Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest political heroes of the last century -- a man who earned the highest accolades from those at every point on the American ideological spectrum, and who punctuated his political life by working for pragmatic racial political reconciliation. But he also spent much of his life as a radical Marxist allied with global communist luminaries, leading a political party that eventually embraced the violent overthrow of the apartheid government in South Africa.
When President John F. Kennedy pressed to empower anti-colonial forces across the African continent, Mandela and his African National Congress were too radical for American support. President Ronald Reagan was a staunch ally of Mandela's apartheid captors.
Much of that U.S. resistance stemmed from Mandela's affinity for Marxist ideas and his longstanding association with hardline communists. At his 1962 trial on charges of inciting workers' strikes, Mandela insisted he was not a member of Communist Party. Of course, official Communist Party membership is a much different thing than being heavily influenced by Marxism and socialism, which Mandela certainly was, to the great benefit of his people.
Mandela was closely aligned with Marxists around the globe until his death. His affinity for Marxism began as the ideology was the leading global language of anti-oppression. Today, we're witnessing a resurgence, as the ongoing jobs crisis around the globe has pushed young people to reexamine capitalism. A Pew poll in late 2011 showed that Americans from age 18 to 29 were actually more likely to have a positive of view socialism than a negative one. Even the pope has joined in, recently calling unfettered capitalism "a new tyranny."
Mandela was an inspiration for reformers and revolutionaries throughout the 20th century. As a new generation of the dispossessed take a fresh look at his writing, career and speeches, they may find much to draw from.
Mandela was not a monolithic thinker. His ideological perspective shifted over the course of more than 60 years as a political leader. Here are his top Marxist moments.
1. Mandela’s views on poverty as a “social evil.”
“Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times -- times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation -- that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” -- Mandela during a 2005 speech on global poverty at London's Trafalgar Square
2. His support for Marxist revolutionary and former Cuban president Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s.
"Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro ... Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist campaign designed to destroy the advances of the Cuban revolution. We too want to control our destiny ... There can be no surrender. It is a case of freedom or death. The Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people." -- Mandela during a speech at a Cuban rally on July 26, 1991.
3. Mandela’s efforts to equalize wealth distribution by nationalizing South African industries, including banking and mining, through his support for the 1955 Freedom Charter, which ultimately failed.
Under the subhead “THE PEOPLE SHALL SHARE IN THE COUNTRY'S WEALTH!” the charter says, “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people; The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and the monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole …”
Portions on people’s rights to land ownership, employment and health care read, “All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose … Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work; There shall be a forty-hour working-week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers … Free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children.”
In a 1956 article in Liberation entitled “Freedom in our Lifetime,” Mandela wrote, "the Freedom Charter ... serves as a beacon to the Congress Movement and an inspiration to the people of South Africa ... It is a revolutionary document precisely because the changes it envisages cannot be won without breaking up the economic and political set-up of present South Africa."
4. His close personal and political relationship with the leader of the South African Communist Party Joe Slovo, or “Comrade Joe” as Mandela called him.
“When the working people start enjoying, as a right, a roof over their heads, affordable medical care, quality education and a rising standard of living, they will be right to say, Comrade Joe was a chief architect who helped lay the foundation for a better life.” -- Mandela’s speaking at Joe Slovo's funeral in 1995.
Slovo also defended Mandela in court against charges of treason in 1956.
5. The former South African president’s ardent support for labor unions.
Upon release from his 27-year imprisonment in 1990, Mandela took a trip to the U.S., where he stopped at a Ford Motor Co. auto plant in Dearborn, Mich., to express his affinity with union workers:
"Sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, the man who is speaking is not a stranger here. The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood.” -- Mandela speaking to auto union workers during a U.S. tour in 1990.
6. The longstanding alliance between Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.
"What unites us today is the struggle against racial oppression, and we are not prepared to investigate the political ideology of any particular member of the ANC as long as he or she supports the basic aim of destroying racial oppression.” -- Mandela responding to criticisms over the ANC’s relationship with the South African Communist Party, 1991.
The ANC maintains a tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.