For a decade the mass movement against racist baasskap and capitalist exploitation has been reawakening. From the early 1970s, wave after wave of struggle has battered against the fortress of the bosses’ power. The workers’ strikes of 1973-74; the youth uprising of 1976-77; the militant trade union struggles of the past two years—these have been the high points in a general tide of resistance which continues to sweep over the factories, schools and universities, townships and reserves across the country.

Now we face a still stormier decade as the clash between the classes—between ruler and ruled, exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed—moves towards a revolutionary conclusion.

Within the ANC and in every other organisation active in the struggle, there is an unprecedented thirst for ideas and eagerness to discuss policy, strategy and tactics which can show the way forward. In contrast to the speculation of intellectuals on the sidelines of the movement, the militant youth and workers turn to theory as a guide to action, seeking practical answers to the practical problems posed in battle itself.

How can our forces be fully mobilised, strengthened and united? How can the blood-soaked grip of the enemy be weakened and finally broken?

How do we link the particular struggles for higher wages, against rent and fare rises, for equal education, against passes, forced removals, etc., to the general movement for the overthrow of the regime and the transformation of society? How do we ensure that the struggle to destroy apartheid will also free our people from poverty, homelessness and unemployment?

More and more among the activists in our movement the understanding is taking root that the struggle against white domination cannot be separated from the struggle against capitalism, but is bound up with it. This realisation has come from the actual confrontation of the workers and youth against the bosses and their police state, in the course especially of the last six to eight years.

The open declaration of this understanding by the AZASO conference in July 1981, for example, reflects the searching of the oppressed, especially of the working class, towards Marxist ideas. It is the active youth’s anticipation of a basic conclusion which the entire mass movement will be preparing to draw consciously even in the space of the next few years.

All this reflects the ripeness of South Africa for the ideas of socialism and for a socialist revolution.

Lenin explained that an ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory as far as the broad masses are concerned. At the same time, out of hard and bitter experience the working people are driven to clarify ideas and draw conclusions on the course to take.

An idea isolated from the mass movement is impotent. But once an idea is taken up by the working people as the expression of their own needs and will to change society, it becomes the most powerful force on earth.

The growing consciousness of the activists of the need to overthrow capitalism prepares the way for a number of questions to be clarified within our movement—questions of strategy, tactics, and programme. That is a process vitally necessary to equip the movement fully for the greater battles which impend.

In the quarterly journal, Inqaba ya Basebenzi, a number of the central questions of our struggle have already been taken up: the independent trade unions and their significance as a force for revolution; the way forward for the youth in combination with the workers; the question of guerilla warfare and why it cannot be the way to power; the capitalist state, what it is and why workers’ power is required to overthrow it; the falseness of the theory of separate revolutionary `stages’; and many other questions.

In future issues of the journal, both in articles and the theoretical supplement, we will continue to address these and other matters, analysing them not only from the facts of the contemporary situation in South Africa, but also in the light of the history of the workers’ struggle internationally and the conditions developing in other countries today.

This document is intended as a further contribution to the discussion among comrades, and as an aid in absorbing and applying the method of Marxism through a broader framework or perspective on the development of events.


Marxism is not, as many imagine, a list of dogmas to be learned by heart and ritually repeated by the faithful. Nor is it a set of key formulas whose mechanical application unlocks the secrets of the universe. Such an approach proves incapable of solving real problems. It serves to discredit the ideas of Marxism and could help to inculcate a distrust of theory among the workers as being ‘impractical’ and something best left to middle-class intellectuals.

Certainly Marxism has its fundamental ideas, its ABC, which provide the starting-point for a scientific analysis of society. Yet, as Trotsky emphasised, there are also the other letters of the alphabet, which an intelligible language must combine to make words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.

Marxism as a living science stands in a similar relation to its most basic concepts as, say, a work of literature stands to the letters of the alphabet.

Trotsky, in fact, defined Marxism as the science of perspectives. A perspective requires the combination and application of scientific ideas to the movement of human history. Its purpose is to enable revolutionaries to anticipate the general course of events, to avoid bewildering surprises, and to gear their activities to the real processes and changes taking place in the working class and in society as a whole.

It is from the understanding of perspectives that correct policy, strategy and tactics flow.

A perspective, of course, is not a fixed map, because the social conditions which it charts are in flux, developing along foreseeable lines, but constantly changing in vital details. A perspective is not a blue-print, marking out angles or filling in schedules with mathematical precision. A perspective must embrace the living movement of millions, who themselves make history with their own brains and hands.

Only by an analysis of the past and its lessons can we penetrate the mists of the future. A perspective is thus above all historical in its approach to what is to come. And, as history unfolds, a perspective must be checked, its errors rectified and renewed prognoses carefully advanced.

A Marxist perspective is based not simply on the history and circumstances of one country, but on the world situation as a whole. Our starting point is the reality that the development of the productive forces of modern society has brought into being a world economy, from which no country, however large or powerful, can ultimately separate itself.

Not only in Southern Africa but in every part of the world, national developments reveal themselves as part of developments on a broader, international scale. Countries and continents have been linked together economically and politically; no part of the world today exists outside these international relations; everywhere national struggles are influenced and determined by forces of an international nature.

What effect does this have on conditions in our country, and on the influences at work in our struggle?

International questions are placed with immediate urgency before our movement in South Africa. It is clear to every worker, especially to those employed by foreign companies, that the forces of our oppression are not confined within the white population, or to the state, or the capitalist class in South Africa itself. The SA state is propped up by Western capitalist states and the forces of imperialism internationally. It is closely integrated with the world-wide network of capitalist interests. The basis of its power stretches far beyond South Africa. How is this power to be defeated?

South Africa, the mightiest industrial power on the continent, exerts an overwhelming domination economically over the whole of Southern Africa. The economies of the neighbouring states, as well as several further to the north, are tightly bound up with the productive system in South Africa. What are the political consequences of this fact?

How is the future of these countries linked to the progress of the revolution in South Africa? How is the struggle in South Africa affected by developments to the north? Can the workers and peasants of the rest of Southern Africa liberate themselves fully from oppression, poverty and exploitation without uniting their struggle with that of the working people of South Africa itself?

How is Southern Africa linked to the progress of the socialist revolution around the world? What are the policies of imperialism in Southern Africa, and why? What is the character of the Soviet Union and of China?

What motivates the policies of their rulers, both domestically and on the world stage? With what forces internationally can the workers and oppressed people of Southern Africa forge reliable links of mutual solidarity in struggle? To all these issues, and many more, a Marxist perspective must address itself. They are deep issues, and not a matter of a few glib pages to resolve. We have found it unavoidable here to set out facts and ideas at some length in order to explain them.


For generations past, the rulers of Southern Africa have done their utmost to isolate the working people from knowledge of the outside world. They hope to prevent our conscious unity with our class brothers and sisters internationally. But workers have a thirst for learning, well appreciating that knowledge is the key to power.

Especially for those workers whom the system has deprived of formal schooling, the study of this document may at first appear an intimidating task. Yet, with the help perhaps of other comrades, we hope it will prove a task well worth tackling.

We believe it will show that the essential ideas of Marxism—which are really the experience of the working class, generalised and explained—can be readily grasped and put forward by every working person.

At the same time this document can be no more than a very general introduction to Marxist ideas and their relevance to the present day. The aim is to make it easier for comrades to undertake their own further study, in particular of the writings of the greatest teachers in the history of the international working-class movement—Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky—and to grasp their vital significance for our struggle.

Although these writings are today accessible to only a small handful of activists, through the theoretical supplement to Inqaba we are trying to make more of the basic documents of Marxism available to comrades. But in future, as the growing power of the workers’ movement increasingly paralyses the regime and its power of censorship, broader layers of workers and youth will find it possible to get hold of Marxist writings and explore the rich treasure-house of revolutionary theory.

As our movement prepares for decisive confrontations with the regime and the ruling class in the years ahead, the importance of comrades thoroughly trained in the ideas and method of Marxism will become increasingly clear. Immersed in the daily life and struggles of the working people, the conscious work and patient explanation by such a cadre as it develops will provide a yeast for the rapid fermentation of consciousness among the masses.

That will enormously shorten the process of uniting the oppressed round a revolutionary programme for the complete overthrow of national oppression and capitalism. It will speed the building and the transformation of the ANC as a mass organisation, above all of the working class, capable of leading the way to the socialist transformation of society.

Continue to Chapter One