From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew
IN his opening address at the Annual Conference of the Party in December last The Acting-Chairman, Comrade H.Snitcher, said
The working class movement is at the moss roads. Either we follow the old paths which in the past have led to division and dissention ...or we .follow the only course which has proved successful throughout the world -that is, of destroying this system of capitalism and imperialism.
There can be but one answer from Communists to the question implicit in his statement. The only justification for the continued existence of the Party, here as elsewhere, is that it is implacably hostile to the capitalist system in all it manifestations and ramifications, and is pledged to do everything possible to encompass its destruction. But, having said this, the question still remains: What shall be our immediate objectives on the road to that final goal? In the period of history and in the country in which we find ourselves what tactics will most rapidly and certainly lead us towards our main objective?
In order to answer that question we must get a clear perspective of the present alignment of opposing social forces in the world in general and in South Africa in particular.
In its report to the National Conference the Central Committee very carefully analysed the situation in South Africa, and, although considerable debate took place, the report was adopted substantially as it was drafted. The problems which then presented themselves are still with us, some of them, e.g., continued repressive legislation against non-Europeans and the fwd scarcity, in an even more acute form.
A PEOPLE'S FRONT
But the particular aspect of our policy which you are now invited to consider is the relationship of our party to other expressions and sections of the labour movement in South Africa, Because of its claim to be a socialist party and to represent the interests of the workers of South Africa, the South African Labour Party must be considered as an important section of the South African working class movement.
The Central Committee report to the last Annual Conference touched on this question in paragraph 33, in which it stated, "Our National Conference last year"' (decided) "to organise a people's front." The Central Committee was therefore instructed to "work for the calling at the earliest possible opportunity of a People's Convention of the Communist Party, Labour Party, Trade Unions, non-European libratory organisations, and all progressive bodies and groups, with a. view to securing* a united political action".
As you will remember, the Labour Party Conference passed a resolution shortly after this decision was taken by the Communist Party to call for a working class united front “without the Communist Party".NevertheIess the Central Committee at its July, 1945, meeting agreed to proceed with the calling of a convention. A preliminary meeting was held in Johannesburg in September but, as you know, no progress was made,
THE S.A. LABOUR PARTY AND THE COMMUNIST PARTY
In paragraph 35 the report points out that in addition to the differencesbetween the Communist Parties and the Socialist Parties on the class struggle and their attitude to capitalist institutions in other countries, the South African Communist Party has to face the difference between its policy and attitude to the non-Europeans and that of the South African Labour Party. The paragraph concludes, "In the past we have tried hard to achieve unity, but the prospect of this being accomplished seems very remote".
In paragraph 36 the conclusion is drawn that
because of this major issue dividing us, unity, or even formal collaboration with the Labour Party is outside the realm of practical politics. If what we have said ...is correct, then our line towards it" (the South African Labour Party) "should be one of exposure and attack where its policy is detrimental to the interests of the working class.
The National Conference in December, 1945,under the heading "Our Tasks in South Africa" passed a resolution stating that "The Labour Party, in violation of its socialist principles, has chosen to adhere to the colour bar policy of the capitalists. In doing this the Labour Party has failed the working people of South Africa. It has preferred to unite with capitalist parties than seek unity between all workers".
It will be noticed that the resolution does not give a directive as to the attitude of the Communist Party to the South African Labour Party, and it may possibly be assumed that conference did not fully approve of the line of criticism and attack suggested in the Central Committee's report quoted above.
Arising from the serious differences of opinion revealed by the voting of the Labour Party parliamentary representatives on the question of the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Bill, which has now been passed by Parliament, the Central Executive Committee caused to be circulated in the press and to our members a strongly worded statement criticising Mr. Madeley, M.P., the leader of the party, and others who voted with him, and in fact attacked the general line of the Labour Party on the question of equal rights for all citizens of the Union regardless of colour, race, etc.
Whether this has gone further than was contemplated by the conference is perhaps a question which the Central Committee will wish to discuss, and on which, if thought necessary, to make a pronouncement for the guidance of the Party.
It is perhaps not without significance that in an "Appeal by the South African Labour Party to the South African Trade Union Movement", which has been reproduced in the
A.E. Union Journal for May, any reference to the Socialist objective of the Labour Party has been carefully omitted. ''The people throughout the world, realising the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, are moving towards Labour", is a meaningless phrase. "The spirit of racial hatred which imbues tens of thousands of workers" is referred to with disapproval. But clearly this refers to the division between English- and Afrikaans- speaking Europeans. No mention is make of the anti-colour prejudice of the Europeans. Towards the end of the "appeal" appears the following -"The only possible political home for the enfranchised workers of South Africa is the South African Labour Party."
The insertion of the word "enfranchised" is significant and can have but one meaning, nor does a later phrase about "the elimination of racial division in the ranks of workers" weaken the conclusion that the South African Labour Party is still apolitical party devoted to maintaining the privileged position of Europeans in South Africa and which can in no sense justify its claim to be a socialist party.
THE PARTY AND PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL ORGANISATIONS
The resolution of conference on the attitude of the Party to the national libratory movements is clear and needs no restatement.
Considerable criticism was made by some delegates to conference of the inadequacy of the efforts made by the Party to carry out its policy. How far these criticisms were justified and to what extent these shortcomings have been overcome will be considered by the Central Committee to-day. It may be said, however, that on the whole the mandate of conference has been acted upon by our party members in a number of the most important districts, e.g. Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria. Notably on the question of the Indian (Ghetto) Billz7 and perhaps, even more dramatically, on the questions of food shortage and non-European transport. These activities have revealed our Party as the champion of the poorest paid workers to thousands of non-European working men and more particularly women and have also done much to lift a section of our membership out of the somewhat passive and even pessimistic attitude which became obvious towards the end of hostilities and continued for some months after- wards.
THE PARTY AND THE NON-EUROPEAN TRADE UNIONS
The importance of assisting in the organisation of non-European workers in trade unions is recognised by conference in three resolutions. No. 18 deals generally with discrimination against African workers in all industries. No. 19 stresses the paramount importance of effective organisation of African mineworkers. And 20 calls upon all districts to organise a campaign to bring farm workers into trade unions, and to organise evening schools for them and their families.
TRADE UNION UNITY
In resolution 26 Conference stated its adherence to the policy of "building a single trade union movement with one national centre" that "recognises that for unity to be effective it must be based on equality of status and rights for all trade unionists". And resolution 27 reaffirms the principle that opportunity to engage in any trade or profession should not be restricted on the ground of race or colour. It would appear from the above excerpt from the decisions of conference that if the line laid down in respect to our work in the national libratory and trade union
movements continues to be carried out with intelligence, vigour and determination, the value of the Party to the workers' movements will be increasingly appreciated. This will in turn draw the best workers into our ranks and so equip the Party for even greater tasks that lie ahead.
The degree of success in these two spheres of activity has been sufficiently fruitful to justify the decision already taken, and to encourage us to continue on the lines laid down by conference and the Central Committee. On the question of election contests, which probably were very much in the minds of comrades when seeking co-operation with the Labour Party, we have to recognise that for a considerable time this field of activity will be limited to those people who have votes. This in actual practice means (excepting in the Cape) European men and women only. Excepting an enlightened minority (a growing minority, we hope), these privileged persons are so hopelessly divided by national prejudices and so saturated with capitalist ideology and the doctrine of the Herrenvolk that only in exceptional circumstances will much headway be made in asking for their votes. This does not, of course, mean that we should abandon our policy of contesting elections for Parliament and other governing bodies. These contests can have considerable propaganda and organisational value. But it is doubtful whether the considerable sums which have been sent on some election contests have been justified by the results.
It would appear therefore that our real strength, actual and potential, is likely to remain in extra-parliamentary action. We have to face up to the fact that until the ruling caste has been compelled to abandon its present policy of racial discrimination, and to recognise the right of millions of non-Europeans to full citizen rights, there can be no important part for the Party to play in parliamentary elections.
Our work must be for a considerable time education, organisation and leadership of the dispossessed and unfranchised masses. A long, thankless and gruelling, not to say dangerous, path to tread. Only when some appreciable breach is made in the walls of the political compound which confines and imprisons nearly all non-Europeans will the Party begin to come into its own. It can only hope to do so by leading the attack on the reactionary system of indentured servile and semi-slave labour and all forms of racial and class discrimination.
As the libratory and industrial movements become stronger, new allies will appear. But we must not wait for them. We have to pioneer the way, at whatever cost, to the complete economic, political and social equality of all inhabitants of the Union, for only thus can a truly prosperous and happy South Africa be achieved.