By Andy Forse
Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) has reported that the imprisoned Iranian trade unionist Shahrokh Zamani (above) has just entered his 30th day of a hunger strike.
The agency reports that his initial 3 day strike which was made in solidarity with imprisoned and persecuted Gonabadi Dervishes was extended after being exiled to the infamous Ghezel Hesar prison, a jail notorious for abysmal conditions, torture and executions. Shahrokh was jailed in 2011 for his organising of the painters and decorating union.
Another political prisoner – the student Arash Mohammadi, has joined Shahrokh’s hunger strike in solidarity.
Socialists must use this urgent time to bring the awareness of Shahrokh’s imprisonment to the attention of the wider public to gather solidarity.
There has been a petition campaign to Free Shahrokh Zamani since 2013. It can be signed online at Change.org here, and paper copies of the petition can be printed from here, as well as leaflets, from here.
Press release from Iran Workers’ Solidarity Movement here
Terry Glavin (at Faccebook) writes:
The polls have been open only for a few hours now but the verdict is in, barring some practically unimaginable eventuality: Afghanistan has won the election. The Afghan people are triumphant. Congratulations are owed to the resilient, courageous, long-suffering people of Afghanistan. Hambestagi!
This image seems to be picking up speed all over Afghanistan. A message to the Taliban and to all the enemies of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic. The universal gesture of defiance:
My body my rights
Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right. Yet all over the world, many of us are persecuted for making these choices – or prevented from doing so at all.
A woman is refused contraception because she doesn’t have her husband’s permission. A man is harassed by police because he’s gay. A teenager is denied a life-saving termination because abortion is illegal in her country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you have the right to live without fear, violence or discrimination. It’s your body. Know your rights. Act now.
Around 1.8 billion young people worldwide are at risk of having their sexual and reproductive rights ignored. Call on world leaders today.
Author: Volodymyr Ischenko
Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko has written a blast against Russia’s military intervention in his country and against the new government there.
I hate! On war in Ukraine
Writing from a critical position is not something to be widely appreciated in turmoil times. For some hysterical idiots I’ve succumbed to the fascists, for others–betrayed the Fatherland. Time is now precious and to be used efficiently. This is why I respond to all in a single post.
I hate the Euroidiots who started all this because of their little ticks and cultural chauvinism.
I hate the bastard who clung to power despite dozens of deaths and who now wants to return to the country on foreign tanks.
I hate the former opposition, who became today’s authorities, and who found nothing better than to “save the Ukrainian language” [by restricting Russian], populate the government with fascists, and promise unpopular social measures.
I hate Crimean authorities, who are so afraid for their places that they would happily serve as the doormat of an occupying administration.
I hate the tyrant in the Kremlin, who needs a little victorious war to strengthen the rouble and his own, almost unlimited power.
I hate all these “deeply concerned” EU and US bureaucrats, which introduce sanctions only when the government is all but toppled and give aid under conditions resembling daylight robbery.
I hate Ukrainian and Russian fascists, who cannot get used to the reality of a multicultural and multilingual country, and are ready to destroy it.
I hate those “liberals,” who were ready to cover for and never distanced themselves from the the fascists present on the Maidan to give a chance for truly all-Ukrainian democratic movement rather than pushing the country to a Civil War.
I hate myself and other leftists for spending most of our time in mutual recriminations rather than the building of a powerful political organization. Divided, we could influence little the Maidan or the anti-Maidan. Part of the blame lies with us.
But I am for the world peace. I send these flowers from Wallonia. Snowdrops against the background of green leaves from last year. I hope this is not the last time we see them. I just returned to my divided country and pray that all it will all end with a Second Crimean rather than Third World War. Because this war won’t grow into a world revolution (the chances for that are much less than 100 years ago) but in a nuclear holocaust.
Russian comrades, go to the central squares of your cities so that you could stop the intervention into Ukraine.
Ukrainian comrades, let’s think what we could do. It’s clear that signing up in the Right Sector [which has issued a call for mobilization] is not an option.
A lot of people, including even labour movement activists, are mystified and/or simply bored by the arcane details of the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions, and Miliband’s proposals (contained in the Collins report) to “reform” that relationship. This is, though, a vitally important issue for anyone concerned about working class representation in British politics today.
As a service to the movement, we publish below, two articles on the Collins report, one broadly supportive and the other opposing it. The first article appeared in the Morning Star and while factually accurate, is clearly written by a supporter of the proposed changes; the second is by Martin Thomas of the Defend the Link campaign.
The new rules, and how it will all happen
Every individual member of an affiliated trade union will be given a straight Yes or No choice about whether they want to pay a small sum to ensure their union’s voice is heard within the party.
Trade unions will continue to affiliate collectively to Labour but, for the first time, the payment of affiliation fees will become a wholly transparent process based on individual positive consent.
These reforms will be introduced in 2014 and will apply to new members of affiliated organisations first. They will be fully implemented for existing members of such organisations within five years. During this period, affiliated organisations will be encouraged to help the party maximise the number of people who agree to pay an affiliation fee.
At the end of this period, the affiliation of each organisation will be determined by the number of members who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees. Only those who have chosen to pay will be counted.
Around 20,000 existing registered supporters who do not wish to join the Labour Party will be asked if they wish to pay a fee to have a bigger say in the party.
Those who do will also be asked if they wish – at no extra cost – to become an affiliated supporter who has a direct relationship with the party as an individual.
For the first time, the party would then be able to contact affiliated people directly.
They would be invited to take part in local campaigns, policy discussions and fund-raising.
Also, affiliated supporters would be attached as an individual to their constituency party – but with no rights over local or parliamentary selections.
The party leader and deputy leader will in future be elected according to one member, one vote. The existing electoral college will be abolished.
In addition to being given a choice over the payment of fees, members of trade unions and other affiliated organisations will be asked if they want to have an individual voice within it.
Those who wish to become an affiliated supporter will have a single vote in the leadership election, along with MPs, individual party members and registered supporters from all walks of life who have paid a small fee.
Under the new rules, all the ballot papers will be issued by the Labour Party centrally which would hold the personal contact details of affiliated supporters.
Unions and other affiliated organisations will no longer issue their own ballot papers.
Over the five-year transition, only those members of affiliated trade unions who have separately signed up to become affiliated supporters and consented to pay an affiliation fee will be given a vote in any leadership contest.
Currently, candidates for leader and deputy leader must secure the nominations of 12.5 per cent of MPs before being allowed to enter the contest.
The role of MPs in the nomination process would be strengthened so that only those who secured 20 per cent of nominations from MPs will be allowed to contest.
Labour wants to significantly increase the present number of 20,000 registered supporters who participate in campaigns and work with constituency parties.
These registered supporters will have similar rights to affiliated supporters, and in return for a registration fee, will be given an equal vote in leadership elections.
Full individual members of the party will remain the only people who can select parliamentary candidates, become constituency delegates to party conference or stand for election as Labour councillors or representatives.
A primary election will be held to choose Labour’s candidate for mayor of London. Currently this selection is not reserved solely for individual party members, but is conducted through another electoral college in which unions and other affiliated organisations have 50 per cent of the vote.
It is proposed that this selection is also conducted on one member, one vote principles, with members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters all equal.
New rules governing selection of parliamentary candidates will involve standardised and regulated constituency agreements “so that no-one can allege individuals are being put under pressure at local level.”
A strengthened code of conduct for selections will involve a swift timetable and guarantees that local members have proper interaction with their candidates.
A limit will be imposed on spending by potential candidates in pursuit of selection, with a cap on campaign donations.
Labour: reject the Collins report!
Ray Collins’s proposals for the Labour Party special conference on 1 March seem to, or even do, change little immediately. But they contain a time-bomb designed to change things radically, and for the worse, in five years’ time.
Delegates on 1 March should vote against unless they are sure about the changes and have had time to discuss them properly, rather than voting for unless they are totally sure they understand the case against.
In fact there is no chance of proper time to discuss the changes. As we write, Collins’s text has still not been published, less than four weeks before the conference. The platform will not allow amendments, or voting in parts. The conference is only two hours, and much of that assigned to setpiece platform speeches. So there will be little debate, and even that probably unbalanced.
Over the last seven months, since Ed Miliband declared his plan to make trade unionists’ Labour Party affiliation “opt-in” rather than “opt-out”, most union leaders have opposed the idea. The danger now is that they will soften their opposition and back Collins in the name of “unity”.
Collins’s time bomb says that from 2019 the Labour Party should accept affiliation fees from unions only in proportion to the number of members for whom those unions have sent details to the Labour Party as have ticked a box saying that they want part of their political levy to go to Labour.
Probably that will reduce the union-affiliation numbers considerably below the current 2.7 million. Collins expects so. He and others clearly want that, so that after 2019 they can reduce the unions’ voting power within the party. That is what it is all about.
The requirement for members to tick a box – i.e., that all who fail or forget to express a choice should be counted as “opting out”, rather than those who want to “opt out” of the union’s collective decision to affiliate having to say so – is presented as democratic.
But what would we think, in unions, if members had to tick a box to say they want to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot paper if they had previously ticked a box?
Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to support the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and political fund money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to individuals who had ticked a box?
Or if members had to tick a box to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in union ballots on strikes, and could be balloted and strike only if they had previously ticked that box?
Box-tickers will pay no extra in union dues. But the incentive to tick the box will be small even for solid Labour supporters. The only gain of substance for the individual from ticking the box is that she or he will not lose their current right to vote in Labour leadership elections. But the next Labour leadership poll could be ten years away.
And if no candidate can stand for Labour leader unless nominated by 20% of Labour MPs – which Collins is also reported to propose – then the leadership poll is likely to be small contest anyway. The sweetener of removing the MPs’ overweighted votes in leadership polls is a small thing by comparison.
It is not yet clear when the substantive rule changes will be put. The best information as of now is that on 1 March rule changes will be put only on primaries and on leadership elections, not on affiliation procedures. So a later rule change will be necessary on affiliation procedures.
Even if Collins wins on 1 March, unions and CLPs should oppose that rule change when it comes forward. We should combat any resurgence of the mood of defeatism which prevailed in July 2013 – “the Labour-union link is going to be broken, there’s no way of stopping it, it’s really not even worth campaigning on the issue”.
Collins’s complicated proposals, which will create great administrative difficulties and damage to Labour finances, are designed only to create a lever for reducing the union vote in the Labour Party. Talk of the proposals increasing the involvement of individual trade unionists is hypocritical. The proposals will allow some individual trade unionists to keep the right they have now, of voting for Labour leader; remove that right from others; and remove from all trade unionists the right to have their basic representative organisations, the unions, exercising control in a party which claims to be “Labour”.
The unions do not always vote left-wing. Far from it: in long tracts of Labour’s history, the union block vote was a prop for the old Labour right wing. But the union vote in the Labour Party institutionalises openings, in times of working-class political ferment, for workers to use their basic organisations to sway Labour, through a range of channels from Labour annual conference to trade-union delegacies to local Labour Parties.
That is why the new Labour right wing wants to curtail the union vote. That is why we should oppose the Collins report; and, if it is passed, fight each inch of way over the next five years to stop its time-bomb being exploded.
By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):
Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.
This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.
Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.
The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.
The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.
Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.
Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies. So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress.
What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.
The article that follows (‘Pussy Riot Roars Out of Prison’) appeared in The Daily Beast on 23 December: I can’t improve on it. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
By Anna Nemtsova
Maria Alyokhina showed no mercy for Vladamir Putin when she walked out of jail, saying his performance felt like a”dark art of performance”:
They went behind bars as feminist artists and came out as human rights defenders. Both Pussy Riot performance group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina qualified for amnesty last week but they were only officially told on Monday and freed the same morning. Maria Alyokhina immediately spoke to The Daily Beast about being Vladimir Putin’s pardon, the tactics of the Russian penal system, and more.
Alyokhina said her release from jail felt more like “a secret special operation” than an act of humanism. Monday morning, prison guards told her that she had been pardoned but did not let her walk free on her own. Officials hurried to pack her belongings without letting Alyokhina decide what she wanted to bring with her or what to leave for her friends. A prison convoy led the artist to a black Volga car and drove her away from prison in unknown direction.
With this amnesty, people are given some freedom but not all of it. Last week, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was awoken in the middle of the night and taken away from his prison. Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny commented on Twitter that he could not understand such amnesty accompanied with “idiotic abductions, flags and black Volgas.” Alyokhina had no chance to say a proper goodbye to her friends: the other inmates. Officials brought the artist to the Nizhny Novgorod railway station and left her there. Alyokhina still wore her prison coat with her name written on it. She could not wait to see her little son Fillip and “was dying to take a shower,” she said. Alyokhina also felt worried about the fate of 20 women, fellow inmates who supported her in prison.
Alyokhina said after the “endless humiliations” in prison, what had happened to her this morning seemed like “ a dark art performance.”
In phone interview, Alyokhina said that after all “endless humiliations” she had experienced in prison what had happened to her this morning seemed more like “ a dark art performance.” Looking for a place to go, Alyokhina called her friends at a local human rights center, the Committee Against Torture. One of the activists at the center, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky said that officials “secretly sneaked Masha out of jail” so she would not walk free to meet with her family, friends and reporters.” To Alyokhina, who spent almost two years in jail, the prison’s behavior was no surprise: “This is typical act for our penitentiary system, close and conservative as jail itself—their methods are all about secrecy, no information and zero transparency,” Alyokhina said. Nobody would tell that she had just walked out of prison. Even in her green prison overcoat and uniform skirt Alyokhina looked as any young woman, “except that she is extremely intelligent, brave and stable for a 25-year-old woman, who spent over 1.5 years in jail,” said human-rights activist Igol Kalyapin.
Kalyapin visited Alyokhina in her Ural prison colony last spring. The system applied methods meant to break any man’s courage to Alyokhina, Kalyapin said. “She would call prison guards ‘personnel’ and demanded they respect her rights, at the time, when she knew she could be murdered any night; her life was threatened several times. She was punished by isolation in a single cell but Masha stayed unbreakable; she is a well-mannered, intelligent and very respectable woman, “ Kalyapin said.
Meanwhile, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova called for a boycott of the Olympic games in Sochi as soon as she had a chance to speak to press waiting for her outside the hospital where she had been kept.
Of all the eulogies to Nelson Mandela there have been over the past eleven days, this one was probably the most powerful, sincere and moving. I defy anyone to watch and listen with completely dry eyes:
Below is the official version of Ahmed Kathrada’s speech, but it varies somewhat from what he said on the day, suggesting that some of his remarks (eg: that extraordinary closing comment, “My life is in a void and I don’t know who to turn to”) were entirely spontaneous:
The last time I saw Madiba alive was when I visited him in hospital. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion and pride. He tightly held my hand until the end of my brief visit. It was profoundly heartbreaking. It brought me to the verge of tears when my thoughts automatically flashed back to the picture of the man I grew up under. How I wished I’d never had to confront the reality of what I saw.
I first met Madiba in 1946; that’s 67 years ago. I recalled the tall, healthy and strong man; the boxer; the prisoner who easily wielded the pick and shovel at the lime quarry on Robben Island. I visualised the prisoner that vigorously exercised every morning before we were unlocked. What I saw at his home after his spell in hospital was this giant of a man, helpless and reduced to a shadow of his former self.
And now the inevitable has happened. He has left us and is now with the “A Team” of the ANC – the ANC in which he cut his political teeth; and the ANC for whose policy of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa he was prepared to die.
He has joined the “A Team” of his close comrades: Chief Luthuli; Walter Sisulu; Oliver Tambo; Dr Yusuf Dadoo; Jack Simons; Moses Kotane; Bram Fischer; Dr Monty Naicker; JB Marks; Helen Joseph; Ruth First; Professor ZK Matthews; Beyers Naude; Joe Slovo; Lilian Ngoyi; Ma Sisulu and Michael Harmel.
In addition to the ANC’s “A Team”, Madiba has also joined men and women outside the ANC – Helen Suzman, Steve Biko, Alan Paton, Robert Sobukwe, Cissie Gool, Bennie Kies, Neville Alexander, Zeph Mothopeng and many other leaders.
We are a country that has been blessed by many great and remarkable men and women, all of whom played a critical part in this grand struggle for freedom and dignity. We have been blessed by the contributions of many different movements and formations, both inside and outside the country, each making an indelible imprint on our history. We have been blessed by a struggle that actively involved the masses of the people in their own liberation.
We have been blessed that under the collective leadership of the ANC, we can proudly proclaim that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. We were mightily, and unexpectedly, blessed when the old, oppressive, undemocratic order succumbed and bowed to the inevitable. And then, finally, we were truly blessed by the far-sighted wisdom of our collective leadership – with Madiba at the helm – that took us into a democratic future. For all of this and much more, we are deeply grateful.
We are fortunate that today we live in a noisy and lively democracy. We are eternally grateful that dignity has been restored to all South Africans. We are forever grateful that the lives of many are improving, although not enough yet. We are deeply grateful for a constitution that encompasses all that is good in us and a constitutional order that protects our hard-won freedom. Finally, we are infinitely grateful that each and every one of us, whether we are African, white, coloured or Indian, can proudly call ourselves South Africans.
Mindful of our gains, we nevertheless know that a long, long road lies ahead, with many twists and turns, sometimes through difficult and trying times. Poverty, ill-health and hunger still stalk our land. Greed and avarice show their ugly faces. Xenophobia and intolerance play their mischief in our beautiful land. Parts of the world out there find themselves in unhappy situations; economies falter and stagger; extremism and fundamentalism of all kinds are rampant; the Earth reels from climate change, and the poor battle to survive. Ferocious struggles for democracy unfold daily before our very eyes and the numbers of political prisoners grow in step with rising intolerance. For instance, we think of the Palestinian Marwan Barghouti, who is languishing in an Israeli prison. All of these people and prisoners throughout the world will continue to draw inspiration from the life and legacy of Mandela.
And finally Mr President, I wish to address myself directly to Madala, as we called each other. What do we say to you in these, the last, final moments together, before you exit the public stage forever?
Madala, your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world. You symbolise today, and always will, qualities of collective leadership, reconciliation, unity and forgiveness. You strove daily to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
In this spirit, so exemplified in your life, it is up to the present and next generations to take up the cudgels where you have left off. It is up to them, through service to deepen our democracy; entrench and defend our constitution; eradicate poverty; eliminate inequality; fight corruption, and serve always with compassion, respect, integrity and tolerance. Above all, they must build our nation and break down the barriers that still divide us.
Xenophobia, racism and sexism must be fought with tenacity, wisdom and enlightenment. Anything that defines someone else as “the other” has to go. Tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow. In all these actions we are and will be guided by your wisdom and deeds.
Today, mingled with our grief is the enormous pride that one of our own has during your life, and now in your death, united the people of South Africa and the entire world on a scale never experienced before in history. Remarkably, in these last few days, the masses of our people, from whatever walk of life, have demonstrated how very connected they feel to you; how the story of your life is their story and how their story is your story. Madala, you captured this relationship beautifully on the occasion of Walter Sisulu’s death, when you said: “We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other’s bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom!”
To Mrs Graça Machel and the Mandela family, our love, respect and support go out to you. We wish there was a way that we could ease your grief and pain. These last few months have been particularly hard, and we trust that in the ensuing weeks you will be able to find the rest and peace you need so much. We mourn with you and wish you strength in this time of need.
Madala, while we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end. Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.
Hamba Kahle, Madala! Hamba Kahle, my dearest friend!
(from the Guardian)
“We do him no honour to subsume his politics, or his personal peculiarities, beneath an aura of sainthood”
Above: Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela
By Robert Fine at the Workers Liberty website
Nelson Mandela was a big man and his long life was punctuated by huge personal and political achievements. Foremost among his personal achievements was the dignity and apparent lack of bitterness with which he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment by the apartheid regime in South Africa. He had the personal grace to embody the long struggle against racism and for democracy when he re-entered the public sphere in 1990 and by nearly all accounts he set an example of leadership during his own long years in gaol. During this period Mandela was himself rather forgotten for much of the time, out of sight in the 1960s, eclipsed in the 1970s by the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko, denounced in the 1980s by various world leaders (including Thatcher, Reagan and Bush Senior) as a terrorist, but increasingly in this period lionised in political and cultural circles. Who can forget Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela!
Foremost among his political achievements was of course the role he played in steering South Africa from apartheid to democracy, from a state in which to be black was to be less than human to one man, one woman, one vote. This was no easy road. There was violence from members of the old regime, from Zulu nationalists in the Inkatha Movement, from ‘white’ ultra-nationalist in the AWB, and not least from among some black radicals (including Mandela’s wife, WInnie) within the black townships. Once in power as the first President of the new South Africa Mandela formed a government of National Unity with the Afrikaner Nationalists and Inkatha, oversaw the drafting of the new constitution including a strong Bill of Rights, and gave the go-ahead for Bishop Tutu to establish his famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One of the many iconic moments of the Rainbow Nation Mandela sought to establish was presenting the Rugby World Cup trophy, held in South Africa, to the Springboks captain Francois Peinaar. Rugby was a generally ‘white’ sport and those of us who remember the anti-apartheid demonstrations we held against the visiting Springboks will understand the great symbolism of this occasion.
Mandela was a human being and despite all the efforts to sanctify him we do him no honour to subsume his politics, or indeed his patrician personal peculiarities, beneath an aura of sainthood sometimes constructed for the narrowest of political purposes. Mandela came from a Christian, aristocratic and propertied African family – very different in culture and social status from the mass of ‘blanket’ Africans. He became involved in ANC politics in the 1950s, when he was active in the non-violent Defiance Campaign and then in organising the Congress of the People in 1955. It put forward the famous and at the time controversial Freedom Charter:
“We the people of South Africa declare for all our country: That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.
In a context of plural political movements vying for popular support, the notion of ‘we the people’ had obvious political advantages for the ANC, but what was more important was that it set a basically multi-racial path for the liberation movement.
There has been debate over whether Mandela ever joined the South African Communist Party, which had of course strong Soviet connections, but whether or not he did join, he worked closely with some of its members. What first thrust Mandela into international fame, his first moment of glory, was perhaps his least auspicious contribution. He was involved in the late 1950s in the turn to armed struggle, the establishment of an armed wing of the ANC, known as MK or Umkhonto We Sizwe, and the reorganisation of the party in accordance with the ‘M-Plan’, setting up a cell structure for military operations. Mandela was acquitted at the long drawn out Treason Trial of 1956-61, but he was then convicted of ‘sabotage’ at the Rivonia Trial in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
We should acknowledge that the so-called turn to armed struggle was a disaster. The bombing campaigns were ineffective and those involved in them were quickly rounded up. More importantly, the mass democratic campaigns, which rocked the apartheid regime in the latter half of the 1950s, all quickly collapsed as sabotage, secrecy and vanguardism took over. The murder by the police of 69 protesters at Sharpeville – a protest organised by the PAC, a rival organisation to the ANC – was treated by the ANC / SACP leadership as a sign that peaceful protest was no longer possible. However, it was also a sign that the mass democratic movement as a whole – which comprised community movements, trade union movements, women’s movements and even tribal peasant movements – was seriously impacting on the apartheid regime.
After the turn to armed struggle there ensued a decade of state repression and intensified racist legislation, marked by the defeat of popular struggles. I do not think this downturn can be separated from the ill advisedness of the ‘turn’ Mandela helped to implement. Mandela was inspired, as many radicals were in that period, by Castro’s 26th Movement, the example of Che Guevara, and by various armed African liberation movements. The long period of his prosecution in the Treason Trial may have cut him off from active involvement in the mass democratic movement (I am not sure of this). In any event the strategic turn taken by the ANC, which Mandela supported and personified, probably had more to do with the wider strategic turn enforced by leaders of the Soviet Union on most Communist Parties they supported, than with any local conditions. Mandela’s ringing speech at the Rivonia Trial – “I was the symbol of justice in the court of oppression” – was undoubtedly true but of course did not address the democratic and class issues involved in turning away from mass struggle.
There was always a patrician and intolerant edge to the ANC movement, but it was the turn to violence in 1961 that for many years broke its connection with grass-roots democracy. The protests that broke out in the mid-1970s, a decade and a half after Sharpeville, were conducted more in the name of Black Consciousness and Steve Biko than the ANC and Mandela. In the 1980s the ANC began to get back into the picture internationally as a largely exiled movement, but the internal movement of new non-racial trade unions (especially under the umbrella of FOSATU) and new community movements (especially under the umbrella of the United Democratic Front) showed a considerable degree of independence from the ANC–SACP alliance. In the UK I remember ANC-SACP people in the anti-apartheid movement denouncing in this period the new industrial trade unions and their solidarity supporters in the UK, including myself, as queering the pitch of the ‘official’ trade union wing of the movement, SACTU, or worse as collaborators.
Once Mandela was out of prison in 1990, his conciliatory strengths were manifold: he certainly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. There was at the time violence in the air – the murder of Chris Hani, massacres at Sebokeng and at Shell House, the AWB car bombs, the ‘necklacing’ of ‘collaborators’ committed by young activists in the townships, even the tortures and murders committed by the Winnie Mandela’s thuggish ‘United Football Club’. Directly or indirectly, Mandela helped to resolve tensions between the independent unions and the ANC and the former head of the Mineworkers Union Cyril Ramapoza led the ANC delegation into negotiations with the government. Mandela was a force for reconciliation but this did not mean that he simply gave in to stronger forces. He was strongly critical of de Klerk, the leader of the Afrikaner Nationalists, when the latter granted amnesty to the police and defended his old Defence Minister, Malan.
However, reconciliation meant not only reconciling oneself to the past but also reconciling oneself to the present – and to forces that would keep the great majority of ordinary black people in poverty and subjection. Strengths can turn into weaknesses and this is what happened to Mandela’s undoubted strengths. The ambitious social and economic plans of the ANC-SACP, articulated in the election campaign of 1994 in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, were frustrated by business friendly policies (tight budgets, fee trade, debt responsibility, etc.), the allure of unheard of riches corrupting all manner of officials, and an increasingly evident anti-pluralist streak within the ANC and SACP themselves. The trade union independence so carefully built up in the 1980s was compromised by its alliance with the ANC and SACP in the 1990s. By the time Mandela decided not to stand again as President in 1999, there were pronounced signs of growing unemployment, inequality and governmental authoritarianism – as well as the peculiarities of certain policy traits like Mbeki’s almost unbelievable refusal to recognise the existence of AIDS or the importance of anti-viral treatment.
Mandela was not uncritical of his own role, notably in relation to the whole question of AIDS, but whether or not he spoke out publicly on these issues, he remained a force for decency in the background of a state that was becoming disturbingly violent, anti-egalitarian and grasping. The police murder of 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by a British company Lonmin, one of whose well paid directors is Cyril Ramapoza, the former leader of the Mineworkers Union and Deputy leader of the ANC, and its cover up and normalisation by leading figures in the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance, is just one exemplar.
Mandela will be missed today not because he was a perfect role model, and he was certainly no saint, but because he knew what is important in life and represented something authentic in the South African revolutionary tradition. Now that he has gone, I wonder what is in store for the revolution, which his presence did much to foster and civilise but which his aura served to insulate from the normal processes of intellectual and political criticism.