Of Champions And Martyrs
by Paul Buhle
Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid, by Alan Wieder, Foreword by Nadine Gordimer. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013, 356pp, ISBN 978-1583673560, $23.95 paperback.
(Swans – November 18, 2013) This remarkable book bears the tale of two South African (white) Communists who threw their lives into the cause of overthrowing the tyrannical system so effectively supported by the U.S. and Israel (among others) until the veritable end. To say they were courageous is a vast understatement. They were prepared to die, a hundred times over, and they suffered all manner of persecution over the decades. Today, people in South Africa with historical sense regard them as champions and martyrs.
Outside of South Africa and the networks of anti-Apartheid activists now aging, most especially in the U.S., they are more likely to be forgotten or treated as a mere discrepancy in the upward march of freedom (that is, meritocracy), anti-American to boot. But world-famous Nadine Gordimer, one of the small crew of revolutionary novelists at the top rank of living literary figures in any language, is among the rememberers.
We learn from here, in the condensed version of what is to follow, that the two were Jewish, Joe a military veteran of the anti-fascist war when they met. The war had produced a wave of anti-fascism with an anti-racist undertone, and it made sense to be a Communist as well as an ardent supporter of the African National Congress. Joe was a proletarian of Lithuanian immigrant parents, Ruth a typical middle class South African Jew who, however, had a college affair with a rebel of Indian origins. By the time Ruth and Joe connected, they were deeply into Communist politics. There hangs a tale…