In the volcanic movement of the black working class in the townships of Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth can be seen the outlines of South Africa’s coming revolution.
General strike action; mass marches and demonstrations; unbridled massacre by the police; in response, a flaming fury of revolt spearheaded by the youth and fanning-out to wider areas; ferocious popular revenge against black collaborators, business sharks and policemen; continual police retaliation, provocations and brutalities; a virtual insurrectionary situation in the townships; troop mobilisations to reinforce the police; “sealing-off”, occupation and searches of townships by huge forces of police and troops.
So the battle lines are drawn, and so the fundamental problem defines itself again and again in action for the great proletarian mass of the black people: how to overthrow this murderous, monstrous apartheid regime.
The Eastern Cape is not unique. The revolt there has merely raised to sharp relief the features revealed in the heroic resistance in the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, the Western Cape, the Border region and now also in parts of Natal. And this is only the beginning. What happens in Uitenhage can happen… anywhere, everywhere.
As each convulsive wave of the movement passes and temporarily subsides, the militant workers and youth who have confronted the state in action are forced to do battle again in the arena of ideas, grappling with the most intractable problems of theory, strategy and tactics.
There is no doubt about it: the South African regime is the most formidably difficult regime on the planet to overthrow. More so than in any other country, the SA revolution can succeed only if the revolutionary forces take a scientific and professional approach to their tasks.
The violence that has broken out repeatedly in the recent period between supporters of the UDF on the one hand and of Azapo on the other; the threats, allegedly by some UDF elements, to burn homes of Fosatu members in the Eastern Cape; the divisions among the youth organisations; the splitting of the trade union movement of the black workers according to ‘ideological’ divisions among the leaders – all this signals deadly danger for the working class and all oppressed people.
It will be impossible to overcome these divisions and mobilise a united mass force against the regime and the ruling class unless a unified revolutionary cadre – within the unions, the youth organisations and the community bodies – is fused together on the basis of clear and correct ideas.
The great strength of the mass movement which has arisen over the past ten or twelve years derives from an elemental awakening of the giant black working class. The organising initiatives of tens-of-thousands of activists, young and old, in every part of the country, have together infused ever deeper layers of the masses with a growing sense of their own power.
While this has given rise to the mightiest organisations of the working class ever known in South Africa (most notably, though by no means only, the trade unions), this first stage in the awakening of the mass movement is nonetheless mainly characterised by spontaneity and improvisation. Improvisation of ideas and improvisation of organisations and strategies.
This is inevitable and healthy in the development of every genuine “people’s” movement which boils-up from the depths of unbearable oppression. But the reliance on spontaneity and improvisation has definite limits which the activists in the movement are constantly battling to overcome. In this they come up against the obstacles resulting from the long isolation of the South African proletariat, the predominance of middle class leadership and the weakness of the forces of Marxism.
Marxism – the revolutionary experience of the international proletariat over its whole history, consciously collected together and summed-up – has for several generations been thrown back to a repository of very small forces worldwide, as a result of a whole series of defeats of the working class, the rise of Stalinism, and strengthening of reformism during the long post-war upswing of world capitalism.
In the popular understanding, ‘Marxism’, where it has not become discredited and defiled, is today encrusted with confusion and muddled-up with resurrected petty bourgeois delusions which the great teachers of Marxism had long ago decisively laid to rest. Only by long and persistent work, patiently explaining the fundamental ideas in the course of many struggles in which the working class passes again and again through the harsh school of experience, will it be possible for Marxists to establish their ideas once again as a mass force.
This process is to a greater or lesser extent under way in a growing number of countries. But if time and tide wait for no man, neither do the convulsions of the class struggle wait for Marxism. Time is of the essence everywhere.
Clear Perspectives Needed
In South Africa the very spontaneity and improvisation which has been the strength of the movement in the past period will more and more hamstring its further progress if clear perspectives, and clear revolutionary strategy and tactics, are not brought rapidly to the fore.
The more mightily arises the movement, the more vicious and cunning will be the enemy it confronts, and the more difficult the obstacles which will be strewn in its path.
Intense and vital as the clash of ideas now is among the leading tendencies of the UDF, the National Forum, the youth organisations and the trade unions, it bears still an air of sterility. It does not yet come solidly to grips with the real questions to be clarified.
‘Ideologies’ are bandied about; rival ‘principles’ and precepts contend. People are ‘Charterists’ or ‘anti-Charterists’; for ‘non-racialism’ or ‘anti-racism’; so-called ‘workerists’ or ‘populists’, etc.
Increasingly however – and this is a real step forward of historic importance – the most advanced and active layers of the workers and youth in all the rival camps of the movement are drawing the conclusion that “capitalism is our enemy”, that the fight is to end apartheid and capitalism together.
But to identify the enemy is only the first step of a conscious policy. It is necessary to identify by what means the enemy can and will be overthrown.
Yet where is there, on the part of any tendency or element of the leadership of the movement today a clear conception of the general path of the struggle ahead; a mapping-out of the way the revolution will unfold; a grasp of the objective processes at work in their totality, and not just the problems of this or that partial sphere of action; in short, a scientific perspective to guide the movement?
Yet, without such a perspective there can be no clarity as to the revolutionary tasks and programme, no real unification of the working class movement, no effective workers’ leadership of the mass struggle, no scientific strategy, no comprehensive action programme, and no consistent tactics.
Having a correct perspective means being prepared, so as not to be taken by surprise by sudden changes and turns in events; it means understanding the general processes and not being diverted by a superficial reaction to this or that event. It is to the mastery of perspectives as a guide to action that the most determined revolutionary activists must urgently turn their attention.
© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2020).