About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

4. National Democratic Revolution

The immediate interests of the overwhelming majority of the South African people lie in the carrying out of fundamental change: a national democratic revolution which will overthrow the colonial state and establish a untied, democratic and nonracial South Africa. The main content of this revolution is the national liberation of the African people in particular, and the black people in general.

The historical experience of subjugated peoples everywhere, and our own experience, have shown that the ruling class will not relinquish power of its own accord. It has to be removed by the combined force of the struggling people. Seizure of power by the revolutionary masses is the fundamental task of the national democratic revolution. This will entail the destruction of existing state institutions designed to maintain and defend colonial oppression. In their place, democratic institutions will be set up.

Already, in the course of struggle,the revolutionary masses have built various rudimentary forms of people's government in the localities where racist institutions are destroyed or severely weakened. The people, s committees and related popular institutions such as people' s courts and defence committees, as well as efforts to set up and strengthen alternative structures in the fields of education, culture, sports and others, constitute a creative advance of the aims of the national democratic revolution. As long as the ruling bloc still controls the central organs of power, these popular structures will always experience great difficulties. The masses themselves have yet to muster enough strength to sustain these structures. But any weaknesses and reverses experienced now cannot detract from the central importance of organs of people's power as a product and an effective weapon of struggle. These organs will help shape the content of national democracy in our conditions. The building, strengthening and defence of these organs, in the course of struggle, is a crucial task.

The main aims of the national democratic revolution are outlined in the Freedom Charter, which has also been endorsed by the mass democratic movement representing millions of our struggling people. South African Communists consider that the achievement of the aims of the Charter will answer the pressing and immediate needs of the people and lay the indispensable basis for the advance to socialism.

The foundation of the national democratic state will be popular representative institutions of government based on oneperson, onevote, universal and direct adult franchise without regard to race, sex, property and other discriminatory qualifications. These bodies will have to be accountable to the people and subject to popular control. For it to serve the people, s interests, the new state machinery the army, the police, the judiciary and the civil service will be open to all South Africans loyal to democratic and nonracial principles. The state will guarantee the basic freedoms and rights of all citizens, such as the freedoms of speech and thought, of the press and of organisation, of movement, of conscience and religion and full trade union rights for all workers including the right to strike.

It must be one of the basic policies and aims of the national democratic state to raise the living standards of the people, and in particular, to eradicate the centuriesold injustices perpetrated against the black majority. This applies to wages and job opportunities, education, housing, health and other amenities.

In order to satisfy the needs of the people and ensure balanced and rapid development of the economy, it will be necessary to ensure popular control over vital sectors of the economy. This will entail the continual strengthening of the state sector in mining, heavy industry, banks and other monopoly industries. The national democratic state will define the general parameters of economic activity. In addition, it must ensure that workers in particular and the people in general play an important role in the running of enterprises, and that the necessary cadres are trained and deployed to serve the national interest. To fully eliminate the system of colonial domination, it will be necessary to ensure democratic ownership and control over decisive aspects of the economy. At the same time, the state will protect the interests of private business where these are not incompatible with the public interest.

This applies equally to land distribution: there is an imperative need to restore land to the people. This will take a variety of forms, including state ownership of largescale farms, redistribution of land among the landhungry masses and state assistance to them, the setting up of cooperative farms, and guaranteeing the freedom of movement and settlement. It will also entail the task of overcoming the enormous economic underdevelopment of many rural regions.

The realisation of these obiectives also constitutes the foundation to the solution of the national question in South Africa, a basic task of the national democratic revolution. The new state will accelerate the struggle to unite all South Africans into a single nation, and consolidate the gains already made. The basis for such national unity is being laid in the course of common struggle of the overwhelming majority of South Africans black and white against the common enemy. This struggle has wrought havoc with the regime's ageold ruse of divideandrule. The popular offensive against the bantustan system and tricameral parliament is a reflection of the failure of enemy ploys. At the same time, more and more whites are joining the ranks of antiapartheid forces. The struggle for a common nationhood is reinforced by the reality of interaction among the majority of the people in the workplace, within a single national economy and territory.

However, the process of nationformation has to be backed up by a conscious effort on the part of the liberation alliance and the new democratic state. All discriminatory laws and practices will be abolished, and the preaching and practice of discrimination and contempt on the basis of race, colour or ethnic group shall be considered criminal.

National unification of our people will also recognise their diversity in cultures, customs and languages. It will be one of the basic tasks of the democratic state to develop and encourage the flourishing of the diverse cultures and languages of all the people. Such a policy, combined with the effort to promote elements that are common to all South Africans, is not contradictory to the process of building national unity.

In promoting full equality, the new government will have to rid South Africa of the privileges currently accorded to the white community without undermining the rights of individuals. The white people, like all other South Africans, will have the right to develop those elements in their culture which are not based on racism and privilege. On the other hand, the call for group rights as distinct from the rights of individual citizens is fraught with the danger of perpetuating inequality and thus undermining the very tenets of democracy and national unity.

The tasks of the national democratic revolution are all interrelated. Both the national and democratic objectives hinge on the fundamental questions of state power and ownership of and control over the national wealth. In the words of the Freedom Charter, 'only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief'.

Only such a state can guarantee the national independence and sovereignty of our country, and ensure that South Africa plays its rightful role as an equal partner in the development of the region and the continent, and in promoting world peace and social progress.

Role of the Working Class in the National Democratic Revolution

The realisation of the basic guidelines set out in the Freedom Charter and their ongoing consolidation after the seizure of power, will be determined by a number of factors. Among the major ones are: the correlation of class forces within the liberation alliance, the strength of this alliance relative to the overthrown classes, and the international balance of forces. In the final analysis, this depends on the extent to which the working class, the landless rural masses and progressive sections of the middle strata assume decisive positions within the democratic alliance. Among these forces which are objectively interested in thoroughgoing revolutionary transformation the working class is the leading force.

The character of any revolution is determined by objective realities and not by the wishes of individuals or parties. In our situation, the unity in action of the oppressed and democratic forces around the basic national democratic demands constitutes the most powerful revolutionary weapon against the ruling class. To weaken this unity by placing the attainment of socialism on the immediate agenda would, in fact, be to postpone the very attainment of socialist transformation.

The demands for national democracy unite the overwhelming majority of strata and sectors of the oppressed: black workers, the landless rural masses, the intelligentsia, cultural workers, sections of black business, youth, women, religious communities, sports people and others. These demands are also in the longterm interest of white workers, small farmers and middle strata who, together, make up the bulk of the white population.

The struggle for national democracy is also an expression of the class contradiction between the black and democratic forces on the one hand, and the monopoly capitalists on the other. The stranglehold of a small number of white monopoly capitalists over the great bulk of our country's wealth and resources is based on colonial dispossession and promotes racial oppression. This concentration of wealth and power perpetuates the superexploitation of millions of black workers. It perpetuates the sesperate plight of millions of the landless rural poor. And it blocks the advance of black business and other sectors of the oppressed. This reality, therefore, forms the basis of the antimonopoly content of the national democratic programme.

But, in our conditions in which national oppression and economic exploitation are inextricably linked, there can, at the end of the day, be no fundamental liberation without full economic emancipation; without the advance to a socialist and communist future. To achieve this, the South African working class and black workers in particular must play the leading role in the national democratic struggle.

Objectively, because of the numbers at their command, and because of their concentration and collective organisation within the strategic points of the economy, black workers are better placed than any other class or stratum among the oppressed to lead the national democratic struggle. Their actions affect the economic foundation of the system of colonialism of a special type. And it is black workers, a class with no property stakes in presentday South Africa, who are most capable of taking the national democratic struggle to its fullest conclusion.

Workers, more than any other class in our society, understand from their own lives the importance of collective solutions to social problems. Their very position within production and their daily struggles have schooled our working class in the need for organisation and united action. The existence of a large, class conscious proletariat is the greatest asset to our revolution.

The role of black workers as the dominant force in our struggle is absolutely crucial to ensure that the national democratic revolution lays the basis for a transition to socialism. Whether we will be able to make a steady advance in this direction depends mainly on the role that the working class plays today. It is vital that black workers ally to themselves all classes and strata among the oppressed and all other forces who have a real interest in the creation of a united, democratic and nonracial South Africa. By championing the interests of the oppressed people and all those who aspire to democracy; by strengthening the front of organisations struggling for national democracy, black workers are able to win the confidence of all democratic forces as the vanguard class in the national democratic struggle. If the workers were to reject broad alliances and 'go it alone' then they would in fact be surrendering the leadership of the national struggle, working class purity, leads to working class suicide.

However, the alliance strategy does not mean that the workinq class should abandon its own class organisations. It is of crucial importance that the working class builds and strengthens its own independent class organisations while cooperating with, and indeed leading, the broad democratic forces. Nor does it mean that propagation of socialist ideas should be postponed until popular seizure of power in the national democratic revolution. The Communist Party and all other working class organisations must ensure that the ideas of socialism are widely debated, spread and take root, especially among the working people.

The National Democratic Revolution and the Transition to Socialism

Victory in the national democratic revolution is, for our working class, the most direct route to socialism and ultimately communism. The existence in South Africa of the material conditions for socialism the relatively advanced technical level and a strong working class and the achievement of the national democratic revolution, will not in themselves guarantee an advance to socialism. In order to create the conditions for such an advance, the working class will have to ensure that the national democratic tasks are consistently carried out. The working class must win for itself the dominant role in the new government, and see to it that the character of the national democratic state accords with the genuine interests of the people The programme to eliminate monopoly control over the economy and to tailor economic policies according to the needs of the people will have to be scrupulously ensured.

In the period after the seizure of power by the democratic forces, the working class will need to continue the struggle against capitalism. It will need to strengthen its organisations and build the bases of working class and popular power in the economy, in all sectors of the state and in the communities where the people live. A dehberate effort will have to be made to prevent attempts by the bourgeoisie and aspirant capitalist elements and their imperialist supporters to dominate state power and divert the revolution. Constant mass vigilance will also have to be exercised and action taken against such negative tendencies as the stifling of popular democracy, the bureaucratisation of the state and corrupt practices in government or in society as a whole.

In order to prevent the emergence of a seedbed for capitalist resurgence and ensure an advance to socialism, the working class must win to its side other sections of the working people, both now and after the popular seizure of power. The landless rural masses, sections of the intelligentsia, students, large contingents of youth and women (as social groups) and some small businessmen and other forces stand to gain from the victory of the socialist revolution.

The transition to socialism will be neither completely separate from nor contradictory to the tasks of the national democratic revolution. On the one hand, consistent implementation and defence of the national democratic programme constitute a major guarantee for progress towards socialism. On the other hand, many of the major objectives of the national democratic revolution will be fully accomplished in the process of socialist construction. Among these tasks are complete national liberation and equality, elimination of sex discrimination, and, more significantly, the elimination of monopoly domination over the economy.

The Socialist Perspective

A socialist revolution differs from all other revolutions in world history. It sets out to abolish private ownership of the means of production and all forms of oppression. The systems of slavery, feudalism and capitalism are all based on the private ownership of the means of production and oppression of one class by another. Thus, capitalist relations of production developed even before the bourgeoisie had achieved political power. But the development of socialist relations, which will bring an end to the system of economic exploitation, cannot begin until the working class and its allies have won state power. While the material basis for socialism is created by capitalism itself, socialist relations of production are realised only after the political revolution.

The fundamental question of any socialist revolution is the winning of political power by the working class, in alliance with other progressive elements among the people. The working class then sets out to eliminate exploitation by achieving public ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Fundamental to the socialist political system is the introduction of the widest democracy to the greatest majority of the people and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, including national oppression and sex discrimination. At the same time, the workers' state should prevent the resurgence of the overthrown classes, both internal and external.

In a socialist society, there are neither exploiters nor the exploited. Public ownership of the means of production, means of distribution and means of exchange is the foundation of the socialist economy.Governing the distribution of income is the principle: 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their work'. A large and increasing portion of society's wealth is used to raise the living standards of the people by ensuring housing, low rents and transport fares, free education and health care, and other benefits. Socialism is a humane system which promotes the free and allround development of all individuals in society. The chronic scourges of even the most advanced capitalist countries such as mass unemployment, inflation, cyclical crises and social waste are eliminated.

Through social ownership and democratic control of the means of production, the socialist economy is characterised by a qualitatively higher level of planning and coordination than is possible under capitalism. Development is not haphazard and spontaneous. It is not left to chance nor to the greed of a few exploiters. It is made to serve the needs of society as a whole. In this way it is possible to ensure that the combined wealth and human energies of society are harnessed to benefit society as a whole.

Socialism is a transitional stage on the road to communism, a still higher stage of human society. Communism is a classless social system, with allround public ownership of the means of production, accompanied by the growth of productive forces sufficient to ensure the abundance of goods, enabling the principle to be applied: 'From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'. The building of socialism and gradual development of communism cannot be achieved overnight in a sudden flash. In all countries where workers' power has triumphed, the realisation of socialism is a long and often difficult process.

Basing ourselves on the creativity, motivation and organisation of our working class and people, on the lessons and experience of our comrades in the socialist countries, and on the fraternal international relations that are a basic feature of world socialism, the South African working class possesses the weapons to develop rapidly on the road to a socialist and communist future.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.