Bryan Caplan  

Mandela and the Communists

Big Business and Regulatory Do... The Socialist Calculation Deba...
I'm finding Invictus surprisingly watchable despite its over-the-top depiction of Nelson Mandela as a living saint.  Given my contrarian ways, the movie inspired to search out the inevitably more sordid truth.  The most damning fact on Mandela's public record, in my view, is his long-time fraternization with Communists.  The most striking defense of his approach, though, admittedly impressed me.  From Mandela's autobiography:
There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?
Where does the truth lie?  If Mandela had gained power before the Soviet collapse, would the world have seen a far uglier scenario?  Please show your work.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (12 to date)
Hyena writes:

Likely not.

Egypt, India, Pakistan, Finland and Iraq all had close ties to communist powers. None of these ended up Sovietized in an important way. The same is true of the other African countries with close Soviet ties, all you see is ideology covering for the same incompetence, genocide and kleptocracy endemic to Africa during the post-colonial period.

All save Finland were (are) third world hellholes, to be sure, but not specially so. The gulf between "communist ties" and "communist system" is as wide as between "American ties" and "American system".

Doc Merlin writes:

Hyena, I disagree about Iraq. The Baathist party was fairly Stalinist.

david writes:

Iraq never fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, though, despite considerable Soviet backing (conversely, Iran never fell into the US sphere of influence despite considerable US backing).

Note the histories of Singapore and Indonesia, too, both of which had nearly majority communist governments at independence. Outside the first world, you don't have the luxury of shrugging and waiting until the next election to try again - there might be no next election. Mandela didn't even get a first election.

Blackadder writes:

One parallel would be to Zimbabwe, where the switchover happened in 1980.

Kurbla writes:

It looks like excuse for actual suffering of South Africa under centuries long, horrible capitalist racist and (slave-owner) regimes. "Yes, these regimes were horrible, but it could be far uglier if Communists had won?!"

If we speculate, yes, I can really imagine horrible Communist scenario as one of the possibility - but there is little reason to claim that it is worse than the worst possible capitalist scenario. The ugliest African scenario in modern times happened in Rwanda, which was the capitalist country.

Brian Clendinen writes:

He could of become a Mugabie I mean Mandela believed HIV did not cause AIDS and was a western lie. He became crazy in his old age.

Mugabie was thought the savior of his country and Zimbabwe prospered for years. It was perhaps the best country in eastern Africa. Then he changed and become a tyrant and destroyed his country that is even bad from a African slandered.

Actually some people think it is his Wife and General who become the Tyrant and he has been a puppet figure for a while. I just don't buy it considering how he behaved in public.

Overall I think Mandela was more your traditional pacifist socialist. It would of been the people who came to power with him who would of been the destructive force in a pre-soviet South Africa.

Fundman writes:

Brian Clendinen, you are confusing Mandela for Mbeki. Mandela has never been publicly quoted (as far as I can tell) as denying AIDS-HIV link. Bryan, seriously? The guy left power after one term - ONE TERM. And you don't have to like his politics, but he spent time in jail for violating laws that run contrary to every aspect of the free society. Sorry he didn't read Rothbard and decide to impose an anarcho-capitalist state, but their economic policies have been pretty pro-market compared to their neighbors. I'm just saying.......

Robert writes:

During the period when South Africa was under apartheid rule and the Soviet Union was under Communist rule, I always said I'd rather have been a black in South Africa than anyone in the USSR.

Why? Because black in South Africa at least had the right to leave.

Hyena writes:


Seriously? Iraq was Stalinist? You mean it was motivated by a core ideology which prevented people from admitting just how dark things were?

No; you mean that it was run by a paranoid, self-aggrandizing despot. Stop curb-stomping the language.

Tracy W writes:

It looks like excuse for actual suffering of South Africa under centuries long, horrible capitalist racist and (slave-owner) regimes.

Really, how? The only thing Bryan looks at all like he's excusing is Mandela for working with the communists.

The ugliest African scenario in modern times happened in Rwanda, which was the capitalist country.

Kurbla, why are you saying that Rwanda was capitalist? I don't have any figures for Rwanda's level of capitalism in 1994, but according to the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, Rwanda was second to last out of the surveyed African countries in terms of economic freedom, at 38.3, compared with South Africa at 63.2. Now 1997 is not 1994, but those surveys change relatively slowly, it sounds to me like Rwanda was a non-capitalist country when it had its genocide.

Arijit Banik writes:

Thankyou Fundman for being the voice of reason.

Helgard writes:


(Apologies for the long post but as a South African I find some of the comments interesting)

Mandela himself claims he doesn't like the idolization he receives in the mainstream media.

He is basically a living saint inside and outside of South Africa. He is still very popular across the board - especially amongst white South Africans. Due to the whole rainbow nation narrative portrayed in Invictus.

I am sure his Foundation doesn't mind, since almost anyone of note that travels to SA pays a visit to Mandela. Of course that also goes to the ANC.

Check out his latest memoirs if interested:

If you speak to ANC insiders they will paint you a different picture. ANC politics in exile was tough and even after 1994 there were still many divisions.

The ANC used violence in townships to establish its political hegemony during 1990-1994. It was blamed on a mysterious 3rd force of the police. Most believe it is a mixture of the two (rogue old regime elements but mostly black-black violence instigated by the ANC). Mandela had to know of this...

I think the Communist issue is a mere academic debate now. There was no way the National Party was going to turn power over to the ANC before 1990.

Secondly, the ANC was a pretty pathetic liberation movement military speaking and no match for the Apartheid military. Hence the negotiated settlement.

Historically, the South African Communist Party was highly influential with the ANC in exile. Mandela, Mbeki and other ANC heavy weights were or are still members of the party (current SG of party). They are officially part of the ruling alliance and have Cabinet positions(trade & industry, education).

Central to ANC thinking is the National Democratic Revolution which is referenced in all mayor ANC policy discussions. It frequently gets mentioned in political debates in SA - be it nationalization of mines, transformation of judiciary, creation of a developmental state...

But, in short it is mostly used as cover for the party elites to further their interests and justify state led transformation of all spheres of society.


I think even if somehow the ANC gained power 30 years ago it would have used the idealogical veneer, but it would have fundamentally ended up like other African liberation movements.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top