It would of course, be absurd to call the New York Times in any sense
pro-Communist. Absurd. Ridiculous. Daft. Surely not the Field Marshal
of Establishment Left-Liberalism. And yet, and yet...
Take the recent thinkpiece in the Sunday New York Times
(the day for thinkpieces) by top Timesman Bill Keller, "South
Africa's Communists Navigate a New Politics" (Sept. 20). The entire
article is devoted to praising the merits, the intelligence, the
downright lovability, of the Communist Party of South Africa,
a possibly guiding powerhouse within the leftist African National
Congress that is poised to take over the Republic of South Africa.
The article features the greatness of one Chris Hani, General Secretary
of the South African CP, who, unlike most Communist leaders in our
"post-Soviet world" is "not geriatric, irrelevant or former." Hani,
whose picture is featured in the article looking suitably
young and thoughtful has won an "enthusiastic young following"
among blacks. Keller admits that the Communist Party exerts disproportionate
influence within the ANC. Even though the CP has a membership of
only 35,000 out of a million members in the ANC, somehow it has
managed to acquire "at least" 10 of the 26 seats on the ANC's national
working committee, its main policy body. But Keller tries hard to
trivialize this disproportion, attributing it to the nobility, the
heroism of the CP leaders as individuals. The Timesman quotes
a South African political scientist that "the reason so many (Communists)
have risen to leadership positions, is that they've done the fighting
and dying. It's not necessarily their credentials as socialists."
Well, whew! That's a relief!
Besides, reports Keller, the CP has really been a good influence
within the black movement in South Africa. "The Communists," Keller
notes, "are generally credited with persuading the African National
Congress to adopt a nonracial policy in the 1950s." Keller then
quotes "Mr. Hani": "We contributed to the elimination of narrow
nationalism, of South Africa for the blacks only," adding that "we
also brought into the ANC the culture of militancy, of sacrifice."
Well, gee, those Commies are really wonderful, harmonious, noble,
multiracial idealists, aren't they? What a lovable bunch! It's also
remarkable how, under the Times gentle aegis, seventy-five
years of butchery, of despotism, of enslavement, of mass murder
of scores of millions on an unprecedented scale, all this monstrous
record of world Communism, just simply washes away. History and
memory disappear, and we are back in the most naive fantasies of
the Western fellow travelers of the 1930s, those fools and liars
who whitewashed the Communists' black record. More than a half-century
after the lies of New York Times Soviet "expert" Walter Duranty
about the Soviet Union lies, for which the Times has never
deigned to apologize, all this guff that we had thought was gone
is back at least when the Commies possess a color that is
Another piece of Keller naiveté is his excited discovery that the
CP of South Africa admits its past error, one of its top ideologists
admitting that the Party had been too reflexive in supporting the
Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. "We are living
down a sort of ignoble recent past," said this theoretician. Darn
nice of him to rethink his "sort of ignoble" past, isn't it? Keller
also notes that there are many factions within this small but highly
influential CP, ranging from "neo-Stalinists" to "moderates" akin
to the British Labor Party. Keller doesn't seem to realize that
CPs almost always have many factions within them, especially
when they are not in power.
And yet, despite this manifest moderation and lovability of the
CP, the Timesman laments that President de Klerk, from whom
so much has been expected in his drive to divest the white regime
of power, has, in recent weeks, gone back on this policy and has
"hammered with rising fury at the theme of Communist influence."
Why has de Klerk suddenly started worrying about Commies? This harks
back to the September march of the ANC upon the autonomous black
republic of Ciskei. The ANC, angry at the rule over Ciskei by the
conservative black Brigadier Gqozo, has voted to overthrow Gqozo,
and organized the march on Ciskei's borders to step up the pressure
and to threaten an invasion. President de Klerk is exercised by
the fact that the march, which led Gqozo's troops to shoot and kill
two dozen marchers in defense of their country, was led by the notorious
militant Ronnie Kasrils, member of the governing committees of both
the ANC and the Communist Party.
One would think that de Klerk had a point in worrying about Kasrils
and the Communist influence. But not to Mr. Keller, who regards
de Klerk's warnings as merely a cynical way to "sow division in
the black alliance and frighten voters" away from supporting the
ANC. And, of course, we wouldn't want any of that, would
The culmination of Keller's nonsensical position is to warn that
de Klerk's strategy is "risky," for de Klerk, by "raising the Communist
specter," will frighten off foreign investment and polarize the
country. As if the specter of a leftist government with powerful
Communists within it is not enough to scare foreign investors!
Keller concludes by discussing the relationship of ANC President
Nelson Mandela, than whom there is no one more beloved in the left-liberal
press, with the Communist Party. Mandela, Keller assures us, is
not a Communist; in fact, the ANC is getting ever more respectful
of private property. (Yeah, sure. Tell us another one, Bill.) But
we have to realize that Mandela is "wedded to the Communists by
personal and political loyalties" of half a century. Well, sure,
of course, good old loyal Nelson. And, in a particularly neat touch
by Keller, Mandela's partnership with the Commies "helps protect
(him) against charges...that he is drifting comfortably into compromise,
forsaking his roots." Well, sure, we wouldn't want Mandela to forsake
his militant Commie roots, now would we?
Besides, Keller ends wistfully, an ultimate split between the ANC
and CP is inevitable. Communists seem more comfortable as "outsiders"
than running the country (wanna bet, Bill?) and besides, the CP's
"ultimate goal" is "an economy dominated by public ownership and
large-scale redistribution of wealth."
An interesting portrayal of Communism's "ultimate goal." No mention,
of course, of murdering dissenters, totalitarianism, slave labor
camps, and all the rest. No: just a little more socialism and redistributionism
than Mandela or Keller would want. In short, Communists are wonderful,
heroic, self-sacrificing idealists who want a bit more socialism
than Mandela or Social Democrats, the Mensheviks or the New York
Times. There are several morals to this little tale. One is
that, just because Communism disintegrated in the USSR and Eastern
Europe does not mean that we should abandon our insights into the
evils of Communism. There are still Commies around. In fact, the
end of the Cold War makes "red-baiting" less dangerous because it
can no longer be used as a cover for a warmongering, interventionist
foreign policy, for a foreign policy designed to spread social democracy
throughout the globe.
And secondly, Mr. Keller's piece is testimony to the fact that
the illusions about Commies as heroic idealists, which we thought
had died along with Duranty and the myth of the Chinese Communists
as "agrarian reformers," are still all too prevalent.
And finally, if we needed yet another demonstration, that there
is, down deep, not very much difference, after all, between Communism
and Social Democracy, between Bolshevism and Menshevism.