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David Ivon Jones

 

D I Jones was born in 1883 in Aberystwyth, Wales. Jones was orphaned as a young child and brought up by his grandparents, but his grandmother also died when he was a boy.  While he was still in his teens, he converted from Methodism to Unitarianism, braving ostracism from his family and community. David Ivon Jones was an avid rabbit hunter.  Jones left his birthplace in search of drier climate to alleviate his illness. He spent three years in New Zealand where he hunted rabbits for a living before moving to South Africa in 1909 to work as a clerk for the Victoria Falls Power Company. He settled in the Orange Free State, joining his brother who had opened a trading store. Later, five of his eight siblings also moved from Aberystwyth to South Africa, while a sixth settled in Canada.

Jones’s keen intellect was spurred to question the situation in which he found himself, finding connection with the small numbers of white workers who were already declaring that they needed to fight for human rights for all. He moved to Johannesburg and joined the South African Labour Party in 1911 and played a minor part in the general strikes by white workers that rocked the Witwatersrand in 1913. He joined the Labour Party and was elected its general secretary in 1914 and won a seat on the Transvaal Provincial Council.

 

In 1915, with W. H. Andrews and others, he broke with the Labour Party to form the International Socialist League (ISL), within which he and S. P. Bunting were the leading proponents of the view that blacks were the true proletariat. Even though Jones combined this view with a somewhat paternalistic belief that whites would inevitably be the vanguard of the socialist revolution, he was ahead of his time in urging the promotion of trade unionism among Africans.

 

He became the first Secretary-editor of the ISL, responsible for producing the weekly newspaper, The International, in which he denounced the government`s pro-war policy and helped form the War-on-War Movement. Between 1917 and 1919, Jones together with Bunting attempted to form a broad workers' movement called the Industrial Workers of Africa, but this did not succeed. Jones also started some of the first night classes for African workers. According to Roux, Jones was a good linguist and "a man full of dynamic spiritual energy."

 

In 1918, while undergoing health treatment in Pietermaritzburg, he was convicted of illegally publishing a pamphlet, The Bolsheviks Are Coming, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. In November 1920, after TB forced him to look for a more congenial circumstance, Jones left South Africa for the south of France, never to return.  From France he went to Russia to attend the second congress of the Communist International. While on his way to Moscow he wrote a long report on South Africa for the Communist International, stating that although Africans were no more than cheap sources of labour in the colonial system, they soon became good trade unionists and loyal agitators for their class. National interests could not be distinguished from class interests, and formed the basis of 'a revolutionary nationalist movement in the fullest meaning of Lenin's term'

 

In 1921, the ISL finally merged into the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), making Jones a de facto founder-member.

 

While in Moscow, Jones did a great deal of writing, and was one of the first people to translate some of Lenin`s work into English. In a letter to Bill Andrews (see separate entry), written shortly before he died in Yalta on 13 April 1924, he argued that the struggle of South Africa took the form of a `colonial national movement of liberation`.

 

D I Jones died in a Yalta sanatorium on 13 April 1924 and was buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.

 

Sources:

www.bbc.co.uk

www.sacp.org.za

www.revolutionaryhistory.co.uk