Comrade Joe preferred to maintain a public silence about his doubts, questions and very far-reaching criticisms of all the socialist countries. He confided these to his friends and colleagues, but I do not recall him once expressing these publicly. Though I have been one of his sternest critics for such lapses, I can, however, appreciate his motives.
Jordan, a current ANC leader and member of parliament, was quite frank about Slovo’s failings when he was alive. The details can be found in a book written by Arnold Hughes, called Marxism’s Retreat from Africa. Hughes points out that Moscow gave the SACP money, training, weapons and political support. In return, the SACP, and Joe Slovo, had to accept, follow and advocate every turn and twist of the Party line. For Slovo and his comrades, the Bolshevik path to power was the very one they advocated for South Africa. In 1989 the SACP issued its program, “The Path to Power,” which Hughes accurately calls “an unambiguous celebration of old-fashioned Marxism-Leninism,” ironically written in Cuba five short months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of Communism all through the Eastern European satellites.
Jordan was one of the few ANC leaders to challenge Slovo publicly. After Slovo’s post-Communist explanation for the USSR’s end, Jordan wrote: “While Slovo recognizes that the socialist countries degenerated into police states, with their administrative and repressive organs possessed of inordinate powers, he never seems to broach the rather obvious question: What gave rise to the need for such practices? Was it not to contain and suppress a fundamentally explosive contradiction in these societies that the ruling parties constructed such formidable armories of police powers?”
A critic writing from the perspective of the neo-Trotskyist left, Jordan ably saw the limitations and evasions of Slovo’s attempt to rescue Soviet-style Marxism. This was Jordan’s conclusion about Slovo and the SACP:
One cannot lightly accept at face value Comrade Joe Slovos’s protestations about the SACP’s non-Stalinist credentials. Firstly, there is too much evidence to the contrary. Any regular reader of the SACP’s publications can point to a consistent pattern of praise and support for every violation of freedom perpetrated by the Soviet leadership, both before and after the death of Stalin. It is all too easy in the context of Soviet criticisms of this past for Comrade Slovo to now boldly come forward. Secondly, the political culture nurtured by the SACP’s leadership over the years has produced a spirit of intolerance, intellectual pettiness and political dissembling among its membership which regularly emerges in the pages of the Party’s journals. If we are to be persuaded that the Party has indeed embraced the spirit of honesty and openness, expected of Maxrists, it has an obligation to demonstrate this by a number of visible measures.
And what about Slovo’s view of Israel? They are quite revealing for what they tell us about Beinart’s current views. This is what Slovo had to say on Israel:
Within a few years the wars of consolidation and expansion began. Ironically enough, the horrors of the Holocaust became the rationalization for the preparation by Zionists of acts of genocide against the indigenous people of Palestine. Those of us who, in the years that were to follow, raised our voices publicly against the violent apartheid of the Israeli state were vilified by the Zionist press. It is ironic, too, that the Jew-haters in South Africa – those who worked and prayed for a Hitler victory – have been linked in close embrace with the rulers of Israel in a new axis based on racism.
Here we have the obscenity of a South African Communist Jew, who supported all the Stalinist terror during the years in which Stalin lived, accusing the one democracy in the Middle East of genocide — thereby cheapening the term and revealing its author’s own real commitments. And years before Jimmy Carter, it was Slovo who first branded Israel an apartheid state.
This is Peter Beinart’s hero! He says, as we have seen, that he thinks Slovo was a great man because he devoted himself as a Jew “to the fate of non Jews.” This is the quite familiar theme enunciated by the late Isaac Deutscher, the self-proclaimed “non-Jewish Jew” who saw his ethic identity (not religion, since those who adopt that stance are atheists) as a device to use for the liberation of all the oppressed, as Deutscher believed was what his hero Leon Trotsky had done.
Way before it was popular among today’s liberals, Communists like Slovo who followed the Soviet line on Israel called it an apartheid state and condemned it leaders as racists. Now, their line is being echoed by today’s liberals like Beinart. The Beinart article is just the latest example in a new chorus of Israel bashing. As Noah Pollak says, Beinart has “fallen completely and predictably into line with the demands of his ideological compatriots.”
And given that we now know one of his heroes was Joe Slovo, Stalinist leader of the SACP, why should we all be so surprised? Liberal Zionism is becoming an endangered species, as its once proud members like Beinart have become comrades in arms with the Joe Slovos of the world. By choosing Slovo as his one hero, Peter Beinart has helped us understand his comfort level with joining the Israel bashers. He has also shown us how far liberalism has fallen from its once admired heights.