Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Toward recognition and appreciation of laudatory incarnations of communism

Roots of participatory democracy  Ruth First and Joe Slovo  Democracy at work

The following snippet is from Nelson Mandela’s speech (three hours long!) in the defendant’s dock at the Rivonia Trial on 20 April 1964: 

After reminding those present at the trial that “there has often been close cooperation between the ANC [African National Congress] and the Communist party [SACP],” Mandela points out that “African Communists could, and did, become members of the ANC, and some served on the national, provincial and local committees.” This should surprise no one, after all, “for many decades Communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as equals; who were prepared to eat with us, talk with us, live with us, and work with us. They were the only political group which was prepared to work with Africans for the attainment of political rights and a stake in society. [….] In the international field, Communist countries have always come to our aid. In the United Nations and other councils of the world the Communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems to be more sympathetic to our plight than some of the Western powers. Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the Communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the white world.”
[As for whether or not Mandela himself was ever a member of the South African Communist Party/SACP (formerly the Communist Party of South Africa/CPSA), I believe he was, at least for a time. On this hotly debated question, see the brief article by Tom Lodge at openDemocracy.]

Maloka 1  Maloka 2African communist 6

The history of the twentieth-century taught us, there is Communism, and there is communism (or ‘socialism,’ without entering here into the possible distinctions): the former exemplified by the Party-State Communism of the former Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), which became systematically and ruthlessly brutal under Stalin, eventually more or less extending its power over Eastern and parts of Central Europe (e.g., Albania, Poland, Eastern Germany, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria); the People’s Republic of China (where it became known as Maoism); and North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). I’m not interested in rehearsing these countries’ specific failures and accomplishments with respect to meeting basic needs, industrialization, quality of life, human rights, democracy, and so forth, or their putative proximity to or distance from this or that kind of Marxism or Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, what have you (i.e., their fidelity to or deviation from orthodoxy). In addition, there has been quite a few communist guerrilla movements, organizations, political parties (some of them coming into power at the local level or with party representation in ruling governments or coalitions), and individuals, some even with democratic and/or Liberal sensibilities or moments, as it were, especially those that have chosen to participate in democratically elected government or wider national liberation and freedom struggles.

Comrades against apartheid  Kasrils  Bram Fischer 2

In short, let’s just say there are some expressions or incarnations of communism that we might find both politically and morally endurable if not laudatory, forms we can both live and die with in self-respect and dignity (as avowed communists or sympathetic or solidaristic observers). These forms are “humanistic” and humane. You may prefer to view them as exceptions to the rule and I think that is correct, but they are no less notable and hopeful exceptions for all that. Owing in part to the limitations of my own research and knowledge, I want to mention just two such incarnations (thus there are others, including throughout U.S. history) for now: the history of communism in the Indian state of Kerala and the South African struggle against apartheid. I hope at some point in the not too distant future to introduce these provocative examples, beginning with the former case first. For now, I leave you with the titles pictured above and below.

Forman Lionel   Memory against forgetting  Turok 

As we are in the middle of Black History Month, I’d like to end by noting the many contributions of African Americans and Blacks generally to morally ennobling, courageous, and laudatory forms of socialism and communism as evidenced in the following compilations:


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