Obituary: Mourn the revolutionary

Joe Slovo, 23 May 1926 - 6 January 1995

“AN EXEMPLAR of moderate pragmatism”, “a South African of dedication and integrity”, renowned for his “rationality, reasonable-ness and understanding”. These are just some of the tributes that the South African and world bourgeoisie have poured upon Joe Slovo, the chair and former general secretary of the South African Communist Party, who died on January 6.

We too salute him. But it is not the ‘moderate pragmatist’ whose memory we cherish, but the genuine revolutionary fighter, not only for the national democratic revolution but for the communist future. Regrettably that Joe Slovo passed away some time ago.

Born in Lithuania in 1926, he emigrated to South Africa at the age of eight, joining what was then the Communist Party of South Africa in 1942 at 16.

After the war he met Nelson Mandela at the University of Witwatersrand, and was instrumental in setting up the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He also helped reconstitute the SACP in 1953 and was declared a banned person by the regime in 1954. He helped draw up the Freedom Charter and was one of those arrested in the notorious treason trials of 1956. He was however released after five months.

Forced into exile in 1963, Slovo devoted long years building up Umkhonto’s African bases. His wife, Ruth First, was assassinated by apartheid agents in Mozambique in 1982.

During this period of revolutionary turmoil within South Africa, the Party, and Slovo in particular, enjoyed massive prestige among the working class. One of the few remaining communist parties with revolutionary politics which it was actually practising, the SACP called for uninterrupted revolution through armed uprising, moving beyond the tasks of national democracy to those of socialism.

But the SACP was not immune to ‘official communism’s’ decay, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union the opportunistic elements which had always prevented the Party from embracing fully Leninist politics gained the upper hand.

Joe Slovo himself was the most influential in advocating compromise with the bourgeoisie and consigning socialism to the distant future. His book, Has socialism failed?, played no small part in this.

He was probably the single most important individual in pulling off the “South African miracle” of defusing the revolutionary situation into its present undreamt of stability while leaving capitalism firmly at the helm.

Joe Slovo ended his days as ANC housing minister, devoting his remaining energies to the implementation of the capitalist reconstruction and development programme. Still revered by the black masses and finally admired by the ruling class, he had crossed over to the enemy.

Jim Blackstock