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Invisible Resurrection: The Recreation of a Communist Party in South Africa in the 1950’s

by Sheridan Johns


Gwendolen Carter frequently mentioned communism in her seminal 1958 book, The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. This paper will analyze South African communism in the opening decade and a half of apartheid. It will consider the characterization of communism in opposition as presented in Carter’s book, in light of recently published autobiographies and biographies of communists and African nationalists who were active in the 1940s and 1950s. The 1950 Suppression of Communism Act forced the formerly legal Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) to transform itself into the underground South African Communist Party (SACP). The paper delineates the important features of organized communism underground up to its near collapse as a result of the arrests at its Rivonia headquarters in 1963. It then briefly examines its deepening collaboration with the African National Congress over the next 30 years and concludes with observations on the significance of this early apartheid era history for the SACP’s position in post-apartheid South Africa.

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Sheridan Johns is a Professor of Political Science at Duke University. He began to study opposition socialist and African nationalist movements in South Africa in the early 1960s for his doctoral dissertation (Harvard, 1965). He is one of the editors of From Protest to Challenge, with responsibility for Vol. 1, and is co-editor with Hunt Davis of Mandela, Tambo and the African National Congress: The Struggle Against Apartheid, 1948-1990 (1991). In 2003 he published South Africa and the Communist International: A Documentary History, a two-volume work, co-edited with three Russian historians.