Most of the noise generated by Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s observations on a BBC Great Lives radio programme has been linked to his words on terrorism:
Asked by presenter Matthew Parris whether there were any circumstances in which terrorism was justified, Mr Miliband said: ‘Yes, there are circumstances in which it is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective.’
He added: ‘The importance for me is that the South African example proved something remarkable: the apartheid regime looked like a regime that would last forever, and it was blown down.
It is hard to argue that, on its own, a political struggle would have delivered. The striking at the heart of a regime’s claim on a monopoly of power, which the ANC’s armed wing represented, was very significant.’
Where to start?
On the Miliband/terrorism point, the FS was either simply wrong or missed a key point.
It is not whether terrorism is ‘morally justifiable’. It is whether those who use terrorist methods to win power are more likely than not to use terror to stay in it.
Insofar as South Africa has emerged from apartheid ‘peacefully’ and today is in not too bad shape, it is because the ANC/SACP did not use terrorism (other than against fellow Africans which as we know did not count) on any great scale.
On the whole (and wisely, albeit at great cost) the South African masses did not rise up violently against apartheid, but let unrelenting pressures and contradictions of different shapes and sizes erode it.
In fact, if there was an ANC/SACP armed struggle at all it was against other African groupings (PAC/AZAPO/Inkatha). Which is why some 30,000 Africans and almost no ‘whites’ were massacred in South Africa’s legendary Peaceful Transition to Democracy.
Plus the ANC/SACP/UDF in the mid-1980s had a clear policy of unleashing ‘the worse, the better’ revolutionary terror in the townships, with necklacings and other horrors being perpetrated by groups of demonic school-children. Hence, 20+ years later, South Africa’s amazing violent crime rate.
In short, ANC/SACP terrorism did not ‘blow down’ apartheid. P W Botha’s heart attack and the collapse of Communism in Europe did.
The BBC link to the interview coyly describes Joe Slovo as a ‘leading member of the ANC and the first Housing Minister in Nelson Mandela’s government’. The point, of course, is that Slovo was the leading South African communist and formal head of the ‘military wing’ of the ANC/SACP alliance. Slovo was at the heart of ANC/SACP policy-making for years, plus a close suck-up of Moscow and vigorous apologist for Communism anywhere he found it.
So here we have the ghoulish spectacle of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband extolling the merits of this dark character, a great friend of his own Marxist father Ralph Miliband.
Slovo by the usual standards of Communists was something of a moderate and pragmatist. He had to be. Years of exile forced him to grasp that the South African masses were not to be mobilised for a brisk, amazingly violent surge aimed at toppling apartheid. And he seems to have been avuncular in large doses, chatting over Marxist ideology with assorted Milibands. What a great life indeed!
Yet Slovo has to bear a significant responsibility for the carnage inflicted by the SACP/ANC in the townships in its drive for sole power as apartheid ended, and the calamitous crime-rate thereafter. Not an issue I suspect the Miliband family has given much thought to, such is the Labour Party’s fevered admiration for the ANC/SACP.
Plus, while Slovo was devoted to the cause of freedom for South Africans, he was openly and shamefully against freedom for those trying to cast off communism.
See how the SACP urged Moscow to suppress the pro-freedom movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Slovo later claimed to have had personal doubts about this, but fealty to Moscow was a prerequisite for leadership in the anti-apartheid struggle. And that was what counted, not some higher principle of real empowerment and freedom for all.
His ideological writings were ghastly beyond description. His famous piece Has Socialism Failed written in 1990 is a cracker of the genre. It agonizes over the ruin which has come to the classic Communist project as the Berlin Wall crashed, and meanders in a jargonised pseudo-logical way towards a purported condemnation of the ‘Stalinism’ which Slovo had championed for most of his life.
Avuncular Joe scratches for nuggets of Marxist hope in the wreckage:
The transformations which have occurred in Poland, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria are revolutionary in scope. With the exception of Romania, is there another example in human history in which those in power have responded to the inevitable with such a civilised and pacific resignation?
We should remember De Gaulle’s military response in 1968 when ten million workers and students filled the streets of Paris. It is not difficult to forecast how Bush or Thatcher would deal with millions in their streets supported by general strikes demanding the overthrow of their system of rule.
Of course for Slovo Communism in fact did quite well in lots of respects:
Among other things, statistics recently published in The Economist (UK) show that in the Soviet Union – after only 70 years of socialist endeavour in what was one of the most backward countries in the capitalist world – there are more graduate engineers than in the US, more graduate research scientists than in Japan and more medical doctors per head than in Western Europe. It also produces more steel, fuel and energy than any other country (The World in the 1990s; Economist publication).
How many capitalist countries can match the achievements of most of the socialist world in the provision of social security, child care, the ending of cultural backwardness, and so on? There is certainly no country in the world which can beat Cuba’s record in the sphere of health care.
Lies and/or specious drivel.
It was all just a mistake:
We believe, however, that the theory of Marxism, in all its essential respects, remains valid and provides an indispensable theoretical guide to achieve a society free of all forms of exploitation of person by person.
The major weaknesses which have emerged in the practice of socialism are the results of distortions and misapplications. They do not flow naturally from the basic concepts of Marxism whose core is essentially humane and democratic and which project a social order with an economic potential vastly superior to that of capitalism.
My own abiding personal memory of Slovo comes from 1990, a huge rally organised by the ANC/SACP in Jo’burg soon after they were unbanned. Slovo was the final speaker. The crowd had been brought to life by the late Chris Hani leading rounds of cheery Kill the Boer chants and dancing.
Slovo at last rose to speak. Perhaps the proudest moment of his career to date.
And as he started droning on, the Africans started to go home in their droves. Who was this boring old white man anyway?
Slovo on centre-stage could see for himself what was happening. The South African masses were at last voting freely, albeit with their feet. And not for him!
The more impassioned his voice as he glorified the SACP/ANC, the faster people left. It was really remarkable. By the time he finished he was almost shouting, but to desultory applause – the stadium was close to empty.
All the pro-ANC media and its white Leftist elite of course ignored this astonishing spectacle in reporting the event. It was not just appallingly embarrassing for themselves in their self-proclaimed intellectual leadership roles. Worse, far worse, it did not fit the Narrative.
Was Slovo’s a ‘great life’? In its own tenaciously dogmatic, blinkered, selfish blood-flecked way, perhaps it was.
Does he deserve a fawning BBC piece led by a British Foreign Secretary?
If Mr Miliband is looking for a real Great Life hero, why not go for a poorly educated working man who led a true bloodless democratic revolution in the part of Europe where the Slovo and Miliband families came from?
Such as this one.