Stephen Ellis Adds His Voice to the Debate About Nelson Mandela’s Communist Link
Stephen Ellis, author of External Mission: The ANC in Exile has responded to a debate in the New York Review of Books between Bill Keller, Rian Malan and Paul Trewhela, in which Malan and Trewhela had drawn on Ellis’ research to prove that Nelson Mandela had been a member of the South African Communist Party and that the SACP had largely controlled the ANC during apartheid.
In his letter, Ellis agrees with Malan and Trewhela and says that Mandela had indeed been a member of the SACP from around 1960 to 1962. He adds that “Mr. Keller underestimates the extent to which the SACP extended its influence within the ANC during the twenty-seven years that Mandela spent in prison”.
Citing the current ANC discourse of a revolution in two stages, “the first of them national democratic in character, the second socialist”, Ellis argues that the ruling party “continues to bear the ideological traces” of its relationship with the SACP.
Keller replies to Ellis’ letter, but he is still not convinced:
Since all three authors in your exchange on “Mandela & Communism” [NYR, June 6] did me the honor of citing my research on Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC), perhaps you would allow me to comment further?
Bill Keller is correct in pointing out that Nelson Mandela adopted a variety of political and ideological positions during his long fight against apartheid in South Africa. His membership in the South African Communist Party (SACP) seems to have been brief, probably lasting only from 1960, or shortly before, until his imprisonment in 1962. However, Mr. Keller underestimates the extent to which the SACP extended its influence within the ANC during the twenty-seven years that Mandela spent in prison. He is wrong to dismiss as “Red-baiting nonsense” the argument that the SACP—generally holding fast to the Stalinist tradition within communism—effectively turned the ANC into a front organization during that time.
- External Mission: The ANC in Exile by Stephen Ellis
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