John Beaver (JB) Marks

By Yifei Zheng

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Life and Accomplishments

John Beaver Marks, commonly known as "Uncle JB", was born on 21 March 1903 in Ventersdorp, Western Transvaal (now known as North West), South Africa. His father was African and his mother was of White origin, which made Marks a child of mixed race.

Growing up, he decided to pursue a teaching career at Kilnerton Teachers' Training College in Pretoria. During this time, Marks observed the harsh conditions that the students had to undergo, and sparked a student rebellion.

After receiving a teaching diploma, he began teaching in Transvaal and the Orange Free State, at the same time involving himself with politics. He joined the South African Communist Party in 1924 and the African National Congress in 1928. He quickly became a star in the organizations, and was banned from teaching in 1931 due to his political activism.

He started focusing on politics and trade unions, and eventually became the Transvaal President of the ANC, president of the African Mine Workers Union, as well as the chairman of the SACP. When Marks was banned from politics in 1952 because of the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, he nevertheless continued to operate underground, fighting for the anti-apartheid movement.

In 1963, Marks was sent to Tanzania on a mission for the ANC, but was struck by a terrible illness. He was sent to the Soviet Union for treatment, but died of a heart attack on 1 August 1971.

Location of Birth (highlighted in red)

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Significance to Anti-Apartheid Movement

JB Marks was politically and socially active for a majority of his life, and his actions and accomplishments impacted the anti-apartheid movement significantly.

While teaching the children of African mine workers, he became dedicated in helping the lives of these workers. After Marks became the president of the African Mine Workers Union, he helps organize a gigantic strike in 1946 with the demand that workers receive ten shillings per day. Although the demand was ignored aside from violent repression, many people recognized the courage and bravery that Marks displayed while challenging authority. In fact, the strike of 1946 led others to emulate many more strikes and protests in the future, both economically and politically.

These demonstrations led to the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, which banned members of the SACP from meeting as well as prohibiting members from speaking or protesting in public. However, Marks was able to persist in working underground, in secret, for about a decade. During this time, he helped form the South African Congress of Trade Unions and also helped the rural areas of South Africa, mainly Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In 1963, Marks was instructed to go to Tanzania to obtain aid from other countries to support the anti-apartheid movement. Outside of South Africa, Marks worked to recruit members for Nelson Mandela's Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation/MK), the armed wing of the ANC.

Speech by Dr. Yusuf M. Dadoo, Chairman of SACP, at funeral of J. B. Marks, Moscow, August 11, 1972

We are gathered here to bid our last farewell to one of the greatest sons of our country, South Africa, outstanding fighter of the international working class, John `Beaver` Marks.

Uncle J. B., as he was affectionately known to us all, was truly a hero of our struggle. His long history of courageous leadership of the cause of liberation, his dauntless championing of the aspirations of the working people, deservedly made his name a household word among the oppressed and exploited people throughout the length and breadth of the land, inspiring confidence among the masses and striking awe into the hearts of the enemy - the ruling class and the white racialists.

As Chairman of our South African Communist Party and a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress, he played an indispensable role in helping to guide our whole liberation movement through one of its most difficult periods. His conviction that our cause would triumph never for one moment flagged.

After listening to the late S. P. Bunting addressing a meeting of workers at the mine where he was employed, J. B. Marks joined the Communist Party in 1928 and devoted himself thenceforward to the fight for national and social emancipation, undeterred by the fierce hostility of the white racialists towards the revolutionaries of our country. He narrowly escaped death in 1929 when a fascist opened fire on the platform he was speaking from. The incident served only to steel his determination. He was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1932.

The name of J. B. Marks will ever be associated with the bitter struggles of the African gold miners of the Witwatersrand, surely among the most savagely exploited proletarians in the world. Recruited from all corners of Southern Africa, both inside and outside the borders of the Republic of South Africa, herded like prisoners into barrack-like compounds, and constantly policed and spied upon by the monopoly-capitalist owners and their State, the organisation of these workers was a most formidable task. This task was successfully accomplished by the African Mine Workers` Union under the presidency of our late Comrade J. B. Marks. In August 1946 under his inspiring leadership the miners came out in a historic strike directed at the heart of the cheap labour system until after a week they were forced back to work by police bullets and batons.

There followed a wave of unprecedented repression and persecution of Communists and all revolutionaries which has continued to the present day - first under the Smuts Government and then its successor, headed by the openly Nazi Nationalist Party of Malan, Verwoerd and Vorster. The Communist Party was banned in 1950 and the African National Congress in 1960.

J. B. Marks, like his comrades, was subjected to numerous and repeated bans and restrictions on his activities and movements. He continued undeterred with underground activity, both in the ANC and in the South African Communist Party of which he was elected Chairman at its fifth illegal conference in 1962.

He was then instructed by the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress to join the headquarters of the External Mission in Tanzania in organising our resistance. He stood at the heart of this movement until he suffered a stroke - that is, cerebral damage - one year ago.

Comrade Marks was an outstanding internationalist. As the Chairman of our Party he ardently supported our unanimous policy; unity of the international Communist movement - the core of the worldwide struggle against imperialism and war, for national independence and peace.

As a Marxist-Leninist he firmly believed in the need at all times for the international working class to rally around the banner of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the community of socialist States, the main force against imperialism and reaction.

The Soviet Union - `Land of the proletariat` of `the Mecca of revolutionaries` as J. B. was fond of calling this country - was very dear to his heart and it was but fitting that the last year of his life was spent here, and that this great land has become his resting place. The Central Committee of the South African Communist Party expresses its deep and sincere appreciation of the wonderful care and attention which was shown towards Comrade J.B. Marks by the Government of the Soviet Union and the leadership of the CPSU, the skill and kindness of the doctors and the nursing staff and the hospitality of the Soviet people.


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"John Beaver Marks, Popularly Known as JB, Was a Towering Giant of the Trade Union and Liberation Movements in South Africa." John Beaver Marks, Popularly Known as JB, Was a Towering Giant of the Trade Union and Liberation Movements in South Africa. He W. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

"South African Communist Party Timeline 1870-1996." Anonymous. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"Suppression of Communism Act, No. 44 of 1950 Approved in Parliament." Anonymous. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.