Red Road to Freedom


Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about Red Road to Freedom! Can you please begin by providing an overview of your book?

Red Road is a history of the Communist Party in South Africa.  It takes the story from the party’s origins in a cluster of radical groups within the white labour movement at the beginning of the twentieth century.  I write quite sympathetically about the early Communists who in other treatments are dismissed as white racists.  Certainly, they were affected by the dominant culture amongst white South Africans, but what I found interesting about them was not the ways in which they shared the racist common-sense that surrounded them, but the extent to which they sometimes challenged it, and why on occasions they were able to transcend it. 

Over a hundred years, from the fringes of the political system the Party gradually moved into the mainstream of South African politics.  Today the South African Communist Party (SACP) is an ally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), its leaders serving as cabinet ministers.  Parts of this story are quite well known, though archival evidence continues to supply fresh insights. Until 1950 from its foundation in 1921, the Party functioned openly.  It contested elections, occasionally successfully, it published a newspaper, it led trade unions and it conducted a quarrelsome internal life quite publicly.  By the 1940s, its main following was increasingly likely to be among black South Africans.  Doctrinal and practical considerations had helped to prompt the Party’s leadership to align itself with African nationalist politics, though Party leaders often disagreed about the strategic implications of joining a struggle for national liberation.  In particular, they argued over the issue of whether such a struggle could be simultaneously socialist. 

My book explores less well-known territory when it starts tracking the Party’s development as a clandestine formation, first within South Africa from 1950 to 1965 when it’s networks were almost destroyed by police action and then through three decades of exile as a secret formation within the ANC’s African and European diaspora.   By the late 1980s, the Party’s influence peaked despite the small size of its membership. In certain respects and among certain groups Communists achieved a near hegemonic dominance and yet they remained organisationally weak.  My closing chapter considers the Party’s evolution since the fall of Apartheid.  It now has a mass membership and an elaborate bureaucracy but its political and broader ideological influence has receded.  Paradoxically, proximity to power has distanced Communists from their earlier source of strength: immersion in the politics of the poor.

Red Road to Freedom
A History of the South African Communist Party 1921 – 2021

£70 / $99
March 2022
James Currey

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TOM LODGE is Emeritus Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick. He is the author of several books on African history including Mandela: A Critical Biography (2006) and Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences (2011). He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

This title is an import from Jacana, who hold rights in Africa and India.