Bryan Caplan  

Correction on Mandela

Henderson on Jonathan Macey... Amazon's crystal ball...
Yesterday, I wrote:
While I'm convinced that Mandela was never a Communist, his priorities were thoroughly Leninist: "The point of the uprising is the seizure of power; afterwards we will see what we can do with it."
Today, however, I've learned that multiple reputable sources, including the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress itself, recently confirmed that Mandela was indeed a Communist.  His Long Walk to Freedom was deliberately falsified to hide this truth.

To be fair, if I were a Communist, I would probably maintain that Mandela wasn't a "real" Communist.  Real Communists feign democratic credentials to gain power, then rush to take over the interior ministry and the military, ban the opposition, and impose totalitarianism.  Still, the fact remains that Mandela was not merely allied with the SACP; he was a member of its central committee.  And he lied about it, making him a bona fide crypto-Communist.

My bad.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Brian writes:

All around the world, the end of communist credibility created the possibility of freedom.

In Eastern Europe, as soon as the Soviets were obviously not going to do another Budapest '56 or Prague '68, the armies and governments of Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania put a stop to communism and adopted freedom and democracy. Nicaragua, Vietnam, and places all around the Earth reformed themselves and freed their people.

Nations terrified of communism set up strongman dictatorships to fight the much worse consequences of Soviet (and Red China) funded revolution. When the Soviets stopped supplying money, guns, training, and intelligence, right wing dictatorships fell in droves in Latin America. Some fell in Africa, too, and South Africa's apartheid regime was one of them.

Mandela may or may not have needed Soviet support at some time, but it was the end of Soviet support that made his achievements possible. He deserves great credit for abandoning Soviet methods and creating a prosperous democracy that included his former enemies instead of killing them and smashing the nation for the pleasure of personal power, communist style.

Pajser writes:

I am communist. There are many kinds of us. The sentence "Real Communists feign democratic credentials to gain power, then rush to take over the interior ministry and the military, ban the opposition, and impose totalitarianism." describes Leninists. I think they are not "real communists."

Well you certainly didn't get that idea from The Communist Manifesto, did you.

RPLong writes:

It's safe to say that the "No true communist" fallacy is as prevalent as ever.

The usual procedure adopted by the critic is to imagine how wonderful everything would be if only he had his own way. In his dreams he eliminates every will opposed to his own by raising himself, or someone whose will coincides exactly with his, to the position of absolute master of the world. Everyone who preaches the right of the stronger considers himself as the stronger. He who espouses the institution of slavery never stops to reflect that he himself could be a slave. He who demands restrictions on the liberty of conscience demands it in regard to others, and not for himself. He who advocates an oligarchic form of government always includes himself in the oligarchy, and he who goes into ecstasies at the thought of enlightened despotism or dictatorship is immodest enough to allot to himself, in his daydreams, the role of the enlightened despot or dictator, or, at least, to expect that he himself will become the despot over the despot or the dictator over the dictator. Just as no one desires to see himself in the position of the weaker, of the oppressed, of the overpowered, of the negatively privileged, of the subject without rights; so, under socialism, no one desires himself otherwise than in the role of the general director or the mentor of the general director. In the dream and wish fantasies of socialism there is no other life that would be worth living.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Socialism

Shane L writes:

Very often movements with local interests attempted to identify themselves with wider ideological movements in order to attract support from abroad. In Northern Ireland some Irish nationalist groups adopted far-left rhetoric and identified themselves with Palestine, for example. Here is a mural on a Belfast wall connecting Irish nationalism with Palestine:

By contrast some British Unionist groups identified with the right and with Israel.

While I guess these connections can become meaningful I think it's best not to take them too seriously. The various incarnations of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) sought help from the German Empire, the USSR, Nazi Germany, the Irish-American diaspora, Gaddafi's Libya, the PLO and ETA. Above all it seems they were opportunists who placed their local nationalist above any international allegiance. When IRA travelled to the Soviet Union in the 1920s, hoping to get weapons to fight Britain and the young Irish Free State, they were famously asked by one Russian communist how many bishops they had killed so far. They, all nationalists and many Catholic and not especially interested in secular communist revolution, said "none", provoking the communist to dismiss them as not being serious revolutionaries at all!

Thus it's hardly surprising that the ANC would gravitate towards communism, at least in name, since it would increase the chances of them getting support from international communists in their local struggle. This did happen, as this interesting article in The National Interest pointed out, with the defeat of South Africa by Cuba in Angola:

Mandela said that the Cuban victory "destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor ... [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa ... Cuito Cuanavale was the turning point for the liberation of our continent—and of my people—from the scourge of apartheid."

Chris H writes:

The Spectator article has an interesting link that really reinforces your take that's Mandela's shift towards violence was unjustified Bryan. On page 302 of the first draft of The Long Walk to Freedom Mandela pretty much admits that the move to violence predates the really harsh oppression of apartheid:

In comparison with the wave of detentions since 1963 that in 1960 was like a picnic. To the best of my knowledge and belief no individuals were then isolated, forced to give information, beaten up, tortured, crippled and killed as has been happening since 1963. Speaking comparatively the Security Police still had a number of men who carried out thier duties according to the law and who resisted the temptation of abusing their powers. Apart from keeping us in confinement, withholding newspapers so as to prevent us from knowing what was happening outside, the atmosphere was generally free of the brutalities and acute tensions that characterise the subsequent detentions.

Note the bombing campaign started in late 1961. Combine this with Mandela beginning to consider violence in 1953 years before the Sharpeville Massacre and we get the portrait of a man who in his younger years was way too eager to start fighting.

I commend Mandela from turning away from that later, and not going Leninist when he had power. Indeed in some ways this only makes his later turn even more impressive and unexpected. But it's also a good corrective to the potential of viewing Mandela through the halo effect.

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