Writing left: Ruth First and radical South African journalism in the 1950's

Pinnock, Donald (1993) Writing left: Ruth First and radical South African journalism in the 1950's. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

In a prison cell in Johannesburg in 1953 after months of solitary confinement Ruth First, one of South Africa's finest investigative joumalists, attempted to commit suicide. In a sense, information for this thesis has been gathered around the question of why First felt her life had reached a point where she wished it extinguished. The answer involves who she was, what she believed in and her perception at that moment in time of the magnitude of the defeat of all she had worked for. But this question has broader implications - it has been asked because its answer throws light not only on the particular joumalist, but on the radical press and on the political movements which gave it both life and readers. This study is divided into six sections: Origins and influences looks, firstly, at early Jewish migrations and Ruth's life up to the end of her schooling in Johannesburg, then at her university years and the influence on her life of the Communist Party of South Africa. A vigorously provocative life traces debates which led to the formation of the South African Congress of Democrats and the Congress Alliance. It looks, also, at the political influence of the white Left and the radical social fratemity. Trumpeters of freedom locates the origins of the radical press tradition in South Africa, then looks at the development of the two publications to which Ruth devoted most of her time: The Guardian/New Age and Fighting Talk. Writing left focuses on First's writing in connection with three campaigns: the farm labour and the potato boycott, womens' passes and the bus boycotts. These chapters are not a history of these campaigns, but an analysis of the influence on them of First's joumalism. Word wars is about the Treason Trial of 1956. The contention here is that the trial, in which First was one of the 'chief co-conspirators ', not only put the Congress Alliance in the dock, but was about the definition of three words: communism, violence and treason. In many ways it was a trial of the language of the Left, the tools of First's trade. Shifting focus looks at the period after Sharpeville and the 1960 State of Emergency. It considers the shift in First's writing necessitated by greater political oppression, a banning order and her exploration of the writing of books. Chapter 12 considers the massive setback to the Congress Alliance of the Rivonia Trial and the tactical errors which led the Congress leadership to the conclusion that armed struggle would succeed at that point in time. The final chapter is about First's detention, and her perceived personal defeat which resulted in her attempted suicide. The Postscript looks at First's successful attempts to come to terms with both a political and personal defeat. The work effectively ends, however, with her departure from South Africa.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ruth First, Investigative journalist, Suicide attempt, Radical press, Political movements, Jewish migrations, South Africa, Communist Party, South African Congress of Democrats, Congress Alliance, White left, Radical social fraternity, The Guardian/New Age, Fighting Talk, Farm labour campaign, Potato boycott, Women passes, Bus boycotts, Treason Trial, Communism, Violence, Treason, Sharpeville, State of Emergency, Armed struggle, Detention
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Political Studies and International Studies
Supervisors:Daniels, John
ID Code:3853
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:27 Oct 2012 14:41
Last Modified:29 Oct 2012 07:24
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