Malema: The ANC has only itself to blame

Paul Whelan asks what kind of revolution the ANCYL president intends for SA

You may feel the current imbroglio over discipline serves the ANC right. The party has only itself to blame for Julius Malema. He is the product of its heady promise of a ‘revolution', but is somewhat out of favour with members at the moment because he is doing things that could actually bring revolution about.

After the alarming upheavals across Africa recently, Mr Malema cannot be indulged anymore. Socialism was ruled out as a system post apartheid, if indeed it was ever in the ANC's plan: different interests can read the Freedom Charter as for and against. What has counted since is that SA settles down to earn a living in a capitalist world and ANC loyalists are well provided for in the mixed economy they preside over.

Mr Malema does not understand or care about such compromises. As a young man with nothing to lose and much to gain, he can easily rock the overloaded ANC boat - and in what is euphemistically called SA's ‘party-dominant democracy', that imperils the entire ship of state. If it's not socialist revolution, what other kind of revolution could Mr Malema intend - or, horror of horrors, unwittingly unleash? That is the question.

Many are suspicious he is the champion of people whose lives he visibly does not share. In everyday language, they cannot understand how he can be a ‘communist' and a common capitalist at the same time. People are not lost for words. They can explain how he contrives to speak for the poorest of the poor when his personal preferences are clearly for the richest of the rich. They can interpret the expensive cars, watch and whisky, the threats and menaces against ‘whites'. Mr Malema is a hypocrite, a populist, a demagogue - are three of the more polite ways his opponents put it.

That still leaves a political explanation outstanding. Can Karl Marx in any way go hand in hand with what some openly call Mr Malema's ‘fascism'? Before venturing a view on that very sensitive subject, let something be absolutely clear. Nothing is more mistaken than to lift experiences from other places and times and suggest they necessarily or even might follow here and now. History is not a set of laws or the moral tale it is often said to tell. It is a hugely complicated and constantly changing passage of interacting events that, with study, can leave you a tiny bit less than totally ignorant of the human predicament. That is all.

In that light, we can agree Marxism includes the highest ideals of humanity - the community of all, internationalism and peace - and that ‘fascism' is not an ideology in any sense. Fascism is a politics of coercion which, if it entails anything besides verbal and physical violence, promotes extreme nationalism cultivated through fervent nativism shading into racism, with all three being embodied in a messianic leader ready to be martyred for the sake of ‘the people'.

These fundamental theoretical differences have always had a way of vanishing in practice. Certainly in Europe communism and fascism were implacable opponents from the start; their street brawls in Germany finally ended in the World War II fight to the death between Comrade Stalin's USSR and Herr Hitler's Third Reich. But in both cases, the revolutionary state had extinguished civil liberties much earlier.

Outside Europe, communism readily teamed up with new and growing national feelings. In China in the early 1920s and in the long war against Japan, communists and nationalists were on the same side. Later the two worked together to end French rule in Indo-China and to replace the corrupt regime in Cuba; in SA the story was the same. Nativism-nationalism fought to free lands from colonial rule; communism fought to free peoples from capitalism. The imperial west was identified and established as the permanent mutual enemy.

Julius Malema plays with a complex inheritance: African and European; white and black; cultural and universal. Imperialism, Marxism, democratic centralism, fascism, all driven by a crusading zeal to dominate, hold out deceptive ends. Exactly what the intrusive youth leader means for SA, we must decide. He cannot tell us when he can hardly know himself.

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