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Address of the Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, on the occasion of the Brian Bunting Memorial Lecture

The Role of Communists in the Liberation Struggle of South Africa

Monash University

January 24th 2013


The irony of the question posed is that it implicitly suggests that the role of Communists in the struggle for freedom should either be explained or probed. It is a historically undisputable fact that every communist, for example, Moses Kotane, J. B. Marks, Dora Tamane, Joe Slovo, Moses Mabhida, Ray Alexander, Chris Hani, etc., was a member of the ANC in his or her own right. Each one of them was as committed to the cause of socialism as they were to the National Democratic Revolution, the NDR. It, therefore, is impossible to isolate the contribution of communists from that of other cadres of the movement. What one can try to do is to acknowledge the role of the SACP in the national liberation struggle.

The struggle for freedom grew from two streams, national oppression and class exploitation. The main preoccupation of the ANC has been national liberation, which would entail the fight against racial oppression and divisions and the struggle for basic human rights. The SACP` thrust, on the other hand, has always been the building of a socialist society. However, the different focus does not propose an intrinsically opposed approach to the revolutionary task but rather a consequence of a historical context and evolution.
"The tasks the ANC and SACP set themselves when they were formed in 1912 and 1921 respectively must be considered from the standpoint of the historical condition, place and time in which these organisations were formed" (Ben Magubane, 1988)

The ANC was created to unite the defeated people of our land, in particular Africans, with the objective of representing their interests and aspirations against their exclusion from the political process. The Communist Party of South Africa emerged out of the labour conditions that sought to exploit the same African majority, for the benefit of colonial and imperialist oppressors.

After its launch in 1921 the Party had to confront the reality of class exploitation, ultimately triggering the 1922 white miners` strike. The SACP worked hard to change the slogan of "workers unite for white South Africa" to the international slogan of the working class, "workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains". This was the beginning of a programme of raising class-consciousness as a pillar of the revolution, at a time when the black working masses were not fully developed. This investment in class- consciousness of the black working was at the centre of the historic mineworkers` strike in 1946.

At its inaugural congress there was only one black person present. The 1922 strike made organising black workers a priority programme for the Party. Comrade La Guma represented the SACP at the inaugural congress of the Anti-Imperialist movement in Brussels, Belgium. This was an early indication of that the Party was developing into a truly non-racial party entity, as Joe Slovo described it as the pioneer of non-racialism. The Black Republic thesis of 1928 ushered in the concept of majority rule. There was realisation in the Party that there could be no socialism while the majority of South Africans were oppressed and deprived.
Comrade Mzala explains,

"... however noble and sincere were the aims of the founding fathers of the working class party in South Africa, that is, "promoting the overthrow of the capitalist system, the outlawry capitalist class, and the establishment of a commonwealth of workers throughout the world", they had, nevertheless, sooner or later to reconcile their noble intentions with the South African contextÂ…
"We do not, however, have two South Africas, one capitalist and next to it another, racist. Neither, again, do we have a situation where the people first experience racist domination (at one stage) and later experience capitalist exploitation (at another stage). Instead, these experiences take place simultaneously and in the same arena. It is this reality then that also dictates, as a matter of historic necessity, the alliance of the ANC and the SACP - two organisations fighting basically two features of the same monster" (Mzala, 1983)

It is this theoretical framework that was theorised further into what is today understood as the three antagonistic but inter-related contradictions of racial oppression, class super-exploitation and patriarchal power relations in society. Moses Kotane took the effort of mobilising the black working class a step further by calling for Africanisation of the party in the thirties. The banning of the party in 1950 highlighted the anger of the regime over this ideological clarity and political commitment by communists. Celebrating the 65th anniversary Joe Slovo suggests that the Party`s chief achievement is the elaboration of the theory of the revolution. He says,
"But perhaps one of our most signal achievements in the 65 years of our existence has been a truly indigenous elaboration of the theory of the South African revolution. This theory has increasingly informed revolutionary understanding in the ranks of the broader working class and national movement."

The ongoing development of theory helped the Party characterise the relation between the coloniser and the colonised in our context as that of a "colonialism of a special type", describing the reality of the colonised and the colonisers having a claim on the same piece of land.

Resulting from the meeting of the Central Committee of the second quarter of 1986 the Party described its role as,
"As part of the broad movement, the Communist Party has to play its role in further deepening the crisis of the apartheid system and helping to shift the balance of forces in favour of the victory of a genuinely democratic people`s revolution. In this regard the Party has a historic role to play to assist in the organisation of the workers, to spread further socialist consciousness within the ranks of the working class and to mobilise and activise the workers in the struggle for freedom and socialism".

It proceeds to clarify the role of the working class, that is,
"To reach that goal, the immediate task of that the Communist Party faces during this decisive year, 1986 is to join in the general offensive to build up and activise the mass political and military forces of the revolution, ensuring at every stage that the masses are conscious of the fact that genuine liberation will come when they seize power, relying on their own strength and refusing to succumb to illusions spread by the enemy of our revolution that the Botha regime will, in the near future, be willing to surrender power to the democratic majority."

The Alliance between the ANC and the SACP is one based on principles and trust, derived from practical experiences of sharing trenches. It is this trust and confidence that is expressed in the statement of the NEC of the ANC on 30 July 1986, which declares that the
"ANC will never forego its alliance with the SACP".

Comrade Alfred Nzo did not only made the commitment but gave tasks to the party,

"During the testing times in front of us we are certain that the experience and maturity which the South African Communist Party has accumulated and achieved over the period of its existence will stand our broad movement for national liberation in good stead. Constituting an important component part of that movement, the SACP is called upon further to heighten its contribution to the common cause as we march side by side towards the destruction of the apartheid system of white minority rule."

This is an attempt to summarise the historic role of the SACP in the struggle for freedom, in South Africa. It is equally an attempt to give substance to the Alliance being an inter-class alliance where the multi-class liberation movement is in alliance with working class formations.

This alliance has always been attacked by the right wing, as typified by the following: the 1982 United States Report headed Soviet, East Germany and Cuban involvement in Fomenting Terrorism in South Africa; the 1986 South African regime`s pamphlet Talking to the ANC and the 1986 pamphlet by the British Institute for the Study of Terrorism ANC the Soviet Task Force. All these pamphlets allege that the ANC is controlled by the SACP, which - in turn - is proxy of Moscow that uses terrorism as an instrument of undermining Western regimes and values.

The ultra-left attack has always been infantile, always asserting that the South African Communist Party has abandoned the struggle for socialism and is tailing behind the bourgeoisie movement. It attacked the so-called two-stage theory, expecting that the South African working class would proclaim socialism as its sole objective and not merely national liberation, which leave power in the hands of the bourgeoisie. These attacks have always had a motive of dividing the movement, weaken it and ultimately defeat it.

The current liberal offensive on the ANC is a continuation of this attack. It is an attempt to mobilise all the forces that proposes to have a grievance against the ANC and its government. The "rooi gevaar" has been substituted with the "corruption" theme, wherein all ANC cadres and leaders are deemed corrupt, as opposed to the individual caught in the act. For this reason, the movement has an obligation to confront corruption in all its forms, real and perceived.

There is a reasonable expectation that Communists will be exemplary in behaviour wherever they are. They are expected to be the hardest working cadres of the movement. They are expected to be the most principled and ensure that they are not working as a communist faction within the structures of the movement. They should be sharpest in terms of theorising the revolution and in applying the theory in practice. They should be in the forefront of fighting all the negative tendencies, in all their manifestations. All communists must be loyal ANC members, fully understanding why the Party opted to continue supporting the ANC in elections instead of contesting in its own right.