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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

South African Liberation - The Communist Factor - Thomas Karis

From Foreign Affairs, Winter 1986/87

Source: Foreign Affairs, Published by Council on Foreign Relations

Summary: Examines the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Communist Party of South Africa, and considers the extent of Soviet influence over the liberation movement. Argues that the ANC is not dominated by Communists, but that "non-Communist African leaders work with Communists for their common end of opposing white domination". Sees dangers for US foreign policy in looking at the South African problem through ideological blinkers

Thomas G. Karis is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the City College of the City University of New York and senior research fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute on the United Nations at the Graduate School of the City University.

In a free election in South Africa, the now-outlawed African National Congress could possibly win three-fourths of the black vote as well as some white votes. No such election is in sight, but the popularity of the ANC poses a challenge for U.S. policy. Since one of the ANC?s allies is the pro-Soviet South African Communist Party, there is apprehension that the Communist Party dominates or controls the ANC. This issue has become so contentious that the October 1986 U.S. Anti-Apartheid Act, which imposes sanctions on South Africa, also directs the president to report to Congress about "the extent to which communists have infiltrated" black South African politics. As the conflict in South Africa intensifies and becomes more violent, the issue of who the ANC is and what it stands for will preoccupy U.S. policy.

This essay argues that focusing on the role of communism or the Communist Party risks misunderstanding the nature of the ANC. Although some of the ANC's support is only symbolic, and its capacity to control events in South Africa is weak, its strength lies in its stature as a national movement rather than a party. Most students of South African black politics do not believe that the ANC is dominated or controlled by the South African Communist Party. Their key premise, grounded in South African history, is that non-Communist African leaders work with Communists for their common end of opposing white domination.

From its formation in 1912 by a group of African nationalists, the ANC has been the standard-bearer of the African?s quest for equality and full political rights. It has sought to unify all opponents of white domination. After five decades of peaceful protest, the ANC was outlawed in 1960, forcing its leadership into exile and its cadres underground. But open support for the ANC since its resurgence in the late 1970s has been defiant and nationwide, cutting across classes and ethnic groups and bridging the racial divide. Its goal is a democratic, nonracial and undivided South Africa, and its economic program is moderate and pragmatic.

In contrast, the South African Communist Party, founded in 1921 and outlawed in 1950, is a clandestine Marxist-Leninist party, claiming to be tightly controlled and highly disciplined. Its membership, undoubtedly very small, is almost entirely secret; its program is rigidly ideological and pro-Moscow. It responds primarily to its own elitist perception of the interests of the working class, although African nationalism has influenced the party. Beginning in the late 1920s, a few African Communists joined the ANC, some later becoming major figures in it. They are there today, valued and trusted by nationalists as comrades in a common struggle.

The allegation of outright Communist control over the ANC cannot be substantiated, and estimating the degree of Communist influence in the ANC is nearly as difficult. Though the Communists? ideological convictions and long-range agenda distinguish them from many in the ANC, at this stage of the struggle for national liberation Communists and non-Communists in the ANC have no significant differences on ...

For full text see http://www.foreignaffairs.org/19861201faessay7817/thomas-g-karis/south-african-liberation-the-communist-factor.html

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.