Thursday, September 15, 2011

Zionism/Apartheid/Stalinism/Trotskyism: going off on a tangent

Jessica Goldfinch writes at Greens Engage on what Greens might or might not want to affiliate to. This is interesting on the echoes of the anti-apartheid movement in the “Palestinian solidarity” movement.

For the record, I can’t remember any anti-white racism in my Anti-Apartheid branch, but agree about the brushing under the carpet of some of problems within the resistance in South Africa. More importantly, my branch was unusual in that there was internal dissent. There was a significant Trotskyist group, mostly affiliated to either the sensible (“Slaughterite”) faction of the Workers Revolutionary Party* or to Labour Briefing (with close links to South African Trots), who fought against the Stalinist leadership of AA and its slavish following of every ANC line.

In particular, the Trots drew attention to ANC murders of internal dissidents, many carried out by or on the orders of the Stalinist Chris Hani, who later became something of an ANC martyr when he was in turn murdered by far right white racists. Those in solidarity with the dissidents were treated as pariahs within the mainstream anti-apartheid movement, and denounced as agents of imperialism. (Worth adding that the denouncing was often led by Jewish South African exiles.)

My early exposure to this apartheid-era anti-ANC dissent inoculated me against the illusions many leftists would have in post-apartheid “black rule”. I think of this often now, as I watch the ANC repression of grassroots social justice activism (such as Abahlali baseMjondolo), its support for Mugabe’s dictatorial regime, the corruption and authoritarianism of the party leadership, and the racist demagoguery of the party left.

I was prompted by Jessica’s post to do a little googling around Searchlight South Africa, the group around Baruch Hirson and Paul Trewhela, South African exiles who had served time in apartheid prisons for their resistance to the racist regime who then fought to get the British left to recognise the totalitarian nature of the ANC leadership and its brutal treatment of dissenters. Few listened during the apartheid years, when most of the left wanted to see things in black and white (if that’s the right term to use!), and few listened during the presidency of Saint Mandela, but their warnings seem very relevant now. Here are some readings: the story of Searchlight South Africa; the table of contents; Inside Quadro, Trewhela’s expose of the ANC’s Stalinist repression; Trewhela on Mbeki and AIDS; Trewhela at Libcom; Hirson at MIA; Various documents on the Stalinism of the ANC (including “Inside Quadro”, mistakenly attributed to Hirson); Trewhela on John Pilger’s belated discovey of the ANC’s dark side; on the exile history of the ANCPanduleni: A comrade they could neither destroy nor buy.

In the 1980s, it was an article of faith across much of the left that apartheid defined the essential evil in the world, and that the ANC defined the essential good. More complex, critical, reflective thinking was almost impossible in this time. Those who raised questions about the ANC, such as the South African Trotskyists, were denounced as traitors and witch-hunted out of the mainstream left. It was right to resist the Stalinist groupthink then, and it is right to resist it now.

Previous: The indestructible beats of Soweto; Mbeki and Mugabe; RCP v WRP;

*Some day I will post my own recollections of this group of Trots. For now, Marko Hoare on the Slaughterite ("Workers Press") faction of the WRP.

The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built theWorkers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.

That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ‘embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left. 


JM said...

Mandela also embraced capitalism:

Jessica Goldfinch said...

Thanks for finding links and extra information, something I could not manage - my writing tends to be a bit colloquial. It seems I should have been a member of your AAM branch!

The Contentious Centrist said...

Did you mean "tangent"?

("tanget: third-person singular future active indicative of tangō")

Andrew Coates said...

This post is extemely interesting.

I knew exiled ANC members when I was a 'pioneer' in the Woodcraft Folk. Most were white, though some were what used to be called 'Cape Coloured'. They were members of, or close to, the South African Communist Party. Some later turned out to be quite important, so I will not name them.

WE participated in demos and, as you say BOb, the general impression given was the South Africa was the worst regime in the world - a standpoint I was sceptical of even at the age of 14/15.

I found them extremely authoritarian (this is putting it mildly) and was ever after very wary of the Anti-Apartheid movement. This extended to not having more than fleeting contact with it.

It's heartening to hear that there were South Africans who stood up against ANC abuses as strongly as they fought apartheid.

Benjamin said...

A fascinating post on the ANC; I was personally brought up to believe that anyone fighting against such evils as apartheid deserved unconditional support. Thankfully, I've matured since then.

Thank you for the post.

bob said...

Re CC:

In geometry, the tangent line (or simply the tangent) to a curve at a given point is the straight line that "just touches" the curve at that point (in the sense explained more precisely below). As it passes through the point where the tangent line and the curve meet, or the point of tangency, the tangent line is "going in the same direction" as the curve, and in this sense it is the best straight-line approximation to the curve at that point. The same definition applies to space curves and curves in n-dimensional Euclidean space.

But I prefer to tango.

bob said...

Am changing the title, anyway, to keep my dyslexia secret. Or secrent, or something.

By the way, Noga, I thought of you today while reading and re-reading an Ann Carson poem about visiting Poland in the new LRB

bob said...

Andrew/Benjamin, thanks for comments, and glad to have touched a nerve

The Contentious Centrist said...

I haven't been able to access the website but I'm glad you appreciate Anne Carson's poetry. She is my favourite poet ever, even before Lorca. Harold Bloom refers to her as a genius and you know how critical he is of everything and everyone.