Lucien van der Walt. “Radical Encounters: Christianity, Garveyism and Revolutionary Syndicalism in the Industrial & Commercial workers Union of Africa (1919-1939)”
Founded 1919 in Cape Town, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) exploded across southern Africa. The first mass black/ Coloured movement — with 200,000 members across Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe — it overshadowed bodies like the African National Congress (ANC), Communist Party of SA and the Southern Rhodesia Bantu Voters’ Association. The ICU dominated African politics for years, drew tens of thousands including women into politics, helped forge a popular counter-public, mobilised in communities and rural areas, and promised land and freedom through a general strike.
This presentation focuses on the ICU’s complex, syncretic politics, especially Christian, Garveyite and revolutionary syndicalist influences. Syndicalism – developing from Bakunin’s anarchism — advocated a bottom-up, inclusive radical unionism, building consciousness and popular power until workers could occupy and self-manage workplaces, abolish the state and establish libertarian socialism. It was, the paper argues, an essential source of key ICU themes: class struggle, internationalism, One Big Union, autonomy from parties, and the emancipatory general strike. But syndicalism was only part of the ICU’s contradictory, unstable politics which — poorly translated into strategy, or workers’ control — contributed to its dramatic downfall, while the ICU lasted into the 1950s, its lessons and legacy remain.
Download the slides here: Lucien van der Walt – Slides Radical Encounters
Watch the video presentation below: