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PhD Thesis Abstract

Labour and politics in South Africa 1939-1964

 

Robert David Fine

PhD Thesis Abstract

University of Warwick

Sociology Department

1989/1990?

 

The core of my dissertation is devoted to a rc-intcrprctation of the history of the liberation movement in South Africa in two critical periods of its development. The first I call in short 'the 1940s' but shall be referring more specifically to the years between 1939 and the rise of apartheid in 1948; the second I call 'the 1950s' but shall refer to the years between the emergence of apartheid and the defeat of the liberation movement in 1964. Both the 1940s and the 1950s were marked by fierce class struggles which brought with them hopes of a new democratic order in South Africa; both closed on the sombre note of defeat for democracy and triumph for the forces of reaction and racism. Motivated by a dissatisfaction with prevailing interpretations, I shall explore what went wrong in these years in order to deepen our understanding of the political culture and social base of the liberation movement. I have focusscd on these two historical periods because 1 sec the basic parameters of the contemporary liberation movement as set by the class struggles which occurred within them. My central hypothesis is that, although class relations do not on the whole manifest themselves directly on the surface of the liberation movement, they have nonetheless been the crucial determinants of its pattern of evolution. My introductory chapter will be devoted to a theoretical discussion of the relation between nationalism and socialism in the South Africa liberation movement. It was written after the historical research and its ideas reflect a considerable change of mind which resulted from the research; the ideas expressed within it provide a necessary foundation for understanding what 1 wish to say through the substantive history. My final section will be an attempt to outline the major lessons which I draw from the history of these class struggles; it focusscs on what I see as the unresolved conflict between the two traditions of 'radical liberalism' and 'insurrectionism' which run through the history of the liberation struggle and on defining what 1 see as the 'absent centre' of this history: social democracy or more accurately the social democratic movement of the working class.