Lenin Club: Draft Thesis on the Native Question (Minority)

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In 1934, the Lenin Club presented draft thesis on the situation in South Africa. This is what the Club’s minority wrote about the native question. This is part of our collection on Marxism and Black Struggle.

Leon Trotsky and C.L.R. James (Illustration: Sou Mi)

The Native problem is the most important to us, not only because the Natives comprised more than four-fifths of the whole population, not as in the Thesis of the Majority Group, even because they form almost the entire producing element in agriculture and mining, and are steadily increasing their value in all town industry. That applies to every exploited section of the population in every country.

What is characteristic and peculiar about the Native problem is that it crosses, reflects and expresses all the problems, conflicts, antagonism and contradictions of the socio-economic structure of South Africa, nourishing and casting its shadow over every social problem.

Herein is the peculiarity of the development of Capitalism in South Africa, that one side, on the side of the ruling class we find the most modern and perfected system of oppression and exploitation, the highest form of concentrated monopoly-capitalism, and on the other side we find the Native — the overwhelming majority of the exploited, whose stage of development is the lowest imaginable.

Living for the most part on the land, the Native is not only pre-capitalistic but even pre-feudal in his backwardness. Living, as they do, still in the stage of very primitive tribes under chiefs, it is ridiculous to pose the Native problem as the Agrarian Problem. […]

The Native “Problem” as such

What is the economic background for all the anti-native legislation and taxation which encircles the native and oppresses him?

1. To maintain his low standard of living. By no means must he lose his charm as cheap labour, for his exploiters. Therefore he is enclosed in the hopelessly insufficient Native territories and locations.

2. Reducing the Natives to such conditions that they are forced to go in search of work, to sell his labour power.

These two points are of great importance and must always be kept in mind. Only by a complete understanding of the combination of these two points can we explain and understand why the Natives cannot be classified as peasants in the modern sense.

The peasantry of Europe and part of Asia was developed under feudal relations, into which social body penetrated the new bourgeois productive relations.

By undermining the old feudal system and dissolving it, the bourgeois brought to the surface of modern society the so-called Agrarian Movement with its variety of problems in the different countries of Europe and Asia.

That a peasantry in this sense does not exist in South Africa can hardly be questioned, and there is no possibility for its creation under the conditions of lmperialism. The Native territories do not form a developing internal market in South Africa.

Their main function in the economy of the country in general and of the mining industry in particular is to serve as a reliable reservoir of extremely cheap labour. All political force is used in order to ensure the smooth functioning of this system. […]

We thus find the Natives, without having passed through all the known historical phases, being flung out of his primitive tribal life against the most perfected of imperialisms, i.e., the last stage of Capitalism.

From the most simple of economic formations, he is transformed into the modern proletarian, occupied in the most highly concentrated of industries. Here we have before our eyes the very curious social phenomena of a people stepping over different historical stages of development.

From this we see that the interests of all the natives, not only those already proletarianised in the town — but also the potential proletarians in the native reserves-that their interests clash directly with that of British Imperialism, that is, with that of the Mine Magnates and their agents. who sland on top of the social ladder in South Africa. It is these gentlemen who see to it that the whole of the class structure of the exploiting class in South Africa is maintained no matter which of the bourgeois parties are in power.

Next to these on the ladder comes the national bourgeois of town and country, who turning their faces away from the Imperialists nevertheless lean their back-sides on them, in order the more severely to exploit and mercilessly suck the life-blood of the natives.

From this short analysis it is quite clear that the Native problem is not the Agrarian problem at all, but the problem of lmperialism and Capitalism. Only when we approach the problem from this point of view can we conclude that the Labour Party talk of segregation — the Communist Party talk of a Native Republic is Utopian as an idea reactionary as a movement — and counter-revolutionary in effect. […]

Is the Native Movement the Agrarian Movement?

The mere fact that Natives suffer from a shortage of land or that they have no land at all does not make the Native Problem the Agrarian problem any more than it makes the problem of the poor towns population the Agrarian problem. […]

The sharp point of the Native problem is directed, not against the remnants of feudalism, but against the Capitalist-Imperialist productive relationships in South Africa which has transformed the native during the last fifty years into the most exploited, actual or potential proletariat in the world, keeping him in reserves (territories) just as the millions of unemployed in the whole Capitalist world, form a reserve army. It is quite true, that subjectively the natives, especially those who still live in the territories, due to their primitiveness are still far from having a proletarian psychology and ideology — this is surely a fact which we must take into consideration. But, objectively, and this is what is of the utmost importance, such is his position, his class function in the Imperialist-Capitalist Society of South Africa. […]

This increases manifold the function of the revolutionary proletarian party as the education of this peculiar working class in South Africa-a class which consists of such a rich variety of material and colour; a class whose internal contrasts are as great as for instance the gap between the skilled English tradesman with his hundred years of Trade Union tradition and experience and the natives who still live in the Kraal.

The greatest, hardest and most important task of the revolutionary movement in South Africa is the bringing together of these heterogeneous elements and to mold them ideologically into one integral, indivisible class not only in relation to the other classes, but also in relation to themselves. From this follows the tremendously important role of the white section of the working class (although it is numerically the smaller section) — the development of trade unionism, co-operation and proletarian education for the whole working-class of South Africa.

Now it is quite clear, that the revolutionary party must put toward such slogans as will serve the purpose of uniting the two sections — black and white — of the South African proletariat. Its slogans must demonstrate the mutual interests and the unconditional necessity of their unity, for the solving of their historical class task — to destroy the existing exploiting class society and the establishment of Socialism. Only if we approach the native problem from this angle, will the reactionary harmful and dangerous nature of the slogans of a “Native Republic” become clear, a slogan which instead of uniting, splits and alienates the two sections, and in this way serve the cause of the white rulers in their desire to keep the native in his place, to keep him in his backwardness, and not to allow him to reach the road to the historical necessary unification and molding of the very peculiar working-class in South Africa.

We must have our own revolutionary perspectives, based on the general situation, on the structure and relations of the classes; the contradictions of lmperialism in South Africa; the Native Problem; the poor-white problem; The exceptional insecurity of the white workers; the ruination of the farmers and the lower middle classes by the tremendous concentration of finance and monopoly capital; the crushing of the coloured workers between the black and white proletariat. All these are tremendous potential revolutionary forces, which will give the presence of a revolutionary party with a correct leadership, put the South African proletariat in the vanguard of the world revolutionary movement. […] There is, we must admit, an intensified antagonism between the various sections of the ruling classes. Is it possible that South Africa is an exception in this case? No! In South Africa a semi-colonial country of British Imperialism, that contradiction is very sharply expressed in the contradictory interests of Imperialism which maintains its grip on the whole country, crushing and squeezing all its classes, farmers, industrialists, petty bourgeois, not even to mention the workers and peasants. Is the antagonism between Imperialism and National Bourgeois expressed in the political life of the country? Of course! We can say that the whole political history of the country for the last forty years is the history of that contradiction.

Due to the exceptional backwardness of the working-class in general and of the natives in particular, their struggle did not up to now find a very strong echo in the political life, excluding several small exceptions (Johannesburg 1922 strike and a few isolated, spontaneous outbreaks of natives). But, on the other hand, the National Bourgeois expressed politically their interests first through the S.A.P. but later the Imperialists succeeded in buying over the leadership of that party, but she could not abolish the class contradictions between Imperialism and the National Bourgeois. This forms the expression in the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Hertzog. Now we stand again before such a situation where Imperialism succeeded in buying over the leadership of that National Party, and a great part of the apparatus and the National Bourgeois create over again their party under the leadership of Malan.

Need we be indifferent to this struggle? Certainly not! Because that contradiction hastens the process of the disintegration of the ruling class. What must be the attitude of the workers and its political party to this struggle? In order to answer this question, it is necessary first to answer another question. Who is the main enemy of all the oppressed and exploited in South Africa? Is it Imperialism or the National Bourgeois, etc? If we want to be Marxists Leninists, we must answer clearly and precisely, that British Imperialism is the main enemy. From this it follows that in the struggle between Imperialism and the National Bourgeois, (the farmer-landlords, industrialists) is a smaller exploiter, a smaller blood sucker, than the foreign financier. (Chamber of Mines, etc.?) No! On the contrary, the exploited masses fell their hatred and rage to the direct blood-suckers who are the local bourgeois rather than to the foreign banker who exploits and sucks them through agents in thousands, invisible and semi-visible forms.

We know quite well that the non-Europeans in this country mostly supported up to now the parties of British Imperialism against the National parties. It is no secret for us that British Imperialism understood how to play and utilise the racial hatreds and posed itself before the Natives and coloured people as their protector. But our task is emphatically to tear off the mask of these “good friends”, the Imperialists, and to expose them before the masses in their true nakedness. As long as Imperialism rules South Africa the whole system leans on it.The whole structure of oppression and exploitation. As long as the Imperialist will be the boss, there is no hope for improvement and therefore we have to support the National Bourgeois in so far as they still struggle and are forced to fight against Imperialism. It is true that her fight against Imperialism is only the fight of two robbers over the division of the spoils. But as long as the robbed are not yet capable of fighting for themselves against both robbers together they must logically support the smaller robber against the stronger one, to intensify with it the fight amongst the robbers themselves, and to extend and develop that fight because with it up to a certain stage will struggle be raised to a higher stage, and shaking the foundations of the existing Social structure of the country, bring it to the essential and unavoidable point on the road of the revolutionary development, until the process of the disintegration and rottenness of the ruling classes will get fully ripe so that they shall no longer be able to rule in the old manner. Does it follow from this that we need to unite with the National Bourgeois, that we need to go into their party, to fuse with them? No! A thousand times no! We must build up our revolutionary party, to maintain with all emphasis its independence and integrity. But we must, as Marx expressed himself in relation to the struggle of the Bourgeoisie against the feudal lords in the 19th century, march separately and strike together, strike them who at the moment are the main enemy, as Lenin patiently and unceasingly hammered in the heads of the communist parties in relation to the colonial and semi-colonial countries. This was included in the programme of the Comintern at the and Congress, to support the colonial bourgeois against Imperialism! “Conclude with them temporary agreements for definite and concrete tasks.” […]

Source: South African History Online

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