The Legacy and Consequences of the Crimes of (Afro) Stalinism

While previously in the genocide debate it has been stressed that the ultimate Nazi crime is that of the Shoah of European Jewry and therefore the term of genocide should remain clearly defined and not loosely used, and certainly not abused for political motives, in relation to events in the present as well as in retrospection to events in the past, the crimes against humanity of Marxism-Leninism, and in particular in its ultimate form of Stalinism, including of Afro-Stalinism, should not be ignored.

Right leaning Anglo-Saxon historians coining the phrase of “˜Totalitarianism’ have muddled the debate by suggesting a common root of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, ie Marxism-Leninism as well as other radical left variations such as Anarchism, in the European Enlightment, as expressed in the French Revolution, in particular in its Jacobin Terror period (1793-94) (but NB excluding the American Revolution from this stigma!), all capable of the ultimate crime of “˜genocide’.

And while it has been earlier pointed how dangerous this nonsense is and while there is not here the time and place for philosophical debate on the roots of evil committed by Nazism and Stalinism, it is only right to reflect now also on the crimes against humanity of Stalinism and the legacy of evil it has left, also in Africa, including Sudan, and also for the western Left to face up to its own role ranging form pretending ignorance, denial and, and even complicity

Outside his native Poland Andrzej Wajda’s latest film Katyn, in which the 83 years celebrated film maker could finally deal with the story of how his own father was murdered as one of the 18,000 Polish officers on the orders of Stalin in 1940 and buried in mass graves such as Katyn in modern Belarus, did not get the attention it deserved.

The understated but heart wrenching film tells the story of how the war crime, of which the “˜command and control’ can be directly linked to Stalin and his secret service right hand man Beria, was twisted by the Soviet Union after the defeat of the Third Reich to justify its domination of Poland by adding “˜Katyn’ to the crimes of the Germans, even though they had uncovered the mass grave in the first place in 1943 and had managed to silence the International Red Cross, which knew the truth in the process.

However, even though it was an attempt to liquidate the Polish officer class (many were in fact reservists) in Soviet occupied eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, it has not been, correctly, designated as a genocide, and neither should have been the similar kind of mass murder of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men of arms bearing age following the fall of Srebrenica of which the anniversary was on 11 July (1995) by Bosnian Serb militia be considered a “˜genocide’; it may be heresy but the upper figure of more than 8000 massacred, the exact role in the “˜command and control’ of Bosnian Serb general Mladic, Bosnian Serb president Karadzic or that of the late former Yugoslav president Milosevic have not been established beyond reasonable doubt, being more a local act of bloody revenge.

“˜Katyn’ and “˜’Srebrenica’ are both mass murder war crimes and of gender orientated variety as males, albeit of a certain background and age, were specifically targeted, but it still does not make them “˜genocides’; gender orientated similar crimes against females are also complicated as many cultures regard for instance the status of the child depending on the status of the mother, but again there is not here the time or the place for such a deeper discussion.

However, “˜Srebrenica’ is relevant for the discussion here as it marks the transition of the “˜Cold War’ to the “˜War on Terror’ because on the one hand the Serb elite in control of the former Yugoslavia was a Marxist-Leninist relic of the past even though the late Marshall Tito, who had managed to suppress the nationalism of the different ethnic groups that made up Yugoslavia with an iron fist, was an iconic figure for the broader Western left, and because on the other hand it saw the first active presence of modern Jihadism in Europe, even though just like in its country of origin Afghanistan the dangers of modern variety of Jihadism were deliberately ignored as the West tried to use and control it as Frankenstein’s monster, with abysmal failure in hindsight, in its ideological war with Marxism-Leninism.

The end of the Cold War had a liberating effect in southern Africa unlocking the stalemate as it took out the sting in the related conflicts in Angola, Mozambique and last but not least South Africa itself, with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as living relic of the past, as (post) independence struggles became divorced from the Marxist-Leninist concept of “˜national liberation’ that had been exported by those other Western Left icons such as Cuba and China (the noise of those condemning China’s involvement in Africa today is as deafening as their silence was then when the Maoist maniacs were in charge).

However, the effect in those parts of Africa that are part of or on the fringe of the Arab and Muslim worlds (albeit overlapping but not quite the same) was very mixed to say the least as (political) Islamism whether or not accompanied by its collateral of Jihadism became a dominant force, in reaction to and/or substituting the older ideologies linked to the Marxist-Leninist concept of “˜national liberation’ such as pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism (Libya’s Gaddafi is another relic of the past).

In Sudan the late John Garang, having been closely allied to Ethiopia’s Mengistu, deposed in 1991, the same year as his Somali counterpart Siad Barre was deposed, had to reinvent himself to appeal to the US Christian Right after Numayri had found money and religion in Saudi Arabia, just like for instance his Indonesian contemporary Soeharto, in an effort to find favour again in Washington, which in the 1980s had looked rather favourable also on al Mahdi and even initially the NIF, until it angered Washington for not joining the rest of the Arab World coalition against Sadam Hussein in the first Iraq war; across the Sahara/Sahel Mauritania on the west end also refused and was equally punished.

While there have been, continuing, conflicts before in northern Africa along the Muslim and non Muslim faultline in the Sudanic belt such as the “˜North’/’South’ conflicts in Sudan naturally and Chad, an not to forget the Biafra secession from Nigeria in the late sixties, since the end of the Cold War the conflicts in Africa seem to have shifted upwards into a kind of crescent, stretching from the Swahili corridor along the Indian Ocean northwards to the Horn and from here stretching westward to the Maghreb, with poor (DR) Congo still being buffeted by conflicts in neighbouring countries together with CAR and is not benefitting from the peace dividend of the end of the Cold War in Africa.

It is interesting to note that a number of (reformed or reinvented) Afro-Stalinist relics have managed to stay alive and kicking in the Rift from Afwerki in Eritrea, over Zenawi in Ethiopia, Museveni in Uganda, to Kabila in the DRC and Kagame in Rwanda.

In this crescent modern Jihadism is now firmly rooted and has joined the al Qaeda franchise, in Somalia out of the civil war chaos post Barre, with links through Yemen with the Arab heartland, and in the north western end of Africa a bloody partially suppressed Islamist insurgency in Algeria in the nineties against the National Liberation Front elite developed into the Salafist al Qaeda affiliate that now stretches its tentacles from the Maghreb to deep into the Sudanic belt of Mali, Niger, and with a variant in northern Nigeria of which the external links has to be further assessed.

Africa has had its fair share of its own “˜Katyns’ and “˜Srebrenicas’ committed by its Afro-Stalinist regimes with their Arabist and Africanist varieties, and as much as the Western Left has to face up in general to the historical crimes of Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism in general, it has also to face up to its support for Afro-Stalinism and its varieties.

And while modern Jihadism is the West’s Frankenstein monster, the Western Left has to learn to accept that in Africa it found a fertile breeding ground well prepared by the failures of Afro-Stalinist and Arabist regimes, and face up to its fellow traveller role and stop romanticising these regimes from the sixties to the early nineties as a kind of golden age of what they call “˜secularism’ in Africa, including in Sudan and Somalia and blaming Islamism for all the ills of today, as some people associated with Africa Confidential still like to do apparently.

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2 thoughts on “The Legacy and Consequences of the Crimes of (Afro) Stalinism

  1. Briefly, I think Mr Tesch:
    1) Mangles the nature and history of the Sudanese secular (but largely Muslim) left, ignoring its positive achievements – women’s rights, trades unions, broadening of education, progress in N-S peace talks — while smearing it with a “Stalinism” which most of them detested and resisted.

    2) Disregards the retrograde, divisive and exclusivist behaviour of the Islamists – who actually borrowed more from “Stalinist” Eastern Europe than the communists – and who actually lost out to communist candidates in the last free elections in 1986.

  2. The parallels between the Islamist right and the Communist left are intriguing and go quite deep. In the case of Sudan, I think the closest parallel to the Muslim Brothers (in its various incarnations from the 1960s onwards) is the revolutionary student movement in neighbouring countries, especially Ethiopia and Eritrea. The revolutionary militarism of the EPRP, EPLF and TPLF, along with the NRA in Uganda, drew upon a comparable social base to the Islamists, along with a similar idealism and possessed many similarities of organizational strategy. All were prepared to use extreme force in pursuit of radical socio-political transformation, and all saw the state as subordinate to their revolutionary political agendas. There are marked differences in tactics: for example the Sudanese Islamists spent only a brief period in armed opposition and preferred to work through the institutions of the state, whereas the leftist liberation fighters spent many years in the bush prior to their complete takeover of state power. All espoused a vision of democracy, but defined in such a way that they were sure to be in power. Finally, the last decade, all have abandoned or at least majorly modified their ideological ambition and focused primarily on staying in power.

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