JOURNAL [+ PDF]: van der Walt, 2011, “Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town’s multiracial working class, 1904-1931”

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town’s multiracial working class, 1904-1931,” Labor History, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp. 137-171

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PDF online here.

The Cape Town docks in 1919, site of the joint strike between the syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU).The two later merged, the ICU adopting the IWW Preamble.

This paper examines the development of anarchism and syndicalism in early twentieth century Cape Town, South Africa, drawing attention to a crucial but neglected chapter of labor and left history. Central to this story were the anarchists in the local Social Democratic Federation (SDF), and the revolutionary syndicalists of the Industrial Socialist League, the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA), and the Sweets and Jam Workers’ Industrial Union.

These revolutionary anti-authoritarians, Africans, Coloureds and whites, fostered a multiracial radical movement – considerably preceding similar achievements by the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in this port city. They were also part of a larger anarchist and syndicalist movement across the southern African subcontinent.

Involved in activist centers, propaganda, public meetings, cooperatives, demonstrations, union organizing and strikes, and linked into international and national radical networks, Cape Town’s anarchists and syndicalists had an important impact on organizations like the African Political Organization (APO), the Cape Federation of Labour Unions, the Cape Native Congress, the CPSA, the General Workers Union, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU).

This paper is therefore also a contribution to the recovery of the history of the first generation of African and Coloured anti-capitalist radicals, and part of a growing international interest in anarchist and syndicalist history.

 

About Lucien van der Walt
I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).

One Response to JOURNAL [+ PDF]: van der Walt, 2011, “Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town’s multiracial working class, 1904-1931”

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