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South Africa

South African Communist Party

In 1994 the South African Communist Party (SACP) was not an independent political entity, but a strong faction within the ANC, where its members held important leadership positions. Former party leaders, Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, for example, had both served as chief of staff of the ANC's military wing and on its most important committees. The SACP won strong representation in the National Assembly in 1994, not by participating openly in the April 1994 elections, but by having SACP members well represented among delegates from the ANC.

The SACP was originally founded as the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in July 1921 in Cape Town. The CPSA was formed out of the merger of several leftist organizations, including the International Socialist League (ISL), the Social Democratic Federation, the Durban Marxist Club, the Cape Communist Party, and the Jewish Socialist Society. The CPSA affiliated with the Communist International (Comintern), headquartered in Moscow, which provided it with political direction, although some party factions opposed Moscow's intervention in South African affairs.

Although whites dominated the party in the 1920s, some CPSA leaders attempted to strengthen its reputation as an indigenous communist organization by increasing its African membership and orientation. David Ivon Jones and Sidney Percival Bunting, formerly of the ISL, translated the concept of social revolution into a struggle for a "black republic" and a "democratic native republic, with equal rights for all races." The major stumbling block they encountered was the belief, inherent in Marxist dogma, that all workers fundamentally share the same interests. In South Africa, white workers generally felt they had little in common with their black counterparts and feared that any improvements for black workers would reduce their own status and income.

Despite efforts at Africanization, the CPSA failed to establish strong ties with black political organizations, many of which were dominated by traditional tribal leaders. In 1928, for example, the ANC denounced the "fraternization" between the ANC and the CPSA. ANC President James T. Gumede was removed from office in 1930, after trying to educate ANC members about Marxism. Even as the CPSA gradually succeeded in recruiting more black members, its leadership continued to be white. For this reason, two ANC Youth League leaders in the 1940s--Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu--opposed any alliance between the ANC and the CPSA at that time.

CPSA members were divided over the increasing Comintern intervention in local affairs. Moscow urged the CPSA and all communist parties to continue to be small, revolutionary elite organizations, and to rid the party of alleged "rightist" elements. In 1931 a new Stalinist faction, led by Douglas Wolton, Molly Wolton, and Lazar Bach, assumed leadership roles in the CPSA and proceeded to purge the party of many white leaders. In the internal upheaval that followed, the party lost black support, too, and weakened its ties to labor. As its leadership ranks were "Stalinized" and leading party activists fled the country, CPSA membership dropped from an estimated 1,750 members in 1928 to about 150 in 1933. Racial divisions continued to exist between the predominantly white leadership and the largely black membership ranks.

At the outset of World War II, the CPSA opposed efforts to counter the Nazi threat, primarily because of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which led to Soviet neutrality. Party members campaigned against military recruitment of blacks (and Indians) in South Africa, arguing that the "natives" should not be sacrificed to perpetuate their own exploitation. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the CPSA echoed Moscow's shift to support the anti-Nazi campaign, and the South African government responded by releasing some CPSA activists from detention and permitting political activities in support of the war effort.

By the mid-1940s, CPSA membership was increasing, and the party had gained influence after a few CPSA members (all white) won political office. After the 1948 NP election victory, however, the government quickly restricted black political activity and in 1950 banned the CPSA. The party went underground temporarily but also strengthened its ties to local nationalist organizations, such as the ANC. During the years it was banned, while the ANC continued to operate legally, the CPSA viewed the ANC as the primary expression of black aspirations for a multiracial socialist state under eventual communist leadership. The Comintern's Sixth Congress declared that "the CPSA could now play an active role in the ANC." The party re-emerged in 1953 under the leadership of Joe Slovo and his wife, Ruth First, and changed its name to the SACP.

The SACP and the ANC in the 1950s held similar views about policy and tactics as embodied in the ANC's Freedom Charter; in addition, they both advocated the use of guerrilla warfare against the apartheid regime in order to bring about the dual-phase revolution of political liberation followed by economic transformation. Party members reportedly persuaded the ANC to abandon African nationalism in favor of nonracialism, however, although the SACP, unlike the ANC, viewed the primary objective of the revolution as the creation of a socialist state. After many leaders of both organizations were arrested in 1963, both the SACP and the ANC shifted their political and military bases of operations to neighboring African states.

The close ties between the SACP and the ANC, particularly the predominance of SACP members in the ANC, have always been controversial, and in 1959 prompted a split by black nationalists from the ANC to form the militant Africanist, anticommunist PAC. The SACP-ANC relationship evolved into a symbiosis, derived in part from their dual memberships and overlapping leadership ranks. Throughout the 1980s, for example, the SACP was well represented on the ANC's NEC and in other key ANC positions, and in ANC-affiliated labor organizations, such as COSATU.

When the SACP was unbanned in February 1990, its strength was difficult to estimate because many party members had been underground for years. In July 1990, a party spokesman publicized the names of twenty-two SACP members who were prominent in national politics but said that the names of others would remain secret. In 1991 SACP leaders estimated that the party had 10,000 dues-paying members, but refused to publish the party's membership rolls.

SACP chairman Joe Slovo was the most prominent party member in government in 1994. Slovo was a trained lawyer and advocate, a member of the Johannesburg Bar, and one of the original members of MK, the ANC military wing. He served on the ANC's revolutionary council from 1969 until it was disbanded in 1983, became the first white member of the ANC's NEC in 1985, and served as MK chief of staff until April 1987. He was appointed SACP general secretary in 1986, following the death of Moses Madhiba, and continued in that post until 1991, when he became party chairman. Slovo was appointed minister of housing in the Government of National Unity in May 1994 and served in that post until his death in January 1995.

Slovo had been a hard-line communist, a Stalinist, when he joined the party in the 1940s, but along with others in the SACP had followed Moscow's 1980s reforms. By 1987 Slovo and his associates espoused the creation of a multiparty state with a mixed economy, and sought to broaden the party's membership base. This liberal philosophy might have explained the SACP's large representation among ANC leaders in the 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet system in the late 1980s had weakened the SACP's outside support and appeared to have weakened the appeal of the socialist ideals the party espoused for South Africa. Party activists believed, nonetheless, that the remaining economic disparities among racial groups provided fertile ground for SACP recruitment in the 1990s.

SACP leaders, considerably weakened by the murder of Chris Hani in 1993, debated the possibility that the party no longer represented a political asset to the ANC, as they prepared for the April 1994 elections. They realized that the SACP could do little to help the ANC broaden its popular support beyond its liberation allies, and public opinion polls gave the SACP, alone, strong support among only about 5 percent of voters. By including a large number of SACP members among the electoral delegates representing the ANC in the April 1994 elections, however, the SACP was able to gain significantly more representation in the national and provincial legislatures and more key posts in the government than it would have, had it run independently.

Data as of May 1996

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