This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
5. The National Democratic Movement and the Vanguard Role of the Communist Party
The system of apartheid colonialism will be overthrown by the oppressed and democratic forces led by the revolutionary movement. This movement has grown, developed in experience and maturity, and become steeled in many years of complex and difficult struggle.
The African National Congress is the spearhead of the national democratic revolution. The ANC was formed in l9l2 to unite the Afncan people in the struggle against colonial oppression. It has since developed to represent and lead all the oppressed and democratic forces in militant struggles. Today, despite many years of illegal and underground existence, the ANC as head of the revolutionary alliance occupies a virtually unchallenged place as the popular vanguard force in the liberation struggle. It has attracted growing allegiance and support from the overwhelming majority of the struggling masses.
The ANC does not represent any single class or any one ideology. As the head of the liberation alliance and prime representative of all the oppressed, the ANC welcomes within its ranks all from whatever class they come who support and are ready to fight for the aims of the Freedom Charter. The overwhelming majority and most strategically placed of our people are workers. The ANC therefore recognises the leading role of the working class. Workers, participation in its ranks is one of the important ways in which our working class plays its role in the democratic revolution. However the ANC is not a workers' vanguard political party.
Another important organised contingent of the democratic forces is the trade union movement. A trade union is the prime mass organisation of the working class. To fulfil its purpose, it must be as broad as possible and must fight to maintain its legal public status. It must unite, on an industrial basis, all workers, at whatever level of political consciousness. But a trade union must be involved in political struggle. The capitalist state everywhere acts in defence of the bosses. It uses its power against workers and their trade unions. It does everything to defend capitalism. Reality has taught workers in every part of the world that it is impossible for trade unions to keep out of the broader political conflict.
In our country, where racism and capitalism are two sides of the same coin, it is even more crystal clear that a trade union cannot stand aside from the liberation struggle. The organised involvement of trade unions in the revolutionary struggle helps reinforce the dominant role of workers as a class.
However, this does not mean that a trade union movement can play the role of a workersl vanguard party. In fact, the basic character of a trade union means that such a trade union movement cannot play this role. Workers, political leadership must represent the working class in its relation to all other classes and to the state. The political party of the working class must ensure workers' involvement in all forms of struggle appropriate to the situation armed and unarmed, aboveboard and underground, mass and vanguard. A trade union movement cannot carry out these functions to the full. If it attempted to do so, it would risk being destroyed.
Vanguard Role of the SACP
In South African conditions, a workers' vanguard political party must be made up of the most tried and tested representatives of this class. Its members must be committed revolutionaries with an understanding of Marxist theory and practice, an unconditional dedication to the workers' cause, and a readiness, if need be, to sacrifice their very lives in the cause of freedom and socialism.
A Communist Party does not earn the honoured title of vanguard merely by proclaiming it. Nor does its claim to be the upholder and custodian of MarxismLeninism give it a monopoly of political wisdom or a natural right to exclusive control of the struggle. At each stage of its political life, guided by a correct application of Marxist revolutionary theory, a Party must win its place by its superior efforts of leadership and its devotion to the revolutionary cause.
The SACP works consistently to forge the South African working class into a powerful force, capable of playing the leading role in the struggle for national democracy and in carrying out its historic mission of abolishing exploitation and creating a classless society. The Party strives to spread the widest possible understanding of the ideology of MarxismLeninism, particularly in its application to South African conditions. Its strategy and tactics consist in transforming the immediate struggles of the working class into an organised, classconscious offensive against oppression and capital.
Through all developments and turns of events, the Communist Party always holds before the workers their longterm obiective: the creation of a communist society.
At the same time, the Party always links this longterm objective to the actual struggles of the immediate situation. It strives to forge and strengthen the broad alliance of oppressed and democratic South Africans for the attainment of national democracy on the path to the final goal.
The SACP plays its role both as an independent organisation and as part of the revolutionary alliance headed by the African National Congress. There is no contradiction between the multiclass leadership role of the ANC, and the working class vanguard role of the Party. Both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party have an important role to play individually and collectively for the attainment of national democracy. These organisations share common objectives and agree on strategy and all the key tactics in the National Democratic Revolution. Within this alliance, the Party works tirelessly to strengthen the liberation movement, deepen its revolutionary nationalism and ensure thoroughgoing revolutionary democratic transformations.
Despite the unending onslaught on this revolutionary alliance by the apartheid regime, by imperialism and by other reactionary forces, the alliance has grown stronger. It has done so precisely because the respective organisations are a natural product of the struggles of our people, and they represent their deepest aspirations. Communists have never sought to transform the national democratic movement into a front for the Party. Participation by communists in the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe and other revolutionary organisations is based on our class appreciation of their distinct but complementary tasks. As part of this alliance, it is a vital task of the South African Communist Party to see to the widest possible organisation and mobilisation of the mass of the South African people into an active force to defeat the colonial regime.
The Party therefore works tirelessly to strengthen and develop mass democratic organisations.
Over the years, particularly in the 1980s, there has been a resurgence of mass democratic organisation and militant mass struggles. It is a tribute to the correctness of the strategic line of the ANC, the Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, that these forces have adopted the national democratic programme and act to realise it. Despite intense state repression the mass democratic movement has not only survived, but continues to play the central role in the mass struggles.
The Vanguard Party and the Mass Democratic Movement.
The emergence and development of the giant democratic trade union movement is one of the greatest achievements of the South African working class in recent year. Within this movement, South African Communists strive for maximum unity in action around the daytoday demands of the workers, and for the attainment of national liberation and socialism. The organisation and mobilisation of workers into one nonracial, democratic federation shall always be our guiding principle. In this effort, it is important to win over white workers into the ranks of the democratic movement.
The South African Communist Party works actively among other sectors of the oppressed and democratic forces. The emergence and growth of sectoral mass democratic organisations, and their organisational and political unity, has had a profound impact on the South African political scene. The Party works for united and purposeful action among all these sectors for the eradication of oppression and exploitation. These sectors do not stand apart from the working class; they are composed mainly of individuals who are themselves workers, or who have a working class background.
In the case of the majority of South African women, they suffer from triple oppression as women, as blacks and as workers. Women cannot change the immediate conditions of their lives without fighting shoulder to shoulder with their brothers against colonialism and exploitation for a united, nonracial, nonsexist and democratic South Africa. Forced removals, bantustans and the migratory labour system are some of the key features of this system which tear families apart and trap black women into bearing the heaviest burden of oppression. At the workplace, women are subjected to various forms of discrimination. Yet all this is compounded and reinforced by subjective practices and attitudes within the maledominated society.
The South African Communist Party struggles to ensure that the disadvantages suffered by the majority of South African women are eliminated in the context of the democratic struggle. This includes fighting sexism within the ranks of the party and the broad liberation movement. In the long term, an advance to socialism a society in which resources are, in a planned and purposeful manner, dedicated to overcome sexist oppression is in the interest of all South African women.
The system of national oppression and capitalist exploitation blocks and frustrates at every turn the aspirations and energies of our young people. For the black youth of our country, there is a serious lack ofemployment, educational opportunities and of sport and cultural facilities. It is against this background that the South African youth have displayed courage and militancy in many mass battles and within the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The Communist Party considers it a crucial task to constantly give strategic direction and theoretical depth to the militancy of the youth, in pursuit of national democratic and socialist tasks.
Millions of South Africans, including black workers, subscribe to various religious beliefs. The South African ruling class and its allies, like oppressors elsewhere in the world, have always tried to use religion as a tool to instill passivity and resignation among the working masses. With the development of the liberation struggle there has emerged an interpretation of religious doctrines which is in the interest of the struggling people. Moved by a profound rejection of oppression, countless religious leaders and believers have taken up the battle against the colonial system. Many are to be found within the ranks of the liberation movement and the people's army. The ideology of the South African Communist Party is based on scientific materialism. But we recognise the right of all people to adopt and practice religious beliefs of their choice. We work for the involvement of all antiapartheid forces in the common struggle for freedom and democracy. There is common ground between the immediate and longterm perspectives of the Party and a theology of liberation that identifies with the poor and oppressed. In actual struggle, this bond has grown and must be further strengthened.
Black cultural workers and sportspersons have endured vicious discrimination under a system designed precisely to stifle the allround development of blacks. The regime has always trampled upon the culture of the majority. It has not spared its arsenal of repression in acting against the democratic cultural workers who portray and promote the struggles and aspirations of the people. The oppression and repression suffered by artists and sportspersons lie in the very system of colonialism which is based on the allround subjugation of the majority of the people. The emergent and developing popular movement in culture and sport in which the working class is playing a vital role forms an important part of the liberation struggle. The Communist Party attaches central importance to work in these spheres. Militant struggle in these spheres helps to weld our people into a united, democratic nation. We regard culture and sport as important instruments in forging the working class into a victorious force against capital.
All of these sectors, drawn together into the mass democratic movement, are the organised mass contingent of our national liberation struggle. The mass democratic movement, together with the vanguard liberation alliance, constitute the front of revolutionary forces.
At the same time, more and more forces which do not belong to the vanguard and mass democratic movements, are increasingly ldentifying with some of their democratic objectives. These forces must find a place in the broader antiapartheid front. There can be no valid 'revolutionary' reason for excluding from such a broad front any grouping which supports and is prepared to act for the attainment of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa on the basis of oneperson, onevote. The crucial question is whether an alliance or a joint platform will help to weaken the main enemy and advance the people's cause. As long as the revolutionary core does not abandon its independent role and does not dilute its own fundamental objectives, there is no danger whatsoever in acting with such broader forces for change.
South African Communists always strive for the strengthening of the revolutionary front for national liberation, the continuous building of a coalition of antiapartheid forces, and the unity of Communists and nonCommunists in the struggle for national democracy.