Document 93 S. B., “Unite Against Reaction and Oppression: United Front Against National Oppression and Fascism”, Umsebenzi, 23 May 1936

From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

Document 93 S. B., "Unite Against Reaction and Oppression: United Front Against National Oppression and Fascism", Umsebenzi, 23 May 1936

We have dealt last week with the effects and possibilities of the united front in European countries and now we must analyse the methods and chances of a united front here.

The position in South Africa is very much complicated by the racial question. On the one hand a very strong anti-Native prejudice on the part of the whites, on the other hand the Natives are so much oppressed racially that this racial oppression is bound to obscure to them the class issue.

We must go out from the following two starting theses. First of all when dividing the anti-fascist united front tactics into countries threatened by fascism and those already under fascism South Africa, strange to say, belongs to the two categories simultaneously. As far as the Native people go, we have a fascist or, something very similar, an Imperialist dictatorship all the time. They have no democratic rights and are kept in subjection by physical terror. On the other hand as far as the white population goes, South Africa is still one of the most democratic countries, but is being threatened by a developing fascism, these threats coming mainly from the growing fascist tendencies of the ruling parties as evidenced by their legislation (Industrial Conciliation Act, Riotous Assembly Act, Special Service Battalion, etc,).

Secondly it must be remembered that there are two kinds of united fronts, a "workers united front" and the "people’s united front."

The first is there to pursue the class struggle along the road to socialism, the second, a much wider one and embracing wide strata of the bourgeois intellectuals and liberal bourgeoisie generally has the objective of defending the democratic rights of the people against fascist aggression.

Let us first deal with the workers united front. In the course of its natural development capitalism must strive to level up the standards of life of various sections of the workers. This is a Marxist axiom. In this country there was always a very deep gulf between white and native workers, a gulf which created obstacles to the unity of the working class much more serious than mere race prejudice -obstacles of an economic nature. The pauperisation of the white agricultural population and the consequent creation of a vast army of white unskilled labour gave the capitalists of this country a chance to bring down the wages of large masses of whites almost to the Native level. On the other hand the development of secondary industries has created a large number of factories in which mixed labour is employed. These two factors must tend to break down the racial prejudices in the workers ranks and to open the eyes of the workers to the fact that they can achieve nothing without unity of white and black in the industrial field.

Signs are not wanting that this development is proceeding apace. Let us quote chapter and verse. After the strike of 1922, the miners union executive passed are solution about the desirability of the Native mine workers being organised. Then came the big movement of the unemployed in which whites and natives participated together, then the furniture workers and leather workers union with their large number of coloured members, then the garment workers union which actually went so far as to organise a native branch to their union. Finally this year for the first time the May Day Committee in Johannesburg admitted a joint demonstration, and a native speaker, an official of a trade union, spoke from the platform and was accorded an attentive hearing and applause by the white workers audience. We have quoted but a few of the examples showing how capitalism in this country as elsewhere is digging its own grave by bringing the two sections of the workers together.

The task of the workers united front must be further to develop these small beginnings, to teach the workers the necessity of class unity irrespective of race, to build up native unions or wherever possible, native branches of white unions is to lead the natives in supporting any struggle of the white workers and to demonstrate to the white workers how impossible it is for them to be victorious even on smaller issues without the co-operation of the natives. The final objective of these activities must be a 100per cent organisation of the workers, which could open the vista not only of a bettering of conditions for the working class but of an actual conquest of power leading to socialist society.

In the rural areas the landless White peasantry must be rallied to the slogan of confiscating the big landowners estate and it must be pointed out to them carefully but persistently that this can only be achieved with the help of the Native peasantry in a republic free from imperialist rule and governed by the toiling population, (people acquainted with rural conditions know that the gulf between the White and Native agricultural proletariat is negligible and that very often cordial relations exist between the two, especially in the Cape.

For the effective working of such a united Workers front in the political field a Workers and Peasants Party must be created without delay with the agrarian revolution inscribed on its banner.

As to the "people’s front," it is evident that the difficulties of having such a front of Whites and Natives together are at present insurmountable because there is no economic base for the rapprochement of the White bourgeois elements that go to make up such a wider front with the Natives for the moment. Besides the Natives who are already subject to imperialist dictatorship fascist in character cannot be called upon to DEFEND democratic rights which they have not got. Furthermore, they could not even adopt the tactics recommended by Comrade Dimitrov to workers in fascist countries, namely, entering the fascist organisation, since these are closed to them. It is therefore evident that apart from help by the revolutionary conscious section of the Blacks whenever such help is required or useful, this part of the Natives in the people’s front must say the least be limited for the time being to Whites,

But as in other countries so in this the people's front is unavoidably leading to a strengthening of the Workers Front and to its ultimate victory. The Workers Front, the Workers organisations and Parties are the moving force of the wider people's front and when the time will be for a general working class offensive. The task of the Communist Party and all other organisations genuinely pursuing a proletarian policy should be to prepare the Workers united front and to nurse it to such strength that it should be able to take over and to continue where the people’s front task stops.