Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Happiness of the People

Over the summer I have been working, relaxing at festivals and generally not writing as much as I should. It's now time to catch up.

Last weekend I was going through some old copies of Tribune and various other journals and spotted this piece by Bryan Rostron in Tribune 27 June 2008, p13,(available online at Mail and Guardian), on Stalinism and the ANC.

In his epic novel, Life and Fate, Russian author Vasily Grossman tried to explain the slavishness of "party-mindedness" and the acquiescence of once brave revolutionaries who kept quiet as Stalinism took hold. "Fear alone cannot achieve all this," he wrote. "It was the revolutionary cause itself that freed people from morality in the name of morality, that justified today's pharisees, hypocrites and writers of denunciations in the name of the future, that explained why it was right to elbow the innocent into the ditch in the name of the happiness of the people."

How else to explain that not one of Mbeki's ministers took issue with his Aids denialism? Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang even trained at a Soviet institute influenced by Stalin's lauded agronomist, Trofim Lysenko, who applied Marxist dogma to biology with disastrous results. "Perhaps," observed James Wilmot, "this is why she does not appear to understand how the genetics of retroviral co-evolution works."

Grossman, famous for his war reporting from Stalingrad, witnessed the corruption of Stalinism from within. His great, breathtaking novel was published only in 1980, after his death, yet Grossman also captured something of what is going on in South Africa today: "The hide was being flayed off the still living body of the Revolution so that a new age could slip into it; as for the red, bloody meat, the steaming innards -- they were being thrown on to the scrap-heap. The new age needed only the hide of the Revolution -- and this was being flayed off people who were still alive. Those who then slipped into it spoke the language of the revolution and mimicked its gestures, but their brains, lungs, livers and eyes were utterly different."
So goes the revolution as the baton passes to those who only hear tales of how the revolution was won from those who lived its adventures.

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