Reds in the bed

Andrew Donaldson writes on Ramaphosa's SACP cheerleading, and related matters



HOW reassuringly surreal to see one of the country’s most celebrated billionaires in literally full bore cheerleader mode at the celebrations in Sandton this week to mark the 60th anniversary of African Communist, the official journal of the SACP.

Bafflingly, Cyril Ramaphosa used the occasion to urge the ruling party’s alliance partner to continue with its criticism of the ruling party. As if — get this — such criticism is, if I may, in critical short supply. 

The president said: “We view the journal warning us always about the slow pace of economic transformation, the dangers of corruption and capture of the state by prize corporate interests the erosion of our moral credibility, the weakening of State organs and the resultant decline in our electoral support ... to action.”

Squirrel is perhaps confused. That wasn’t African Communist screaming itself hoarse over the past decade, drawing deep from its reserves of Marxist-Leninist thought as it urged the Zuptocracy to cleave unto a righteous path. Most of the shouting the president may have heard was from a civil society in paroxysms of justified outrage. 

No matter, and this is not to suggest that the journal’s regular contributors are entirely supine and blistered of arse-kissing lip as a result of the fawning and grovelling. 

Jeremy Cronin, for example, is one such contributor. He has, a brief trawl through the journal’s online archives reveals, written trenchantly on the “industrial scale looting of public resources, notably in key SOEs like Transnet, Eskom, Denel, Prasa, SAA and the SABC … aided and abetted by all manner of lumpen-capitalists (Brett Kebble, Agliotti, the Guptas, the Watsons, the EFF’s Mazzoti, etc.)”

It should, in all fairness, be pointed out that the above was extracted from an article written after Cronin’s retirement from government in May this year. 

How interesting it would have been had such a piece appeared in African Communist under his name during the years he served as a deputy minister, first of transport and then public works, in Accused Number One’s wretched administration. Certainly no such observations ever came from SACP MPs during the debates on the motions of no confidence in uBaba or any number of other opportunities in the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) the expats are pleased that he is putting pen to paper at Shady Acres or October Sunsets or wherever it is that the workers’ champions continue the struggle in their golden years and we look forward to his thoughts on next month’s celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It is a matter of no small irony that the SACP, like the ANC, should be greatly indebted to this historic breaching. The Berlin Wall was more than a tragic, brutal barrier that physically divided a city and its people for almost three decades. It was a powerful symbol of the communist monolith, a grim reminder of the senseless Cold War. On one side lay freedom, and the other the gulag. When it fell, it became clear the Soviet empire had fallen as well.  

The Wall’s fate had not been decided in Berlin, but by events elsewhere and by those who had finally realised that a communism policed by jackbooted guards and barbed wire was not a communism worth living.

Not Erich Honecker, though. In January 1989, East Germany’s hardline leader, the most intractable of communists, was still boasting of the Wall’s impregnability even as the non-communist Polish trade union movement Solidarity entered into power-sharing discussions with the Soviet-supported government in Warsaw. This was followed by massive, peaceful anti-Soviet demonstrations across the Baltic states.

In May that year, the Hungarian government, now in the hands of reformists, dismantled the fortified border with Austria, thus parting the so-called Iron Curtain across Europe. By July, some 25 000 East Germans who had taken their “summer holidays” in Hungary wound up in Austria — and weren’t coming home. In the months that followed, hundreds of thousands of East Germans were welcomed in West Germany. 

Like all the walls of history, the people had found a way of getting around this one. When it fell, on the night of November 9, 1989, one anonymous East Berlin barfly noted: “So … they built the Wall to stop people leaving, and now they’re tearing it down to stop people leaving. There’s logic for you.” 

The fall was followed by perhaps the wildest street party the world has ever known. The SACP were however not joining in the celebrations. For some time now, the party, one of the most doctrinaire of all such groupings and slavishly loyal to Moscow, had looked on in dismay and deep concern as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union collapsed, followed by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics itself.

The SACP’s response to all this was to grudgingly concede that there were “failings” in socialism in Eastern Europe but to carry on regardless. When then secretary general Joe Slovo was asked in 1990 if the crisis in socialism revealed a fundamental flaw in Marxism, he replied: “No, not at all. The serious errors that emerged in the practice of existing socialism are not rooted in the basic tenets of Marxist revolutionary science. They are the result of distortions and misapplications.”

The party thus continues to defend Marxism-Leninism and does so, as any casual reader of African Communist will attest, in the archaic and brain-numbing style that is redolent of Stalin-era party literature. To take the journal is to be party to the murder of language by a committee determined to shore up a collapsed order with rambling obfuscation and dull, ponderous theories. It is soporific hell.

The decision by the De Klerk government to unban the ANC and the SACP was largely prompted by the realisation that they no longer enjoyed unfettered Soviet support — and thus the dilemma our communists faced at the time of their “liberation”: how to best now make its way in the world as champions of “Marxist revolutionary science” when that world had largely moved on from this discredited and anachronistic collectivism.

In the end, though, there was no such dilemma. The party had no need to make its way anywhere. What for? It enjoys a uniquely privileged position despite its peculiar irrelevancy. As an alliance partner, it has no need to contest elections as a separate entity and so does not, and yet its members continue to find themselves in government. It is good work when you can get it.

Elsewhere, Moscow’s “neo-Soviet” expansionism continues apace. Vladimir Putin this week pledged to double trade with Africa in the next few years in what is being lauded as a “return” to the continent.

Speaking at a summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin told some 40 African leaders — including Ramaphosa, who hied on over to the two-day beano there the moment the African Communist gig was done — that trade between Russia and various African states more than doubled to some $20 billion in the previous five years, but that was “way too little”. 

The Times of London quoted him as saying: “I believe we can easily at least double the volume of trade within the next four to five years.” The newspaper noted the forum was the first of its kind as “Moscow vies for advantage and access to hydrocarbons, gold, diamonds and other riches with the West, China and the Gulf states”.

Away from discussions and sessions with officials on investment possibilities in the oil, natural gas, nuclear, transport, food and fertiliser industries, delegates from all 54 African countries took in all the impressive Russian military hardware on display. And why shouldn’t an economic forum not resemble an arms dealers’ market? Moscow, after all, has some $14-billion worth of weapons on order from various African countries.

Manufacturers who had stands at Sochi included Almaz-Antey, the company who turn out the Buk missile, which was used to to shoot down Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. The Times noted that, at the Almaz-Antey stand, they screened promotional videos of the company’s other air defence systems.

At the Kalashnikov stand, a member of the 100-strong Chad delegation posed with an assault rifle and told the newspaper: “It’s the most famous weapon in the world, it’s legendary, our army has them. In the Soviet times Africa’s relations with Moscow were very strong but it dropped off after the USSR collapsed. Now we see that Russia can be a reliable parter that comes to us not as a neo-colonial power like Britain or France, but as an equal.”

Over at African Communist, I imagine they’re dusting off their typewriters and sharpening their pencils.