We’ve known for some time that Nelson Mandela was a member of the South African Communist Party. It was hard for fawning liberals to acknowledge the meaning of his membership, so they came up with a narrative explaining it. Their story went something like this: He only briefly joined to get the benefit of their organizational talent, and his membership was rather symbolic, and hardly meaningful. What is important is his steadfast commitment to non-violence, his adherence to political democracy, and the role he played after emerging from prison in the waning days of apartheid.
But with each passing day, more has come out to put Mandela’s allegiance to communism in more perspective. Writing in the British Spectator, the courageous South African journalist Rian Malan tells the entire story. Malan tells the tale of what Professor Stephen Ellis found in the online Mandela archives.
What Ellis found is none other than the lost Mandela manuscript — the original draft of what became his 1994 autobiography (and now a movie) Long Walk to Freedom. After reading the book, Malan writes the following:
Everyone thought Mandela was a known entity, but he turns out to have led a double life, at least for a time. By day, he was or pretended to be a moderate democrat, fighting to free his people in the name of values all humans held sacred. But by night he donned the cloak and dagger and became a leader of a fanatical sect known for its attachment to the totalitarian Soviet ideal.
Malan and Professor Ellis found new insights into how Mandela’s image has been manipulated for propaganda purposes through the decades. Having decided to use Mandela as what Malan calls “the anti-apartheid movement’s official poster boy,” since he was a “tall, clean-limbed tribal prince, luminously charismatic, and…reduced by cruel circumstance to living martyrdom on a prison island,” the ANC and its supporters knew they had to “cleanse him of the communist taint.”
So they got a ghost writer for his book, a New York journalist named Rick Stengel, who of course refused to return Malan’s calls for a comment. Stengel, working from the original, left out all of Mandela’s passages that revealed the way he thought, and actually changed the meaning of much of what Mandela wrote. Here are some passages that were expunged:
I hate all forms of imperialism, and I consider the US brand to be the most loathsome and contemptible.
To a nationalist fighting oppression, dialectical materialism is like a rifle, bomb or missile. Once I understood the principle of dialectical materialism, I embraced it without hesitation.
Unquestionably, my sympathies lay with Cuba [during the 1962 missile crisis]. The ability of a small state to defend its independence demonstrates in no uncertain terms the superiority of socialism over capitalism.
Malan asks a strange question, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it is with tongue in cheek. He writes, citing Barack Obama’s words at the Mandela memorial service that Mandela fought for “your freedom, your democracy,” that “one wonders if Barack Obama would have said that if he’d known his hero batted for the opposition during the Cold War.” Obviously, Malan is quite familiar with Mandela’s past, but knows very little about Obama’s. He does not know about Obama’s childhood mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, the Chicago/Hawaii Communist apparatchik, or about his own mother’s overt leftism and that of his acquaintances in the Chicago area who were close to the American Communist Party.
At any rate, the unauthorized complete autobiography was completely purged of the elements that Malan says are nothing more than a “pro-communist harangue.” What Stengel then did is clean up Mandela’s work in three major ways, as I’ll show on the next page.
The first and most important concerns the ANC’s adoption of violence as a tactic, and its abandonment of non-violent resistance. Rather than a moderate black nationalist who wanted peaceful change until it was shown to be impossible after the 1960 Sharpville massacre, Mandela, the memoir reveals, had been plotting war as early as 1953. He made a secret trip to Mao’s China to try to get guns and money from the Chinese Communists, a “flagrant violation of the ANC’s non-aligned and non-violent stance.” Mandela in his complete book sees landscapes as battlefields, and writes how with their violent revolution, “the sweet air will smell of gunfire, elegant buildings will creash down and streets will be splashed with blood.”
Such rhetoric could not be allowed, of course, to be made public. It would have destroyed the required image. The second change concerns Mandela’s use of force against opponents. In the printed book, Mandela writes how he resisted force, but found it was necessary when a minority was blocking the rights of a majority. But Stengel evidently changed what Mandela actually wrote, which Malan says is out-and-out “Stalinism.” Writing about violence, Mandela said: “This is not a question of principle or wishful thinking. If force will advance [the struggle] then it must be used whether or not the majority agrees with us.”
As Malan comments, it was the Communist vanguard party that would determine when force would be used, not the black majority. It derived its wisdom from the theory of dialectical materialism, which Mandela believed in fully. Malan nails it: “And if the majority talks back, they must be smashed.” This is, he says, straight from “the Planet Soviet.”
Third, there is the admission by Mandela that none of his comrades were isolated, forced to give information, beaten up, or tortured prior to 1960, when the Communists started their bombing campaign (p.302 of the manuscript). After that year, those arrested were treated quite harshly. Journalist Stengel, who was picked for the job because he was a supporter of the ANC, expunged all of this. The main point is made by Malan:
The decision to go to war was actually taken by the Communist party, meeting in a prosperous white suburb, in a marquee where black Africans were outnumbered around two to one by white and Indian intellectuals. ANC president Albert Luthuli did not endorse the move to violence and MK was not the military wing of the ANC at all — it was the sole creation of the Communist party, and everyone involved in its high command was openly or secretly a communist.
So journalist Malan goes to see the Hollywood movie, is justly moved, and notes that the only time the word “communist” appears at all is when a white cop jostles Mandela at a demonstration and tells him that “everyone knows you’re a bloody communist.” In another scene, a white officer appears at a bombing scene and says, “This is the work of communist terrorists.” These two comments are meant to depict the police as fools and buffoons, racist to the core. It is, writes Malan, “a perfect distillation of the traditional left-liberal position on Mandela. For decades it was gospel. Now, it’s inadvertently funny.”
When, I wonder, will the left-liberal guardians of our past admit the complexity and the truth about the past history of “liberation” movements like the African National Congress?