Biography: Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in DAB

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Biography: Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in DAB

Biography: Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in DAB

Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Biography: Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in DAB

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925”

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925,” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69-96 PDF is here ABSTRACT: In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, … Continue reading Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925”

Phil Bonner, 1982, “The Transvaal Native Congress 1917-1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand” (‘Africa Perspective’ version)

Phil Bonner, 1982, “The Transvaal Native Congress 1917-1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand,” Africa Perspective (first series), 20: 41-62. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Phil Bonner, 1982, “The Transvaal Native Congress 1917-1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand” (‘Africa Perspective’ version)

“South African Labour Bulletin”: 1974 special issue on the ICU

Get the PDF here. The rise of a new, independent trade union movement in South Africa from the 1970s — a movement centred on black workers — revived interest in labour history. Activists and academics linked to the new unions and labour service organisations were interested in the recovery of a useful working class history, meaning one that enabled a class-based understanding of South Africa, … Continue reading “South African Labour Bulletin”: 1974 special issue on the ICU

Analysis of the ICU: Bradford, ‘Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU’ (‘Africa Perspective’)

Helen Bradford, 1983, “Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU,” Africa Perspective, number 22, pp. 2-25. Drawn from Bradford’s classic social history work on the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in the South African countryside in the 1920s. The ICU had some syndicalist influences. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Analysis of the ICU: Bradford, ‘Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU’ (‘Africa Perspective’)

South Africa, and South African anarchism, through West African eyes [1997]

South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and unions (both strengths and limitations), and South African anarchism and syndicalism, were mentioned several times in Sam Mbah and IE. Igariwey’s 1997 classic text, African Anarchism: the history of a movement (See Sharp, Tucson, USA). The authors, Nigerian militants, highlighted the South African movement as one of the oldest and most important in Africa (not much was known of the time, at least amongst English-speakers, of the very important currents that had existed in North Africa, or impacts elsewhere in the continent). The 1990s South African movement, in turn, was deeply impressed by the then-1,000 member anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in Nigeria, of which Mbah and Igariwey were leading lights; the League joined an anarcho-syndicalist international, the International Workers Association, in 1996, a body claiming direct descent from the 1922 “Berlin” international set up after anarchists and syndicalists broke ties with the Communist International / Comintern. Mbah, sadly, passed away from heart problems in late 2014.

From African Anarchism:

Chapter 1: What Is Anarchism?

“Anarchism as a social philosophy, theory of social organization, and social movement is remote to Africa — indeed, almost unknown. It is underdeveloped in Africa as a systematic body of thought, and largely unknown as a revolutionary movement. Be that as it may, anarchism as a way of life is not at all new to Africa, as we shall see. The continent’s earliest contact with European anarchist thought probably did not take place before the second half of the 20th century, with the single exception of South Africa. It is, therefore, to Western thinkers that we must turn for an elucidation of anarchism.

Anarchism derives not so much from abstract reflections of intellectuals or philosophers as from the objective conditions in which workers and producers find themselves. Though one can find traces of it earlier, anarchism as a revolutionary philosophy arose as part of the worldwide socialist movement in the 19th century….”

Chapter 3: Anarchistic Precedents in Africa

“As for outright anarchist movements, there have existed and still exist anarchist groups in South Africa — notably the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement in Johannesburg, and the Durban-based Angry Brigade [this was apparently one of the incarnations of the Durban anarchist movement that later ended up in the Workers Solidarity Federation and in Zabalaza Books — SAAHSA]. South Africa’s pioneer anarcho-syndicalist organization, however — known as the Industrial Workers of Africa — Continue reading “South Africa, and South African anarchism, through West African eyes [1997]”

Analysis (in French): Patrick Marcolini, “L’anarchisme en terre africaine:Les composantes africaines du mouvement libertaire”

L’anarchisme en terre africaine:Les composantes africaines du mouvement libertaire par Patrick Marcolini (OLS) From here L’absence en France d’histoires du mouvement libertaire qui englobent sa composante africaine pourrait laisser croire que l’anarchisme est un phénomène occidental. Pourtant, des organisations ont tenté de faire vivre l’idéal anarchiste et syndicaliste révolutionnaire sur la terre africaine. Les premières organisations anarchistes et syndicalistes révolutionnaires africaines apparaissent à la fin … Continue reading Analysis (in French): Patrick Marcolini, “L’anarchisme en terre africaine:Les composantes africaines du mouvement libertaire”

Photo: ICU poem at Workers Museum (Newtown, Johannesburg, 2014)

After years of neglect, the Workers Museum at the old municipal workers compound in Johannesburg has been upgraded. The story of working class movements presented there is, SAASHA is reliably informed, is selective, with (for example) FOSATU completely absent. Nonetheless, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) does get mentioned. The photo below, of an ICU poem in the display, was provided by Warren McGregor. … Continue reading Photo: ICU poem at Workers Museum (Newtown, Johannesburg, 2014)

LACOM/ SACHED (1989): “Social Organisation and Black Workers in South Africa: 1914-1921”

Social Organisation and Black Workers in South Africa: 1914-1921

cover_of_debates_in_sa_labour_history__small.jpgThe following selection is from Debates in South African Labour History, a booklet published in 1989 by SACHED in Durban. It focuses on the syndicalist International Socialist League and the syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa in the late 1910s.

Continue reading “LACOM/ SACHED (1989): “Social Organisation and Black Workers in South Africa: 1914-1921””

Rare: Hammond, 1997, “The International: South Africa’s first revolutionary paper”

Angie Hammond, May 1997, “The International: South Africa’s first revolutionary paper,”  Socialist Worker (South Africa) no. 50. A rare article.  It provides a positive appraisal of the South African revolutionary syndicalist International Socialist League’s weekly, The International.  The view that The lnternational “united around it principled socialists whose commitment to the classical Marxist tradition” is not too convincing, but the article is worth reading. Socialist … Continue reading Rare: Hammond, 1997, “The International: South Africa’s first revolutionary paper”

The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction? – Phil Bonner, 1978

The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction?
The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction?

Download PDF

This essay, which first appeared in the South African Labour Bulletin, sought to draw the lessons of the spectacular rise and fall of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) in South Africa. Formed in 1919, merged soon afterwards with the syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa, the ICU was influenced by syndicalism, Garveyism, liberalism and other currents. It was, in the 1920s, the single largest black protest movement in the country – reaching an estimated 100,000 members by 1927. It also spread into neighbouring colonies. Yet by 1931 the ICU – in South Africa, that is – was a shell of its former self. Bonner argued that the ICU failed because it lacked a clear strategy, a focus on shopfloor organising, and loose structures more generally – mindful of the ICU, the new generation of unionists in the 1970s and 1980s (Bonner among them) sought to build unions that avoided these pitfalls. Elements of their strategy would later be known as “workerism.” Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction? – Phil Bonner, 1978”

The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa – John Philips, 1978

The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa, John Philips
The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa by John Philips

Download PDF

John Philip’s pioneering, hard-to-get study of syndicalism in South Africa, stressing the influence of the IWW. Despite some important factual errors and some gaps, this was for many years the most reliable text on the subject. It made use of American primary sources (such as the IWW’s Industrial Worker), and of South African secondary texts (like the Simons’ Class and Colour in South Africa). The PDF is the original version. The marked up version includes some insertions noting errors.

SOURCE: Ufahuma, volume 8, number 3 (1978) Continue reading “The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa – John Philips, 1978”

Syndicalism on the Shopfloor: the Denver Shop-Stewards Strike, Transvaal, November-December 1919 – E.A. Mantzaris, February 1981

Download PDF This paper by Evan Mantzaris provides a critical chronicle of a strike by radical white metalworkers at the Denver Engineering Works on the Witwatersrand, organised through a workers’ committee. This was linked to the syndicalist International Socialist League, which had became interested in promoting a rank-and-file “shopstewards and workers committee” movement in the existing (white) unions following a visit by militant Bill Andrews … Continue reading Syndicalism on the Shopfloor: the Denver Shop-Stewards Strike, Transvaal, November-December 1919 – E.A. Mantzaris, February 1981

Syndicalists in South Africa, 1908-17 – Baruch Hirson, November 1993

Syndicalists in South Africa, 1908-17 by Baruch Hirson

Download PDF

The following 1993 text by the late Baruch Hirson, South African Trotskyist, provides some insight into the South African syndicalists of the early twentieth century. A reader can quibble over the focus on Archie  Crawford and Mary Fitzgerald (whose ideas were always rather mixed), as well as regret the closing in 1917 (many of the most important developments took place in the late 1910s). But credit must be given where credit is due: Hirson played an unmatched role, over many years, in recovering the history of South African left traditions ignored or caricatured in the South African Communist Party and academic accounts. Although his interest was in the Communist Party and the Trostkyists that emerged subsequently, his work also touched on the anarchist and syndicalist tradition, as this interesting paper shows. Continue reading “Syndicalists in South Africa, 1908-17 – Baruch Hirson, November 1993”