NELSON MANDELA and the South African Revolution
–A Leninist View–
by RAY LIGHT
“…the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised … from the point of view of the actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism, that is to say, ‘not in isolation, but on a world scale.’” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 78)
Nelson Mandela, the world-renowned South African freedom fighter and politician, died on December 5, 2013 at the advanced age of 95. The praise for Mandela’s life and legacy was seemingly so strong and unanimous at that time that it called into question the actual experience of the oppressed peoples and of the working class movement of the world with the South African revolutionary cause over the past sixty years; it seemed to bury “the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism ... on a world scale.”
In this world in which the capitalist masters are running almost everything (against the interests of the 99 %, the masses of humanity, and on behalf of the interests of “the 1%”, or one-tenth of one percent), is it possible that Nelson Mandela or any individual could justifiably be universally embraced by both the oppressors and the oppressed?! Are the lions really lying down with the lambs?!
No! The main thrust of the global praise bordering on worship for the now deceased Mandela is an ideological offensive of U.S.-led monopoly capitalism and imperialism.* Serving the needs of the U.S. Empire, in particular, these monstrous reactionaries are calling on the oppressed and the exploited of the earth to “forgive” (and establish rapprochement with) international capital such as occurred in the U.S. imperialist-led “peaceful transition” of South Africa in which Mandela played a pivotal role. This “forgiveness” of and collaboration with international capital is the very antithesis of the Leninist view.
*NOTE: [Don’t let the presence of Clinton, Bush and Obama at Mandela’s funeral service fool you, Mandela’s name was kept on the U.S. terrorist list until 2008!]
Lenin taught that the essence of imperialism lies in the fundamental distinction between oppressor and oppressed nations, that oppressed nations have the right to self-determination up to and including the right to secession, to independent existence as states, and that, in the era of imperialism and the unfolding proletarian revolution, “the victory of the working class in the developed countries and the liberation of the oppressed peoples from the yoke of imperialism are impossible without the formation and consolidation of a common revolutionary front.” (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, p. 79)
Without sharp national and class struggle in conformity with the Leninist theory of revolution, liberation of an oppressed people from the yoke of imperialism in our time is impossible. This has been all the more true when the particular oppressed nation, such as South Africa (Azania) is suffering under the iron heel of an occupying settler regime, backed by U.S.-led imperialism.
Apparently forgotten, along with so much other historical experience, in the wake of imperialist-induced “Mandela worship,” was the August 16, 2012 brutal massacre at Marikana at the Lonmin platinum mine that resulted in the South African police murder of 34 striking miners and the wounding of dozens more. (see photo below) As we remarked in our solidarity message to the miners, “The African miners have created vast wealth for Lonmin Platinum PLC, the British imperialist mining company that owns the platinum mine, while mining families and Black communities continue to live in poverty — 18 years after the end of the South African apartheid regime!” (Ray O’Light Newsletter #74 (September-October 2012), “Solidarity Message to Striking Miners of South Africa,” page 21)
-Mandela’s Compromised Funeral and Memorial Service-
Indeed, it is no accident that Cyril Ramaphosa, the one-time general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and now one of South Africa’s richest men, was recently elected as Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s organization. Even more shocking – Ramaphosa was the largest local shareholder at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, and a key figure responsible for the massacre of the workers there during the August 2012 strike – and he was also responsible for organizing Nelson Mandela’s funeral!
At the funeral and later the memorial service, a number of “odd” incidents occurred, reflecting the fact that liberation of the oppressed Black majority of South Africans had not been achieved. Among these: The crowd gave a positive response to former President Thabo Mbeki who had followed Mandela and served as the second Black African leader of the government but who had been pushed out of the African National Congress leadership and then the presidency because of the frustration of the Black masses with the state of affairs in the country. At the same time, the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who had engineered the exit of Mbeki, was booed by the crowd. Yet (according to University of Johannesburg Professor Ashwin Desai) when then President Mbeki had earlier ousted Zuma as the country’s deputy President, it was none other than Mandela himself who had provided Zuma with an R 1 million dollar check! Finally, the crowd that had come to pay respects to Mandela, the “liberator” of the people from the apartheid regime, gave a warm welcome to former President F.W. De Klerk, the last president of the Apartheid Regime!
How did Mandela’s legacy become so compromised and confused?! How had the South African Revolution become so compromised and short circuited?!
-U.S. Imperialist Hegemony and its impact in Southern Africa-
In 1979, we wrote, “An explosive revolutionary situation exists in Southern Africa. In relation to both Zimbabwe and Namibia, U.S. imperialism through Andrew Young and the United Nations has attempted to maintain its economic superprofits while supervising a change from settler domestic rule to neo-colonial rule. In both Zimbabwe and Namibia, with the aid of revisionism, U.S. imperialism has a foot in the camp of revolution and in the camp of counter-revolution. The Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe has thus far foiled U.S. imperialism’s plans there. But in Namibia, SWAPO did agree to the ‘UN’ plan drawn up by 5 major Western imperialist powers led by the USA, and were politically disarmed. Then they saw the Afrikaner settler regime reject the plan.” We continued, “All this ‘diplomatic’ activity, including extensive political cooperation with U.S. imperialism by the so-called ‘frontline’ African states influenced by Chinese revisionism as well as the active use of the UN with Soviet revisionist acquiescence, reflects the fact that U.S. imperialism remains the main danger for the revolution in Southern Africa.” (“The U.S.-China Alliance and the Question of the Main Enemy,” page 12, Ray O’Light Newsletter #2, June 1979)
Less than two years later, “with Zimbabwe’s independence and Namibia’s uncertain but inexorable movement in the same direction,” Chester Crocker wrote a ground-breaking article on behalf of U.S. imperialism, entitled, “South Africa: A Strategy for Change” (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1980/81, pp. 323-351) Crocker was then Director of African Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. So important was the country of South Africa (Azania) and the region of southern Africa to the U.S. Empire that new President Ronald Reagan appointed Crocker Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs that same year. For the next eight years Crocker served as the chief U.S. imperialist political representative on all of Africa with special focus on southern Africa. [Crocker left the post in 1989, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison by the apartheid government after having served twenty-seven years in prison.]
Crocker wrote: “In deciding the course of American policy, we need to have some consensus … about basic U.S. objectives … Clearly, the fundamental goal is the emergence in South Africa of a society in which the United States can pursue its varied interests in a full and friendly relationship, without constraint, embarrassment or political damage … That goal will remain elusive in the absence of purposeful, evolutionary change toward a non-racial system. Consequently, a basic U.S. objective should be to foster and support such change, recognizing the need to minimize the damage to our interests in the process, but also recognizing that American interests will suffer inevitably if such change fails to occur. (My emphasis, ROL)
Crocker and U.S. imperialism were mainly concerned with peaceful (or at least orderly) transition from white minority rule to a shared power arrangement in which western and especially U.S. imperialism would retain economic control of the rich resources and labor power of South Africa. Crocker recognized (as did we) that the Afrikaner apartheid regime had sabotaged the treaty that would have disarmed SWAPO in Namibia. Moreover, such political sabotage by the Afrikaner regime meant that U.S. imperialism and the South African settler regime could not disarm “the frontline states” by taking advantage of the influence over them of the revisionists in state power in Russia and China and thereby make it impossible for the ANC armed forces and their allies to have access to the South African border.
-Contradictions in the South African Apartheid System-
In his 1981 Foreign Affairs article, Chester Crocker wrote: “The Afrikaner nationalist experience is unique: … Despite their 325 years in Africa, this nationalism is barely 100 years old, tracing its origins to the creation of the two Boer Republics ultimately defeated by Britain in the bloody conflict of 1899-1902. After South Africa’s independence in 1910 … the goal became the ethnic mobilization of Afrikanerdom to take over the country’s political institutions as the best route to advancing group interests. This strategy was victorious in 1948.” The result, by the end of the 1970’s, according to Crocker, was that “twenty-five to thirty percent of the private sector was in Afrikaner hands, as well as 90 percent of the top jobs in the public sector.” (My emphasis)
But with the big mines and private corporations still largely in British and western imperialist hands, Crocker raised that, “Business leaders … are the only logical white lobby for addressing the ‘skills gap’ estimated to reach over 700,000 skilled workers and 180,000 professional and technical personnel by 1990 …” And he pointed to “a sustained drive against the inequities of the apartheid education system” as “the only real solution.” As long as the entrenched Afrikaner apartheid system retained a stranglehold on political power in the country this important contradiction could not be resolved in favor of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
Crocker observed: “The American stance must be firmly supportive of a regional climate conducive to compromise and accommodation in the face of concerted attempts to discredit evolutionary change … “Provided the Western nations know how to capitalize on it, there is at present a window of opportunity to create such a climate in southern Africa. Most of the region’s governments are in pragmatic hands. With increased investor confidence and a readiness to build on the substantial interstate linkages already in place, this heartland of non-fuel minerals could surpass its already impressive 45 percent share of the gross domestic product of all of sub-Saharan Africa.” (ibid. page 345, my emphasis)
Crocker also pointed out that “the advent of African governments in Angola, Mozambique and now Zimbabwe — following upon guerilla struggles – unquestionably has had the effect of raising [South African] black hopes and expectations.” This led to the powerful urban uprisings of 1976. Having just withstood the powerful Soweto-centered uprisings, the Afrikaner government led by hard-line settler John Vorster resigned in 1978 and was replaced by P.W. Botha. Botha and his colleagues were “the first Afrikaner nationalists to articulate the view that the military’s purpose is to buy time for political solutions that would expand domestic support and permit expanded black military recruitment.” Furthermore, Botha’s new Afrikaner regime centralized power and made minimal “power sharing” gestures to the four million Coloreds and Asians.
Nevertheless, the Botha Regime itself made a separate and insulting overture toward the Black majority that sparked a new period of intense liberation struggle among the South African majority population. And it was met by the fiercest political-military repression of the Botha Regime. Crocker pointed to this 1985-87 period as the height of African resistance. He said, “Pretoria triggered a wave of black anger that led not only to three years of urban unrest in which thousands died, but also to the creation of the most effective grass-roots organizational drives in South African history. The United Democratic Front (UDF) … placed the Botha government on the strategic defensive …” This also resulted in the ANC replacing the openly collaborationist Chief Buthulezi as its leader and a more militant ANC leadership was also recognized by the settler and imperialist forces. For the U.S. imperialists and the Afrikaner regime (as well as the ANC) were afraid that the Black masses would end up with the UDF and/or other political organizations outside the control of the revisionists and therefore out of the control of U.S. imperialism.
This crisis situation frustrated and scared Crocker. More importantly, it led a number of U.S. imperialist corporations and banks to abandon South Africa. In a final act prior to the end of Crocker’s stint as Assistant Secretary of State, the U.S. government refused to refinance the South African debt, the last act of destabilization. It was Botha’s downfall. And his replacement, de Klerk, was thus “convinced” to negotiate with the ANC.
But already, as part of the protracted negotiations process, Botha, the head of the apartheid state, had met face to face with Nelson Mandela, his prisoner. And, prior to that, U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz (Crocker’s boss) had held an unprecedented face to face meeting with Oliver Tambo, the ANC leader in exile.
At the end of his eight years as Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Crocker returned to Georgetown University from which he penned a follow-up Foreign Affairs article, entitled, “Southern Africa: Eight Years Later.” (Fall 1989 issue). Crocker could not suppress his feeling of triumph: “As a result of our efforts, a new regional order is emerging in southern Africa … and there is growing talk on all sides of a new era of negotiations … In the name of ‘new thinking,’ the Soviet leadership has adopted the functional equivalent of Western policy toward this most troubled and perplexing region.” (p. 147) And again, “The strategy of engagement in southern Africa problem-solving — with all its risks — worked better than I had imagined it could.” (p. 148) “The U.S.-mediated regional settlement, reached after years of negotiation, [the December 1988 regional settlement in southwestern Africa] involves a “sweeping series of reciprocal commitments … in which the signatories [Angola, Cuba and South Africa] have established an innovative Joint Commission with the United States and Soviet Union as observers. The Joint Commission reflects another new regional reality: the Soviets have … adopted major tenets of U.S. policy and explicitly endorsed a regional settlement designed in Washington over eight years ago. With our full support(!), they have instituted their own form of diplomatic engagement in southern Africa.” (pp.148 and149, my emphasis)
The Namibia-Angola settlement of December 1988 resulted in the ANC no longer having guerilla bases within reach of South Africa’s borders as all South Africa’s neighbors (the “frontline states”) committed themselves to prevent the launching of guerilla actions from their territories. Crocker pointed out that, “With both East and West now calling for negotiation, and African leaders starting to exploit the openings for diplomacy, a ripple effect of pressures to redefine positions is being felt across the South African political spectrum. This explains the current scramble for position as the government, the ANC, the United Democratic Front, black trade unions and the Zulu-based Inkatha movement all take initiatives to demonstrate their interest in breaking the logjam.” (p.155)
The white settler regime itself was under great pressure to negotiate. “By 1988 a political stalemate had emerged. Growing numbers of South Africans of all races recognized that an ominous economic decline lay down the road. The long brewing loss of confidence by market forces—locally and externally—was followed by politically motivated Western sanctions. South Africa, once the obvious centerpiece of hopes for broader regional development, now featured a collapsed currency, sustained capital export and private capital flight, no fresh money from abroad, reduced access to imported technology, growing black unemployment, higher inflation and interest rates, and declining white living standards.” (page 158) At the same time, Mandela and the ANC felt the pressure to compete with the other Black organizations to be selected as the negotiating “partner” of the Afrikaner regime.
The stage was set for the white supremacist apartheid regime to release Nelson Mandela from prison and to lay the basis for his orderly accession to become the chief of the South African state.
-Mandela: A Man of His Times-
What provided the imperialists with this opportunity was the political journey of Mandela himself.* But Mandela’s journey was itself conditioned by the ebb and flow of the national liberation struggles throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, the deteriorating state of the international communist and workers movement and the nascent socialist camp over the past sixty years, and the capacity of the hegemonic imperialist power to function decisively in defense of the U.S. Empire.
*NOTE: [We concur with the astute and principled observations of Margaret Kimberley (of Black Agenda.com and Freedom Rider blog) that revolutionaries and anti-imperialists should admire Mandela for his early fight against apartheid and not admire him for “forgiving white people.” She correctly warns that we should not prettify his post apartheid role in the South African government and beyond.]
The young Nelson Mandela was a patriotic hero of the South African (Azanian) people. In a feature article for Time Magazine (12-23-13) on the occasion of Mandela’s death, Richard Stengel observed, “Much of Mandela’s belief system came from his youth in the Xhosa tribe and being raised by a local Thembu King after his own father died.”* Stengel recounts how Mandela lived in a grass hut, learned to be a shepherd but then “went off to boarding school” where he would get “a proper Methodist education” and acquire “worldliness and legal training.” To his credit, the young relatively privileged Mandela had a strong sense of justice: “If he, Nelson Mandela, the son of a chief, tall, handsome and educated, could be treated as subhuman, then what about the millions who had nothing like his advantages?”(Stengel)
*NOTE: [Twenty years ago, in the few key years between his release from prison and his successful campaign to be the first Black African President of modern South Africa, that is, in the course of international capital making the delicate transition from open apartheid white supremacist Afrikaner political rule to essentially “Black political rule” with Afrikaner cooperation under continued white western imperialist economic domination, Mandela chose (!) to write his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, with Stengel who was then the managing editor of Time Magazine, one of the most important mass media journals of U.S. imperialism. Was Mandela being vetted by international finance capital for the role of comprador bourgeois chief of South Africa?]
For Mandela, a “natural conservative” (Stengel), to embark on the road of revolution and then to embark on the road of armed struggle, when he could have had a privileged position among the sorely oppressed Black majority population if he had chosen the path of least resistance to apartheid, was an act of great courage and commitment to the Azanian masses. It is a tribute to both Mandela and the international communist movement of that time that, as an outstanding patriotic African nationalist, the young Mandela was drawn into this movement at the height of the Stalin-led, Soviet Union-led and Communist International-led ultimately victorious global struggle against fascism in the early 1940’s. As The Economist (12-14-13) Obituary points out, “In the 1950’s he had pictures of Lenin and Stalin on the walls of his home in the Johannesburg township of Orlando. He was influenced by Marx and made common cause with the Communist Party of South Africa … and he continued to the end to hold in deep affection such people as Joe Slovo, the chairman of the party ...” *
*NOTE: [Slovo also followed Mandela as the head of the armed wing of ANC when Mandela went to prison. It is noteworthy that Slovo became an early proponent of support for the arch revisionist and anti-Stalin bourgeois liberal Gorbachev who took the Soviet Union backwards to the doorstep of capitalism.]
The Economist continued, “Mr. Mandela insisted he was not a communist, though. He saw the ANC’s bond with the communists as a link with the only group that would treat Africans as equals.* And Mandela saw it as a natural alliance with his enemies’ enemy. He showed no desire for Soviet models, often speaking admiringly of British institutions, even to the point of calling the British Parliament, ‘the most democratic institution in the world.’ Moreover, he was consistent both in the 1950’s, when the ANC was debating its objectives, and 20 years later, when the aims of the ‘liberation movement’ were under discussion, in holding that the movement’s great statement of principles, the Freedom Charter adopted in 1956, was not a commitment to socialism but rather ‘a step toward bourgeois democracy.’”
*NOTE: [Compare to the strikingly similar observation about the CPUSA made by rich white Southern-born Junius Scales as the reason he joined the CPUSA in the mid 1940’s, i.e., it was the only political organization in the USA seriously fighting for Afro-American freedom.]
Even during his most advanced period of revolutionary activity, Mandela was clearly a petty bourgeois nationalist revolutionary not a proletarian revolutionary Marxist-Leninist. In fact, according to The Economist, at age 33 (about 1952) Mandela startled his colleagues by announcing that he looked forward to becoming South Africa’s first Black president. He was also proud “to be a member of a royal family as a descendant of Ngubengcuka, one of the Thembu kings from whom he took the traditional name, Madiba.” (ibid.) So Mandela had bourgeois individual ambitions and goals.
Stengel continues: “As a young revolutionary, he was fiery and rowdy. He originally wanted to exclude Indians and communists from the freedom struggle. He was the founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress, and was considered South Africa’s No. 1 terrorist in the 1950’s. He admired Gandhi … but regarded non-violence as a tactic, not a principle.” (ibid., P. 149)
After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Krushchev, a revisionist intriguer, was able to maneuver to become the Soviet Premier and he began his erratic efforts to try, publicly at least, to bully U.S. imperialism with empty rhetoric. At the same time, he was actually making unprincipled peace with the bulwark of world capitalism, largely by selling out the interests of the international working class and the oppressed peoples. The Soviet-led international communist movement with which Mandela and ANC were so closely linked, was being disrupted and dramatically weakened. By the time Mandela founded “Spear of the Nation” the road of armed struggle undertaken by the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP), under Khruschev’s revisionist influence, was to use armed struggle not strategically to win state power but tactically to convince the white supremacist apartheid rulers to negotiate with ANC.* This is why the main emphasis of Spear of the Nation was on destroying buildings, vehicles, etc. rather than trying to defeat enemy troops.
*NOTE: [When Russian revisionist leaders, Kosygin and Brezhnev, ousted the embarrassingly inept Khrushchev in 1964, they, nonetheless, continued his revisionist path of collaboration with imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism. Eventually, Brezhnev and his coterie gave way to the openly bourgeois liberal traitor, Gorbachev. And Gorbachev was ousted by Boris Yeltsin who, if he did not return Russia to the days of the Tsar, definitely re-introduced capitalism in the former USSR.]
Nelson Mandela was placed in prison by the apartheid regime in 1964. Twelve years later, he was still imprisoned on Robben Island when the powerful Soweto uprising took place in 1976. In that same year, Jimmy Kruger, Vorster’s Minister for Police, no doubt trying to quell the powerful new uprising, offered Mandela his “freedom” if he would renounce the struggle and settle in the Transkei. To Mandela’s credit, with all the pressures of being deprived of life as a family man for so long, he refused the deal.
Soon thereafter, members of a new generation of militant South African freedom fighters were imprisoned on Robben Island side by side with Mandela and his old ANC colleagues. And there was tension between the ANC veterans who had become used to their institutionalization and the fresh new generation of fighters. A little while later, Mandela was moved with his ANC colleagues into much better prison lodgings at Pollsmoor. But the new improved prison was outfitted with modern surveillance devices, including one-way mirrors and tape recording capabilities throughout their abode. This provided the apartheid regime and U.S. imperialism with intimate knowledge of the agreements and disagreements, the strengths and weaknesses, the loyalties and strains among the key imprisoned ANC leaders.
In fact, against the unanimous vote of his colleagues, Mandela began to meet by himself with representatives of the apartheid regime, including the head of intelligence. In this period, Mandela was provided luxurious prison accommodations at Victor Verster with his own cook and a fancy swimming pool. The facilities were so nice that, upon his release from prison, and with money seemingly no object, Mandela had a replica of his last prison lodgings built in his home village as his permanent home!
Stengel observed: “The man who went into prison in 1962 was hot-headed and easily stung. The man who walked out into the sunshine of the mall in Cape Town 27 years later was measured, even serene. It was a hard won moderation. In prison, he learned to control his anger. He had no choice. And he came to understand that if he was ever to achieve that free and nonracial South Africa of his dreams, he would have to come to terms with his oppressors. He would have to forgive them.” Stengel concludes: “Prison was the crucible that formed the Mandela we know.” (ibid., My emphasis)
Indeed, isn’t that the reason the bestial imperialist enemy and their puppets make such extensive use of imprisonment for liberation fighters — to break their will to resist? Isn’t it during the long years of imprisonment that Mandela came to “forgive the oppressors” and dream Stengel’s and U.S. imperialism’s dream? Of course, during those 27 years, the apartheid regime and their U.S. imperialist allies/sponsors had total control over Mandela’s life. They listened in and tape-recorded his conversations with his fellow ANC comrades, imprisoned with him. The surgical skill with which the apartheid regime and more especially its Anglo-American masters carried out psychological warfare against Mandela was tragically astonishing in its effectiveness and in its success!!
Meanwhile, such outstanding leaders as Steve Biko and Chris Hani were murdered by the same authorities that were meeting with and negotiating with Mandela. Time’s Richard Stengel was with Mandela in April of 1993 when he got the news that Chris Hani, then head of the South African Communist Party, had been assassinated. The murder of Hani, a younger man who was expected to follow Mandela and become the second Black head of the South African state, brought the country closest to going to war, according to Stengel.* Mandela “was preternaturally calm, and after making plans to go to Johannesburg to speak to the nation, he methodically finished eating his breakfast. To prevent that civil war, … he had to demonstrate rocklike strength to the Afrikaner leaders with whom he was negotiating but also show that he was not out for revenge. And he had to show his people that he was not compromising with the enemy. This was an incredibly delicate line to walk …” (p. 152, Time, 12-23-13)
*NOTE: [Was it a coincidence that Stengel was there with Mandela? Notice how precisely Stengel recalls Mandela’s reaction to the terrible news.]
According to Mandela himself, “Mr. de Klerk and I spoke privately and agreed that we would not let Hani’s murder derail the negotiations.” “We (ANC) adopted a strategy to deal with our own constituency … to forestall outbreaks of retaliatory violence we arranged a week-long series of mass rallies and demonstrations throughout the country. This would give the people a means of expressing their frustration without resorting to violence.” (Long Walk to Freedom)
In the course of his long life, Mandela was transformed from a courageous and committed revolutionary nationalist to a comprador bourgeois, an iconic symbol for hire. He became the key figure in the U.S. imperialist-led remarkably orderly transition of South Africa from the brutal white minority apartheid regime to the Black dominated comprador government with protective security for Afrikaner white privilege while the political economy of South Africa remained in the hands of the white western elites, with greater U.S. corporate and banking participation than ever.
-Opportunism’s Role in the Current Imperialist Drive to Make Mandela a Saint-
Lenin taught that there is a dialectical interconnection between and among the leaders, the party, the class and the masses. He also taught that without the struggle against opportunism, the struggle against imperialism is “a sham and a humbug.”
Upon Mandela’s death, in lockstep with U.S. imperialism, virtually all the reformists, opportunists, Trotskyites, “third world” NGOers, and most of the current communist organizations world-wide (afflicted as they are with narrow bourgeois nationalism) heaped praise on Mandela. This bourgeois liberalism or indifference to the impact of leadership/misleadership on the lives of the class and the masses demonstrates opportunist concern not for the working class and the oppressed masses but for the “great individual.”*
*NOTE: [This was in keeping with the approach they took to Mandela when he served as the secretary-general of the unmistakable by then politically bankrupt and reactionary non-aligned movement in 1998-1999, playing a global comprador role similar to his role in South Africa. The fact that South African opportunists were silent or liberal toward Mandela, the individual, set up the working class and oppressed peoples elsewhere for non-alignment and negotiated surrender to imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism. The fact that opportunism internationally was silent or liberal toward Mandela’s sell out of the interests of the South African (Azanian) working class and masses aided imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism, in keeping the working people of South Africa in neo-colonial enslavement.]
Of course, the U.S. petty-bourgeois radical journal, The Nation waxed eloquent about “Mandela’s Last Gift.” Douglas Foster pushed aside any serious assessment of what has been accomplished in the generation-old post apartheid society. Instead, he showers paeons of praise on the great individual. (January 6/13, 2014) And this is not surprising for a representative of the privileged petty bourgeois of U.S. imperialist society that has benefited from the continued U.S.-led imperialist domination of South Africa with help from Mandela.
Arguably the most cynical and bankrupt praise for Mandela came in the Statement by Lybon Tiyani Mabasa, president of the Socialist Party of Azania (SOP). In “On the Passing of the World’s Greatest Icon,” Mabasa constantly exposed Mandela’s betrayal of the masses. “It still boggles one’s mind to think why Mandela agreed to pay the ‘Apartheid Debt,’ the debt that was not of his people, the debt which was taken to ameliorate white living standards and to the strengthening of all security structures and apparatus, also to agree to the property clause that legislated white advantage and position and thus consolidated Black poverty and disadvantage. It is indeed difficult to understand why Mandela could have agreed to the CODESA settlement in the manner in which it turned out for Black people and the Black working class — a complete sellout settlement.”
And Mabasa is clear on what this betrayal means: “The Mandela government … refused to overtly attack white skin privilege and position which has been the norm for centuries and thereby reinforced Black disadvantage. So it is Black people, in the present dispensation, who in their millions live in tin and card-box shacks, it is Black people in their majority who are landless and homeless, who live far away from the towns and cities where they work, it is them who have no access to better health facilities and education and every conceivable disadvantage is visited upon them.”
However, instead of condemning Mandela’s treacherous leadership from the standpoint of the class and the masses, Mabasa argues (from the bourgeois individual standpoint of the “great leader”) that the fact that Mandela was able to get the Black masses to follow his leadership against their own interests proved that “Nelson Mandela stood head and shoulders above any known political leader today.” (!) This cynicism enables cowardly Mabasa to join the seemingly unanimous chorus of praise for Mandela (conducted by Obama and U.S. imperialism) helping to perpetuate the continuation of a leadership of betrayal of the South African working class and masses.
Mabasa is the senior leader of SOPA which is the South African (Azanian) affiliate of the Trotskyite Fourth International (ICR). The Organizer, the U.S. magazine produced by Fourth International (ICR) U.S. affiliate Socialist Organizer was possibly embarrassed by Mabasa’s extreme cynicism. At any rate, the Organizer chose to publish a second, more substantive and serious review of Mandela and the South African revolution by Professor Ashwan Desai of the University of Johannesburg.
Desai observes: “Rather than Mandela illuminating the path to freedom from poverty and inequality, the first years of the ANC government were marked by a series of policy U-turns.” Among other points, “…in 1999, Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel allowed big business to delist from Johannesburg and relist on the London Stock Exchange. Some of the biggest companies decamped with apartheid’s plunder: Anglo-American, DeBeers diamonds, … “Mandela gave the butcher [Suharto] the highest honour for a foreigner … and after an $850 million IMF loan in late 1993, Bretton Woods Institution dictats were slavishly followed.” Desai quotes Ronnie Kasrils, the former Intelligence Minister in the ANC government, who said that in this crucial early period, “the battle for the ANC’s soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: We were entrapped by the neoliberal economy- or, as some today cry out, we ‘sold our people down the river.’” (Quote cited by Desai from The Guardian, 6-24-13)
Desai concludes: “Today, the ANC is a very different organization to the one that existed in 1990. The composition of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), once the preserve of working class exiles and former political prisoners, is now populated by CEO’s and millionaires and billionaires.” Desai continues, “Mandela, too, was showered with a small fortune by friendly tycoons after his release from 27 years in prison in 1990, sufficient to amass a $10 million asset base in six short years …”
With all his substantial criticism, Desai, like his fellow Trotskyite, Mabasa, nevertheless shrinks from condemning Mandela’s betrayal of the working class and the masses of Azania. Says Desai, “Mandela’s bravery, mistake(s), wisdom, and retreat are what they are. He did what he thought he needed to do … His time, and all it symbolized, is over.” Like Mabasa, Desai rejects the Leninist standpoint of the working class in favor of taking the subjective standpoint of the “great bourgeois individual.” In reality, Desai knows that “Mandela-mania” is alive and well and is a current significant obstacle to the South African working class and masses winning their freedom.
Beyond the reformists and Trotskyites, most Maoists, still clinging to remnants of the bankrupt, bourgeois nationalist “Three Worlds Theory,” issued platitudes of support for Mandela’s “general” role as a liberation fighter. They failed to make a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions, as Lenin had taught, and therefore missed the fundamental arc of change from liberation fighter to comprador that Mandela’s personal journey involved. They thus failed to “combat liberalism” as Mao tse-tung himself had taught. Filled with self-satisfied sectarianism and bourgeois narrow nationalism, many of these Maoists, are only concerned about the situation in their own country, having rejected Lenin’s position that proletarian internationalism is the very foundation of our movement.
A bit more surprising is the fact that even parties which had broken with Mao and the Chinese CP in the late 1970’s and supported the more proletarian approach of Enver Hoxha and the Albanian Party of Labor at that time are today afflicted with the same kind of bourgeois nationalist preoccupation with the struggle in their own country. For example, the “Declaration of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador (PCE-ML),” a serious party, nevertheless, provides no deep concrete analysis of the concrete conditions in South Africa. Consequently, the PCE-ML has no material basis for examining the actual role that Nelson Mandela played in the 1940’s, the 1960’s, the 1990’s when he was president of South Africa, etc. And this lack of a serious analysis demonstrates a lack of real respect and concern for the South African working class and masses. Such an approach shows how riddled with narrow nationalism the international communist movement is today.
One bright spot in the pantheon of the international communist movement on the question of Nelson Mandela and his legacy in South Africa and the world has been provided by the Communist Party India, Marxist-Leninist, the CPI (ML). In their article, “Remembering Nelson Mandela” (Red Star, February 2014), the CPI (ML) comrades live up to their generally consistent proletarian internationalist outlook by presenting the dialectical truth. CPI (ML) points out: “While world attention was focused on the talks between Mandela and de Klerk, leader of the ruling National Party, the less noticed economic negotiations between the ANC and the government was a sell out by the ANC.”
The comrades cite John Pilger who observed that, “The most important ‘historic compromise’ was made not with the apartheid regime, but with the forces of Western and white South African capital, which changed their allegiance from FW de Klerk to Nelson Mandela on condition that their multinational corporations would not be obstructed … and that the ANC would drop the ‘foolish promises’ in its Freedom Charter about equity and the country’s natural resources ‘belonging to the people.’”(Cited from “The View from Dimbaza” in Hidden Agendas)
The CPI (ML) correctly concludes that, “Post apartheid South Africa is a matter of shame for Mandela and the ANC.” Yet they find positive advice from Mandela himself upon which to end their article. In 1993 (a year before he came to the Presidency), while addressing the Special Congress of COSATU (the trade union federation), Mandela, in conformity with the Leninist approach to the working class and masses, said: “You must support the African National Congress only so far as it delivers the goods, if the ANC does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime.”
CONCLUSION: We hope that this article with its attempt to take a Leninist view of Nelson Mandela and the South African Revolution encourages the honest working class reader to take up his/her revolutionary responsibilities to the masses, the class, the party and its leaders. Such responsibilities include taking the standpoint of the international working class and the oppressed masses and on that basis making whatever criticisms that are necessary of the party and its leaders, and/or other mass forces that are playing a positive or negative role in the class struggle of the international working class against international finance capital, led by U.S. monopoly capitalism and imperialism.
NOTE: FEATURED/GUEST BLOGS MAY NOT (BUT PROBABLY DO) COMPLETELY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF CINDY SHEEHAN'S SOAPBOX