Chapter 1

  1. This figure exceeded the 100,000 members claimed by the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union at its peak in 1927 – and the ICU was a general union which never organised along industrial lines. The CNETU figure, if correct, would have represented 40% of the 390,000 African workers in commerce and manufacturing at the time. However, in contrast to independent trade unions in South Africa today, these membership claims do not reflect the same degree of organisation, of firmly-rooted factory committees, democratic structures, etc.
  2. Hansard, April 14, 1947, c. 2664.
  3. In common with other police (and military-police) dictatorships, the NP regime did resort increasingly to fascist methods. But this did not involve organisation of private gangs of storm-troopers or “death squads”; rather the use of these methods against the black working class through the state machine itself. Those who greeted each new repressive measure of the NP government in the 1950s with the cry that “Fascism has arrived” were wrong. Before the methods of fascism could be used by the state unchecked, it was first necessary for the working-class movement to be politically defeated. Only from the 1960s, with the systematic use of torture, with mass removals at gunpoint, did these methods flourish unchecked.
  4. Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom, New York, 1965, p. 90.


Chapter 2

  1. Quoted in A. Lerumo,Fifty Fighting Years, London, 1971, p. 138.


Chapter 3

  1. In his Presidential address to the December 1951 ANC Conference, Dr. J. S. Moroka stated: “I appeal to them [the white people of this country] to reconsider their attitude towards us. Give us democratic rights in this land of our birth.”
  2. No Easy Walk to Freedom, p. 83.
  3. Report of the Joint Planning Council of the ANC and the South African Indian Congress, November 8, 1951.

Despite the success of the 1950-51 one-day strikes, the Planning Council was nervously ambiguous about the role that would be played in the Defiance Campaign by the exercise of workers’ industrial muscle:

“We cannot fail to recognise that industrial action is second to none, the best and most important weapon in the struggle of the people for the repeal of the unjust Laws and that it is inevitable that this method of struggle has to be undertaken, at one time or another during the course of the struggle…We are nevertheless of the opinion that in this next phase of our campaign lawful industrial action should not be resorted to immediately, but that it should be resorted to at a later stage in the struggle. In this new phase of the campaign a sustained form of mass action will be necessary which will gradually embrace larger groups of people, permeate both the urban and the rural areas and make it possible for us to organise, discipline and lead the people in a planned manner…It should be noted, however, that our recommendations do not preclude the use of lawful industrial action during the first stage provided that conditions make its use possible on a local, regional, provincial or national scale.”

  1. Drum, February 1955, p. 17. (Quoted in Tom Lodge,Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945, London, 1983, p. 105.)
  2. Quoted inFrom Protest to Challenge, A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964, edited by Karis and Carter, Stanford, 1977, vol. 3, p. 26-7.
  3. From “Circular Letter to All Congress Branches of the Province”, December 1952.
  4. The Road to Freedom is Via the Cross, published by the ANC, London (undated), p. 9 and p.17.
  5. From Protest to Challenge, vol. 2, p. 426.
  6. From Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 298.
  7. Guardian, December 27, 1951; quoted inStrategic Problems in South Africa’s Liberation Struggle: A Critical Analysis, by Ben Turok, LSM, 1974, p. 24.


Chapter 4

  1. Brian Bunting,Moses Kotane, South African Revolutionary, London, 1975, p. 165.)
  2. Ibid., p. 175.
  3. Ibid., p. 230-1.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.


Chapter 5

  1. Quoted inFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 59.
  2. Luckhardt and Wall,Organize or Starve!, The History of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, London, 1980, p. 337.
  3. SeeFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p.195-6.
  4. See sources quoted in Gerhart,Black Power in South Africa, California, 1978, p. 95, and From Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 195-6.
  5. SeeLiberation, June 1956.
  6. From his statement to the court, dated April 20, 1964. It should be noted that Mandela used the trial to make as clear as possible a public statement of his political beliefs, and made no attempt to conceal his views in the hope of leniency. Courageously facing his accusers, he proclaimed his ideal of a “democratic and free society” as one “which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
  7. SeeFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 63.
  8. Giving a list of “anti-Nationalist forces” which included some of the UP leaders, the Black Sash, the Liberal Party, TUCSA, and the editor of theRand Daily Mail, the ANC National Executive in its 1958 report admitted: “Unfortunately the Liberation movement has not found an appropriate method to bring about the necessary cooperation of all these forces.”


Chapter 6

  1. Quoted in Simons and Simons,Class and Colour in South Africa, 1850-1950, Penguin, p. 578.
  2. Fighting Talk, April 1955.
  3. See the account by R. Lambert inSouth African Labour Bulletin, June 1983.



Chapter 7

  1. Rand Daily Mail, January 25, 1957; February 6, 1957.
  2. In Port Elizabeth, three days after the Congress leaders called off the solidarity boycott there, black dockworkers began a go-slow and were joined by railway workers. They decided to start work one hour later, stop one hour earlier, and not to work overtime or at weekends. The dockworkers were demanding a wage increase from 11/6 a day to 25/-; the railway workers an increase from £4/10/0 a month to £7.

This strike was the fruit of SACTU organising work; success would have been a critical breakthrough in the tough transport sector.

Against the strikers not simply police but troops were brought in and placed on standby. To work on the weekend of 2-3 March, stevedores were shipped in from Cape Town and East London, having been told the lie that a transport boycott in Port Elizabeth was preventing stevedores from getting to work. At the same time the state placed convict labour on call, and began to recruit “endorsed out” workers in the Ciskei and Transkei and place them under guard in tents at the docks.

On Monday March 4, the Port Elizabeth dockworkers and railway workers were told to drop their demands unconditionally, or be locked out. They refused to budge, and were locked out and replaced by the convict labour.

Immediate protest from the international labour movement forced the government to withdraw the prison labour. Nevertheless the workers, fearing replacement by the Transkei/Ciskei labour, agreed to return to work on March 7.

The railway workers who participated in the action were fired; the stevedores had their wages cut.

In the context of nationwide mobilisation for even a 24-hour general strike, this defeat might well have been avoided. The state would not have been able to concentrate its efforts and resources at this one site of struggle, and would have found much more difficulty finding workers from other areas to break the strike.

  1. Quoted inMoses Kotane, p.231-2.
  2. Let My People Go,Fontana edition, p. 157-8.
  3. Fighting Talk, May 1957.
  4. “The Role of Strikes in a Revolution”, inThe Spanish Revolution (1931-39), Pathfinder Press, p. 159.
  5. In the months after the settlement of the Alexandra bus boycott, the ruling class used the “breathing space” with which it had been provided…to launch attacks on the factory strongholds of SACTU’s largest unions.

In 1957 bosses at Advance and Rand Steam Laundries, the Laundry Union’s key Transvaal bases, withdrew stop-order facilities. These were employers whom SACTU had regarded as “reasonably cordial”. (Organize or Starve!, p. 216-7.)

In June 1957 workers struck at Philip Frame’s Consolidated Textile Mills in Durban. Though they won their demands, Frame used the negotiations to withdraw stop-order facilities from the union, and take the medical benefit fund out of its hands. Soon afterwards he began dismissing Textile Union activists.

In 1957, also, the Food and Canning Workers Union had stop-order facilities cut off for its African section by the two biggest food-canning monopolies, LKB and H. Jones. It also suffered a severe setback in losing a strike at Spekenham in Cape Town, where it was attempting to break through from fruit-canning to other sections of canning.

In February 1958 a strike at Amato Textiles in Benoni was viciously broken by the police. This had been the fortress of the Textile Workers Union in the Transvaal. In the wake of the strike, not only were hundreds of workers dismissed, but they were black-listed from employment elsewhere in Benoni, and many were deported off the Rand. “Although the workers’ militant spirit had not been crushed by these repressive measures, the mass strike action characteristic of Amato workers ceased to exist for some time.” (Ibid., p. 287.)

Even SACTU’s biggest victory of the year later turned sour. Workers in the Milling Union won 12.5% wage increases at six Johannesburg flour mills in November 1957 as a result of strike action. New Age commented that it was “the most successful African strike for a long time”. But within a few months, “Union officials had been arrested and shop stewards were being prevented from collecting subs from workers.” (Ibid., p. 223-4.)

The confidence with which the employers and the state conspired together to inflict these blows stemmed from their sense of the vacillation and uncertainty of the Congress leadership, and the division and confusion this was producing among the working class.

  1. Stanley Uys, writing inAfrica South, July-September 1958, p. 47.
  2. Quoted inFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 278.


Chapter 8

  1. See e.g.Moses Kotane, p. 228. Closing the conference, Bishop Reeves said: “This Conference may well go down in history as the turning of the tide in South Africa.”
  2. Ben Turok, in a 1977 interview.
  3. SeeFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 305. Even this, replied Professor Olivier, could not be conceded by the government because it would lead to civil war! This reply “shocked” Lutuli, but did not cause him, or the rest of the leadership, to rethink their policy of seeking compromise on these lines.
  4. Testimony in 1960. See Nelson Mandela,The Struggle is My Life, IDAF, London, 1978, p. 87-8.
  5. “Lessons of the Stay-Away”, published July 14, 1958.
  6. Under the pressure of the activists, the Congress leadership declared 1959 as “Anti-Pass Year” – but did not organise any national campaign of action against passes.

The Anti-Pass Planning Council which was established based its proposals on the “fundamental fact…that the struggle against the pass system is in fact a struggle against the very roots of the entire system of cheap labour, exploitation and oppression of the African people, against which there can be no short cut to victory.”

This was a correct assessment; and it should have underlined the priority to be placed on the organisation of the workers, as the only means of mobilising the force capable of leading the struggle against the capitalist cheap labour system. Yet these were not the conclusions drawn.

Early in 1959 a report by the Federation of South African Women spoke of the “impatience” with which “the active entry of men into the campaign” against the passes was awaited by their members. (Quoted in Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, p. 146.) At a national ANC conference in May there was strong rank-and-file pressure for a call for the mass burning of passes.

The Anti-Pass Planning Council opposed the call for destruction of passes. Though, at the May conference, it had argued that “strikes and go-slow strikes” were more effective, it made no concrete proposals for action along these lines either – and proposed instead the use of the weapon of economic boycott.

The thinking underlying this was partially spelled out by the Council in the NEC report to the December 1959 ANC conference:

“(a) Some people thought that the only way of fighting against the pass laws is by destroying the passes. This in the view of the Planning Council is not the only way of struggling against the pass system nor is it necessarily the most effective way.

“(b) In the history of our struggle against the passes there are instances when the resentment of the Africans against the passes has been so high that they discarded them or burnt them, but sooner or later the passes have been re-imposed and disillusionment followed.

“(c) It is not the document itself towards which we must exclusively direct our attention and devise a form of struggle but the role of the document in the whole structure of our country. In order to end the pass laws which are the root of our oppression we require COURAGE, ENDURANCE AND DETERMINATION and the skilful use of the power [that] is AVAILABLE TO US TO DEFEAT THE GOVERNMENT.

“(d) The economic boycott in South Africa has unlimited potentialities. When our local purchasing power is combined with that of sympathetic organizations overseas we wield a devastating weapon.

“In [the] view of the Council the economic boycott weapon can be used effectively in our struggle against the pass laws. The boycott has the additional merit that it is not a defensive weapon. We are on the offensive and we are fighting on a battlefield chosen by ourselves, based on our own strength.”

Even leaving aside the open retreat from any programme of mass action which this document discloses, it reveals a complete misunderstanding of the question of economic boycott.

It is true that a consumer boycott can be a useful auxiliary weapon for the working class in some struggles against employers who produce goods for mass consumption. It has been used in this way in the past decade, as a means of strike support, and has proved temporarily effective while control over it has remained in the hands of workers’ organisations, and while the strike action itself has remained firm as the focal point of the action.

Likewise in the 1950s, consumer boycott with a limited concrete aim could achieve some gains. The one concrete decision of the May 1959 ANC conference was to launch a potato boycott – directed against the appalling slave-like conditions to which pass offenders were being subjected when handed over by the prisons to work for Eastern Transvaal potato farmers.

As a result of this boycott the government suspended the farm prison labour system for a year. But the potato boycott was soon called off by the Congress leadership. From June 26, 1959 they launched instead a consumer boycott, inside and outside South Africa, of the products of all Nationalist-owned firms.

The ending of the potato boycott itself dismayed many activists. As the NEC admitted at the end of the year, it had been “a resounding success to an extent that it was a difficult task to convince the people about the desirability of switching off from the potato boycott to the boycott of the Nationalist products. Clearly the calling off was unpopular…”

The reason that the potato boycott was called off, (states Barney Ngakane, then an ANC activist) was that: “We were supported at the time by some of the shopkeepers and…their shop businesses were suffering and we did not want to alienate them.” (Rand Daily Mail, August 12, 1983.)

Relaxing the concrete and effective pressure being exerted on the Eastern Transvaal farmers because of the complaints of a few shopkeepers – the Congress leadership called instead on working people to embark on the ludicrously utopian scheme of indefinitely boycotting the products of all Nationalist-owned firms!

And this, claimed the Anti-Pass Planning Council, would build the forces to defeat the government and end the passes!

It hardly requires much serious thought to realise that an effectivenationwide consumer boycott is a much more difficult campaign to organise and sustain than is workers’ action at the point of production, or even a general strike. At the same time, its real political impact can only be a fraction of the latter’s.

In reality, the generalised consumer boycott did nothing to build the organisation of the working class. Moreover, by directing attention only to NP employers, it fostered the illusion that “non-Nat” employers were somehow “better” – that they were not guilty of exploiting and oppressing the working people.

In that sense it formed part of the whole illusory strategy of hoping for an “alliance” with the “progressive” wing of the ruling class. As what they called a “second front” of the anti-pass struggle, the Planning Council proposed that “a pamphlet should be written specifically for the European public and that certain leading personalities amongst the Europeans should be approached to raise and discuss the pass issue with various institutions and to lead deputations to government and local authorities.”

This was, they explained, because “it is essential that the European public should be given a systematic and thorough education about the evils of the pass laws. It is evident that many are ignorant of these evils and not sufficient work has been done to educate them. Many sympathetic Europeans cannot imagine what the country would look like without the pass laws and in particular without influx control.” (SAIRR Papers, AD 1189, ANC 111, Anti-Pass Planning Council Plan, 1959.)

But the employers, both Nat and non-Nat, knew very well that without the pass laws and influx control the whole system of cheap labour on which their profits depended would be fundamentally threatened. An economic boycott of Nationalist employers, combined with a “systematic and thorough education” of non-Nationalist employers, was not going to change their minds!

Significantly, when the South African Foundation was established in 1959 to combat the international extension of the economic boycott, it was joined by every section of the employers, including the “progressive” Harry Oppenheimer.

  1. Notes on the meeting of a Durban City Council Deputation with the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, August 3, 1959.
  2. Drum, July 1959.
  3. Africa South, October-December 1959, p. 16.


Chapter 9

  1. Ben Turok,Strategic Problems in South Africa’s Liberation Struggle, p. 38. For voicing mild criticisms of this nature, Turok was expelled from the CP in the 1970s.
  2. Africa South, April-June 1960.
  3. The Africanist, December 1957.
  4. Moses Kotane, p. 235.
  5. Ibid., p. 236.
  6. Organize or Starve!, p. 411-2.


Chapter 10

  1. The Report of the ANC NEC, December 1959, said: “After many years of bitter struggle against the pass laws it has become necessary to choose a particular day historically linked with the anti-pass struggle, such day to be known as Anti-pass day. The 31st of March stands out as the most suitable date to commemorate the anti-pass struggle for it was on that date in 1919 that the ANC made a serious attempt to stage a systematic demonstration when thousands of passes were collected in Johannesburg and taken to the pass office.”
  2. Moses Kotane, p. 257.
  3. Quoted inOrganize or Starve!, p. 438.
  4. Moses Kotane, p. 257.
  5. The Africanist, December 1957.
  6. SeeFrom Protest to Challenge, vol. 3, p. 570.
  7. Quoted inNew Age, March 31, 1960.
  8. Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, p. 222-3.
  9. Africa South, July-September 1959.


Chapter 11

  1. Moses Kotane, p. 263.
  2. Report by the National Action Council, quoted inBlack Politics in South Africa since 1945, p. 197.
  3. Moses Kotane, p. 263.
  4. 1977 interview.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Organize or Starve!, p. 350.


Chapter 12

71 No Easy Walk to Freedom, p. 105.

  1. The Road to Freedom is Via the Cross, p. 20.
  2. No Easy Walk to Freedom, p. 105.
  3. Africa South, January-March 1959.
  4. African Communist, April-May 1962.
  5. Moses Kotane, p. 273.
  6. United Nations Office of Public Information,Apartheid and the Treatment of Prisoners in South Africa: Statements and Affidavits, New York, 1967, p. 41. This part of Fischers’s trial statement was omitted from the version published by the ANC: What I Did Was Right, by Bram Fischer, Mayibuye Publications, London (undated).
  7. Even in that case, however, the result could never be a transition to a genuinelysocialist society, which requires the conscious democratic control and management of production and the state by the working class. The ending of capitalism after the victory of a guerrilla army – where that has been the result – has invariably led to a regime of bureaucratic dictatorship on Stalinist lines.
  8. From Brinton,The Anatomy of Revolution. This was no original discovery of a bourgeois historian! – it was, in fact, a key element in the conclusions drawn by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on revolution and the state.
  9. No Easy Walk to Freedom, p. 164.