Originally published in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No.23 (April 1987)

by Paul Storey

Haven’t we all been behind a motorist who indicates a turn in one direction… and then promptly turns in the other? When that happens in the political steering of our movement it is all the more dangerous. Brest roll down the window and have a few hard words with the driver concerned.

Comrade Joe Slovo, leader of the SA Communist Party, ANC Executive member, and strategist of MK, has gained a big reputation, especially among the working class youth. Many ‘Vivas!’ go together with his name. It is painted on township street corners and school walls. To most people it means: revolution without compromise until the working class wins power, capitalism is ended and socialism achieved.

Comrade Slovo’s rise in the SACP leadership is believed to have marked a leftward shift away from the old, crude two stages theory (struggle for democracy first; struggle for socialism later) to a new theory of uninterrupted revolution. According to this a revolutionary government or ‘people’s power’ is to be established under working class leadership, which will eliminate apartheid and then carry through the transition to socialism as a continuous process.

But, in an interview with Allister Sparks in the London Observer (1 March 1987), comrade Slovo has suddenly executed the sharpest of sharp right-turns (see box below). Apparently it will be possible now to get to a non-racial democracy and then to socialism without ever seizing power, but through negotiation and debate!

Bogeyman Shifts on the Sands of Time – original Allister Sparks interview

Allister Sparks, in Lusaka, meets the white Communist mastermind of terrorism who advocates a negotiated settlement in South Africa .

The stocky man with greying hair and mild eyes sounded almost plaintive. “I believe that transition in South Africa is going to come through negotiation,” he said. “If there was any prospect of settling it peacefully tomorrow, we would be the first to say let’s do it.”

Coming from someone who has been portrayed in South Africa and parts of the West as an ogre, a white Communist who has become the mastermind of the black underground and chief strategist of its terrorist operations, the words sounded surprisingly conciliatory.

Even heretical, for it has become part of the credo of the tough young ‘comrades’ in South Africa’s black townships to argue against the idea of a negotiated settlement, on the grounds that it would mean compromising with the ruling white oligarchy.

Twelve years ago, Joe Slovo leader of the South African Communist Party, warned in book called No Middle Road against the ‘illusion’ that there might be a route to democracy in South Africa short of ‘the seizure of power’ by the military arm of the African National Congress.

But in a rare series of interviews and conversations in the Zambian capital last week, Slovo sounded a different line. Both as a man and a politician, he did not fit his stereotype. The ogre turned out to be witty and charming, the hardline ideologue pragmatic.

Perhaps time has mellowed him. He is now 60 and has been in exile 23 years. Perhaps it is the weight of increased responsibility in the ANC, on whose national executive he serves, has gained in international recognition over the past two years as the main alternative to white minority rule in South Africa.

Slovo’s own explanation is that circumstances have changed. “When I wrote No Middle Road there was not even a peripheral chance of negotiation,” he said. “The other side was completely intransigent, and for there was only one answer to this.”

“Now the other side is in such trouble that with meaningful international intervention they might come forward. In fact I venture to guess that within six months of mandatory international sanctions being introduced Botha or his successor will be sitting round the table – and we would welcome that.”

For more than eight hours he spoke frankly about his life and beliefs and the controversial alliance between the Communist Party and the ANC which has caused Pretoria to label the black nationalists movement a puppet of Moscow and has also caused Washington to have doubts about it.

He spoke of Communism’s many failures, of his “anger and disgust” at having once been a defender of Stalin and of his enthusiasm for the Gorbachev reforms which he believes will at last release the true creative energy that he feels is inherent in the Communist system.

It was difficult to picture this amiable and amusing companion as the chief of staff of the ANC’s guerrilla army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), and the planner of many of its guerrilla attacks inside South Africa.

He lives a furtive life. His wife, Ruth First, also a leading South African Communist, was killed by a letter-bomb in Maputo in 1982 and Slovo is undoubtedly at the top of Pretoria’s hit-squad list.

He keeps on the move, from city to city across several continents, always incognito, varying his daily routine and never sleeping in the same place for more than a night or two.

Only once during our conversation was there glimpse of this side of his life.  Stepping on to a balcony to view the sunset. Slovo tripped on a step and a pistol fell with a clatter on the floor. “Oops, I didn’t mean to show you that,” he said, slightly embarrassed, as he replaced it in an ankle holster.

Slovo emphatically denied Pretoria’s allegations that the Communist Party’s alliance with the ANC means the black nationalist organisation is a puppet controlled from Moscow. He described the alliance as a “special relationship” in which the Communist members accepted unconditionally the leadership of the ANC and were bound by its policy decisions even if they conflicted with their own party Line.

The alliance, as Slovo described it, is part of an emerging coalition of forces which have different objectives but are agreed on the immediate one of overthrowing apartheid and replacing it with a non-racial democracy based on black majority rule.

Slovo said he would like to see this alliance broaden, even to include forces he did not regard as revolutionary but who nevertheless shared the goal of ending apartheid.

Once a non-racial democracy was established, ideological difference between the various elements of the alliance could be resolved in a democratic way, he said.

He hoped and believed that if a non-racial democracy were established, true socialism would “flow from it” naturally in time.

The party also accepted that there was no inevitability about a move from non-racial democracy to Communism. The process had stopped short of that in many parts of Africa and the Third World. Communists would try to bring this about, but they would do so democratically.

“I am absolutely convinced that if we achieve a real democratic society in South Africa, the question of an advance to socialism will be settled in debate rather than in the streets,” Slovo said.

The bitter problem faced by our movement every day on the streets, the problem of disarming and defeating the murderous army and police forces; the problem of the centuries-old power structure of vested racial and class interests, of today’s monopoly-capitalist ownership and control of land, factories, banks; the problem of taking state power into the hands of the enslaved majority and the elimination thereafter of all oppression and exploitation – all this is to be solved, apparently, without the necessity of revolution, but through the peaceful settlement or differences, through uninterrupted… reform!

From “uninterrupted revolution” to renouncing revolution itself! What is the meaning of this amazing turnabout? How can it he explained?

‘Tactics! It’s just a manoeuvre to fool the capitalists!’ This is the story put about by the complacent among us; those who prefer not to trouble their brains with thinking for themselves; those who feel safer covering their heads with a blanket in the back of the car instead of questioning the conduct of the driver. They, are wrong.

In what way can renouncing the need for revolution aid our struggle?

The state is armed to the teeth against us. The capitalists depend on this state. The government wields this state power in daily blows. Any capitalist government would have to do essentially the same. Do our class enemies not realise that, perhaps?

Do they not know the revolutionary threat rising against them in the form of the multi-million strong black working class? Do they not have informers? Do they not encounter strikes? Have they not found the schools uncontrollable? Have their collaborators not been driven bodily out of townships? Have they not seen us at the barricades? Have they not felt and smelt the flames of revolution all round them? Who can seriously believe it is possible to deceive them about what is really at stake in the South African struggle?

Between them and us lies a fundamental gulf. It is a class gulf – of those with properly against those dispossessed; of the idle, grasping rich against the working poor; of exploiters against their slaves. It is the gulf between those who have the armed power against those who must break that power and establish our own armed power in order to suppress white basskap and exploitation.

No privileged, exploiting ruling class in history has ever given up its power without a fight. To dislodge them from power, we have to overthrow them by revolution. We know it, and they know it.

Trotsky, who with Lenin led the Russian Revolution to victory, was a man well experienced in the tactics and manoeuvres necessary in the conduct of the struggle. He wrote: “It is impossible to escape from fundamental difficulties by means of a manoeuvre.”

The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a fundamental one… Classes cannot be tricked. This applies, considered historically, to all the classes and it is particularly and immediately true or the ruling, possessing, exploiting and educated classes. The world experience of the latter is so great, their class instinct so refined, and their organs of espionage so varied that an attempt to deceive them by posing as somebody else must lead in reality to trapping, not the enemy, but one’s own friends.

The Draft Programme of the Communist International – A Criticism of Fundamentals, 1928

If the statement by comrade Slovo, renouncing revolution, is intended as a manoeuvre, then it is necessary, to ask a question. Should the revolutionary black proletariat, striving for power and socialism, also renounce the need for revolution (for purposes of deceiving the bourgeoisie), or should this renunciation be done only by the leadership? To pose the question is enough to expose the absurdity of the ‘manoeuvre’ idea.

Revolution is wade not by stealth but by main force. It is obviously not made by masses sneaking about like pickpockets hoping to gain their object on the sly, but by masses openly and defiantly mobilising their full strength in action, drawing all the wavering sections of the oppressed, all the middle layers, behind the boldness, determination and drive-to-power of the revolutionary force. Our revolution can he made only by the conscious movement of the working class to take power and change society. Deception of the bourgeoisie as to this aim is absolutely out of the question, absolutely in contradiction with success.

And if the leaders renounce revolution – will this help? The task of the leaders is to rouse, educate and lead their followers, first and foremost the working class, towards the goal. If the leaders carry out this task, they will have to shout our revolutionary and socialist objectives from ‘the rooftops in the clearest terms. There will be no room for ambiguity, no room for deception of the enemy as to our real aims.

If the leaders fail to carry out this task, if they succeed instead in convincing the bourgeoisie that they seriously intend to divert their followers from revolutionary goals, then they would unwittingly but inevitably end up as tools in the hands of the enemy to use in confusing, dividing and weakening our movement in preparation for a crushing defeat.

Surely we hays only spelled out the obvious here? Reasoning it through, surely only a fool could suppose the leadership of our movement ought to renounce revolution as a manoeuvre? Comrade Slovo is no fool. His statement to Allister Sparks is seriously intended. It marks a turn in the deliberate policy of the SACP and ANC leadership. We have to take it seriously, analyse its errors, and combat it systematically – or we shall be worse than fools.

Revolution Begun

South Africa’s revolution has, in fact, begun. The enormous movement of 1984-86 has shown this conclusively. For some months now, despite strikes and other upheavals, it has been passing through a relative lull, and a phase during which the forces of reaction have moved onto the offensive. But the revolution is there nonetheless. It will return to the advance again and again, passing through many convulsive phases, through sharp turns and changes, over a number of years. It cannot be short precisely because of the immense, unsolved difficulty of defeating the state.

Successful Conclusion

Either the revolution will be brought to a successful conclusion (in the next five, ten, or perhaps more years) through the armed seizure of state power by the black working class – establishing thus a genuine democracy and opening at once the transition to socialism – or else it will ultimately shipwreck and break-up in confusion, degenerating into a nightmare of racial bloodletting and the “mutual ruin of the contending classes” (to use the expression of Marx). Only a proletarian revolution is possible in South Africa now: there cannot be any other kind.

This has been thoroughly explained in our perspectives; the processes outlined are being borne out by the development of events. But even the most powerful of arguments, even the most obvious facts, cannot convince those who represent and defend interests mortally hostile to the victory of the working class.

Plainly, we cannot expect capitalists to support our revolution, even though this revolution is the only means to the salvation of society. A far as the middle classes and layers of the population are concerned, however, the position is different. They have no fixed material base in capitalist society independent of the main classes – the bourgeoisie and the working class. Their property, their privileges, are fragile. They cannot create a state or social system of their own. They have to reconcile themselves to the state power and social system determined by the rule of one or the other of these two classes.

Different parts and even individuals of the middle classes are pulled in different directions, depending on their relationship with the existing state and ruling class on the one hand, and with the mass of the proletariat on the other. Only the magnetic attraction of a powerful working class movement driving towards the seizure of power, with clear aims and leadership, and with strategy and tactics to match, can firmly draw the bulk or the middle classes to the side of a fundamental change of society – a change by means at revolution, the only possible real change.

The middle classes also suffer to varying degrees under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It is not the middle classes themselves which are intrinsically hostile to revolution and to workers’ power, but the intellectual and political leaders of the middle classes, who want to make their own way forward on the backs of the working class, in co-operation with the capitalist powers-that-be, and who fear the challenge of the proletariat for leadership of society. Success of the revolution is possible only on condition that the hold of such leaders – over the middle classes and over the masses as a whole – is decisively broken.


In the present leadership of our movement, we have the complicating factor of Stalinism. This term describes the politics of a largely middle class grouping which is linked organisationally, by material dependence, and by long-formed tradition and outlook, to the ruling, privileged, bureaucratic elite in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the deformed workers’ states.

The nature of Stalinism, the regimes in these states, and the working class struggle against them for workers’ democracy and genuine socialism, is described in other articles in this issue. Enough to emphasise here that the Stalinist bureaucracy, while in conflict with the capitalist class and state internationally, is simultaneously compelled in defence of its own interests, to oppose, obstruct and fight against any threat of the working class itself leading a revolution and coming to power.

Workers’ Democracy

This is because workers’ democracy – especially in an important, relatively industrialised country like South Africa – would lead to the spread of working class revolution against capitalism internationally. That would shatter the efforts or the bureaucracy (now headed by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union) to foster a ‘peaceful co-existence’ of itself and its system with Western imperialism. The spread of revolution in the West would, at the same time, hasten the overthrow by workers of the bureaucratic dictatorships in the East and their replacement by genuine socialist democracy. Thus the bureaucracy and its conscious supporters have to oppose workers’ revolution – not always in words, but always when it comes to deed.

Without understanding this, it is impossible to make sense of the twists and turns in policy pursued by the leaders of the SACP, which has the decisive influence also upon the policy of the ANC.

1962 Program

Let’s remind ourselves what the Communist Party used to say.

Its 1962 programme (still not formally replaced) stresses that the immediate proposals which the Communist Party advances “before the workers and democratic people” of South Africa “are not proposals for a socialist state. They are proposals for the building of a national democratic state.” Not by a long chalk the revolutionary working class answer to poverty, exploitation and oppression.

Even in the late 1970s, after the volcano had erupted in Soweto; after the militant youth had turned towards their worker-parents in search of working class power against the racist state; after the black workers had begun to flex their political class muscles through general strike action; after the realisation had dawned quite widely among the active layer that apartheid and capitalism are bound to and must be overthrown together – after all this SACP leaders were still denying that the proletariat could or should assert its own class aims in the struggle.

“Can he black workers realise their class aims, when the society rubs their faces so deeply in their national oppression that their eyes are blinded?” With these contemptuous words the well-known, CP theoretician ‘Toussaint’ (writing in the African Communist, No. 72, 1978) brushed aside the socialist aspirations of the South African working class!

As late as the 4th quarter of 1985, the African Communist was still giving voice to the view:

“The problem with people advocating ‘socialism now’ is that they expect those blacks who cannot read or write to run socialist industries and mines… The result would be an economic crisis.” (Nyawuza, p. 58.) Logically, this would mean the SACP openly undertaking to defend capitalism against the striving of the black working class to overthrow capitalism at the first opportunity.

But under the conditions of revolutionary upsurge within South Africa, such a position could not be publicly maintained by the Party leadership, in that crude form. They claim to be the ‘vanguard’ of the proletariat, not a conservative tail!

Out of the experience or struggle the slogans of socialism were appearing everywhere, spreading with spontaneous enthusiasm among the masses. The political development of the working class movement itself, spearheaded by the most determined youth, was moving along a curve diametrically opposite to the one which had been graphed out in theory by the Party leadership. In short, this leadership, fearing to lose its base, faced its own choice to ‘adapt or die’.

From this necessity came the ‘left’ indications of a change in policy linked with the promotion of comrade Slovo to the head of the Party.


It would be wrong, however, to think that popular support for the SACP only developed after the signalling of a left turn. Well before that, there was a very considerable underlying growth in in its popularity among the most militant layer of the black working class. Why?

Youth and workers, feeling their way without a compass towards Marxist conclusions, did not of course set out with an analysis of the false theories of the SACP. Of these matters almost all at first lacked even basic information, as very many still do. It is essentially through experience – through events, events and once again events – that the mass of the working class, as well as it’s more advanced and active contingent, weighs and tests and learns.

What the leading layer of the class sought in living struggle (and now seeks more determinedly than ever) is a thread of organisation and leadership linking them to Lenin and to Red October – to the indelible traditions of the Russian proletarian revolution of 1917, the greatest conquest in the history of the world working class.

From what reliable sources could they possibly learn at the outset of the degeneration or the Russian Revolution that had taken place; of the rise of a bureaucratic dictatorship in the Soviet Union, a new privileged elite, which, under Stalin, crushed underfoot the exhausted working class and destroyed all vestiges of workers’ democratic control of society, production and the state?

With our own tendency still far too weak in numbers and influence, from what source could they learn of the gulf that separates genuine Marxism, the method of Lenin and Trotsky, from Stalinism? – that is to say, from the politics of the bureaucratic caste and its supporters, who continue to rule and act “in Lenin’s name” while muddying and falsifying all the essential teachings of that great leader.

From what source could the rising revolutionary generation in South Africa know the actual role played by the corrupted Stalinist Communist Party internationally over more than half a century – in holding back, diverting and thus ensuring the defeat of working class revolutions again and again, because of their leaders’ fear of the triumph of workers’ democracy anywhere and their pursuit instead of class-compromise with the liberal bosses? (Spain, France, Greece, Chile, Iraq, Sudan – are only some of the examples.)

‘All is Not Right’

Even so, in a certain sense there was all along unease among the SA workers and youth, a feeling that ‘all is not right in the Soviet Union’; that there is some kind of dictatorship of privilege there and not the workers’ democracy and fundamental equality which would be the essence of working class rule and the necessary basis for a truly socialist society to be built.

But without a powerful force of Marxism to offer a clear explanation and a practical alternative, initially it could only be to the banner of the Stalinists that socialist youth and workers of the Congress movement turned.

Because of the ‘Communist Party’ name, because of its prominence in the history of the black working class movement, because of its organic link with so-called socialist Moscow, because of its alliance with the ANC and its part in ‘armed struggle’ – youth and workers have thought to find the red thread of proletarian revolution there. Thus they raise the banner of the SACP alongside that of the ANC – not as a conscious endorsement or Stalinism, but as a symbol to them of the unbreakable socialist determination of their own class.

This was why working class youth who built COSAS Looked from the start towards the SACP for leadership; why the SACP flag has been raised again and again at funerals; why the finest of the black youth today actively seek out communists for guidance in the movement – and when they encounter the supporters of the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC, and eagerly grasp our basic ideas, they are inclined at first to assume they must have come in contact with the Communist Party.

Filled with Alarm

The eagerness or the advanced youth and workers to build the Congress organisations as conscious instruments for a working class revolution, for democracy and socialism combined – their gravitation towards the SACP banner for this purpose – could only fill the Stalinist leadership with alarm.

How could they hold onto this growing popular support, yet blunt its thrust? How could they appease it, yet prevent it upsetting the long-established policy of a so-called “democratic alliance of all classes” (working class and big bourgeois!) on which the ANC leadership and the SACP leadership together rest, and which the Soviet bureaucracy itself is intent on preserving?

How, in particular, could they defend themselves against the criticism (including our criticism) mounting against their untenable ‘two stages’ theory?

This is the context in which to examine the ‘left turn’ which was apparently made by the SACP leadership, and the adoption of the ideas of so-called ‘uninterrupted revolution’ advanced by comrade Slovo.

‘No Middle Road’

It was back in 1976 that Joe Slovo wrote South Africa – No Middle Road. This marked a significant departure the old theoretical formulas advanced by the Party leadership. He took up the link between apartheid and capitalism in these words:

Since race discrimination is the mechanism of this exploitation and functional to it, since it is the modus operandi of South African capitalism, the struggle to destroy ‘white supremacy’ is ultimately bound up with the very destruction of capitalism itself. It is this interdependence of national and social liberation which gives the South African revolutionary struggle a distinctive form and shapes the role of the various classes within the dominant (minority) and subordinated majority.

National liberation in its true sense must therefore imply the expropriation of the owners of the means of production (monopolised by a bourgeoisie drawn from the white group) and the complete destruction of the state which serves them. There can be no halfway house…

How then, could one conceive of a ‘stage’ (and ‘state’!) of ‘national democracy’ in which white supremacy is destroyed but capitalism not destroyed – in other words, the old official line of the SACP? It was to overcome exactly this difficulty that comrade Slovo wrote this book. While avoiding head-on criticism of the ‘stages’ formula, he in effect slid round it with a cautiously-phrased sentence beginning with ‘if’.

If the liberation struggle should bring to power a revolutionary democratic alliance dominated by the proletariat and peasantry (which is on the agenda in South Africa), the post-revolutionary phase can surely become the first stage in a continuous process along the road to socialism: a road which can naturally only be charted by the proletariat and its natural allies.

Leave aside the question of the class character of the rural masses. Ignore for the present all the curious qualifications and let-out-words. The point is: the idea of an uninterrupted revolution led by the working class stood out for all to see in comrade Slovo’s own italics. Can there be any doubt that this is the reason the book was not published by the Communist Party itself, but had to be privately published in Penguin?

Yet, it was this and not the official ‘stages’ position which SACP supporters in SA have found necessary to put forward when revolutionary workers and youth turned to them, demanding an explanation of the Party’s position.

After a delay of some years, no doubt reluctantly, but without a split, the Party leadership adapted to the situation. Comrade Slovo was elevated to its head, and the Party began issuing his ideas, now even more boldly stated, as official policy. To the communist rank-and-file everything now seemed on course for victory.

Unfortunately, in politics, things are seldom what they first seem.

The State

Marxism is distinguished from reformism above all by its approach to the problem of the state. The essence of the state is “armed bodies of men” – military and police forces devoted to the defence of the ruling class against challenges to its ‘law and order’. Revolution becomes necessary precisely because ruling classes which have outlived themselves, whose system has proved itself reactionary and diseased, refuse to make way for the necessary changes in the interests of the mass of the people but fight to retain power by every means at their disposal. They may use so-called ‘reforms’; they may use tricks; but in the final analysis they use force. They use the state.

The conquest and destruction of the old state machine, first and foremost its army and police forces, and its replacement by a new state, created by and wielding the power of the new ruling class against the old, forms the basic element in a scientific theory of revolution. It is not accidental that all who shrink from this necessity, for whatever reason, always end up in the course of a revolution compromising themselves with the established ruling class and, however reluctantly, making or offering concessions to its state.

We say they ‘end up’ so. But what of now? Between a clear and resolute Marxist policy, on the one hand, and abject capitulation on the other, lies the swamp or confused ideas, of individuals, groupings, tendencies and even whole parties seeking hopelessly to find a ‘middle way’ between the proletariat (the rising ruling class) and its enemy the bourgeoisie (the ruling class still to be overthrown).

Characteristic of this swamp is that its various inhabitants all refuse to accept the necessity of a workers’ state (or, in other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat) to suppress the class enemy and carry through the needed change of society. They may be terribly ‘revolutionary’ in words – they may even propose that ‘revolution’ should be ‘uninterrupted’ – but in practice they shrink from the measures and methods which alone can bring the revolution to success.

Middle Road

Comrade Slovo called his book No Middle Road, but it is precisely a middle road he sought when he refused to specify a workers’ state as the revolutionary alternative which alone can take the place of the white capitalist dictatorship and organise the transition to socialism. Instead we are offered an “alliance” (of whom exactly?) “dominated” (precisely how?) by the proletariat along with the so-called “peasantry” (in what relationship to each other and to capitalism, one might ask?).

Having dissolved the question of the class character of the revolutionary state into a vague formula, open to various interpretations, comrade Slovo has found it a relatively simple matter now to go on to dissolve the question of the state itself – of the need for a revolutionary seizure of power in order to smash the existing state – into a milk-and-water solution of ‘uninterrupted’ debate and reform.

Nor does the continuation of ‘armed struggle’ in the manner organised by comrade Slovo and the leaders of MK contradict this in any fundamental way. As Sparks recorded in the Cape Times,[1] following extensive interviews with Slovo and other leaders of our movement, the armed struggle is being approached “more as a means of increasing the pressures for negotiation than with any realistic hope of being able to win a military victory.” As we have always pointed out, it is not guerrilla actions but the systematic preparation from now of an armed insurrection of the working class when all the political conditions for success have been adequately developed, which will lead to victory. The leadership not only refuses to base itself on such a strategy, but now turns openly in the opposite direction.

Pressures Mounting

Comrade Slovo told Allister Sparks of the pressures now mounting which he believed could drive Botha to negotiate a settlement – something which was “not even a peripheral chance” in 1976 when he wrote No Middle Road.

But in that very book, as though criticising himself in advance, comrade Slovo warned against maintaining “that enlightened pressures from within the white group … will escalate, and in the foreseeable future create conditions for a less painful road to democratic advance” than the forcible seizure or power. Explaining this, he wrote:

What separates a Strijdom and a Botha is not a retreat from white supremacy but rather a differing approach to securing that supremacy in two distinct periods: a period when the risk of internal upheaval and external pressures were not yet immediately menacing; and the present period, when the prospect of a black revolutionary breakthrough is no longer a distant nightmare but (in 1976) a discernible cloud on the horizon…

There are, of course, moments when, feeling itself vulnerable, the ruling class is compelled to venture into new territory, and so unintentionally triggers off fresh energies in its antagonists. But at the end of the day it will muster all its instruments of force to destroy these energies or divert them into non-vital areas…

Even some good friends of the black liberation movements are sometimes tempted to … foster the illusion that there may be a route to true democracy in South Africa short of the complete destruction of the white state and the economic base on which it rests. But the new society in South Africa will only come through a successful revolutionary assault by the deprived, in which increasing armed confrontation is unavoidable. To counsel otherwise is in fact to counsel submission.


Today comrade Slovo “counsels otherwise”. Today when the prospect of a “black revolutionary breakthrough” at last really grips the ruling class by the throat; when they are “compelled to venture” desperately into the new territory or trying to use the leadership of our movement to foster illusions in reform so as to avert revolution – so comrade Slovo chooses this moment to counsel otherwise than the complete destruction of the white state and its economic base, capitalism!

What can this mean but to leave open to the ruling class to “muster” at its convenience those “instruments of force” with which “to destroy” us?

Precisely when the impossibility of achieving the national-democratic aims of our struggle through negotiated settlement is becoming obvious to hundreds-of-thousands and even millions of black working class people – precisely when it is becoming clear through practical experience that a fight to the finish will be needed for the majority to put itself in power – precisely now when this conclusion needs to be generalised and welded into a unified strategy and national plan of mass struggle building towards an armed victory, the leadership of our movement declares its faith in negotiated settlement and in socialism itself coming through debate!

Setting out from the interests of Stalinist bureaucracy and not from the class standpoint of the black proletariat; using the false theoretical methods elaborated by Stalinism; recoiling in practice from the reality of the proletarian revolution which has begun – even the most far-sighted leader of the SACP finds himself bound to propagate the most ridiculous utopian ideas. These ideas, if followed by the activists looking towards the SACP, will seriously disorient our movement at a. critical time.

Even now, SACP supporters inside South Africa, taking their cue from the Party’ leadership, are conducting nothing short of an offensive against socialism among the activists. Completely against the wishes of the rank-and-file of the youth movement, they have secured the elimination of ‘socialism’ from the program of the newly-launched SAYCO. This will require a sustained political struggle within the youth movement to reverse.

Armed with Ideas

To succeed in this struggle, comrades need to be armed with an understanding of the basic ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, particularly their writings against the various forms of reformism, and particularly on the question of the state. This will be necessary to answer the honest questions of the Communist Party rank-and-file supporters, who take the revolutionary phrases of the Party documents and leaders at their face value.

In its new 1984 Constitution, for instance, the SACP puts forward “the establishment of one united state of People’s Power in which the working class will be the dominant force and which will move uninterruptedly towards social emancipation and the total abolition of exploitation of man by man.” Why should we quibble at this? Doesn’t it mean a workers’ state in fact?

In that case why do the SACP leaders not say so? Why don’t they use that plain and unambiguous concept used by Marx and Lenin themselves? Why do they find it necessary to rub verbal Vaseline all over the thing if not to make the formula deliberately slippery, difficult to grasp in practice, and easy to evade?

These people have all read Lenin – yet what would he say of their ideas?

Lenin at one time advanced, in regard to Russia (then a backward country where the poor peasants were the great majority of the people), the imprecise formula of a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”, which the workers would strive to lead, and which would carry-out the bourgeois-democratic tasks of that revolution. But he repudiated this formula and criticised those who stuck to it in the course of the Russian Revolution, because opportunists and reformists used it as a cover to defend the continued class rule of the bourgeoisie and deny the necessity of the working class taking power and decisively smashing the old state.

In fact (as Lenin clearly saw and as Trotsky had earlier foreseen) it was the dictatorship of the proletariat or workers’ state established in the October Revolution with the support or the poor peasants, which was necessary even to carry out the essential democratic tasks in Russia. On the basis of such a state and only on that basis could the revolution proceed uninterruptedly to tackle socialist tasks.

Lenin’s Position

Lenin defended the Russian workers’ state against reformist socialists in the European labour movement with these words:

The main thing that socialists fail to understand and that constitutes their short-sightedness in matters of theory, their subservience to bourgeois prejudices and their political betrayal of the proletariat is that in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary, petty-bourgeois lamentations.

That is borne out by more than a century of development of bourgeois democracy and the working class movement in all the advanced countries, and notably by the experience of the past five years. This is also borne out by the whole science of political economy, by the entire content of Marxism, which reveals the economic inevitability, wherever commodity economy prevails, of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that can only be replaced by the class which the very development of capitalism develops, multiplies, welds together and strengthens, that is the proletarian class.

In Lenin’s Address to the Communist International, 1919

Whereas the SACP ‘Slovo’ argument has envisaged an ‘uninterrupted’ process of change to socialism without a workers’ state presiding over this – such a state (called a “socialist republic” in the Party constitution) coming into existence somehow, at some point, out of this ‘uninterrupted’ process itself – Karl Marx said precisely the opposite more than a hundred years ago:

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

The SACP leaders never tire of proclaiming themselves Marxists and Leninists. Yet they systematically revise and reject the basic teachings of both.

It was not only the ‘two stages’ ideas of the Stalinists which masked their real evasion of the proletarian revolution and its necessary tasks. The ideas or comrade Slovo, seemingly so ‘left’ in comparison with stages, have just as deliberately and systematically evaded the necessity of a workers’ state to carry through the so-called ‘continuous or ‘uninterrupted’ process of change.

There is only one uninterrupted revolution possible, and that one is carried out under a workers’ state, under the dictatorship of the proletariat. All else is uninterrupted garbage – a cover for duplicity and the drawing back from real tasks.

At least the crude ‘two stage theory – bankrupt through and through – had the merit of exposing itself before the socialist rank-and-file. They simply rejected it. The formulations a la Slovo are worse because they are more slippery; because they have succeeded (at least for a time) in lulling the activists into a false sense of confidence in the SACP policy and have diverted attention from the critical question of the revolution, namely the class character of the state. In so doing, they prepared the way for the shift to the right revealed so starkly in the Observer interview.

The issues of Umsebenzi, distributed in South Africa, stress for the benefit of their working class readers the SACP’s ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ goals. They, too, emphasise the idea of ‘uninterrupted’ revolution from the overthrow of apartheid to the complete elimination of exploitation. They hark back continually to the Russian Revolution and to Lenin. Rut they steadfastly refuse to adopt Lenin’s position on the question or the state.

Socialist Revolution

At a time when the pressures towards socialist revolution are sharpening all over the capitalist world, we have the remarkable fact that all the ‘Communist’ Parties linked to Moscow are sprinting as fast as they can away from socialist revolution. In place of simple old ‘two stages’, all kinds of ‘intermediate’ stages and ‘uninterrupted’ processes of stages are invented and added.

In Chile, the CP has offered to accept a “military government without Pinochet”. In Haiti, the CP opposed the general strike against the “provisional” dictatorship or General Namphy on the incredible pretext that it was necessary first to develop the capitalist economy in this pauperised client-state of US imperialism! The conservative hand of the Soviet bureaucracy – their search for accommodation with the imperialist bourgeoisie, now vigorously promoted by Gorbachev – is clear in all this.

In South Africa, the Communist Party leadership has found it necessary to respond and adapt to the huge pressures from below of a working class revolution in the making. But it has remained tied by an umbilical cord to the Soviet bureaucracy, and remains faithful to the global policy of the bureaucracy which pushes it further and further into the hopeless pursuit of a ‘peaceful settlement’ with capitalism.

The art of comrade Slovo’s formulations – their essential usefulness to the Stalinist CP leadership – has lain in presenting as a left turn, in dressing-up as ‘uninterrupted revolution’, for the workers and youth, what is in reality a theory or uninterrupted reform.

All that the Allister Sparks interview has done is draw this reality nakedly to the surface for all to see. The right turn demonstrated in this interview was already present in embryo, from the first formulation of comrade Slovo’s position, requiring only a proper dissection by Marxist theory to bring it to light. Now events themselves have done that.

Comrade Slovo now expresses “anger and disgust” at having once been a defender of Stalin – defender that is of a tyrant on Hitler’s scale, who slaughtered the flower of Bolshevism, destroyed the whole revolutionary vanguard of the Soviet working class, and deliberately sabotaged the world revolution. What value is there really in this belated repentance?

The bureaucracy which Stalin led lives on, now seeking to adapt itself, under the reformer Gorbachev, to resist rising pressures towards its overthrow. Over the decades the SACP leadership have uncritically followed each twist and turn of the Kremlin. Only recently adulation or “Comrade Brezhnev” filled pages in the African Communist. Now Brezhnev is disgraced as the mainstay of gigantic corruption and mismanagement, and Gorbachev can do no wrong.

Yet the Gorbachev regime stands just as plainly opposed to proletarian socialist revolution – just as hostile to workers’ power and international socialism – as Stalin, Brezhnev etc. ever were. All this elicits not one word of criticism from comrade Slovo.

Collision Being Prepared

The reality is that an SACP Stalinist bureaucracy unalterably opposed to workers’ revolution has found itself, in the course of a social earthquake, lifted from below by a torrent of working class energy, seeking an outlet in socialist revolution to the end. The inherent motion of this historical force is, in fact, absolutely contrary to the real interests and positions defended by the Stalinist apparatus of the Party. Thus a political collision of tremendous proportions is being prepared.

Doubtless there will be new “left” turns by the SACP leaders, under pressure – but never to the position of proletarian revolution in fact. Each time they will recoil and again turn right – in search of compromise with capitalism.

The greater the working class forces which now gravitate to the SACP banner, the greater the future collision with the leadership will be. There are in truth two ‘Communist Parties’ now inhabiting the same skin.

One is beginning to be fleshed out from below by the active, genuinely communist proletariat, spontaneously organising itself into ‘party’ groupings, i.e. with a ‘party’ conception of themselves, and a determination to build and transform the ANC on socialist lines. The other is the old, hardened and anti-proletarian apparatus of the Stalinist bureaucracy determined to preserve all possible ambiguities in ANC policy against socialist change. These two essentially different ‘parties’ within one skin will prove irreconcilable as the process of class polarisation develops in SA.


The youth who raise the red flag want a communist ANC. Umsebenzi (4th Quarter 1986) answers them thus: “‘any attempt to ‘capture’ the ANC and transform it into a ‘communist’ front from would serve only the racists and not the working class” (!).

Out of the inevitable conflict of the genuinely communist workers and youth with the Stalinist apparatus will come decisive forces for the Marxist tendency itself – for the socialist transformation of the ANC and the victory of the South African revolution.

Every comrade in our tendency must orient actively towards the pro-communist rank-and-file – not towards hacks or bureaucrats even of the lowest rank, but towards those thousands of genuine strugglers seeking a way to a revolutionary working class victory under the red flag.

Always in a comradely spirit of fighting for the same aims together, we must at the same time fearlessly and sharply delineate our ideas from even the most ‘left’-sounding Stalinism. On the whole, in the minds of the youth and worker activists, Stalinist ideas form no more than a thin crust of confusion which, in the course of further experience of events, combined with proper explanation and tactical skill, it will not be difficult to prise loose. That is the task of the Marxists.

© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2020).

Continue to Part Three

[1] 26 February 1987