Irina Filatova on the lasting legacy of the USSR's support for the liberation movement
The lasting legacy: The ANC's Soviet connection
If the close relations that existed between the ANC and the Soviet Union during the decades of the struggle against apartheid are mentioned now, it mostly happens at appropriate official occasions: embassy receptions or national holidays or speeches during state visits.
It was very different back then. Garth Strachan, a communist and an MK veteran said in one his interviews: "Although it has become popular not to admit this now, at the time-at least in the circles where I moved and up to the mid or late 1980s-the reality was that in ANC... there was a kind of pro-Soviet hysteria". 
"Hysteria" may be too strong a word, but there is hardly any doubt that there was a lot of admiration for the Soviet Union - its achievements, its ideology and its policy - both among the ANC leadership and the rank and file cadres in exile. Songs were sung and poetry composed about the Soviet people.
Support was expressed for Soviet initiatives and policy moves. Messages of appreciation and gratitude were read at various Soviet gatherings where ANC and SACP delegations were invariably present. Lenin was a household name among the leadership of both organisations, and the experience of the CPSU was thoroughly and passionately studied and discussed.
For the ANC and SACP leadership - just as for the leadership of many other communist and national liberation organisations all over the world - the Soviet Union was the embodiment of progress and justice, the bright future of humanity.
Jeremy Cronin, the deputy general secretary of the SACP, wrote in connection with the recent celebration of the 90th anniversary of the SACP: "In the 20th century we were not alone... We had a sense of being a part of shaping world history. Individually, many of us might not survive, but, so it seemed, we were on the side of history in the struggle for a better future...". 
Although Cronin had some reservations about "communists in power", for many parties on the left, the SACP and the ANC among them, it was the USSR that created the feeling that they "were not alone". The USSR was at the head of the struggle for a better future, and its experience was perceived as a clear pointer to such a future and as a measure of the correctness of South Africa's liberation movement route to it.
For the older generation of the SACP and the ANC leadership and cadres the Soviet Union was a model for a future South Africa - the South Africa after the ANC's victory.
Without exception, all memoirs or books published by the ANC and SACP leaders in the last two decades stress that the Soviet Communist Party never dictated a particular political line to the ANC or to the SACP. This was, obviously, true, at least in the 1960s-1980s (the situation was different in the late 1920s and 1930s). There was no need to dictate: the CPSU, the SACP and the ANC were all led by like-minded people, and their vision of the world and of their course in it were extremely close.
The ANC's armed struggle and the USSR
But the SACP's and ANC's "uncritical" attitude to the Soviet Union  is not explicable solely in terms of the belief of the leadership of these organisations in the historical role and mission of the USSR. Close ties between them were hardly surprising if one takes into consideration the scale and role of Soviet assistance to both organisations in exile. Soviet support came in many forms and shapes. Perhaps the most important for the future of the ANC was the support that the Soviets gave to its armed struggle.
For three decades, from 1961 till 1991, the USSR supplied Umkhonto we Sizwe with arms, ammunition and equipment and gave military training to its cadres and leadership. No other country rendered such support to the ANC. A few other socialist countries, particularly the GDR, also contributed, but even in this case the scale was simply incomparable.
In 1969 the government of Tanzania ordered the ANC to vacate its military camp in the country. This followed the Lusaka Manifesto passed by the Organisation of African Unity which demanded that South Africa's liberation movements desist from armed struggle. In practice this would have meant the liquidation of Umkhonto. But the Soviets evacuated the whole Umkhonto contingent to the USSR and maintained and trained it there for three years.
Umkhonto cadres started to return back, to Africa, only in 1972. The USSR came to the rescue of Umkhonto again in the late 1970s when, after the Soweto uprising, many young South Africans started to leave the country in order to take up arms and fight. The ANC had simply no facilities to accommodate these new cadres, feed them and provide them even with bare necessities. First aid - equipment, food, clothes and then arms - came from the USSR, delivered by Soviet planes to Angola.
One can argue about the quality and effectiveness of Soviet military training: the opinions of veterans in this regard differ. There is hardly any doubt that the goal of defeating the apartheid regime militarily remained elusive for Umkhonto. And yet its very existence, as well as all its operations, even the failed ones, played a crucial role in the history of the ANC. This "armed propaganda" was indispensable: it helped to maintain the image of the ANC as the only South African liberation organisation that was carrying the torch of a real, serious, struggle against apartheid.
There was simply no other home for the young men and women of the Soweto generation when they left the country in order to get training and fight. And there was no other party to turn to for inspiration, direction and assistance for the next generation which led mass democratic movement in the 1980s.
Without Umkhonto the ANC in exile would have been a very different organisation, and without the USSR there would have been no Umkhonto to speak of - perhaps none at all.
Political and Other Assistance
But even more important than its support for the ANC's armed struggle was the role of the USSR in creating and maintaining the international anti-apartheid movement. Essop Pahad, minister in the presidency during Thabo Mbeki's term, rightly stressed that "the Soviet Union was also critical in building mass anti-apartheid movement... Through international organizations, such as the Afro-Asian Peace and Solidarity Committee,  through the World Peace Council, through the International Union of Students, through the World Federation of Democratic Youth, women's organisations. It was quite clear that the Soviet Union played a large part in keeping these organizations alive. So, whilst we recognize the military support, we must never forget the political support that we received consistently from the Soviet Union, and then the other socialist countries, which, I think, played a very big role in enabling us to develop this very broad, very powerful anti-apartheid solidarity movement throughout the world. ...Of course, there were other things... But it was these two elements that really were absolutely critical". 
The most important organisation that Pahad did not mention in this connection was the United Nations. The USSR did not play a large part in keeping it alive, but it played a very important role in introducing resolutions against colonialism and apartheid. Suffice it to say that every year from 1963 to 1989 the USSR proposed resolutions for sanctions against South Africa in the Security Council. Some were passed, some were not. But the process itself helped to create an atmosphere of intolerance towards the apartheid regime.
The CPSU also supported the ANC and the SACP financially. Compared to the donations that the ANC received from Scandinavian counties, the Soviet contributions were small. They were also smaller than donations that the Soviet Union allocated to some West European and Asian communist parties, though South Africa was important enough for the combined donation to the ANC and SACP to put it, in some years, in 7th and 9th place among about 70 to 80 recipients.
But irrespective of the scale of this support, Soviet financial assistance was very important in two respects. First, it began in 1960, when no other country or international organisation was willing to render such support. In the early 1960s Soviet financial assistance was a make-or-break matter for both the SACP and the ANC in exile.
Second, according to Vladimir Shubin, for many years a key contact of the ANC and the SACP at the Central Committee of the CPSU and a specialist in the history of Soviet ties with these organisations, "as a matter of mutual trust the SACP and other friendly parties have never been asked to account for these donations".  This meant that they could be used in whichever way the leadership saw fit. The purposes of Western financial assistance, on the other hand, were usually strictly defined, leaving very little room for manoeuvre. And no Western country gave any support to the SACP, or to Umkhonto.
The USSR supplied the ANC with food, and with non-military equipment and goods. It provided air tickets for leaders or representatives of the ANC and SACP to enable them to attend various international events. It invited them to its hospitals and sanatoriums "for rest and treatment" and provided venues for some of the parties' meetings. It gave scholarships to ANC students - as did many other countries, though Soviet aid came earlier. Uniquely, the Soviets provided the ANC with huge numbers of false documents and in some cases helped to change the appearance of Umkhonto operatives.
Taken together, all this meant that for three decades the Soviet Union provided the ANC and the SACP with a safety net which could not, of course, protect their cadres from the hardship and dangers of exile and struggle, but helped both organisations to survive and triumph. In the late 1980s and early 1990s this safety net started to sag, but military assistance continued unabated.
And, despite a perception which was (and still is) widely spread among ANC cadres that Mikhail Gorbachev was a "sell-out", his perestroika played a huge role in the "unblocking" of the Angolan conflict, and in Namibia's achievement of independence. There is hardly any doubt that changes in the Soviet Union also played a large role in bringing the South African negotiated settlement closer too.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was an enormous blow for South Africa's liberation movement. Cronin wrote: "At the very moment when we were poised, locally, to make the democratic break through for which generations had sacrificed, the Soviet legacy which had inspired us seemed to be lying beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall. History wasn't necessarily on our side after all." 
It was only at that stage that the flow of arms, advice and assistance from Moscow finally stopped. By then South Africa's negotiated settlement was well under way. The ANC was getting support from every corner and quarter of the world and, most importantly, it had huge leverage during the negotiations due to the mass following it had gained at home. It could easily do without the Soviet safety network then. But even so it had to be careful about how it played its hand in the new political situation.
For a long time South Africa's relations with the new Russia remained cool. Even now, when both countries are members of the BRICS club and often share common positions in the international arena, these relations are just a pale shadow of what the ties between the ANC and the USSR used to be. But such long friendships do not disappear without a trace.
Shubin, who was, in 2006, awarded the order of Grand Companions of O.R. Tambo by the South African Government for his "excellent contribution to the struggle against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa", wrote: "the relationship between the USSR and South Africa, especially with the ANC and its allies, had a profound though contradictory influence on developments in South Africa... One has to admit that certain aspects of Soviet society such as leader-worship, dogmatism, lack of broad discussions before taking crucial decisions, limitations in inner-party democracy were not the best features to emulate. But even if some borrowing of these characteristics did take place, the influence was negligible and was undoubtedly outweighed by the positive effects of co-operation with Moscow". Shubin is convinced that the greatest Soviet contribution "to the elimination of apartheid was not the material assistance... but the encouragement of non-racialism in the ANC". 
One could think of other "Soviet" traits in the ANC's political behaviour today - its distaste for an independent media and judiciary, its idea that it is destined to rule until the end of time ("until Jesus comes back"), its intolerance of opposition, its instinctive attraction to centralization and its urge to control, its patronage system and the resulting endemic corruption. But there is no way to prove or disprove whether the ANC's long attachment to the USSR had anything to do with such tendencies.
Many governments around the world developed such traits quite independently of any Soviet connection and went much further along this route - Zimbabwe, to name just one. But decades of admiration for the Soviet system could not but play a role in entrenching these trends.
As for non-racialism, true, during the struggle the ANC often stressed that it was fighting against the apartheid system, not against white South Africans, and Julius Malema would probably have shared the fate of the "gang of eight" expelled from the ANC in 1975, purportedly for their "Africanist" views. But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
However, one key aspect of South Africa's political dispensation today is without doubt a part of the Soviet legacy: the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and the way this ideology has been interpreted and implemented by the ANC and its allies.
The early roots of the NDR
The origins of the NDR date back to Lenin's theory of the national liberation movement, which was first formulated in his Draft Theses on the National and the Colonial Question for the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern)  in 1920. The main idea of the Theses was that Soviet Russia and anti-colonial movements were natural allies against imperialism, despite the fact that such movements could only be bourgeois ("bourgeois-democratic") by nature.
At the Congress itself the term "national-revolutionary movements" was substituted for "bourgeois-democratic" to stress that only those national movements that were "truly revolutionary", i.e. prepared to allow "us" (communists) "to educate and organize the peasantry and the broad exploited masses in the spirit of revolution", could be the allies of Soviet Russia. Led by the international Communist movement, even the most "backward" colonial peoples, i.e. those that had not reached the capitalist stage of development, could move straight to building socialism, avoiding the evils of capitalist exploitation.
The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), the predecessor of the SACP, joined the Comintern in 1921, but it was only in 1927 that this international organisation got directly involved in South African affairs. After several meetings with the CPSA's representative, the Comintern adopted a new line for the party. The CPSA had to work towards "an independent native South African Republic as a stage towards a workers' and peasants' republic with full rights for all races, black, coloured and white." 
This formula was far from clear (for example, it did not explain the class nature of the "independent native republic"), but the Comintern imposed it on the party, despite fierce opposition within its ranks. In 1935 the Comintern cancelled the slogan of the "independent native republic" as abruptly and as harshly as it had introduced it, but the idea of a link between national liberation and socialism through a two-stage revolution remained intact both in its documents and in the minds of its followers in South Africa.
It was to have a lasting effect on the nature of the ideological debate within the party and the ANC. Its historical importance is fully realised by South African communists today. Dominic Tweedie, the host of the SACP's "Communist University" blog, writes: "It is possible to make out a clear list of texts from the 1920s, approximately one per decade, and to demonstrate that the argument built up through these texts has determined South Africa's history... This list could start with the Comintern's "Black Republic Resolution of 1928". 
The Soviet theory of the NDR
After the Second World War, when one colony after another gained independence, the Soviet leadership came to the conclusion that the anti-colonial movement as a whole, irrespective of its character in each country, could become an important ally of the Soviet Union in its struggle against imperialism, particularly in the context of the unfolding Cold War. It was against this background that Lenin's ideas were developed into the theory of the National Democratic Revolution.
The NDR first appeared in the Soviet political vocabulary in the late 1950s. According to Karen N. Brutents, one of its authors and, in the 1970-1980s, a deputy head of the Central Committee's Foreign Department, it was put forward by the CPSU and "widely accepted" by the international Communist movement. 
Brutents explained that: "the introduction by the Communist parties... of the category of "national democratic revolution" into their militant political vocabulary, and... the use of its socio-economic and political content... for elaborating strategy and tactics resulted from... the new features of national liberation revolutions in our day... These revolutions which lead to the elimination of colonial and semi-colonial oppression are also latent with anti-capitalist tendency... When [their] leadership comes from political forces representing the interests of the proletariat, these revolutions... grow directly into socialist revolutions. When leadership comes from non-proletarian democratic forces... these revolutions produce, alongside important anti-imperialist and anti-feudal changes, anti-capitalist transformations, paving the way for transition to socialist reconstruction... The national democratic tendency of development in the revolution can gain the upper hand either at the first or at the second phase of the revolution". 
So, according to the theory, the NDR, if correctly implemented, could only have one outcome, socialism, which could either emerge directly from a radical anti-colonial revolution, or develop after it through a radical transformation during a transitional period.
Soviet theoreticians worked out scores of measures to be undertaken during such a transitional period. The nationalisation of "imperialist monopolies and trans-national corporations", as well as the property of "internal reaction", the "strengthening of the state sector - the economic basis of socialist orientation", the implementation of "progressive agricultural reforms", nationalisation of "feudal" landed property, encouraging of "co-operative movements in the rural areas", using both public and private sectors of the economy "in the interests of the development of the productive forces", the introduction of "state planning and other institutions of a socialist economy" were all high on the list of priorities. 
All these Soviet theoretical works and official documents stressed the importance of the "leading role of the proletariat" and of the cooperation with socialist countries during the transitional period.  None mentioned any need for checks and balances, any role for the Opposition (except hampering progressive reforms), or any restraint at all on the power of the central government.
All attempts to follow these recipes in the Third World context ended in disaster. Each time there was a different reason for failure: a war, an imperialist aggression, a drought, an internal reaction, a military coup, an ethnic conflict, this or that reform was not followed through, etc. But despite this entire lack of success, enthusiasm for what seemed to be a short cut to happiness and prosperity persisted until the collapse of the Soviet Union. For many in the Third World the USSR's achievements were a testimony to the fact that miracles were within reach, and each new convert to the project was greeted with new hopes: this time the conditions were right; this time the recipe would work. It never did.
The authors of a book on relations between the ANC and the GDR wrote: "Of all national liberation movements the political leadership of the GDR had always considered the South African one particularly important. From the viewpoint of Marxist-Leninist ideology and revolutionary theory they perceived South Africa as the country in sub-Saharan Africa which, because of its level of development, offered the greatest potential for fundamental changes in the direction of socialism.
The ongoing process of social differentiation, in particular the emergence of a comparatively strong industrial proletariat, was seen, in the light of Marxist-Leninist theory, to provide the conditions for a national democratic revolution and for a subsequent revolutionary transition to socialism". 
And, indeed, the concept of the NDR became the basis of ideological elaborations by the SACP and then the ANC from the early 1960s right up until the present day.
The NDR's road to South Africa
The NDR first made its official appearance in South Africa in the 1962 Programme of the South African Communist Party. The programme declared that South Africa was a colony, although of a "special kind" and proclaimed that the national democratic revolution was the party's "immediate and foremost task".
Its main content was the national liberation of the African people". Achieving it would be "the essential condition and the key for future advance to the supreme aim of the Communist Party: the establishment of a socialist South Africa, laying the foundations of a classless, communist society." 
The document stated that the ANC was a national-liberation organisation and pledged the SACP's "unqualified support for the Freedom Charter" which it considered to be "suitable as a general statement of the aims of a state of national democracy". The Charter, the document ran, "necessarily and realistically calls for profound economic changes: drastic agrarian reform to restore the land to the people; widespread nationalisation of key industries... which will answer the pressing and immediate needs of the people and lay the indispensable basis for the advance of our country along non-capitalist lines to a communist and socialist future". 
The 1962 programme was a stark departure from SACP's previous documents. To begin with, no previous programme had treated South Africa as a colony, but rather as a common society in need of political equality and social justice. Many statements and the general analysis in the 1962 programme were either direct quotes or verbatim renditions of the documents of the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers' Parties which took place in Moscow in 1960 and which entrenched new Soviet approaches to the national liberation movement.
It was in 1960 that the SACP, after a long interval, re-established its direct relations with the Soviet communist party. In that year South African communists visited Moscow twice, met representatives of the Soviet leadership and, among other things, actively participated in the Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties and even in its editing commission. Joe Matthews, one of South Africa's delegates, said that he and Michael Harmel spent months in the USSR, discussing theoretical issues with representatives of other communist parties.
In 1961 South African an SACP delegation visited Moscow again, and this time the conclusion of their theoretical discussions with the Central Committee of the CPSU was that the ideas of the 1960 Conference of Communist and Workers' Parties, including the NDR, should be applied to the South African situation. According to Shubin, the 1962 SACP's programme itself was at some stage discussed with Moscow. 
The NDR was officially adopted by the ANC at its Morogoro conference in 1969 - the first one in exile. The conference passed a resolution, in fact, a programme, Strategy and Tactics of the ANC, which opened with the following words: "The struggle of the oppressed people of South Africa is taking place within an international context of transition to the Socialist system, of the breakdown of the colonial system as a result of national liberation and socialist revolutions... We in South Africa are part of the zone in which national liberation is the chief content of the struggle." 
This document was also a departure from ANC's previous programmes. One can argue whether or not the Freedom Charter, with its call for nationalisation of the mines and land and for establishing state regulation of the rest of the economy is a socialist document. But it is indisputable that it too treated South Africa as a common society, not as a colony, and that its goal was full political equality and social justice, not colonial liberation.
The ideas and language of the Morogoro Strategy and Tactics were very close to those of the SACP's 1962 programme. But there was an important difference. The Morogoro resolution spoke of achieving "a speedy progression from formal liberation to genuine and lasting emancipation" already during the national-democratic stage, which would be guaranteed by "a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness." 
Those who are familiar with Marxist terminology know that "genuine and lasting emancipation" could never be achieved under capitalism. It looks like the authors of this document had decided to merge the two stages of the revolution into one. This was, indeed, what was related to their Soviet colleagues. 
And this was exactly how many ANC cadres, even those who were not communists, saw it. Even Oliver Tambo spoke of socialism as a goal of South Africa's national liberation in his address to the 24th CPSU's congress in 1971, when he said that the ANC was leading the masses towards revolution for the overthrow of the fascist regime, the seizure of power and the building of a "socialist society". 
The Soviet theory of national democratic revolution with its socialist-orientated goals was transplanted virtually whole into the ANC's ideology and mass perceptions.
In Russia the NDR theory died even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Already in the late 1970s Brutents wrote "devastating memoranda" about it to his superiors.  Georgiy Mirskiy, who worked under him, wrote in his memoirs later: "...Enormous time was spent on working out subtle nuances and definitions, such as "people's-democratic" and "national democratic" forces and parties, revolutionary democracy and people's democracy, etc. Now, re-reading the surviving drafts of these materials, I am amazed at how much time and energy was wasted on compiling these at best banal, and more often simply false texts, ...which bore no relevance to what was going on in Asia, Africa and Latin America! All our prognoses proved wrong, everything happened not as we thought it would... Reading all that, very few among the local Marxists could believe that our recommendations were correct (and if they followed them, it was to the detriment of their countries)... Whole institutes with huge staffs wasted a lot of money on a completely useless cause". 
But the legacy of the NDR lasts - perhaps nowhere in the world more obviously than in South Africa. The ANC did not seize power and thus had to settle on a much slower process of achieving the NDR's stated goals than it had hoped for. In the process some lost their ardour about it, perhaps remembering those who tried and failed to implement it before, or realising that without the Soviet assistance the NDR's socialist-orientated goals would be even more difficult to achieve. But the majority in the ANC are as passionate about it as ever before.
The debate about the NDR in South Africa has centred not on whether this ideology is correct, or, indeed, needed for fast development and job creation - both these notions are accepted as indisputable truths by the ANC and its allies - but rather on the pace of its implementation and on its concrete contents at every stage. These aspects of the NDR may be differently understood and interpreted by different groups within the ANC and among its partners - but its ultimate goals are as alluring as ever.
And whatever the arguments about details, it is ideology, not economic reality, that dictates much of the ANC's thinking and policy. This fixation with ideology at the expense of reality was one of the most important factors that killed the Soviet economy. Yet in South Africa the core of the Soviet legacy stands.
 R. Kasrils. Armed and Dangerous. From Undercover Struggle to Freedom. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2004. P. 29-30, 150.
 The correct name of the organisation was the Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organisation. Its Soviet branch was called the Soviet Solidarity Committee of Asian and African Countries, or Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee.
 I. Filatova. Interview with E. Pahad. 08/05/2000.
 V. Shubin. ANC. A View from Moscow. Cape Town: Mayibuye Books -UWC, 1999. P. 37.
 An international communist organisation centred in Moscow (1919-1943). Member Communist parties (that is most Communist parties throughout the world) were considered branches of the Comintern and had to implement its directives.
 A. Davidson, I. Filatova, V. Gorodnov, S. Johns, eds. South Africa and the Communist International: a documentary history (1919-1939). London: Frank Cass, 2003. Vol. I. Document 66.
 For example, Afrika. Entsiklpedicheskii spravochnik (Africa. Encyclopaedia). Moscow: Nauka, 1987, vol. 2, p. 389.
 For example, Mezhdunarodnoie soveshchaniie kommunisticheskikh i rabochikh partii. Dokumenty i materialy. Moskva, 5-17 iiunia 1969 g. (The International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties. Documents and Materials. Moscow, 5-17 June, 1969). Moscow, 1969. P. 62-63.
 H. G. Schleicher, I. Schleicher. Special Flights: The GDR and Liberation Movements in Southern Africa. Harare: Sapes Books, 1998. P. 7.
 The Road to South African Freedom. Programme of the South African Communist Party. The African Communist. 1963, vol. 2, no. 2. P. 24, 26-27.
 The Soviet encyclopaedia Afrika noted that "according to African communists" "of all countries on the continent the transition to socialism directly through a socialist revolution, by-passing or shortening to the minimum the stage of the national democratic revolution and socialist orientation... is only possible in South Africa, where employed labour constitutes more than half of the economically active population.., and where the proletariat led by the SACP numbers more than 2 million. However, even here a transitional period is not excluded". Afrika. Entsiklpedicheskii spravochnik... P. 389.