South African Communist Party

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South African Communist Party (SACP) is a political party in South Africa. It was founded in 1921 as the Communist Party of South Africa. The SACP is a partner of the Tripartite Alliance which consists of the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

History

The Communist Party of South Africa first came to prominence during the armed Rand Rebellion by white mineworkers in 1922. The large mining concerns, facing labour shortages and wage pressures, had announced their intention of liberalizing the rigid colour bar within the mines and elevate some blacks to minor supervisory positions. (The vast majority of white miners mainly held supervisory positions over the laboring black miners.) Despite having nominaly opposed racialism from its inception, the CPSA supported the white miners in their call to preserve wages and the colour bar with the slogan "Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!". With the failure of the rising, in part due to black workers failing to strike, the Communist Party was forced by Comintern to adopt the Native Republic thesis which stipulated that South Africa was a country belonging to the Natives, that is, the Blacks. The Party thus reoriented itself at its 1924 Party Congress towards organising black workers and "Africanising" the party. By 1928, 1600 of the party's 1750 members were Black. In 1929, the party adopted a "strategic line" which held that "The most direct line of advance to socialism runs through the mass struggle for majority rule". By 1948 the Party had officially abandoned the Native Republic policy.

The CPSA was declared illegal in 1950. The party went underground and, in 1953 relaunched itself as the South African Communist Party - the name change emphasising the party's orientation towards the particular concerns of South Africans. The party was not legalised until 1990.

The CPSA/SACP was a particular target of the apartheid regime elected in 1948. The Suppression of Communism Act was used against all those dedicated to ending apartheid, but was obviously particularly targeted at the SACP.

Following the repression of the CPSA, the party adopted a policy of primarily working within the ANC in order to reorient that organisation's programme from a nationalist policy akin to the CPSA's former Native Republic policy towards a non-racial programme which declared that all ethnic groups residing in South Africa had equal rights to the country. While black members of the SACP were encouraged to join the ANC and seek leadership positions within that organization, many of its white leading members formed the Congress of Democrats which in turn allied itself with the African National Congress and other 'non-racial' congresses in the Congress Alliance. The Congress Alliance committed itself to a democratic non-racial South Africa where the 'people shall govern' through the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter, having been developed by leading members of the Congress of Democrats, was adopted by the ANC leadership and has since remained the corner stone of the ANC's programme throughout the years of repression.

Umsebenzi May Day issue
SACP played a dynamic role in the development of the liberation movement in South Africa and had an influence beyond its size. The 'Africanists' of the Pan Africanist Congress broke from the ANC not as a specifically anti-Communist bloc, but in opposition to the re-orientation of the ANC towards non-racialism. While the PAC proved to have little lasting organizational impact (the group was suppressed a mere 11 months after its founding), its policy of Africanism informed the black student uprisings of the mid and late 1970's which were led by the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (South Africa) and Steve Biko.

As the National Party increased repression in response to increased black pressure and radicalism throughout the 1950s, the ANC, previously committed to non-violence, turned towards the question of force. A new generation of leaders, led by Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu recognised that the Nationalists were certain to ban the ANC and so make peaceful protest all but impossible.

They allied themselves with the Communists to form Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation') which began a campaign of economic bombing or 'armed propaganda'. However the leaders of Umkhonto were soon arrested and jailed and the liberation movement was left weak and with an exiled leadership.

In exile the influence of the SACP grew as communist states provided the ANC with funds and arms. Patient work by the ANC slowly rebuilt the organisation inside South Africa and it was the ANC, with communists in prominent positions, who were able to capitalize on the wave of anger that swept young South Africans during and after the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

Communist Joe Slovo was Chief of Staff of Umkhonto, his wife and fellow SACP cadre Ruth First was perhaps the leading theoritician of the revolutionary struggle the ANC were engaged in. The ANC itself, though, remained broadly social democratic in outlook.

Eventually external pressures and internal ferment made even many strong supporters of apartheid recognise that change had to come and a long process of negotiations began which resulted, in 1994, in the birth of a new non-racial South Africa.

With this victory came new strains in the ANC-SACP alliance. While a number of Communists, notably Joe Slovo, occupied prominent positions on the ANC benches in parliament and in government, the ANC's programme did not threaten the existence of capitalism in South Africa and was heavily reliant on foreign investment and tourism. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela famously remarked:
"There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"

List of General Secretaries of the SACP

Prominent members of the Central Committee of the SACP

See also

Literature

  • Raising the Red Flag The International Socialist League & the Communist Party of South Africa 1914 - 1932 by Sheridan Johns. Mayibuye History and Literature Series No. 49. Mayibuye Books. University of the Western Cape, Bellville. 1995. ISBN 1-86808-211-3.

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