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New International, September 1948


Robert Stone

Pattern of Jim Crow in South Africa

“Native Policy” of Decaying Imperialism


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 7, September 1948, pp. 204–207.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


South Africa’s native policy must be judged in relation to the tremendous changes made possible by the impact of modern European imperialism on the primitive African society, its total conquest over the African society, the natives’ subjection to capitalist development, and the initial disturbance of their social equilibrium which imperialism provoked.

It is the momentous leap over centuries, the opportunity which imperialist conquest has unlocked but which it at the same time desperately and cunningly tries to keep shut – it is this that forms the core of the South African problem.

For the driving force behind the rulers’ policies is to create elaborately contrived mechanisms to control and repress all those potentially revolutionary consequences which must obviously follow from the very nature of this historic clash. The methods of control contrived offer illuminating lessons on certain dominant trends of contemporary imperialist society. An analysis of all the historic forces responsible for shaping South Africa’s native policy will contribute towards a more complete and concrete understanding of the variety and multiplicity of social configurations developed by imperialism to maintain its domination over the colonial world.

The first European settlers, isolated, living in poverty under circumstances of primitive self-sufficiency, survived precariously in the narrow grooves of a frontier existence. Stagnating economically, spiritually starved, socially cut off from the profound changes of capitalist Europe, they slept through two centuries of radical upheaval, becoming completely encrusted with the most backward, conservative and reactionary prejudices.

Land, which was plentiful, and cattle, which abounded, formed the basis for their economic activities. Not yet having come into mass contact with the indigenous African tribes, they imported slaves from Malaya, Asia, the East Coast of Africa and Madagascar to work these resources. The foundations of white society in South Africa were built upon the servitude of these imported slaves and the bondage of the indigenous Hottentot peoples. On the land formerly theirs, the Hottentots were bonded by the application of pass, vagrancy and other discriminatory laws.

For want of great staples and intensive use of the soil, a true slave economy like that of the sugar islands could not develop. Slavery in South Africa did not produce the economic advances that the system created in the West Indies or America. No slave economy was established in South Africa. Instead, the slaves and Hottentots took over all the menial and artisan labor, replacing the whites in the unenterprising and wasteful economic existence which prevailed.

On the meager surplus product produced by this system of production lived the intensely parasitic white masters. In a closed shell of white overlordship, the European slave owners evolved an ideology to rationalize their separation from productive labor and to give support to their supremacy. Hence was conceived the divinely ordained doctrine of the irrevocable gulf between white and black – the whites indisputably superior, the blacks permanently outcast, inferior and subjected beings.

It is this formative period which establishes the basic relationships between the white slave owner or master and the black slaves or toilers, which in the future was to mold and color the whole outlook and ideology of the white rulers.

The end of the eighteenth century also initiates the sharp armed contact between the white settlers and the integrated African tribes. The first reaction, of the whites was to erect a strict barrier between themselves and the African, but the needs of the European farmers for land and labor pushed the barriers further and further into African territory; and each brutal outward thrust embedded growing numbers of Africans in the realm of white domination.

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the colonists were particularly forced back on the indigenous labor supply. The natives became unpaid servants or laborers, bound to each farmer by the system of pass laws or as squatters, which reduced them to a semi-feudal status. Their subjection further intrenched the ruling concept of white supremacy and consolidated the slave owner’s mentality.

Effect of Emancipation

But this period also ushers in the era of the industrial revolution and the rise of the industrial capitalist class with its new compelling needs and demands. The demand for a free, industrial working class and for a market for their products instigated the movement for the emancipation of slaves in the colonies of the British Empire.

Its impact was also felt at the Cape, where the agitation of missionaries and very localized slave uprisings led to the promulgation of the famous Ordinance 50 of 1828 “for improving the conditions of Hottentots and other free men of color.” All the former discriminatory laws including the pass system were swept away. This was followed by the official emancipation of the slaves in 1834.

The emancipation of the slaves, however, did not fundamentally change the slave order at the Cape. Imposed from above, without any independent or massive uprisings of the slaves which would have burned the old relationships out of existence, it failed to radically disturb the master-slave setup. The new apprentices were still the old slaves. With no independent status (since there was no agrarian overturn involving a redistribution of the land) and the dearth of any large-scale industrial development, the emancipation failed to effect any revolutionary changes in the economic status of the former slaves. An economically backward, poor, and unproductive system inevitably exudes servile relations.

But there was initiated the policy of small-scale assimilation of the former slaves, Hottentots and Africans (then coming into increasing contact with European society) into the social and political life of the country. But even this policy did not exceed the bounds of “equal rights for all civilized men.” All male adults irrespective of color or creed, who could pass the educational and property qualifications imposed, were eligible for citizenship. This measure automatically excluded the overwhelming majority of Africans, but it did provide political and democratic rights for a tiny section of Africans and coloreds.

Slavedrivers’ Republics

The emancipation of the slaves was also one of the principal causes for another phase in the extension of European domination over new masses of African tribesmen. The emancipation, however limited in actual content, was felt by the race-ridden Boer farmers as a violation against their whole creed and mode of existence. Trekkers in organized groups left the Cape for. the interior, there to establish their own republics wherein to enforce their conception of proper relations between master and servant.

In these northern republics (Transvaal, Orange Free State) which became in essence the embodiments of their flight from the demands set in motion by the industrial revolution, the Boers established regimes where “no equality between white and black in church or state” was to be tolerated. In these primitive and self-sufficient landowning states they subjected those Africans whom they conquered to labor conditions ranging from outright slavery to various forms of forced labor and serfdom.

In Natal, the other province of South Africa, British policy took a different form. Natal’s plantation economy (sugar cane, coffee, tea) demanded a regular supply of agricultural laborers. These were supplied by means of land expropriation, the setting up of a reserve system, taxes, etc.; the perpetuation of the tribal system under conditions of total subordination and inferiority; and the importation of indentured Indian labor. The more intensive exploitation of African and Indian labor expurgated the limited liberalism introduced in the Cape.

The social and political map of South Africa before the discovery of diamonds’ and gold was thus made up of vast areas of segregated native reserves, under primitive and tribal conditions, slavery and serfdom on the farms, and some small islands of bourgeois-democratic rights in the Cape.

The Industrialization of South Africa

With the rush of industrialization impelled by the discovery of diamonds and gold was cast that combination of antipathetic and uneven social forms which is the distinctive feature of present-day South Africa.

The industrial development of the country did not evolve organically in clearly defined stages but abruptly plunged both black and white into its swell. The industrialization of South Africa took place at a crucial moment in the transformation of competitive capitalism into monopoly capitalism and imperialism. The unique combinations created can only be understood when they are viewed in this context.

The typical and most highly developed characteristics of the imperialist epoch are woven into the very fabric of South African society. Control of the economy by a tight group of monopolists, linked to the great financial centers of the imperialist world; extensive intervention of the state in economic life (state control of railways, harbors and airways, posts and telegraphs, steel, power and electrical control, state bank, industrial credit facilities, and agricultural subsidization), fusion of monopoly capitalism with the state, a small labor aristocracy, democracy for a minority, tyranny and colonial bondage for the vast majority, Herrenvolkism and race oppression – these make up the physiognomy of the country.

Imperialism took over intact the pattern of slavery and serfdom, completed the total military conquest of the African tribes, drew in the reserve system as a reservoir of labor and a preservation of tribal “idiocy,” enlarged and codified the color bar, stop-gapped the liberalism of the Cape and embarked on a comprehensive process of absorbing hundreds of thousands of new African laborers into the unique system which they crystallized.

Pass laws were reintroduced, the compound indenture and recruiting system was established, the franchise qualification was raised in the Cape, striking 30,000 Africans off the roll. Monopoly capitalism joined the former rural slave owners and feudalists in their insistence that proper and distinct economic relations exist between black and white. The servile traditions of the farm were introduced into a modern industrial economy.

The ultra-imperialist Cecil Rhodes laid out the objective in the very beginning of capitalist penetration. In the following unambiguous terms he said:

“We must adopt a system of despotism such as works so well in India in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.” (Windex, Cecil Rhodes, His Political Life and Speeches, p. 162.)

The full political unfolding of this policy was the Act of Union whereby British imperialism joined with its vanquished enemies, the Boers (Afrikaaners), to preserve white supremacy in the interests of the social power of the Rand mining oligarchy, British finance capital and the local farmers whom they subsidize.

Thus culminated social relations between black and white which had operated over two centuries, in the legalization of “proper relations between master and servant.”

In the Act of Union of 1910 which was passed by the British Parliament, the reduced and restricted Cape franchise was maintained; but in the three other provinces, the political slavery; of the African and non-European peoples was the integral native policy of the Union.

The Theory of Segregation

The conscious ideology of the European ruling class is the policy of segregation. This was finally put into operation in all its ramifications under the leadership of Smuts and Hertzog (an alliance of the two sections of the ruling class: the predominant imperialist Chamber of Mines represented by Smuts, and the local landowners represented by Hertzog) to perpetuate the exploitation of the non-European people “for all time,” under the most servile and repressed conditions.

The motive force behind the consolidation and rigidity of the color bar and segregation system is the European ruling class’s haunting fear of the maturation of a permanent and free [1] working class, and the assimilation and Europeanization of the African people. No proof of this fear could be more explicit than the statement of the Native Affairs Commission of 1936, page 15:

If it be accepted that the Europeanization of the native is inevitable and that all that is necessary in native education is to “tide the black man over the period during which his tribal sanctions are weakening and before he feels the full force of the sanctions of European civilization,” then our whole native policy is ridiculous. If common citizenship in a single society is to be the end we should obviously set about a proper education for citizenship instead of legislation for separate development. Our hope of building a Bantu nation, strong in its pride of race, developing its own genius in its own areas in the salvation off so much of its own culture and cooperative economy as is necessary to its distinctive advance, must be abandoned. The whole conception of parallel development with each race living harmoniously side by side must be dropped. Instead all that we have to look forward to is the development of an individual mixed society of white and black with each individual unit drawn into the vortex of competition, until the hereditary instincts of one section or the other gather in centripetal force around a modern class ideology and usher in the class war. The Native Affairs Commission emphatically rejects this view.

Remove the glove of verbal velvet embroidered with unctuous concern for native culture and there emerges the mailed fist which not only emphatically rejects but violently resists any fundamental change in the modus vivendi established by imperialism. It is this centripetal anxiety over the dangers inherent in the development of a black proletariat, forced to wage class war against the bourgeoisie, gathering “around a modern class ideology,” facilitating thereby the struggle for democracy, liberty and equality, and economic emancipation – it is this anxiety that is responsible for the South African segregation despotism and the blatant reactionary backwardness of ruling-class policy.

The “building of a Bantu nation” implies, in bourgeois terminology, dismembering, bewildering and enforcing primitivity on the African peoples in the reserves and on the farms. The policy is indicative of their trenchant determination to avoid any possibility of disturbing the historical stagnation of these primitive masses.

Capitalism in Old Age

But the policy has even deeper implications. Primarily it signifies the paralysis of imperialism in its self-appointed task of bringing modern civilization and advancement to the backward and undeveloped peoples. Indeed, its sole function today in its agonizing process of decomposition and regression is to keep the colonial masses in a state of underdevelopment and backwardness.

It yokes them to the powerhouse of modern capitalism, while vigilantly tightening the harness of their social primitivity and economic and political helplessness. In order to continue to exploit the vast mineral raw materials of South Africa, the European ruling class must maintain for as long as possible its non-European human material in a raw state of development. Imperialism is instinctively wary of unfettering forces which would prepare imperialism’s long-overdue end.

The great achievement of the bourgeoisie in its lusty youth was to create the conditions for the development of a free working class liberated from all feudal dependencies. In this country the flourishing existence of imperialism and its local agents depends on counteracting and inhibiting the development of a free laboring force. Instead they tyrannize and press this developing working class into the confined framework of a regimented and slavelike existence. [2]

The progressive bourgeoisie succeeded in assimilating into its system the democratic revolutions carried forward by the emergent working class and peasantry in Europe and America. Today the troglodyte European rulers acclaim the maintenance of European domination and supremacy and resist with all the brute power at their command the simplest democratic demands of the non-European masses. The demand for complete democracy drives them into frenzies of reactionary fury; they reach for their guns.

In its imperialist stage capitalism has stiffened to arid incapacity before the task of even starting to move non-European peoples towards the levels reached by the advanced capitalist countries. Unable to transcend the now rigid and congealed limits necessary for imperialist law and order they cannot allow the masses to reach even the levels attained in many other colonies.

The segregation system of South Africa represents an extreme condition of oppression, similar in motive and direction (although not yet developed to the same intensity) to the tyrannies over labor imposed by fascism under conditions of capitalist disintegration and to the regime of bureaucratic collectivism, product of a defeated proletarian revolution. It highlights the process of economic and political development towards totalitarian barbarism with all its accompanying prisons, ghettos, forced labor, callous destruction of human lives, regimentation of the working class, restrictions on its freedom of movement and of organization, and lack of. political and democratic rights.

The National Struggle

Burdened with a complexity of unsolved problems, the non-European toilers face a most difficult task in their struggle for emancipation. The national liberation movement once formed must engage in a series of battles to consummate the historically overdue struggle against the still remaining effects of slavery and serfdom, against military conquest and subjection, and against the super-modern and super-refined political oppression and economic exploitation.

In the course of an epoch of rebellion they must break through the heavy crust of passivity, dazed dependence, inferiority, and frustration which has engulfed them. In the hard school of class and national struggle the non-European masses will receive a truly democratic and revolutionary education and emerge as an independent historical force. Today the non-European people are still a class only for the European exploiters, but not yet a class for themselves with an independent revolutionary mission of their own.

Only in the process of discovering themselves as a class and as a nation will they develop the realization of their dignity as human beings and their need to assert themselves as free men and rebels against their oppressors. Then the historical backwardness of South Africa, which is grounded in the slow tempo of its early development in the absence of any bourgeois revolution, in economic backwardness, primitiveness of social forms and low levels of culture, will be overtaken in giant strides of revolutionary development.

This struggle is both simplified and retarded by the absence of a black bourgeoisie.

It is retarded by the lack of financial and organizational means of struggle which such a class could provide. The non-European masses will have to base themselves on the political and organizational growth of its own working-class leadership. It is simplified in that once the developing conflict gains the dynamism and momentum to challenge the present regime, it will move along clear-cut revolutionary and working-class lines.

The retrogressive character of imperialism in South Africa, which we have analyzed, does not, however, function one-sidedly or without aberrations. Within the framework of retrogression there are movements and processes which give an impulse to the creation of new social forces and energies, which begin to collide against the structure built around it.

The increasing industrialization of South Africa and of other British colonies in the interior and West Africa, the resultant, of the new British drive for the more intensified exploitation of its colonies, releases new disturbances in the despotic Union. Britain’s economic exhaustion and military needs create large industrial projects with the inevitable accruement of a black working class. Although this working class will exist within the bounds of the segregation system it will nevertheless be able to utilize in struggle the fissures cut open by the new industrial development.



1. Free in the Marxist sense, i.e., from ownership of the means of production and thereby forced to sell labor power, but also possessing the freedom to withhold this labor power or to sell it in a competitive market: and free from all social fetters.

2. The wage of the African mine worker, for example, has remained absolutely stationary for forty years, despite tremendous economic fluctuations.

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