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Stalinism Lives in South Africa: Was Nelson Mandela a Secret Communist?

The truth is that the ANC leaders -- all Communists -- accepted “the logic of Stalinism.” That is why, he writes, the ANC guerrilla camps composed of rank and file young recruits treated dissidents in the old Stalinist way -- through imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Some of us were not surprised to learn of this, although I must admit that I too never even thought that Mandela himself was a bona fide Red. Yet, on the general question of the ANC’s anti-Western radicalism, we were not fooled. Writing in Commentary about Mandela’s reception in America after he was released from prison, Josh Muravchik noted that “Mandela took the lead in persuading the ANC to abandon its policy of nonviolence in favor of armed struggle,” the strategy favored at the time by the hard international left. Muravchik quoted the late left-wing writer Andrew Kopkind, who wrote in The Nation that Mandela “reaffirms revolutionary values, socialist ideals, and egalitarian sentiments,” hence giving the Left “a sense that all is not lost.”

Mandela, Muravchik reminded us, supported Yasir Arafat, Libya’s Qaddafi, and, of course, Fidel Castro.

When asked about the repressive policies of such regimes, Mandela replied that “we have no time to be looking into the internal affairs of other countries.” Of course, the ANC and Mandela had argued that the rest of the world had to call into question the legitimacy of the apartheid regime, and indeed, look into its internal affairs.

Muravchik concluded: “That Mandela is a man of the Left there is no question,” but even he stopped short of claiming that Mandela was himself a Communist, writing only that he had said he believes in “socialism” and was influenced “by Marxist thought.” Muravchik himself, however, believed that Mandela’s chosen “rhetoric bears the earmarks of years spent within a Communist milieu.”

As for me, after a trip to South Africa for journalists, I wrote about my impressions in The American Spectator in an article titled “Red Hills of Africa.”  I argued the following about the hopes of the South African Communist Party:

But with Communism fallen and apartheid falling, why should we care that a powerful Communist party still holds forth in South Africa? The answer is put succinctly by the leading Western scholar of South African Communism, Heribert Adam. … “Because SACP members are the major force that dominates the theoretical debates and strategies within the broad apartheid opposition, its own practice of [or lack of] internal democracy influences the style of the entire movement.” Americans sympathetic to Mandela prefer to ignore that the SACP has cemented its ‘people’s alliance’ with the ANC.”

When I wrote that article in 1992, I pointed out that the Communists recruited scores of 25- to 30-year-old militants from the township underclass, which one writer called “street Jacobins of the 1970s ghetto revolts.” At the time, the Communists controlled three-quarters of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, as well as all the major posts in its policymaking divisions. One of the South African Marxist dissidents, ANC leader Pallo Jordan, wrote in that year that the Stalinist political culture in the ANC had “produced a spirit of intolerance, petty intellectual thuggery and political dissembling.” Although he too saw himself as a Marxist revolutionary, Jordan wrote that socialism had developed “in an authoritarian and totalitarian fashion.”