REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2012, Berry and Bantman (eds.), “New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the Individual, the National and the Transnational”

Lucien van der Walt, 2012, “David Berry and Constance Bantman, eds., New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the individual, the national and the transnational ”, Anarchist Studies, volume 20, number 1, pp. 123-126.

David Berry and Constance Bantman (eds.), New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism: the Individual, the National and the Transnational, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, 228pp.
ISBN 978-1-4438-2393-7



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Bantman, BerryThis fine collection draws together studies of anarchism and syndicalism, mainly covering the 1890s to the 1940s in Europe. These underline the important role of anarchism in labour movement history, and, conversely, demonstrate anarchism’s and syndicalism’s commitment to a libertarian, revolutionary class struggle politics. The individual chapters are remarkably interesting and solidly researched; the editors’ introduction is insightful; and the volume is cohesive, as important synergies make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Berry and Bantman make a case for the importance of global – especially transnational – approaches to labour and left history. They argue for the utility of biography, network analysis, comparative analysis and attention to political languages, in shifting

p. 124

from the ‘methodological nationalism’ (p.6) that has long shaped these fields. Bert Altena’s stimulating survey picks up these analytical issues. He argues against approaches that treat syndicalism as something ‘abnormal’, a ‘Pavlovian reaction’ triggered by external structural conditions such as the second industrial revolution, social democratic failure etc. Inc problem is that mass syndicalism existed where many of these conditions did not apply (e.g. Spain, 1870s, France, 1890s), and was conversely absent (e.g. Belgium) or only a minority current (e.g. Germany) where they did apply. Second, structuralist arguments fail to examine syndicalism on its own terms, as a revolutionary movement with its own political culture, driven by the *ideas* and *aspirations* of working class people in particular communities and contexts.

The editors apologise for their ‘Eurocentrism’, but this is surely unnecessary.  The methodological problems of Eurocentrism reside not in a focus on Europe *as such*, but in a conflation of world history with (West) European history, with other regions ignored or caricatured. This is certainly not the approach of Berry and Bantman, who are keenly aware that European anarchism/syndicalism was but part of a global movement. Levy’s fine discussion of anarchist ‘global labour organiser’ Errico Malatesta’s role in anti-colonial risings in Bosnia and Egypt, and in activism and networks in North Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America, Read more of this post

REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2006, “Neil Roos, Ordinary Springboks: white servicemen and social justice in South Africa, 1939-1961”

Lucien van der Walt, 2006, “Neil Roos, Ordinary Springboks: white servicemen and social justice in South Africa, 1939-1961”, International Review of Social History, volume 51, part 3, pp. 501-504.

REVIEW: Roos, NEIL. Ordinary Springboks. White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939- 1961. Ashgate, Aldershot [etc.] 2005. xvi, 23 I pp. £45 .oo;

RoosA growing literature has drawn attention to the role of the state military in the political culture of South Africa’s white working class. Many of the key figures in the anarchist and

p. 503

syndicalist movement of the early twentieth century, like S.P. Bunting, Wilfred Harrison, and Tom Glynn were former soldiers[1]. Jeremy Krikler noted the impact of World War I on the strikers’ militias of the 1922 Rand Revolt, the ‘commandos’ [2].  Walking to the gallows in Pretoria in November 1922, strike leader Taffy Long called out “Are we downhearted?”, to which the other condemned called back, “No, we are not!”, a refrain common to British troops in the bloody trenches of Flanders.


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Rather less, however, is known about the impact of World War II – much of the literature has focused on domestic developments, like the rise of African unions in the wartime economy – and so Neil Roos’s elegant study fills a major gap. It is an important and fascinating social history, although Roos’s reliance on American “whiteness studies”, which tends to conflate white identities, in general, with the particular politics of racial privileges for whites, creates some problems, to which I return below.

Between 200,000 and 260,000 white South African men volunteered from 1939, along with around 110,ooo white women and 8o,ooo people of colour (pp. 26-27). Volunteers were drawn from a broad spectrum of South Africa’s diverse nationalities, but the war issue was also deeply divisive. The Afrikaner nationalists, generally a right-wing populist movement, typically opposed support for the British Empire (some openly sympathized with fascism, pp. 23-27), while the multi-racial Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) initially stressed the contradiction between “anti-fascist” rhetoric and South Africa’s segregated order. Yet poor whites, particularly Afrikaners, were  disproportionately represented amongst recruits, a large pool of desperate men (pp. 30-34, 41-43). My own father, a poor white and Afrikaner nationalist, was one of many recruits whose nationalist convictions Read more of this post

REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2005, Lis Lange, “White, Poor and Angry: white working class families in Johannesburg”

Lucien van der Walt, 2005, “Lis Lange, White, Poor and Angry: white working class families in Johannesburg”, International Review of Social History, volume 50, number 1, pp. 115-117.

LANGE, LIS. van der Walt – Review of Lange ‘White, Poor and Angry’ lange [Race and representation.] Ashgate, Aldershot [etc.] 2003. viii, 186 pp. £45.00.

Lis Lange provides that rarity in African studies: a monograph on the social history of white yet working-class South Africans. This nuanced study looks at the emergence, social conditions, and social and political responses of the white working class in its formative period: roughly from 1890, when the new Witwatersrand mining industry came under the control of the monopoly capitalists christened “Randlords,” to the 1922 general strike and armed uprising that famously demanded “Workers of the World Unite and Fight for a White South Africa”.



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While the 1922 Rand Revolt must be understood as part of an international wave of popular insurgency that swept up from Ireland and Mexico in 1916, and crashed down in Bulgaria and Germany in 1923, its particularities cannot be fully grasped without the details of daily life provided by writers such as Lange, who pays particular attention to the role of family, housing, and state policy in shaping white workers’ identities and communities, which she stresses were not always “clearly defined, homogenous and coherently expressed” (p. 166). Lange’s focus is Johannesburg, the heart of the Witwatersrand complex. Beginning as a diggers’ tent city in 1886, the city had over 82,000 white inhabitants by 1904, out of a population of 155,462, spread over 82 miles (pp. 12,39,84). Many were drawn from abroad by the lure of good wages and “cheap steamship travel” (p. 13); others were local Afrikaners proletarianized by changes in rural South Africa. Settled white working-class communities were soon evident – partly a function of growing confidence in the future of the mines – with 80.16 per cent of whites overall living

p. 116

in families by 1904 (p. 12), although, even eight years later, 49.31 per cent of white miners were unmarried (p. 79).

While South Africa was a “racially organized colonial society” (p. 64), and cheap, unfree, migrant African labour formed the bedrock of the mining industry, conditions for the white working class were generally grim. Residential land was Read more of this post

REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2001, Chris Harman, “A People’s History of the World”

Lucien van der Walt, 2001, “Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World”, International Review of Social History, volume 45, part 1, pp. 77-79.

HARMAN, CHRIS. A people’s history of the world. Bookmarks, London [etc.] 1999, vii, 729 pp. £15.99.

Chris Harman’s *A People’s History of the World* is an ambitious attempt to provide an accessible single-volume overview of human history from a historical materialist perspective. Harman, a prominent British socialist, explicitly aims to provide a general history that uses class analysis and, for once, brings the subordinate classes and their struggles with the ruling classes to the centre of the historical drama in a real “history from below”.harman van der Walt – Review of Harman ‘People’s History of the World’

Harman quotes Bertolt Brecht’s “Questions from a Worker Who Reads” on the first page:

[...] In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? […l
So many reports.
So many questions.


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He succeeds admirably in giving some of the answers in an eminently readable, frankly fascinating survey of humankind’s history from preclass primitive communalist societies to the emergence of class societies in the mists of antiquity 5,ooo or 6,000 years ago, through the empires of the ancient world, to the birth of capitalism five centuries ago. In each instance, Harman is at pains to show how technologies and class structure and struggles Read more of this post

REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 1999, Owen Crankshaw, “Race, Class and the Changing Division of Labour under Apartheid”

Lucien van der Walt, 1999, “Owen Crankshaw, Race, Class and the Changing Division of Labour under Apartheid”, International Review of Social History, volume 44, part 3, pp. 505-508.

CRANKSHAW, OWEN, Race, Class and the Changing Division of Labour under Apartheid. Routledge, London [etc.] 1997. ix, 214 pp. 45.00.

Owen Crankshaw’s *Race, Class and the Changing Division of Labour under Apartheid* examines the changing labor process and racial division of labor under apartheid, focusing on the period between 1965 and 1990. Interspersed with detailed quantitative data is an insightful analysis of changes in the apartheid economy in this period, and on the implications of such changes for our understanding of the relationship between apartheid and capitalism.


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crankshawThe author contends that, despite apartheid’s formal commitment to white supremacy in the labor market, there was a steady movement of “black” South Africans (Africans, Coloreds and Indians) into semiprofessional, routine white-collar, artisanal and semiskilled work from the 1960s onwards. At the same time, however, unskilled and menial labor – subject to relatively low wages and high unemployment – remained the preserve of Africans, who constituted eighty-seven per cent of unskilled manual laborers and seventy-nine per cent of menial service workers in 1990 (pp. 149-151). Crankshaw suggests that the result was a highly stratified African population, indicating that “class”, rather than race, could become the primary determinant of inequality in the “new South Africa.

I will examine some of these findings in more detail below. It is useful first to situate Crankshaw’s study within debates on the relationship between race and class in South African studies. At the height of the sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa, some scholars were arguing that increased capitalist investment – rather than disinvestment – would undermine apartheid, According to this argument, the capitalist development would undermine apartheid by economically and socially integrating South African society. This view was rooted in the “liberal” interpretation of South African history, which held that apartheid policies – racially-based job reservation, indenture laws, a migrant labor system in which African men left their families in the “homelands” while working in the cities, and controls over the movement of Africans through pass laws – were the

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REVIEW [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2003, Peter Alexander’s “Workers, War and the Origins of Apartheid”

REVIEW: Lucien van der Walt, 2003, “Inter-racial Workers’ Solidarity in South Africa: Peter Alexander, Workers, War and the Origins of Apartheid: labour and politics in South Africa”, Journal of African History, volume 44, number 1, pp. 168-169.

Lucien van der Walt

p. 168alexander

REVIEW of  Workers, War and the Origins of  Apartheid: Labour and politics in South Africa, by PETER ALEXANDER. Oxford:  James Currey; Athens OH : Ohio University Press; Cape Town: David Philip, 2000. Pp. 124. GBP39.95 (ISBN 0-85255-765-6); GBP14.95, paperback (ISBN 0 -8525 5-765-5).

KEYWORDS : South Africa, apartheid, labour.



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Peter Alexander uncovers a widespread inter-racial worker unity in Second World War South Africa. This was based on rapidly expanding manufacturing industry: by 1943, private manufacturing contributed more to national income than farming or mining, whilst fixed capital in all manufacturing rose an estimated 50.3 per cent between 1938/9 and 1944/5. By 1946, manufacturing employed 388,684 people, compared to 499, 461 in mining. The new workers were blacker (35.9 per cent were Africans, Indians or Coloured), more feminized (12.1 per cent in manufacturing) and more urbanized (40 per cent of South Africans by 1945).

These changes underpinned new labour organizing, often led by ‘socialists, Communists, Trotskyists and Africanists’, largely based amongst industrial workers, and mainly through independent African unions and multi-racial registered unions. By September 1939, there were three main federations: the Joint Committee of African Trade Unions (JCATU) with 15,700 members led by Trotskyists Max Cordon and Daniel Koza, the Co-ordinating Committee of Non-European Trade Unions (CCNETU) with 4,000 members led by former Communist Gana Makabeni and the South African Trades and Labour Council (SATLC) with 73,300 members in affiliates ranging from African unions to leftwing racially mixed (‘open’) unions, to racist right-wing craft unions.

Faced with a State unwilling to confront labour in wartime, a tight labour market and inflation reaching 40 per cent, workers won significant gains.  Read more of this post

JOURNAL [+ PDF]: van der Walt, Alexander, Bonner, Hyslop, 2009, “Introduction: Labour crossings in Eastern and Southern Africa”

Peter Alexander, Philip Bonner, Jonathan Hyslop, and Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Introduction: labour crossings in Eastern and Southern Africa”, African Studies, volume 68, number 1, special section on “Labour Crossings in Eastern and Southern Africa”, African Studies, volume 68, number 1, pp. 79-85.


PDF online here.


OUTLINE:  Substantive introduction to a special section of African Studies, presenting a selection of papers from the international conference ‘Labour Crossings: World, Work, Society’, organised by the History Workshop (University of the Witwatersrand), and the Centre for Sociological Research (University of Johannesburg), 5 -7 September 2008.  The intellectual agenda of the conference was to explore ‘labour crossings’ between time periods, between regions and continents, between types of work, and types of worker, both free and unfree, between different imagined worlds,  religion and labour, and gender and class – as well as between intellectual disciplines and traditions.

The transnational turn in labour history was a key influence on the framing of the issues. Looking globally, and thinking beyond the traditional analytical framework of the nation-state, the very character of the ‘working class’ itself, and its ‘making’ (Thompson 1991), needs to be rethought. One key issue tackled in the selected papers is labour mobility, recruitment and mobilisation: what frees and freezes movement of labour, and how and why does this happen? This raises the issue of connections, nodes and the ocean, and how ocean crossings — of ideas, experiences, people, alliances and conflicts — tell a story that cannot be captured by a methodological nationalism that assumes the nation-state to be the key unit of analysis.  So, too, however, does movement on land across and within countries. The selected papers looked at the caravan trade in nineteenth-century East Africa, where slaves and free labourers worked side by side (Rockel), labour recruitment to the sisal plantations of twentieth-century Tanganyika (Sabea),  the movement of ‘labouring passenger’ Indians to the Cape Colony in the early twentieth century (Dhupelia-Mesthrie), and contemporary competitive divisions between Zambian and Zimbabwean workers in the Victoria Falls area (Arrington).

[Translation] Lucien van der Walt, 2012, “Internationalismus und Antiimperialismus von unten: Anarchismus und Syndikalismus in der kolonialen und postkolonialen Welt”

Internationalismus und Antiimperialismus von unten: Anarchismus und Syndikalismus in der kolonialen und postkolonialen Welt

Lucien van der Walt

Übersetzung: A. Förster

Erschienen in Direkte Aktion, 209 – Jan/Feb 2012


PDF online here.

b6b07d45de9fe14f9ef7e4b6e0301f40In den Weltregionen, die dem Kolonialismus und Imperialismus unterworfen sind, spielte die anarchistische Bewegung –einschließlich ihres gewerkschaftlichen Ablegers, des Syndikalismus – eine Schlüsselrolle. Die Rolle der Anarchisten und Syndikalisten in den nationalen Befreiungsbewegungen war zentral, manchmal führend. Die Bewegungen in Asien, Afrika, Lateinamerika und der Karibik – aber auch in Teilen von Europa, insbesondere in Osteuropa und Irland – müssen als integraler Bestandteil der Geschichte der Arbeiterklasse, der Linken und der Unabhängigkeitsbewegungen in diesen Regionen betrachtet werden.

Einige linke Autoren haben den Anarchismus mit Verweis darauf als „historischen Fehler“ verurteilt, dass er „fast nichts zu tun [hatte] mit den antikolonialen Kämpfen, die revolutionäre Politik [im 20. Jahrhundert] definierten“1. Weniger polemisch behauptete John Crump, ein mit dem japanischen Anarchismus sympathisierender Autor, der „Anarchismus hat in der ‚Dritten Welt’, in den Kolonialgebieten kaum Wurzeln geschlagen“2.

Solche Auslassungen sind in gewissem Sinne verständlich. Texte über die Geschichte des Anarchismus und Syndikalismus konzentrieren sich tendenziell auf die nordatlantischen Länder und ignorieren 80 Prozent der Menschheit Read more of this post


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