Thursday, February 8, 2024

cell913blog. #23

 Early on in the campaign to eliminate apartheid from South Africa, Mandela struggled over his relationship to communism, especially given that several members of the ANC (African National Congress) were affiliated with the communist party and were dedicated to and prepared to sacrifice for the cause for which the ANC had been created.

He describes his explorative narrative into his own prejudice:

(In 1950) ‘I was far more certain in those days of what I was against than what I was for. My long-standing opposition to communism was breaking down. Moises Kotane, the general secretary of the party and a member of the executive of the ANS, often came to my house late at night and we would debate until morning. Clear-thinking and self-taught, Kotane was the son of peasant farmers in the Transvaal. ‘Nelson,’ he would say, ‘what do you have against us? We are all fighting the same enemy. We do not seek to dominate the ANC; we are working within the context5 of African nationalism,’ In the end, I had no good response to his arguments.

Because of my friendships with Kotane, Ismail Meer, and Ruth First, and my observation of their own sacrifices, I was finding it more and more difficult to justify prejudice against the party. Within the ANC. Party members J.S. marks, Edwin Mofutsanyana, Don Tloome, and David Bopape, among others, were devoted and hardworking, and left nothing to gainsay as freedom fighters. Dr. Dadoo, one of the leaders of the 1946 resistance, was a well-known Marxist whose role as a fighter for human rights had made him a hero to all groups. I could not, and no longer did, question the bona fides of such men and women.

If I could not challenge their dedication, I could still question the philosophical and practical underpinnings of Marxism. But I had no knowledge ot Marxism, and in political discussions with my Communist, I found myself handicapped by my ignorance of Marxist philosophy. I decided to remedy this.

I acquired the complete works of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin Mao Tse-tung, and others and probed into the philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism. I had little time to study these works properly. While I was stimulated by the Communist Manifesto, I was exhausted by Das Kapital. But I found myself strongly drawn to the idea of a classless society, which, to my mind, was similar to traditional African culture where life was shared and communal. I subscribed to Marx’s dictum, which has the simplicity and generosity the Golden Rule: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’

Dialectical materialism seemed to offer both a searchlight illuminating the dark night of racial oppression and a tool that could be used to end it. It helped me to see the situation other than through the prism of black and white relations. I was attracted to the scientific underpinnings of dialectical materialism, for I am always inclined to trust what I can verify. Its materialist analysis of economics rang true to me. The idea of the value of goods was based on the amount of labor that went into them seemed particularly appropriate for South Africa. The ruling class paid African labor a subsistence wage and then added value to the cost of the goods, which they retained for themselves.

Marxism’s call to revolutionary action was music to the ears of a freedom fighter. The idea that history progresses through struggle and change occurs in revolutionary jumps was similarly appealing. In my reading of Marxist works, I found a great deal of information that bore on the type of problems that face a practical politician. Marxists gave serious attention to national liberation movements and the Soviet Union in particular supported the national struggles of many colonial peoples. This was another reason why I amended my view of Communists and accepted the ANC position of welcoming Marxists into its ranks. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pps. 119, 120, 121)

Pragmatism is only part of the motive to challenge his prejudice. Curiosity, responsibility, full acknowledgement of his own lack of understanding and a commitment to address such a deficit, as well as the obvious need to reconcile himself with the ‘on-the-ground’ need for all the support for the liberation of his people the ANC could find and deploy, seem to weave a pattern of personal responsibility, not merely to the cause and to the ANC organization and its principles, but also to his own need to ‘learn’ and to ‘understand’ and to accept both responsibility for that need and to take action to address it. He acted similarly, while on Robben Island, in not only advocating for fellow prisoners in their disputes with the prison wardens, but in also enrolling and in completing his studies in Law from the University of London.

From the website, we read:

When Nelson came of age, he enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare on studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree, but was expelled for participating in a student protest before he could complete his degree. Nelson relocated to Johannesburg, and completed his BA through the University of South Africa, after which he went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943. After taking his articles of clerkship with a firm of attorneys-Witkin, Eidelman and Sidelshy-Nelson too up studies at the University8 of Witwatersrand. Growing tired of Witwatersrand, he took his qualifying examination so that he could being to practice law. He resumed his LLB studies with the University of London during his imprisonment in 1962….His dedication to education is truly astonishing, when one considers that he was undergoing long, gruelling hours of manual labour each day. Fellow prisoners recall that, when Nelson had free time, he wrote his autobiography in secret. Although the manuscript was discreetly smuggled to London, wardens found several stray pages and banned Nelson from his law education for four years.

Continuous life-long learning, continuous life-long commitment to what he calls the ‘struggle of my life’ and the patience and endurance to confront his own and his nation’s blindness, ignorance, and the poverty of response that such blindness wreaked, this man so far outstrips many of those in the political arena/theatre, that in addition to the chaos and turbulence we all witness each day, we are also deeply aware of the dearth of character in those who are charged with responsibility for public affairs.

·        Wars based on lies and deception, without any moral, ethical, political or even historic justification for their eruption!

·        Mass media, traditionally charged with public information competes with the social media machine that far outstrips the traditional media outlets in both audience penetration and manipulation of the audience!

·        Political leadership that has fallen prey to the seductive and both ‘life-and political-life-threatening’ hostage taking of men like for former president of the United States….

·        Public institutions, like the United Nations, their many ‘advisory’ institutions, all of them withering under the weight of either vetoes or funding denials, or worse, the collapsed reputation of UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) some of whose workers have been shown to have participated in the October 7th invasion of Israel),

·        The Republican Party’s complicity in the Putin war against the Ukraine, by failing/refusing/resisting/denying American aid to the struggling Ukrainians who have withstood the Russian onslaught for two years, while also holding the southern border of the U.S. hostage to the presidential election of November 2024….

These are only a few of the more obvious challenges we all face, and underlying the moment is a warranted, profound and seemingly unrelenting malaise of confidence, hope and release from the darkness we are living in.

Of course, in specifics, and in terms of lifestyle, our burden fades in comparison with the burden of black Africans under apartheid.

So to does our burden fade when compared with the burdens of indigenous Canadians and Americans who still struggle for equality and equity.*

Currently, the force of the conservative, autocratic, right-leaning, isolationist, nationalist, racist, homophobic, “pro-life,” anti-woke, immigrant-and-refugee-rejecting, anti-intellectual, human-rights-denying energies are seemingly blowing hurricane winds across much of the political landscape. Their names, offices, nationalities, languages, geographies and public polling numbers vary; their obvious capacity to form a force-field of impact, both aggressively and passively-aggressively, has and continues to undermine the very institutional framework under which the global political structure has attempted to operate for more than a half-century.

Models of Masculinity, too, are legitimately under fire, for the very reasons that most men dominate, orchestrate, arm, and propagandize the current tornado of repression, oppression, denial of global warming and climate change. These mostly men also have deep and nefarious connections with deep reservoirs of capital, most of it coming from those determined to preserve their ‘privilege’ and top-of-totem status in a political and social hierarchy that literally and metaphorically worships at the altar of the golden calf.

Capitalism, nationalism, parochialism, racism, sexism, isolationism and intransigent absolute certainty in the self-righteousness of their positions seem to converge in a confluence of influences, often aided and abetted by religious zealots who themselves, have a unique fire in their belly, that seems resistant to any kind of retardant.

What would Nelson Mandela, and his colleagues in the ANC, and those around the world who supported their cause, including the imposition of sanctions on the government of South Africa, do in the face of the current furnace of multiple literal and metaphoric fires, before they become consuming lava over which we have no control?

Some preliminary responses to that question come relatively forthrightly. Study all of the many forces pressing in on our current shared malaise. Depersonalize the issues without failing to acknowledge that dangerous men must be reined in by institutional levers on whose arms many hands pull. Apartheid is one form of specific tyranny. Clearly the world faces a multi-headed monster of tyrannies and the previously small-l liberal institutional traditions of moderation, trust and verify, test and regulate, investigate and prosecute are all now showing the cracks of not only erosion, but actual collapse.
A kind of dialogue of the deaf is occurring in a fire-storm of verbiage and as we watch, listen, cogitate, ruminate and reflect, we are like the sacrificial animals in the Roman amphitheatres, being used as pawns in an epic game of ‘chicken’ over which we seem to have little to no influence or impact.

Are there others, from all nations, all languages, all faith communities, and all ethnicities and genders, social and intellectual classes, business and non-profits….educators and investors, communicators and inventors…whose vision embraces the darkness and sees through and beyond to a different, and perhaps even more democratic, and collaborative and selfless, following in the mind and spirit of Mandela?

One can only hope, pray and keep on tapping these keys!


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