field is 'workers unite, irrespective of colour. But as a general political slogan appealing to the native masses, this is inadequate. I do not say it should not be used as a general political slogan: it should be used more than ever. But it is necessary to have an additional slogan or slogans which take account of the position of the natives as a subject race. It is equally necessary to say 'natives unite; unite as black men to free yourselves from slavery'. The demands of the democratic revolution in Africa (the franchise, abolition of passes, equal land laws, free education, abolition of the indenture system and forced labour, right to ride on the trams, walk on the pavement, use the public libraries, enter the city halls, etc. etc.) are demands of the natives as natives. They are demands for things which the white workers already have. On the political field these demands culminate historically in a single final slogan - national independence, i.e. complete freedom and independence for the native race, complete political power to the natives. As the natives are not a scattered racial minority like the Jews but a compact majority inhabiting a single country, national independence means quite literally a native republic. This is the logic of the position and this we must accept.
But before formulating the slogan for complete national emancipation of the Bantu in its final platform form, it is necessary to take two things into consideration. These are (1) the question of the role of the white workers, as the only skilled section of the proletariat, cannot in any way be ignored. There is an increasing tendency with some comrades - in their more exasperated moments when the actual requirements of the situation have been forgotten for the moment - to say 'let the white workers go hang'. We must remember that we should be patient revolutionists and not lose our heads in this matter. To the extent that the white workers are interested in fighting the boss to that extent they can and must be harnessed to the revolution. We entirely disagree of course with the view formerly held by Danchin (I hope he has long since discarded it) that the white workers are the main revolutionary element in S. Africa.
As far as revolutionary expediency is concerned it is obvious that this may easily degenerate into opportunism. Our chief difficulty in Moscow wa~ to convince the comrades that there were genuine tactical reasons against adopting the 'Black Republic' slogan and that our objections were not founded on opportunist deviations. In the present weak condition of the native movement every foothold in the white trade unions, every little bit of white support must be utilised to the fullest extent, in order to maintain the legality of the native movement, to prevent pogroms and the danger of lynching, and to secure the rapid development of a cadre of native Communists. I think it is fairly plain that we cannot afford to go underground at the present time.
The object of the slogan of course is not to please the white workers but to rally the whole of the native masses behind the C.P. This is our main job; everything else is secondary. At the same time there is no reason why we should unnecessarily antagonise the white workers. Such unnecessary antagonising would have disastrous results not only for the inter-racial labour movement but also for the native nationalist movement as such. The slogan should therefore be formulated in such a way as to make the maximum appeal to the racial consciousness of the oppressed Bantu and at the same time provide a weapon for continuing the fight in the trade union movement on the basis of working class unity irrespective of colour.
The amendment which I suggested to the Negro Commission in my opinion meets these requirements as far as it is possible to do so. It was 'an independent workers' and peasants' S. African Republic, with equal rights for all toilers irrespective of colour, AS A BASIS FOR A NATIVE MAJORITY GOVERNMENT'. Supplemented by immediate demands for an equal franchise throughout the Union, the admission of natives to Parliament, and the abolition of all helot relations, this will be a revolutionary rallying slogan guaranteeing to the C.P. leadership of the racial struggle of the natives. At the same time it will enable us to argue our case in the white trade unions. If we say a 'Black Republic' and they qualify this by saying that there will be autonomy for whites, we cannot but expect to be howled down in the white trade unions; we shall not even be allowed to state our case. At the mention of 'Black Republic' the bricks will begin to fly and our subsequent qualifications will be relegated to the post-mortem examination. It is much more sensible to approach the white workers in these terms: 'You are workers, trade unionists; you are exploited and shot down by the boss; unite to overthrow capitalism; unite with your native fellow workers; demand full equality for all workers; the native workers are the majority; YOU must therefore be prepared to grant THEM their MAJORITY RIGHTS'. This will probably be howled down in many cases, but at least it provides a tactical approach to the subject.
Unfortunately Comrade Petrovsky and the members of the Negro Commission did not trouble to reply to these arguments. They said that the C.P.S.A. had committed Social-Democratic sins of the gravest nature and had to be severely reprimanded. They therefore would allow of no modification in the slogan whatever. They would not even allow a slight editorial change in the wording, because they said any such slight change would be interpreted as a partial victory for the S. African delegation.
I think this is quite a wrong way of approaching the subject.
I have some further remarks to make with regard to certain practical questions, particularly with regard to Com. Harrison's candidature and the forthcoming elections, but I will keep them for a further letter.
Kind regards to all comrades,
E. R. Roux