The characterisation of the South Africa question: Towards a black republic
The resolutioni on “The South African Question” adopted by the executive committee of the Communist International following its Sixth Comintern congress in 1928 characterised South Africa as a “British Dominion of the colonial type”.
This characterisation derived from the analysis of the development of relations of capitalist production that led to British imperialism “carrying out the economic exploitation of the country” with the participation of the white people of South Africa1.
The analysis held that this “did not alter the general colonial character of the economy of South Africa”, as British capital continued to occupy principal economic positions in the country – banks, mining and industry – and since the whites were equally interested in the merciless exploitation of the Africans2.
The South Africa Question resolution of the Sixth Comintern in 1928 also noted that in the South African economy there had been growth of the iron- and steel-manufacturing industries, the development of commercial crops (cotton, sugar, cane), and the growth of capitalist relations in agriculture, chiefly in cattle-raising. On the basis of this growth of capitalism, there was a growing tendency to expropriate the land from Africans and from a certain section of the white farming population.
This 1928 resolution further noted that the South African bourgeoisie (generally referring to whites) was endeavouring, also by legislative means, “to create a cheap market of labour power and a reserve army”.
While there is tendency to treat whites in general as a homogeneous group, the analysis did attempt to segment the white population into class components. The resolution noted that black people constituted the majority of the working class among the workers employed in industry, transport and agriculture, while the minority of the working class were white. The resolution further noted that that the characteristic feature of the proletarianisation of the native population was the fact that the number of black workers grew faster than the number of white workers.
The colonial-type thesis
The Sixth Comintern also observed that the overwhelming majority of the population was made up of black people3. “A characteristic feature of the colonial type of the country is the almost complete landlessness of the Africans who in 1928 held only one-eighth of the land whilst seven-eighths had been expropriated by the white population,” It said.
Another characteristic noted was “the great difference” in the wages and conditions of the white and black working class in general. Notwithstanding a reduction in the living standard of the white workers that had taken place in the 1920s, “the great disproportion between the wages of the white and black workers continued to exist as the characteristic feature of the colonial type of the country”.
The Sixth Comintern contended that there was no African bourgeoisie as a class, apart from those Africans engaged in trading and a thin strata of African intellectuals who did not play an essential role in the economic and political life of the country.
Evolution of ANC policy
i Document 42 from "South African Communists Speak", 1981
1 Described and quantified as the white bourgeoisie of South Africa (British and Boer) - about 1 500 000 white people according to the 1921 census.
2 Described as the negro population.
3 Described and quantified as negroes and coloured people (about 5 500 000 negroes and coloured people according to the 1921 census) – note that this did not necessarily account for South Africans of Indian origin.
4 The key task of the executive committee of the congress, according to Seme … be divided into two sections.
- To formally establish the South African Native Congress as a national society or union for all the natives of South Africa.
- Consider, amend, and adapt, the Constitution and rules for the society, union or congress.
- To elect officers for the ensuing year.
5 Second section:
- The installation of officers;
- To take a vote of confidence on:
- General the Right Honourable Louis Botha, PC
- The Honourable the Minister for Native Affairs
- The Honourable the Native Senators