“Manifesto of the Mine Workers” – Council of Action, Johannesburg, 1921

… The Council of Action, as an industrial body, [is not an] inspiration or a brain wave of the moment, but is an attempt to formulate a scheme of things likened to the Workers’ Committee movement in Britain, which, in an unofficial way, is doing a great and useful work. The method is to work within and without the official Trade Union movement, with the object of abolishing Capitalism and establishing control of industry by the worker for the worker.

The Council of Action, as an indutrial [sic] body, claims that the purpose of production, distribution and exchange, under Capitalism, is to serve class interests. Under this system of society, the working class is dependent upon the capitalist class, because the latter owns and controls the means of production, distribution and exchange, and thus the two classes have nothing in common. From this opposition of class interests there arises an antagonism which manifests itself in the class struggle; one class organising and fighting to hold the power of ownership and control, whilst the working class is compelled to organise to capture the means of production, distribution and exchange to be worked in the interests of society as a whole.

To achieve such power over the resources of life, the working class must organise along class lines to bring about the overthrow of Capitalism, and its class function is the act of Industrial Control. Only by bringing about working class control can the workers eliminate Capitalism and free themselves from wage-slavery. Therefore we stand for class-consciousness, education, organisation, and the direct industrial power of Labour.

The class struggle, as outlined in our general principles, opens up a two-fold form of industrial organisation. First, Industrial Unionism; secondly, Craft Unions. Industrial Unionism stands for the departmental and co-ordinated organisation of the workers, with the avowed object of wresting the economic power out of the hands of the capitalist class. Such an industrial policy arises out of the industrial conditions created by economic development. Therefore, it imposes the duty of Industrial Class Unionism upon the working class. By organising in revolutionary industrial units within each industry, and throughout all the industries, the class-conscious working class are preparing that form of power which will be required to carry out the proper organisation of production during the transition period.  To further the objects of class-conscious Industrial Unionism, the class-conscious workers should play an active part in all forms of activity within the existing Unions, in order to sway the mass of workers over to the support of direct industrial organisation, which would be used to institute aRepublicofIndustrialWorkers…

In order to function as herein stated, our purpose therefore is: (1) to bring all workers in the mining industry into the one organisation; (2) to bring about rank and file control of the organisation. The whole history of Trade Unionism has always been a history of sectionalism and exclusiveness … It is object-lessons of this kind, and others already enumerated, which demand a better form of organisation, not only for usefulness in the wages struggle, but for the greater ideal of full workers’ control….

The cardinal points in the education of the class-conscious workers are three in number: Firstly, the class struggle; secondly, the science of revolution; thirdly, the industrial and political needs of the Industrial Republic. To provide such knowledge, the principles of Marxism must be taught. Hence, the education work of the Council of Action shall be to advance the foregoing principles.


Source: The Workers’ Dreadnought, 18 February 1922

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).