[CU for Tuesday, 22 September 2009]
This post is about the preparations for the 1955 Congress of the People (CoP), the Congress of the People as an event, and the Freedom Charter that came out of the event, all considered as historic acts and as part of the process of building the South African National Democratic Revolution.
What we could very advantageously use for this discussion is an electronic copy of the book by Jeremy Cronin and Raymond Suttner, published in 1986, called “30 Years of the Freedom Charter”, or even just a good extract from the book. But unfortunately the book is not available on the Internet. Instead, it has been polished up and re-published as “50 Years of the Freedom Charter”, in hard copy only. If you can get either one of these editions, do use it to prepare for this discussion.
“The Congress of the People and Freedom Charter Campaign”, by Ismail Vadi, Sterling Publishers,
of the Internet.
According to the small samples of Vadi’s book that can be read on line, (i.e. the Introduction, the Preface, and the Foreword by Walter Sisulu) the planning of the CoP began in 1953, and the campaign was only wound down in 1956, the year of the beginning of the Treason Trial, which was a consequence of the CoP. The Treason Trial went on for another four years.
Another document on the Internet is a short History of the Freedom Charter, in a number of parts, and with a picture gallery, which bears out the extended nature of the political intervention that was the total CoP Campaign.
This was a determined and deliberately visible construction of a national democratic project. It involved huge masses of people. It was a conscious and fully worked-out design, even to the Nehru-style caps in ANC colours that the Volunteers wore. [See the photo showing the platform at Kliptown, with a Volunteer in attendance]
SACTU, the non-racial South African Congress of Trade Unions, was a late entry to the CoP but it made the cut and it managed to feature in the “wheel of unity” that nowadays still forms part of both COSATU’s and the ANC’s logos. [The second image shows the document that was used to publicise the Freedom Charter after the Congress, including the newly-pasted “SACTU” acronym, and the “ANC” acronym shifted from the rim to the hub of the wheel. The document includes quotes from the Freedom Charter itself.]
The document linked below, “Call to the Congress of the People”, shows very clearly the large scope and scale of the call to “all Unionwide Organisations”.
This series is about the NDR. This post and the reading are given so as to invite you to consider the whole episode of the CoP from 1953 to 1956 as one of the strongest specific and historical contributions to the NDR.
The Freedom Charter was much more than a list of demands. It was an integral part of a kind of conscious nation-building which had real revolutionary content and which demonstrated real democracy in action.
Those old comrades laid down an irresistible pattern. It appealed to the heart as well as to the eye and to the mind, and it still surrounds us today, manifested in the continuing Congress Alliance of which the SACP, legal again, is now an open part. There was never a time when the communists were not part of the National Democratic Revolution. It is ours, as much as it is anybody else’s. It is family.
As it was when Lenin spoke in the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, so it was in 1955: Two things were required. One was a genuine class alliance and unity-in-action against the main oppressor class, the colonialist monopoly capitalists. The other was the deliberate extension of democracy for the creation of a democratic nation. The CoP campaign was exactly in this mould.
Click on this link:
Call to the Congress of the People; Freedom Charter (2555 words)