Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Cosmopolitan World of a South African Communist & ANC Activist in 1960s London

Apologies to anyone who might have noticed I haven’t posted anything since the start of the new year. One reason follows, but first I want to note that the subject of this post was not in any way “religious,” at least by most definitions of what makes for “religion.” And yet I think the course of his life during the struggle against apartheid exemplifies something like—if not identical to—the “Marxist spirituality” I attributed to C.L.R. James in a post last year. 

Inspired by Alan Wieder’s wonderful volume on Ruth First and Joe Slovo (Monthly Review Press, 2013), I’m doing research related to the strategic use of non-violence and violence in the anti-apartheid struggle and the remarkable role of the South African Communist Party in that struggle (its membership strongly overlapped with the ANC). I thought I’d share this delightful snippet from Padraig O’Malley’s Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa (Penguin Books, 2008).
The brilliant anti-apartheid activist, Sathyandranath Ragunanan “Mac” Maharaj,* speaks about his time in London in the early 1960s (‘a very cosmopolitan environment’), a period when he was attending the London School of Economics and an active member of the British Communist Party (BCP): 
“In the International Affairs Committee of the party and the Africa Committee, I met and worked with people such as Jack Woddis, Idris Cox, and, the chairman of the International Committee, Palme Dutt. I met Maurice Cornforth, the philosopher; Maurice Dobb, the political economist; John Lewis, the philosopher, and J.D. Bernal, the world’s leading marine biologist. These guys were running classes at the Marx Memorial Library, and I studied Marxism under them.
I was active in the Movement for Colonial Freedom under Fenner Brockway. He came from the Independent Labour Party and was in the House of Commons. I met face to face with people whose books I had read, like the historian Eric Hobsbawm. I got involved in organizing the Paul Robeson transatlantic concert that was played over the telephone after Robeson’s passport had been taken away by the American authorities. Later I was involved in organizing his concert in London and supporting his trip to the Soviet Union.” !!! (in lieu of yet more superlatives) 
* In the words of Padraig O’Malley, “His life is an expression of the struggle against apartheid and institutionalized oppression, of the triumph of endurance in the face of almost insurmountable odds, of absolute conviction in a cause that became his raison d’être and consumed him to the exclusion of all other considerations and led him repeatedly to put his life at risk.” Nelson Mandela wrote the foreword to O’Malley’s book.


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