🔒 RW Johnson: Ronnie Kasrils and other fraudulent revolutionaries

In this scathing critique penned by RW Johnson, he challenges Ronnie Kasrils’ professed principles of supporting armed resistance to oppression, particularly focusing on Kasrils’ apparent indifference to human rights abuses by groups like Hamas. Johnson accuses Kasrils and the South African Communist Party of hypocritically praising Soviet interventions in Eastern Europe while turning a blind eye to the suffering of oppressed populations and the discrimination faced by Soviet Jews. Johnson contends that their claims of standing with the oppressed are, in reality, fraudulent and questions why anyone should take them seriously.

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By RW Johnson

In his reply to Greg Mills (18 December, 2023) Ronnie Kasrils wrote that “I support the right of all oppressed people to resist and to resist armed oppression with armed resistance. My principles are universal, they apply to all situations.”  This statement was made as part of Kasrils’ attempt to extricate himself from the widespread revulsion created by the sight of his clear delight at the Hamas atrocities committed on October 7 last year: “They swept on them and they killed them and damn good. I was so pleased”, he said, adding that he only wished that “we had been able to spring a surprise on the Boers and knock down a hundred of them”. (So much for the MK claim of avoiding civilian targets.)

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Given that the Hamas atrocities were mainly committed against civilians and that the wish to “knock down” (i.e. kill) a hundred Afrikaners is expressed in purely racial terms, clearly not excluding the murder of civilians, it then comes as something of a surprise that Kasrils adds that he opposes and regrets all loss of civilian life. This despite his having been “so pleased” by the Hamas abominations which included rape, torture, beheadings, burning people alive etc. Very oddly, Kasrils continues “At the same time empathy for any civilian victim is felt. This is felt for civilians who died on October 7.” Why this sudden turn to the passive voice ? It’s as if Kasrils can’t bring himself to say that he personally has those feelings. As how can he if he was “so pleased” ?

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Kasrils never criticises Hamas for its atrocities and, indeed, he tries hard to exculpate them: “With regard to the tragedy of violent civilian deaths, completion of the initial phase of military attack was compromised by the music festival, an obstacle to access to command centres. The ensuing carnage was exacerbated by the IDF’s chaotic arrival on the scene”. Indeed, Kasrils claims that the IDF had “extensive culpability” for the civilian deaths on October 7. So the music festival thoughtlessly got in the way of the Hamas attack and the IDF were also at fault for attempting to save the lives of their fellow citizens.  

But let us go back to Kasrils’ initial statement that he supports the right or armed resistance to armed oppression. He specifically says that this is a universal principle, applying “in all situations”. Yet the fact is that for the major part of his life Kasrils acted completely contrary to such principles.

One of the most upsetting phenomena of the apartheid period was the way in which visiting foreign celebrities would frequently conclude their enjoyable sojourn in South Africa by declaring it to be a wonderful country which had been most unfairly criticised. In effect they either ignored apartheid altogether or simply treated it as a set of local laws and customs which made sense in their own context. They did this because they personally had had a good time in South Africa – and because they wanted to please the authorities. For those of us in the anti-apartheid camp these declarations were an agonising betrayal, for we expected any cosmopolitan international figure to have enlightened views on apartheid. 

Undoubtedly the chief example of this phenomenon was Victorio Carpio, the longtime Filipino UN representative who was the first chairman of the UN’s South West Africa Committee. Invited by Verwoerd to visit Namibia and South Africa in May 1962, Carpio greatly enjoyed his visit which he concluded by issuing a joint communique with Verwoerd – thus implying that they were in complete agreement – in which no mention of apartheid was made at all. Back in New York, the UN SWA Committee erupted in fury against its chairman, who then hurriedly tried to reverse himself – but the damage to the credibility of both Carpio and the UN was lasting.

Yet Kasrils – and the rest of the SACP – all behaved exactly as Carpio had, ignoring the suffering of the oppressed of Eastern Europe while they gaily consorted with the armed oppressors, indeed complimenting them at every turn on the way they ran the countries under their occupation.

Start with East Germany. In 1949, four years after the War, the Red Army still had 2.9 million troops there. Even though East Germany had by then become the supposedly independent and sovereign German Democratic Republic (GDR), this Soviet occupation never ceased. Even as late as 1991 the Red Army had 337,800 troops there – together with their families a Russian presence of 546,200 people.  Large Red Army detachments were also stationed in Poland and Hungary until the very end in 1991.

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And there was no doubt about the brutal reality of the Soviet occupation. In early 1953 the GDR authorities introduced their “Constructing Socialism” programme, as part of which work loads were increased by 10% (with no extra pay). Together with price increases and new taxes the combined effect was to cut workers’ incomes by 33%. At the same time agriculture was to be collectivised, private trade and industry were restricted and the main churches were suppressed. Throughout the GDR workers rose in revolt. A whole Red Army armoured division was ordered in and the rising was put down with tanks. 125 workers were killed, another 30-40 were executed and some 10,000 were detained. Huge numbers of East Germans fled to the West. After that no one could be in any doubt as to the realities of power in the GDR. Yet nobody in the SACP raised a murmur of protest or criticism.

It was the same with Hungary in 1956. Although the Hungarian Communist Party had won just 17% of the vote in the only free election (in 1945), the Soviet Union had imposed a Communist regime. Hungary had to pay for the Red Army occupation as well as war reparations, together costing up to 22% of all government income. In October 1956 the reformist government of Imre Nagy announced that it wanted to restore Hungarian sovereignty, disband the AVH (the hated secret police), leave the Warsaw Pact and hold free elections. Immediately, it freed 8,000 political prisoners. Huge crowds gathered in the street chanting “This we swear, this we swear, that we will no longer be slaves”.

Panicked by the thought of free elections. the USSR reinforced the five Red Army divisions it maintained as an occupying force in Hungary. Ultimately, the USSR had no less than 17 divisions in Hungary. Tanks surrounded Budapest and attacked, supported by artillery and air strikes. Hungarian workers had set up some 2,100 workers’ councils to support Nagy and they resisted most fiercely. 53% of all Hungarians killed were workers. Over 200,000 people fled to the West, 22,000 were imprisoned by the Russians and 229 were executed. Nagy sought sanctuary in the Yugoslav Embassy but was given assurances of safe passage to the West. On leaving the Embassy, however, he was immediately arrested and later executed. 

It was the same story in Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek introduced media freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of travel – the so-called “Prague Spring” or “socialism with a human face”. Three weeks later a force of 650,000 men invaded Czechoslovakia. Prague was encircled by 165,000 troops with 4,600 tanks. Dubcek appealed for non-resistance but even so resistance continued for eight months. 300,000 people fled to the West. In Red Square, Moscow, seven dissidents protested against the invasion. They were brutally beaten and consigned to psychiatric hospitals. The Red Army imposed a new repressive Czech government under Gustav Husak. 

Dubcek survived and when Communism was overthrown in 1989 he became the Speaker of the first free parliament. Interestingly, when Gorbachev introduced “glasnost” and “perestroika” he was asked in 1987 what was the difference between his programme and the Prague Spring. “Nineteen years”, he replied.

One could go on. Thus, for example, the Soviet take-over of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia was a classic imperial grab. Thanks to the Nazi-Soviet Pact the USSR simply took over these three independent countries and turned them into subordinate Soviet republics. The local population resisted in all three cases so the Soviets started mass deportations. Immediately, there were 405,000 deportations, mostly to Siberia. Many more were executed – and few of the deportees survived. Meanwhile Russian-speakers were encouraged to settle in the three republics. But despite fifty years of such policies these Baltic states all opted for independence outside the USSR at the first possible opportunity, a status they quickly aimed to cement by joining both the EU and NATO.

So the story is clear enough. Eastern Europe was held down only by endlessly rigged elections, by brute force and by terror. For the KGB (now the FSB) has never been averse to using torture and all the secret police forces of Eastern Europe had to accept the leadership and example of the KGB. (Even someone as eminent as the Hungarian Cardinal Josef Mindszenty was tortured for opposing the Communist regime.) The resulting house of cards thus depended entirely on lies and continuous oppression. Much the same was true of the USSR itself. When free elections for the Supreme Soviet were held under Yeltsin, the Various constituent republics of the USSR began voting for independence. The mighty Soviet Union could not survive a free, honest election.

For decades SACP cadres, including Kasrils, moved happily around Eastern Europe and the USSR. Exactly like Carpio, they ignored the suffering of the oppressed masses all around them and they had only praise for the Soviet occupiers. They all regarded themselves as revolutionaries yet they were completely oblivious to the fact that they were living in a huge revolutionary situation. That is, the oppressed and bullied populations of these states longed to get rid of the Communist regimes forcibly imposed upon them and the first moment they got a chance to overthrow those regimes they all took it. Given that they were only held down by the brutal strength of the occupying Red Army and the horrific secret police forces installed everywhere by the KGB, this armed oppression (to use Kasrils’ term) was an extremely visible fact of East European and Soviet life. You could only fail to understand this if you were utterly determined not to notice what was in front of your nose. But did Kasrils support armed resistance to this armed oppression, a principle which he insists applies “in all situations” ? Of course not. His profession of principle is entirely bogus.

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There was also the issue of Kasrils’ fellow Jews. Soviet anti-semitism was notorious and Russian Jews suffered all manner of discrimination. As a result many longed to emigrate but this was not allowed until 1968, when the USSR was effectively forced to change the law by strong international pressure. It resented this and many requests for emigration were denied, after which the failed applicants would be regarded as traitors and became the object of public hatred. Even if they got an exit visa they were stripped of their Soviet citizenship and any real estate assets they had. Nonetheless, 291,000 Soviet Jews emigrated between 1968 and 1988, of whom 165,000 went to Israel. When Gorbachev made emigration easier in 1989 a further 1.6 million Jews poured out by 2006 –  979,000 of them to Israel. More Jewish refugees from the Soviet successor states have joined them since then. 

There is no doubt that the addition of more than a million Russian Jews has greatly strengthened Israel, especially since many are highly talented people. The Ukraine war was regarded with horror by many Russian intellectuals and large numbers fled the country. Inevitably, this also brought a fresh flood of Russian Jews to Israel. Their consciousness of their history of having survived successive pogroms has made many of these Russian immigrants tough political conservatives. They certainly know that October 7 was another pogrom.

But the question is, with millions of Jews in the USSR suffering ill-treatment and discrimination, did Jewish members of the SACP then in the USSR express solidarity with their fellow Jews, denounce Soviet anti-semitism and stand up for the oppressed ? Not at all. Kasrils made it clear that he thought everything about the USSR was wonderful. 

Thus for Kasrils or other self-described “revolutionaries” to claim that they always take the side of the oppressed is simply fraudulent. They supported the Soviet interventions in the GDR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. They simply looked the other way while their fellow Jews around them were being ill-treated and discriminated against. They supported and praised the Communist puppet regimes imposed by force and rigged elections. They were shattered when all of these regimes fell before the popular fury of the oppressed majority. Kasrils and Co. were all so many Carpios. It is hard to see why anyone should take them seriously.

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