Sunday, December 8, 2013

Was Nelson Mandela a Communist?

Nelson Mandela, 1964


Much has been made since his death -- especially among those who would gain from condemning Mandela -- of Nelson Mandela's "Communist past." I found in his "speech from the dock" in 1964 a very clear explanation of Mandela's relationship with the Communist Party. Here, in his own rather powerful words:
As far as the Communist party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a state based on the principles of Marxism. The Communist party sought to emphasise class distinctions whilst the ANC seeks to harmonise them. This is a vital distinction.
It is true that there has often been close cooperation between the ANC and the Communist party. But cooperation is merely proof of a common goal - in this case the removal of white supremacy - and is not proof of a complete community of interests. The history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking is the cooperation between Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler. Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such cooperation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists. Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage.
What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only group which was prepared to work with the Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. Because of this, there are many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as communists and bans many of them (who are not communists) under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although I have never been a member of the Communist party, I myself have been imprisoned under that act.
I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure of early African societies. The land belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of this world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.
I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the west as reactionary. But, on the contrary, I am an admirer. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights are documents held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British institutions, and for the country's system of justice. I regard the British parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the impartiality of its judiciary never fails to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country's separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments.
I have been influenced in my thinking by both west and east. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the west and from the east.
Clear as day. My favorite line was "Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such cooperation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists."

I rarely enjoy NY Times' Bill Keller, but he apparently is well-qualified to write this thoughtful piece on Nelson Mandela and communism. I found it insightful.

Bonus fun. I found this link to a 1990 Rush Limbaugh appearance on Crossfire, stating emphatically that Nelson Mandela and his fight against apartheid wasn't about racial injustice at all. What was it? View the first 30 seconds of the video clip and find out!

Bonus non-fun. Read the Ted Cruz remarks on Mandela on his facebook page, and then read through the comments. Not pretty.

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