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.

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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, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable. A key revolutionary syndicalist current operating globally, aspiring to unite the world’s working class into a revolutionary One Big Union against capitalism, the state and economic and social inequality, the Wobblies operated in contexts characterized by white supremacy and deeply divided working classes. Yet they not only condemned racism and segregation in theory, but actively engaged in the challenging work of organizing workers of color including black Africans, African Americans, Asians, Coloureds and Latinos, against both economic exploitation and national/ racial oppression.

Although the literature on race, ethnicity, and labour in both countries is voluminous, remarkably little has been written regarding the IWW on race matters. Yet the Wobbly tradition’s impressive commitment and achievements largely unappreciated; the myth that left anti-racism started with Marxist communism in the 1920s remains pervasive. This article develops a comparative analysis of these two IWW experiences, bridging the North/South and industrialized/developing country divides in the (labor) historiography, and deepening our understanding of IWW politics and of labor, race and the left in countries with heterogeneous working classes. Given the centrality of sailors and dockers in the Wobbly movement, particular attention is paid to Philadelphia (US) and Cape Town (SA).

In short, this article seeks to correct omissions in the literature of both countries’ labor and left movements by exploring how and why the IWW did what so few other unions were willing or able to do-organize across the color line, reject working class and official racism, with both remarkable achievements (if some limitations) in its emancipatory project. In doing so, this paper recovers a history of revolutionary unionism and politics amongst workers of colour, and of their organisations, like the General Workers Union, IWW, Industrial Workers of Africa, Industrial Social League, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa. The broad anarchist tradition,including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Key words: anarchism, Bakunin, Black struggles, Cape Town, communism, colonialism, dockers, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), global labour, labor unions, Kropotkin, longshore workers, Philadelphia, race relations, sailors, strikes, South Africa, syndicalism, transnational labour, United States

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.

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Outside the Pass Office - From Bonner - 1982 - 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

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.

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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 Worker was produced by the International Socialists of South Africa (ISSA), these days called “Keep Left.”

Hammond later did an Honours thesis on The International  at the University of Cape Town, but no copies seem to have been kept. Anyone who can provide a copy, let us know!

Click on picture for the PDF Hammond - The International (Socialist Worker SA 1997)

 

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

Syndicalism on the Shopfloor: the Denver Shop-Stewards Strike, Traansvaal, November-December 1919, E.A. Mantzaris

Syndicalism on the Shopfloor: the Denver Shop-Stewards Strike, Traansvaal, November-December 1919 by E.A. Mantzaris

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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 to the UK. The committees were envisaged as a step to the inter-racial revolutionary One Big Union, complementing independent syndicalist unions amongst workers of colour

(FOR MORE on these developments, see Lucien van der Walt’s 2007 PhD or his recent paper in “Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World 1970-1940”, Brill 2010).