30 April 2015


Induction, Part 5c


Spreadsheets are the same as “tables”, “tabulations” and “schedules”. They are arrangements in rows and columns. This way of arranging data (on paper) has been used for hundreds of years.

Such tables are everywhere around us. Common examples are calendars and year-planners; bus and train timetables; team lists; examination results; television schedules; collection sheets; wage slips; price lists; restaurant menus; parts lists, cutting lists and bills of quantities.

Understanding of spreadsheets is for practical purposes “intuitive”. These arrangements are so familiar as to appear “natural” and “obvious”, and this is part of their intention, and their value.

Spreadsheets can concentrate a lot of data on a single page. They can be used to sort (i.e. to “analyse”) data and to summarise it down to totals and to a single grand total. They tend to create some sort of “mind map”, in the sense of presenting both the parts and the whole, in one go.

This item is intended to introduce and to objectify the broad idea of spreadsheets. The next stage will be for more comrades to begin to use this form of working.

Some simple rules will make your spreadsheets better. Try to keep them on one page, both horizontally and vertically. Use as few columns as possible. Use the biggest font possible. If you use colours, use very pale ones.

This item completes our fifth part on office processes. There could be much more to say about these and other ones, including more about computer software. But the main point here is that numbers of us, if not all of us, must learn, and must continue to learn how to do such basic operations. The common aim should be to build up an internal collective bank of expertise, so that when required, action proceeds efficiently and smoothly.

Office processes have been perfected under the bourgeois dictatorship, mainly as instruments of power over the working class and other classes. To overthrow the bourgeois ruling class, the partisans of our own class – the proletariat – will have to master these common processes.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Spreadsheets, Tweedie, 2013.

29 April 2015

Report-writing, Correspondence and Filing

Induction, Part 5b

Report-writing, Correspondence and Filing

This item is here by request. People wanted an item on report-writing.

As we have pointed out in the previous item, preparation is the key to the composition of any text. The difficulty of writing arises from lack of preparation. Somebody who is well-prepared and who has researched and organised material will find it hard not to write.

Please therefore read the text together with the previous one.

“Report-writing” leads naturally into the matters of correspondence in general and of filing, so the text touches on those.

Then, this item is used to mention several more “necessary capacities” and open them for discussion. These are Computers; Layout; Venue; and Timetable.

All these items are related in the sense that they are matters of conscious design. Comrades need to be conscious of them, and be able to discuss them and make decisions about them, and not just take them for granted or regard them as difficult or impossible to improve or change.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Report Writing, Correspondence, Filing and other skills, Tweedie, 2013.

28 April 2015


Induction, Part 5a


The above illustration is a “Mind Map” made by Tony Buzan.

Buzan makes his living out of spreading study techniques, and we recommend them. Another of his techniques is “The Buzan Organic Study Method”.

Buzan’s web site is at: http://www.tonybuzan.com/

The attached document is a review of Buzan’s 1974 book, “Use Your Head”.


The argument for note-taking is that comrades who are required to write, or to prepare any kind of material, need to be able to order their thoughts. Implied in this is the idea of research. Comrades must be able to find out what they need to know for any particular project, and hold that knowledge in a form such that when they need to use it, they can readily find it again.

We will return to the matter of report-writing in the next item of this part. For this part, let us try to take up in a concrete way, Tony Buzan’s conception of the whole complex of learning, fast reading, remembering, and noting, and by implication what follows, which is composing and writing.

The problems of writing are best solved before the writing is commenced. The ordering of the material in a rational, organic way, prior to writing, leaves the writer with relatively little to do, other than to mechanically put the marks on the paper.

Please read the attached. It will help you.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Tony Buzan, Use Your Head, 1974 (Conspectus by D Tweedie).

27 April 2015

Double Entry Book-keeping

Induction, Part 5

Double Entry Book-keeping

In the introduction to this course we noted that:

Double-entry book-keeping was developed during the Italian Renaissance, in Florence and in Genoa, and was for the first time described as a system by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan Friar and friend of Leonardo da Vinci’s, in Milan.”

Historically, double-entry book-keeping coincided with the rise of the bourgeois class over the last 500 years. It is one of the better products of bourgeois development.

Double-entry book-keeping enables individuals and corporations to maintain a constant, detailed record of all their claims and obligations, the consequences of all of the transactions that they perform.

The beneficial owner of any business possesses the assets, minus the liabilities. Taking the owner into account, all of the balances on the books, positive and negative, should in the aggregate, cancel out.

Put in another way, if all the “debits” are added up, they should total the same as all of the “credits”. The “mobile sculpture” in the image above illustrates this idea quite well.

Cash Book

Small businesses, and entities such as political parties and their branches, do not usually maintain a full “ledger” of accounts all the time, but they record their transactions in a “Cash Book”.

A Cash Book is the minimum form of continuous record that can be sufficient to reconstruct a full record or “ledger”, expressed as a Balance Sheet and an Income and Expenditure (or Profit and Loss) Account.

A Cash Book can be summarised as a Receipts and Payments Account, for reporting purposes.

Branches, as well as all higher structures of the SACP, ANC and trade unions, must be able to account for funds given to them, kept by them, and used by them.

At the very least, each structure must keep a Cash Book.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Keeping a Cash Book and other accounts, Tweedie, 2004.

23 April 2015

Co-operatives and Companies

Induction, Part 4c

Co-operatives and Companies

The attached text was written for this course. It describes joint-stock limited companies, and co-operatives, comparing them to each other. It mentions other, preceding and on-going forms of business institution such as Sole Trader and partnership.

From the strict point of view of Induction, it is our purpose in this course to understand the structure of institutions, and the relations between such institutions.

The above cartoon indicates that co-ops do not escape from the conflict of interest between investors, and users, and workers. They do provide a framework within which the outcome of this conflict can be negotiated.

Now that we have seen some of the organising principles of institutions, we will proceed in the next part to consider some of the detailed means and techniques by which all business institutions do their work.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Co‐operatives and Companies, Tweedie, 2013.

22 April 2015

Entrepreneurship, Trading, Markup and Cash Flow

Induction, Part 4b

Entrepreneurship, Trading, Markup and Cash Flow

In the Umsebenzi Online of 30 June 2010, the SACP General Secretary, Dr Blade Nzimande, wrote that we must “Fight Tenderpreneurs to defend entrepreneurship!!”

The GS wrote: “Entrepreneurs, found in co-operatives, small and medium sized businesses, are all those who genuinely and honestly go about doing business, including tendering for government work.”

The attached short article by Professor Michael Morris, published in 1996 in the Business Day, describes entrepreneurship and also debunks a number of misconceptions about it.

Morris wrote, among other things, that: “The entrepreneurial individual recognises a trend, a possibility, an unmet demand. He or she comes up with a concept for capitalising on the trend or demand and does so while the window of opportunity is open.”

Morris also says: “Entrepreneurial individuals are opportunity-driven, not resource-driven.”

Business is driven by the customer. It is not true, as Jean-Baptiste Say used to believe, that supply creates its own demand. The entrepreneur’s job is, first, to identify demand, where demand means people wanting goods or services, who are ready and willing to pay for them promptly, and at a price that will ensure a profit to the entrepreneur. Second, after having discovered demand, the entrepreneur seeks to connect demand to supply, by one means or another.


Co-ops in South Africa tend to be set up with the expectation of producing first, to sell later; whereas being an entrepreneur means securing the demand before making (or buying) the supply. The entrepreneur is a trader. As Dr Blade pointed out, co-ops, too, have to be entrepreneurial. They are compelled to trade in the marketplace.

The market is crucial, but contrary to what the bourgeois ideologues keep on saying, the market is not free, or open. It is we, the opponents of monopoly capitalism, who are the true “free-marketeers”. Small businesses, including co-ops, to survive, must have access to markets that are not dominated by predatory monopolistic market-manipulators. And if they are selling to the state, they must be paid on time and in full. These conditions barely exist in South Africa, which has historically been monopolistic in the extreme, and whose government is a notoriously slow payer.


When a producer of goods or services goes out to sell, the price asked is determined in normal circumstances by calculating the cost of the product, and then adding a “markup” that is a percentage of the cost. In most businesses, markup is typically around fifty per cent of cost, but it could as well be 100%, or 25%. Only in very high-volume trading, such as in some lines, in some supermarkets, will markup be significantly lower than 25%.

The concept of markup is not the same as the concept of profit. In the first place, markup is calculated as a percentage of cost, whereas profit is calculated as a percentage of price. So the raw, or “gross profit” equivalent of a 50% markup is 33%, for example.

But “gross profit” is also not actual profit. The real profit of a business will be calculated after the trading is finished, and it will be less by, among other things, the cost of any goods that cannot be sold for lack of demand, or for any other reason. “Overheads” (i.e. rent, communication and other general expenses of the business) must also be deducted.

Cash Flow

What is most important to the survival of a business is “cash flow”. So long as cash is coming in, a business can keep going, but when the cash stops coming in, it must collapse very quickly. In this sense, a business can do without profit. It can make losses for an indefinite amount of time, until the day when there is no more cash.

Conversely, a business can collapse even if it is profitable, if there is no cash to keep it going. This can happen if payment is delayed, for example. To avoid such a thing happening, businesses have to look ahead and plan, using a “Cash Flow Forecast”. What is called in popular terms a “business plan” is actually a cash-flow forecast.

Banks and other lenders are hardly concerned about whether a borrower will make profits, or not, but they do want to know if the principal loan can be paid back, with interest. They want to see how the cash will flow. They want to be sure that on the due dates, the business will have money to pay. This is what they look for in a business plan (Cash Flow Forecast).

Illustration: “Entrepreneur” means one who “holds together”, as the ring in the picture holds together the chains. Most especially, the business entrepreneur holds together demand and supply.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Dismissing myths of entrepreneurship, Morris, 1996.

21 April 2015

The Law of Contract

Induction, Part 4a

Leviathan”, a vision of The State, Thomas Hobbes 1651

The Law of Contract

Property, the State, the suppression of women, and the Law of Contract come into being at the same moment in any given society, though these developments happened earlier in some societies than in others.

The above illustration is a detail from the Frontispiece (made by Abraham Bosse) of the Englishman Thomas Hobbes’ book “Leviathan”, published in Paris, France, in 1651, the year before Jan van Riebeeck came to the Cape.

The image is a representation of The State, and Hobbes’ book describes The State in this composite form for the first time in the book. This State is the combination of all, and the guarantor of all.

Among other things, this State enforces Contracts, and through the enforcement of Contracts, it guarantees the rights of the holders of property.

When people negotiate a contract (i.e. when an offer is followed by an acceptance), the contract is enforceable by the State through the law courts. A contract freely entered into by two individuals is therefore enforceable by the State.

Please see the attached document for more on Contracts, and for an explanation of the variation of practice of Contract Law that provides for Tenders.

Juristic Persons

Contract law was developed to deal with the trading relations and the property of individual human beings.

The term “Juristic Person” refers to an entity, or institution, that is treated under the law as if it was a single human being. These are also referred to as “corporations” (from the Latin “corpus”, meaning “body”). Their existence is defined by various laws governing the creation of companies, co-operatives, trade unions, municipalities, NGOs and other kinds of corporate associations.

Juristic Persons can be parties to contracts. They can sue and be sued in the courts of law. They can be fined and punished in other ways (but not imprisoned). They do not die in the way that biological human beings do, but they can be “wound up” so that they no longer exist.

Political parties can be Juristic Persons, if they choose to be. The SACP is one.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Contracts and Tenders Explained, Hypercube, 2004.

20 April 2015


Induction, Part 4


The procedure of the Communist University in its previous courses has worked well, but it is not so easy to follow consistently in this course on Induction.

We have nearly always been able to present up to four alternative texts in any week, using one of them as the default leading text. The introductions (openings to discussion) have been written like short book reviews of the original material that is at the same time given in the form of PDF files.

We have continued to do this in the first three parts of this “Induction” course, but as we come to the fourth part, it becomes less convenient.

This part is broadly concerned with Corporations, including both co-operatives and companies. The next three weekly parts will deal with Office Processes, Fundraising and Events, and Mass Organisations.

In live discussion, we will have to try to take all these four items into account.

In the case of Negotiation, we are taking it this time as a pre-requisite for understanding business. It will be followed within this part by Contract and Company Law plus Juristic Persons; Entrepreneurship, Trading, and Markup; and Co-operatives and Joint-Stock Companies. The four items will be constructed as a series with the intention of creating an outline of corporate entities, including, but not limited to, trading entities. Political parties, trade unions and similar entities also have some of the characteristics of corporations formed under the law, as do NGOs.

We are still using the MIA document on Negotiation (attached, and downloadable via link below) that we have used in other courses. It describes negotiation in terms of trade union practice. But negotiation happens in all kinds of different situations. Negotiation precedes contract.

The document described many of the practical realities that can take place during the approach to a “deal”. The deal itself will be a contract. We will look at formal contract law in the item that follows this one.

Negotiation is a universal skill used in any kind of business. What may be learned for the purposes of trade union business will be applicable in many other circumstances, including the circumstances of private individuals.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Marxists Internet Archive, Negotiation.

16 April 2015

Sub-Committees and Task Teams

Induction, Part 3c

Sub-Committees and Task Teams

So far, for the purposes of this first iteration of our course, we have not yet found a good document discussing sub-committees and task teams. We await the discovery of a suitable discussion text. Please assist if you can.

Sub-committees are an integral part of the overall structural system that is used by political parties, parliaments and councils, businesses and co-operatives. Sub-committees are normal.

In the South African Communist Party, the Central Committee is a sub-committee of the National Congress, and the Political Bureau is a sub-committee of the Central Committee.

“Working Committees” such as the National Working Committee of the ANC, are sub-committees, and in that specific case, a sub-committee of the National Executive Committee. Similarly, a Provincial Working Committee in the SACP is a sub-committee of the corresponding Provincial Executive Committee.

In a Branch of the SACP or the ANC, the Branch Executive Committee (BEC) is a sub-committee of the Branch, and is therefore subordinate to the Branch General Meeting (BGM).

In the SACP, the Provincial Working Committee reports to the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC), and the PEC reports to the Provincial Council or to the Provincial Congress.

In practice such sub-committees have a lot of freedom, but the above is the constitutional position and it becomes the practical matter if and when there are disagreements between main committees and their subordinate structures. In the case of such disagreements, higher structures rule, and lower ones submit.

Task teams, or ad hoc committees, may be set up to perform tasks of limited duration.

Specialised sub-committees may be formed for the delegation of particular, but on-going, responsibilities. Such could be a Political Education Sub-Committee, or a Fundraising Sub-Committee, for example.

In sub-committees, all the functions of any structure are reproduced, but because sub-committees are usually smaller in numbers, it may happen that functions have to be combined in the same individual. A “Convenor”, for example, might have to combine the functions of Chairperson and Secretary.

·        A suitable reading-text text has not yet been found.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

15 April 2015

Secretary, Chairperson and Treasurer

Induction, Part 3a

Secretary, Chairperson and Treasurer

In the SACP Constitution, the duties of the General Secretary, National Chairperson and National Treasurer are spelled out in detail (see the extract reproduced below). But for Provincial, District and Branch Office Bearers in the SACP, although the three positions are all mentioned, the detail is not given.

For a general discussion of what these elected officers are supposed to do, in the SACP, one must draw from the national level and treat it as the model for the lower levels of structure.

Party members are also involved in the ANC, the trade unions, other mass organisations and many other structures. There is some variation, but in general the functions of the three principal officers are similar in all organisations.

The attached document is adapted from a page on the Internet, chosen from among many similar ones on the topic. It can serve to represent the standard thinking on the roles of the three main officer positions, even in quite different types of organisation, and in different countries.

President is another name for Chairperson. Secretary-General and General Secretary are both in fact Secretaries. Treasurer-General means Treasurer. In this item we are not discussing nomenclature, but only function.

Leading Role of the Secretary

In the SACP, as in most Communist Parties, the Secretary is the leading office bearer, and therefore is the political leader at any level. The Secretary is continuously involved with nearly everything that happens, both at meetings, and in between meetings.


The previous item has dealt with the Chairperson’s function in detail. Here, we can note that in the ANC, the Chairperson is always the senior office-bearer, and so in the ANC the Chairperson has more scope to impose upon the meeting.

In COSATU Unions and in COSATU itself, the President is in theory the senior position, and the President (Chairperson) is a “worker leader” who is not employed by the union, and who does not draw a salary from the union. Mostly these workers retain their former jobs.

But in the COSATU form of organisation, the Secretary (General Secretary) is the head of the full-time employed establishment of the organisation, and is therefore the employer (hiring and firing) of the staff and the person to whom the staff report.

The COSATU form of organisation has proved to be vulnerable to conflict between President and General Secretary.

In general, the duties of the Chairperson are lighter than those of the Secretary or Treasurer, being in the essential task confined to presiding at meetings. It is also easier for somebody to deputise for the Chairperson than for the other tasks. But it is a very important function, nevertheless.


The treasurer should make sure that the assets of the structure are kept securely. These include not only cash but also non-cash assets such as a banner, for a typical branch-level example. The treasurer must be able to produce an account of the assets, usually in the form of a Receipts and Payments account for the year and Balance Sheet as at the year’s end, at least.

The treasurer need not personally be the book-keeper and should never be the fund-raiser. Fund-raising is a task that falls upon the organisation as a whole.

Convenors, Co-ordinators, and Organisers

These titles can be useful where there is a clear sub-division of responsibility within a structure, but they can also be a sign of weak organisation. This is particularly the case when they are used as substitutes for Chairperson or Secretary. There can really be no substitute for those offices.

Convenor is a useful designation for the leader of a small task team. Organiser is a good term for someone whose responsibility is to recruit and expand the organisation.

“Co-ordinator” is not a word that fits well in any structure. It is best not used, ever. The problem with such words is that they do not assist to define the organic and necessary functions, but on the contrary, are intended to blur the distinction between functions. As such they are anti-organisation and for that reason should be avoided.

From the SACP Constitution:

11. Duties of the General Secretary
The General Secretary shall be the leading National Office Bearer of the SACP according to conditions determined by the CC. The General Secretary shall be an ex officio member of all party structures and shall:
11.1 Keep (or cause to be kept) the minutes of all CC and PB meetings and such other books, records and archives as may be required.
11.2 Attend to the correspondence of the CC and PB.
11.3 Maintain regular personal and written contact with all the provinces and keep the membership informed of the work of the CC and PB.
11.4 Ensure that members of the CC are kept informed of the work of the PB in between meetings of the CC.
11.5 Draw up (or cause to be drawn up) all reports and documents as may be decided upon by the CC or PB.
11.6 The Deputy General Secretaries shall, as directed by the CC, taking into account their respective portfolios, deputise for the General Secretary in respect of all the functions set out above.

12. Duties of the National Chairperson
The National Chairperson shall rank after the General Secretary as a national office bearer of the SACP and shall be an ex officio member of all party structures. The National Chairperson shall:
12.1 Preside at all meetings of the CC and PB in conformity with the constitution and other rules and procedures adopted by these bodies.
12.2 Have a deliberative vote only.
12.3 The Deputy National Chairperson shall, as directed by the CC, deputise for the National Chairperson in respect of all the functions set out above.

13. Duties of the National Treasurer
The National Treasurer shall:
13.1 Under the direction of the CC and PB take all necessary measures to ensure that the SACP is provided with sufficient means to carry out its political and organisational tasks.
13.2 Dispose of such funds as the CC authorised by general or specific mandate.
13.3 Be responsible for the safe-keeping and administration of all property and monies of the SACP.
13.4 Keep such books and accounts as will clearly record and reflect the financial position of the SACP and submit statements of income and expenditure to the CC and PB at intervals to be determined by the CC and PB.
13.5 Under the direction of the CC present audited financial statements and written financial reports to the Congress.
13.6 Be the convenor of a Finance Committee appointed by the CC.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer, SCVO, 2010.

14 April 2015

Rules of Debate

Induction, Part 3

Rules of Debate

One of the matters that fall under the heading of Induction is procedure, and to this there is apt to be a common-sense or spontaneous response, which is nevertheless wrong.

There are always people who think that the Rules of Debate, or Rules of Order, or Procedure of Meetings, are an unnecessary obstruction. Such people are similar to the advocates of “Structurelessness” that we read about in the last part of this course of Induction.

But in fact, the “Rules of Order”, which go under many different names, are of great assistance. Far from inhibiting, these rules set people free.

Without them, a lot of business would be simply impossible.

The US book “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised” puts it like this:

“The application of parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”

As can be seen from this quotation, “Robert’s Rules” is quite verbose. But you can get the idea. This is a way to get business done. For this reason, the Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings are crucial to the democracy of mass organisations, just as much as they are crucial for parliaments and municipalities, and for board meetings or shareholders’ meetings of companies and co-operatives.

The South African Communist Party has no given Rules of Debate or Standing Orders. Unfortunately this does not prevent people from claiming “Points of Order”. A remedy and rescue from such chaotic “Points of Order” would be the adoption of an authority, of which there are many to choose from. But the problem of people not knowing the rules would remain.

Rules are only effective to the extent that they are understood in common by the members of any particular gathering, and enforced by these members on each other through their servant, the chairperson. Hence the problem becomes one of conscientising people, so as to develop a common culture or collective understanding of these rules and procedures.

Wal Hannington was well known as a communist leader of the unemployed workers’ movement in Britain in the 1930s. Our summary of the Rules of Debate and Procedure of Meetings from his 1950 booklet “Mr Chairman” is attached.

Hannington wrote: "The Chairman is there to guide the meeting, not to boss it." This is the most valuable message in his book. To repeat, with a different emphasis, what was said at the beginning: The Rules of Debate and the Procedures of Meetings are only justified to the extent that they liberate the people present in a meeting. They tend to become useless, or possibly worse than useless, when they are imposed as a burden, or used as an obstruction.

The point is not for the Chairperson to “keep order”, or for individuals to be bullied down with “points of order”. The Chairperson serves the meeting, and the meeting needs to know how to guide the Chairperson.

Everything works best when everybody is familiar with the common Rules of Debate.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Hannington, Rules of Debate and Procedures of Meetings.

9 April 2015

Mass and Vanguard

Induction, Part 2c

Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, El Lissitsky, 1919

Mass and Vanguard

We are now at the conclusion of the second part of our Induction course. We have completed our description of the Party, and in a general way, of the mass organisations. The course will now provide materials that will assist in organisational induction for all kinds of purposes; that is, not only in the Party, but also in the non-Party mass movements. It will deal with specific kinds of mass organisation.

Then the course will look at the inter-relationship of such mass organisations within the local environment, and the key role that the Party has to play in these localities, knitting the mass organisations into an alliance. Finally, it will look at the broad organisational tasks that have been set for this and coming years by the Party, and by the movement as a whole, led by the ANC.

At this point, although without a special text, it can assist us to reflect upon the question of Mass and Vanguard. The Mass/Vanguard relationship is somewhat tacit in the literature. It is not often described as a separate problem.

Lack of understanding of the Mass/Vanguard relationship can lead to serious errors of amateurism, and particularly so among new recruits. There can be an urge to “do things as the Party”. Whereas the Party is not the actor on the historic stage. It is the masses, and not the Party, who constitute the “Subject of History” (i.e. the conscious, willing, agent of change). This is why the ANC as the principle mass organisation of the overall liberation movement must lead, and not at some point in the future, but now, in the present time.

If the Party feels obliged to do work that could be done by a mass democratic structure, then the Party is guilty of having failed to organise and mobilise that necessary structure. The Party should not be getting itself into such a situation, as a rule.

When the Party is substituting itself for the masses, it is in error. It will burn up its limited resources like that, and it will neglect its true role – the role of vanguard.

As a communist, you are properly inducted when you know that your main work as a communist has to be done outside of the confines of the Party, among people who are not communists. This is why the branch life of the Party is important.

SACP branches provide fellowship and solidarity to the leaders of the working class, and they act as “hubs” for the local alliance of local structures that is the local counterpart of the National Democratic Revolutionary Alliance.

·        To download the files for this course, click here.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

8 April 2015

Organisation of Trade Unions

Induction, Part 2b

Organisation of Trade Unions

All organisations have “mass”, but not all organisations are vanguards


“Mass organisations” are held together by common experience of a common predicament. They have a narrow focus and they are therefore not vanguard, in the true sense of the vanguard having a broad, concrete, comprehensive, or “helicopter” view.

“Mass” organisations are, as a rule, defensive.

As a rule, the smaller the definition, the greater are the number of individuals who can be included in that definition. The category “men”, for example, can include all grown men. Whereas in the category of people who are generalists in politics, there may be very few. The broader the scope of concern, the less will be the number of people who qualify for inclusion. This is one reason why “mass” organisations are usually bigger than vanguard organisations. But this is not always the case. There are small “mass” (common-interest) organisations, and there are (universal-scope) “vanguards” that are relatively larger.

Trade unions are mass organisations of workers, who recognise in each other the common experience of selling themselves as commodity labour power in a market that is dominated by the employers.

Trade unions began as trade associations (e.g. carpenters, or plumbers, or fitters, or wheelwrights), but modern trade unions are usually organised by industry (e.g. mineworkers, teachers).


In politics, the word “vanguard” means the professional force, human framework or “cadre” which can lead the mass movement of the people on a revolutionary path. The vanguard Party is made up of professional revolutionaries. The relationship of the revolutionary vanguard to the mass organisations of the people is similar to the relationship of a professional to the professional’s clients, where the professional has the expertise, but the client is the master.

The revolutionary vanguard is a servant, and not a master. The vanguard party of the working class serves the working class, and does not boss it. Nor does it substitute itself for the working class.

The working-class vanguard party, which is a communist party, is not separate from the mass movement. It is intimately involved with the mass movement at all times and at all levels. The vanguard party educates, organises and mobilises. As a vanguard, it must have expert knowledge about how mass movements in general, and especially about how the primary mass organisations of the working class which are the trade unions, work.

How trade unions work

To deal with this crucial matter (i.e. how trade unions work) here, attached, and in the download linked below, is a text from the Marxists Internet Archive’s Encyclopaedia of Marxism, written by Brian Basgen and Andy Blunden, two comrades who clearly have vast experience of what they are writing about.

This text is empirical and experiential, and there is nothing wrong with that, because experiential is exactly what trade unions and other mass organisations are. Trade unions arise out of the existing consciousness of workers as it is found under capitalism. In many ways, workers emulate capitalist forms of organisation. Their initial purpose is to get a relatively better money deal in exchange for their labour-power in the capitalist labour-market. Their initial purpose does not include challenging the order of society, let alone expropriating the expropriators.

Trade unions are in the first place reformist, and not revolutionary. Nor can trade unions become revolutionary without the assistance of professional revolutionaries, organised separately as a communist party. Lenin dealt with this relationship in “What is to be Done?”, but in this item today we will stay with the practicalities. Suffice it to say, for now, that trade unionists who think that they can dispense with the assistance of a communist party - the ones known as “economists”, “workerists” or “syndicalists” - are on a road to ruin.

Basgen and Blunden in their section within this text called “How to build Union” put it this way: “Unions must be built on an immediate, common need of workers.” This section, from the bottom of page 6 to page 8 of the document, is an explicit set of suggestions on how to organise from scratch.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Worker Solidarity and Unions, MIA, 2003.

7 April 2015

Political education for organisation-building

Induction, Part 2a

Political education for organisation-building

When the Communist University began to do systematic political education in the Johannesburg Central Branch of the SACP, and in the Onica Mashego Branch of the ANC, from 2003, it felt a need for a statement of the purposes of such political education.

What were we trying to achieve? What were our goals? These were the first questions on our minds.

A document was produced. It has been edited many times since then. The most recent version (updated in 2009) is attached.

In the first paragraph it says:

“The main purpose of political education is to prepare cadres who can do the work of the organisation. As soon as a leadership is formed it begins to deplete, because comrades are deployed to higher structures. Others move away. For these reasons the branch needs to generate a steady stream of new cadres who are ready to take up the leadership and administration of the branch.”

The Communist University has grown, to the point that this Induction course was the fourteenth full ten-week study-circle course to be prepared, out of a (now) full complement of sixteen. Other formats have also been developed, notably the successful half-day school format.

The CU has produced, as one of its sixteen standard courses, an entire ten-week course on Education and its place in society, including revolutionary pedagogical theory.

As we have already discovered in this Induction course, study is the only source and basis of the Communist Party’s vanguard role in relation to the working class, and to society as a whole.

Replenishing the cadre

So that, whereas other purposes than “preparing cadres who can do the work of the organisation” were already being described in the attached document, yet in this Induction course, it remains most necessary to problematise the matter that was at the front of our minds in the Communist University, at its beginning.

This was the production, and reproduction, of cadres of the Party and of the ANC, not only in theoretical, but also in practical terms.

It remains as true now as it was then, that the cadre force at Branch level begins to deplete as soon as it forms, necessitating the constant recruitment and improvement of new members, to the level of cadreship.

Decade of the Cadre

What exactly is a cadre? This is a good question for discussion, especially now that the ANC has, at its 53rd National Conference at Mangaung, announced the Decade of the Cadre.

One of the answers could be that a cadre (in the French-language meaning of the word) is literally a ruler (straight-edge), or a frame. The human framework that holds up an organisation and gives it shape, is the cadre. In that sense the cadre is a collective noun, meaning a number of people together, forming the framework, or structure.

In South Africa, a cadre may be, and usually is, understood to refer to an individual. Such a cadre is a person who is fully equipped to operate independently and to extend the organisation wherever he or she finds herself.

Both of these definitions are useful, and they do not contradict each other.

Agenda of the cadre

In those days we said “the branch needs to generate a steady stream of new cadres who are ready to take up the leadership and administration of the branch.” We made a distinction between leadership, and administration. The first is the domain of politics, while the second is also political, but it has more to do with organisation – the conscious creation of structure – as a practical task. 

Hence at last we were bound to return to the details of administration of the kinds that are being dealt with in this Induction course. Cadres must be able to reproduce and expand the organisation, and to expand organisation in general. They must know how it works, very practically.

After Induction, in our CU series, comes another course called Agitprop. The word stands for “Agitational Propaganda”. It will include writing, media relations, campaigning, rallies, graphic design and layout, of posters, flyers and other materials; and many other things. Some of the things that you would like to be inducted in, may be more thoroughly dealt with under Agitprop.

·        The above is to introduce an original reading-text: Political Education, Communist University, c. 2005.