Editorial from Inqaba No. 11 (August-October 1983)
The 20 August launching of the United Democratic Front is the most important advance in the working class movement since the Durban strikes.
Those strikes, ten years ago, signalled to the whole of South Africa that the black working class had re-awakened to struggle after the paralysing setbacks and defeats of the late 1950s and 1960s.
That first re-awakening was on the industrial plane, as workers tested their strength against their immediate enemy, the factory boss. It has led to the building of the strongest independent, democratic trade unions our country has ever seen. It laid the foundation-stone for the vital efforts towards trade union unity today.
The revolt of the black youth since 1976, the struggles over rents and housing, the bus boycotts, the resistance to removals – all have been spurred on by the advance of the workers’ movement, and in turn have given ever wider sections of workers the confidence to organise and fight.
Today, the mass enthusiasm for the UDF – and the revolutionary spirit among the conference delegates, the observers and the 12,000-strong crowd at the rally – signal a new stage in the rise of the working class movement.
Millions of black working people all over South Africa are looking eagerly for a national political leadership and a united organisation to lead them country-wide against the ruling class and the racist regime.
The UDF means much more than the ‘400 organisations’ affiliated to it. Millions sense that the UDF is a forerunner of the ANC’s emergence once again as a mass organisation inside South Africa. This is what gives the UDF its enormous potential following.
The UDF is overwhelmingly working class in the composition of its support. But it is overwhelmingly middle class in leadership.
At the conference, delegate after delegate recounted the sufferings of black working people under the capitalist system: low wages and rising prices; unemployment; bad and crowded housing and transport; rising rents and fares; migrant labour, passes and removals; beatings, arrests and shootings by the racist state.
A tumultuous reception, the warmest of the conference, was given to a trade unionist who said: “Every one of you must realise that the struggle lies with the working class… All workers must unite under the UDF banner and work for a system where exploitation of man by man is ended and where the means of production will be in the hands of the working class.”
The working class, by leading the national liberation struggle, can take state power into its own hands, sweep away racial oppression, expropriate the rich, and organise production on socialist lines to end poverty and take the whole society forward.
This program – the only realistic approach to the revolution – would win a tremendous response from millions of oppressed people throughout South Africa. But it is not the program reflected in the declarations and statements drawn up by the UDF leaders.
Theirs is the abstract idea of ‘democracy’ without workers’ power; the vague hope of a new society, without recognising the need to end capitalism.
But the UDF can measure up to the tasks only if it rouses and unites the full force of the working class in a struggle against the entire system – racial domination and capitalist rule.
Many of the most militant and experienced worker activists in the unions have stood aside from the UDF. That is a mistake. Millions of workers are looking to the UDF. They must not be left without workers’ leadership in the political field at this decisive time.
They must not be left in the hands of middle class political leaders whose aims are not the same as workers’ aims – who do not want a thorough-going revolution to make working people the masters of society.
This problem should be discussed in all the unions. Surely the task of organised workers is to build the UDF on solid foundations, as an organisation predominantly of workers, with a conscious program for workers’ democracy, national liberation and socialism.
Every effort in that direction would prepare the way for a mass, socialist ANC in future, able to lead the revolutionary struggle for power.
© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2019).