Letters to my Comrades is the ultimate collection of his piercing and yet embraceable thoughts and inquiries.
This treasure trove of the writings of Jordan could not have been more timely in this critical – or should we say unfortunate – period of the promise that was the New Democratic Republic of South Africa, and published as it is on the eve of the African National Congress’s general elective congress in December 2017, and interestingly in the aftermath of the watershed municipal elections of
3 August 2016.
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About the Author
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A review of Brian Bunting, Moses Kotane: South African Revolutionary
(Inkululeko Publications, 1975), in Sechaba, volume 10, 1st quarter, 1976, pp. 61–3.
Moses Kotane turned seventy on August 9th of last year. For fifty-two of those years he has occupied a leading role in the South African liberation struggle. It is a fitting tribute to this indomitable freedom fighter that this year saw the publication of his biography.
In 1905, the year Kotane was born, the last embers of the African resistance to conquest were finally extinguished in the Bambatha Rebellion which was crushed in 1906, bringing to a close a long and bitter chapter of South African history. The defeat of Bambatha inaugurated a new era in South Africa. White colonizer and Black colonized no longer confronted each other as two distinct societies but were inexorably drawn into a common society linked by innumerable bonds to an international economic system. 1905 also opened a new chapter in world history. Imperial Japan had dealt Tsarist Russia a crushing blow at Port Arthur, signalling the twilight of the myth of white superiority and European world hegemony. Its immediate effect was the 1905 Revolution, the 'dress rehearsal' for the great October revolution which gave birth to the first socialist state. The little village where Kotane was born knew almost nothing of these momentous events which were to shape and determine the destiny of one of its native sons.
Bunting's biography of Kotane (Moses Kotane: South African Revolutionary. Inkululeko Publications) picks up the story of his life in a small village in the northern Transvaal, follows the young man on his travels, which take him to White-owned farms, the mines and finally to the bustling heartland of industrial South Africa, the Reef. It was here, at the age of twenty-three, that Kotane became politically conscious and joined the African National Congress. His thirst for political knowledge and understanding was not satisfied by the bombastic speeches he heard from ANC platforms at the time and his search led him to the Communist Party. He joined the ranks of the CP endowed with two assets which were to be a source of strength over the years: his keen and questioning mind and a sense of discipline imparted to him by the strict Protestant upbringing he had received from his parents. In the space of ten years he rose from an untutored recruit to the General Secretaryship of the CP, a position he has held ever since.
Kotane's political career spans five decades of our national liberation struggle and is characterised by the interaction between the national and socialist movements. It is a story rich in both conflict and harmony, acrimonious internecine arguments and mutual enrichment through an ideological cross fertilization. Bunting tries to convey the spirit in which these events were played out by the numerous quotations from contemporary journals and the main protagonists in them. He recounts all the major debates which have preoccupied the movement ever since 1918. Kotane played a seminal role in all of these since he entered politics, and his contribution to them has often been crucial in the options the movement has chosen.
When Kotane joined the ANC and the CP in 1928, important changes were afoot in both organisations. James Gumede the newly elected ANC president had adopted a militant anti-imperialist platform and was seeking an alliance with the left. The CP had revised its perspective on revolution and South Africa and adopted the national liberation of African people as its foremost goal. Both organisations were keen to develop closer links with each other. To the detriment of both, this projected alliance was wrecked by the old guard of the ANC leadership who feared both the radical nationalism espoused by Gumede and the CP's advocacy of socialism. It took years of patient work by Kotane and his comrades to rebuild this unity, as often as not, by going over the heads of the conservatives and appealing directly to the masses. Their efforts finally bore fruit in the post war years when a new generation of militant nationalists came into the leadership of the ANC.
The trade union struggles of the thirties, the war against fascism and the upsurge of anti-colonial movements in the post war years infused new blood into the liberation movement and helped to broaden its vision. Four trends dominate this period: the resurgence of militant nationalism; the tendency towards greater unity of all the oppressed national groups; the growth of internationalism and the integration of communism into the mainstream of the national liberation movement. These new trends were tested in the heat of the struggle during the campaigns of 1950 and 1952 and were finally given programmatic expression in the Kliptown conference which adopted the Freedom Charter. As most people are familiar with the course of events after this historic convocation I shall not burden this review with the details.
However, a vital area of this history, which has been hidden from public view until now, is the founding and development of the Communist underground after the Suppression of Communism Act. Reasons of security still shroud the details, but the little light Bunting sheds on it gives us some idea of the tenacious efforts that contributed to the first public statements in 1960. This section of the book contains valuable lessons from which all sections of the movement could benefit. By the time the ANC was banned, the alliance that Gumede and the CP had tried to build thirty years earlier had come into full flower. The conservative victory in 1930 had proved but a temporary setback. The jointly shared trials and tribulations of struggle, the patient work of militants in the teeth of often stubborn resistance, produced a solidarity firmly implanted among the oppressed peoples. Moses Kotane's contribution to this achievement is outstanding.
It is a basic premise of revolutionary historiography that the struggle for human liberation in reality has assumed many forms. Before we can judge any struggle either positively or negatively, we must first decipher its essential aspects which may lie hidden behind its surface features. Those struggles which extend the area of human freedom and possibilities are part of the liberatory process. Those that restrict freedom and circumscribe human possibilities, even though radical in appearance, are essentially reactionary. It is this premise that governs the distinction revolutionaries draw between repressive and liberatory violence; between repressive and liberatory nationalism. It is in this light that one must judge the white workers' struggles which culminated in the 1922 Miner's Strike. Despite the revolutionary rhetoric of its leaders, the workers defence squads and action councils these threw up, the main thrust of these struggles was the defence of privileges obtained at the expense of Black workers, and in the case of the 1922 Strike, to debar them from certain occupations. By their struggles the white workers had forced upon the political representatives of capital, both foreign and South African, the recognition that it was not possible to govern without their cooperation. After the 1924 general elections they extended such cooperation in return for higher wages, job protection and supervisory authority over the Black workers.
Side by side with the white workers' movement had grown the national movements of the oppressed led by western educated intellectuals, small businessmen and professionals. The character of the national movements was in large measure determined by the ambivalence of the oppressed communities and the political elite within them. This elite were the protégés of British imperialism which had sponsored them as a counter weight to the traditional leaders during the nineteenth century. After the destruction of traditional society, both the colonial government and the local white regime began to perceive them as the chief threat to white domination. All the racially discriminating clauses in South Africa's land laws and the constitution were aimed primarily at retarding the development of this class and to prevent it from consolidating its position either in the economy or in the body politic. It was from this privileged stratum that the mass of urban Blacks learnt the skills of modern political organisation which gave rise to an independent Black workers' movement. The left wing of the white workers movement imparted socialism to this Black workers movement. Moses Kotane, in his person, merges these two currents of the liberation movement in South Africa. During the 1920s the Black working class was as yet an untutored mass undergoing its initiation at the mills, mines and forges of capitalism. Though it had acquired enough strength to be a serious force in the political arena, it was not strong enough to give leadership to the national movement. In the fifty years which have elapsed since 1922 it has acquired the political knowledge and skill to do so. We can with confidence predict that this class will be the decisive factor in the liberation of South Africa and that it will leave its imprint on the future society.
Though Bunting's work is commendable it has its faults, one of which I shall touch on briefly. Large chunks of Kotane's life are treated in the most cursory fashion. We are told nothing of his term at the Lenin School though this must have been a profoundly formative experience; Moses Kotane courts, marries, has two sons, divorces, courts again and remarries – this is covered in two paragraphs? We are given no idea how he spends his time between committee meetings, public speaking engagements and conferences. Indeed, his only leisure seems to be football! Even that, merely as a spectator! As a result, even though the authors' informants repeatedly assure us of Kotane's personal warmth and humanity, the received image is that of a no-nonsense professional revolutionary. Surely, even the best revolutionaries do not live by politics alone.
Z. Pallo Jordan
This is a review of two books and an article by left-wing academics, all of which discussed aspects of the early 1980s, especially the policy shifts under P.W. Botha's presidency. Jordan welcomes their 'withering critique of the liberal illusions' in many accounts of Botha as 'reformist'. He shows how the approaches of Saul and Gelb and Wolpe converge in arguing that Botha's 'Total Strategy' was an attempt to resolve internal contradictions, but is critical of their 'economism': the assumption of a direct causal relationship between changes in the economy and the regime's political tactics. He endorses Nolutshungu's view that meaningful and substantive change was an unlikely outcome, given the gap between white interests and black aspirations: schemes of 'elite accommodation' had limited leverage as they demanded that the black petty bourgeoisie acquiesce in their continued subordination. Jordan's focus in this review on the black middle class anticipates his own sustained engagement with the topic – see Documents 3 and 7.
Black Middle Class – Eleventh-hour counter insurgency or acquiescence in continued domination?
Review of John Saul and Stephen Gelb, The Crisis in South Africa (Monthly Review Press, London 1981); Sam C. Nolutshungu, Changing South Africa – Political Considerations (Manchester University Press, 1982); Harold Wolpe: 'Apartheid's Deepening Crisis' (in Marxism Today, January 1983). In Sechaba, May 1983, pp. 23–28.
Reading much of what is currently being written about South Africa, one is overwhelmed by a sense of déjà vu. Many of the themes one hears repeated with such dogmatic assurance today are anything but new. Most, if not all, are hackneyed restatements of tunes one heard sung in the late 1940s, the 1950s and even the 1960s. Then, as today, commentators were drawing unwarranted conclusions about the imminence of dramatic political changes, based on a rudimentary examination of changes in the economic sphere.
Today, as in the past, we are told that South African capitalism has developed to an extent that it no longer requires racism and national oppression, which served it so well during the earlier period of primitive accumulation. Consequently, the wielders of political power are revising their own racist policies and adopting pragmatic principles to accommodate the overriding needs of the economy. Spokesmen of monopoly capital, at home and abroad, mouth praise songs to Botha as a courageous leader who has dared to violate some of the most sacred racial taboos of Afrikaner nationalism and is initiating changes that run counter to everything his party has stood for over the past forty years.
The image of the racist ruling circles as initiators of change has been peddled by rightists, liberals, and, paradoxically, even by leftists. Right wing and liberal commentators are almost invariably fulsome in their praise of Botha the 'reformer'. Commentators on the left, on the other hand, while accepting the liberal myth of Botha's reformism, tend to hedge their remarks with what can only be called carping criticism, pointing to this or that shortcoming in the programme of 'reform'. At the end of the day, both groups agree that substantial changes, which require everyone to reassess the situation, are afoot.
One does not find it surprising that right-wingers and liberals portray Botha and his regime as reformers. Both desperately wish that this was in fact true. The fervour with which they advocate his case betrays their own ill-concealed fears of mass revolutionary upsurge. More difficult to explain is the adherence to this viewpoint of writers on the left. One suspects that despite their political views many such commentators lack confidence in the capacity of the oppressed black masses to liberate themselves.
Defining the Ruling Class
It is very tempting to see the South African ruling class as an agency of change. Indeed, some writers on the left have even had recourse to Marx's description of the bourgeoisie as a revolutionary class to explain the unfamiliar goings-on in Pretoria. Historical precedent also appears to endorse this conception when one recalls South Africa's bourgeois 'revolution from above'. The works under review all address themselves to the question of change and present a withering critique of the liberal illusions that have been fomented by the bourgeois press, both in South Africa and the outside world.
Saul and Gelb are Canadian scholars active in the solidarity movement in that country. Their short but stimulating monograph was produced under the auspices of that movement. Of the two, John Saul is internationally the better known. An old stalwart of the cause of the African revolution, he has authored a number of works on African affairs, has taught for many years in Tanzania, and has recently completed a term as lecturer at the Mozambique Institute for Marxism.
Sam Nolutshungu is a South African scholar now working in Britain, where he has been resident since his release from a term of detention under the notorious 90 days clause of the Sabotage Act in the mid-sixties. A committed anti-imperialist fighter and opponent of racism, he has produced a number of studies on Southern Africa, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of African Marxists.
Harold Wolpe is a long-standing member of the ANC, and the veteran of numerous campaigns. He presently works in Britain, where he has won recognition as one of the most original South African Marxist scholars for his extensive writings on the South African state.
In short, what we have here are works by academicians all of whom are committed to the cause of liberation, and have, in their various ways and in different capacities, made their contribution to that cause.
A Crisis of Profundity
The main thrust of Saul and Gelb's argument is that the South African racist regime is passing through an 'organic crisis'. This is a term they have borrowed from the writings of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of Italian Communism. It is intended to convey the idea of a crisis of such profundity that in order to survive it the incumbent ruling class has to construct a whole new set of policies and programmes. This crisis, they argue, had been precipitated by the internal dynamics of South African monopoly capitalism. These have led on the one hand to the emergence of an Afrikaner monopolist class with class aims and objectives similar to those of the other, non-Afrikaner fraction of monopoly capital. On the other hand, the development of capitalism has created a new economic climate in which South African capital needs new internal and external markets for its growing secondary industry, especially in durable consumer goods. However, these internal contradictions are unfolding in a context of pressures from the masses, and have consequently thrown the whole system into a deep crisis which the ruling class will not be able to resolve except by so restructuring social relations that a new 'historical bloc', representing a new political consensus, emerges. It is in these terms also that they interpret the regime's 'total strategy', which they insist must not be seen as a hastily cobbled together attempt to shore up the rickety structures of apartheid.
Excerpted from "Letters to My Comrades"
Copyright © 2017 Z Pallo Jordan.
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Table of Contents
The Documents xxix
1 A review of Brian Bunting, Moses Kotane; South African revolutionary 2
2 Black Middle Class - Eleventh-hour counter insurgency or acquiescence in continued domination? 8
3 The African Petty Bourgeoisie: A case study of NAFCOC 1964-84 18
4 The New Face of Counter-revolution: A briefing paper 51
5 The Politics of the Current Conjuncture 76
6 Towards a New Regional Policy for South Africa 104
7 The African Bourgeoisie - A new look 118
8 Letter to the Editor, African Communist 139
9 The Crisis of Conscience in the SACP 156
10 The Southern African Policy of the Soviet Union 176
11 A Survey of the South African Debate on the Decline of Socialism in Eastern Europe 203
12 Freedom on the Bass-line 223
13 Letter to the Editor, Sunday Times 233
14 Strategic Debate in the ANC. A response to Joe Slovo 238
15 The National Question in Post-1994 South Africa 252
16 The Changing Character of the National Democratic Alliance 282
17 Values and Virtues of Lamppost Literature 287
18 A Witches' Brew with the Tongue of Newt 292
19 Observing the Anglo-Boer War 297
20 How the Rubicon Finally Came to be Crossed 302
21 Ruth First Memorial Lecture 307
22 A Future for Whites if They Accept the Past 329
23 Observations about China 2001 335
24 US Poses Danger to New World Order 341
25 The African National Congress; From illegality to the corridors of power 345
26 A Tribute to Brenda Fassie 362
27 Sorting out the Legacies of Rhodes and Hitler 366
28 Zimbabwe Must Seek the Kingdom of Social Justice 371
29 A letter to Comrade Mtungwa, an old comrade and Dear friend 376
30 The Dalai Lama Dilemma 390
31 Chris Hani Memorial Lecture 396
32 Remembering Bisho - and Marikana 419
33 ANC Must Reclaim Media Freedom Sisulu Punted 432
34 Disdain for Liberals is Not Because of Intolerance 436
35 France and UK are Culpable in Middle East Conflict 440
36 Ramaphosa's Role in Harnessing Black Capitalists 444
37 Rich Irony in Islamic Threat to Mali's Treasures 448
38 Mideast Will Pay the Bill for US Failure in Iraq 452
39 Chile's 9/11 Hints at Real Intention of US Administration 456
40 South Africa Basks in Hard-earned Glory of One Long Walk 460
41 DA, Agang Won't Recover Easily from Fiasco 464
42 MaMbeki's Passing Marks the End of an Era 468
43 Mamphela Ramphele Reflects the Tragedy of Black Consciousness 472
44 On the Institution of Monarchy in South Africa 476