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Deaf to the calls from below

At one time Lara Pawson, inspired by the works of Basil Davidson and other British Marxists, lionized Angola’s MPLA as a “radical socialist movement that epitomised the heroism of African liberation”. I received the impression that her faith in radical socialism is diminished but not extinguished. Her faith in the MPLA is quite gone. She writes,“Angola’s brutal history, and the MPLA’s role in it, is a truth that we must tell”:

When I arrived in Luanda, the MPLA had long been – and still is – a member of the Socialist International, an organisation that claims to pursue “progressive politics for a fairer world”. I remember my pleasure on hearing politicians and other members of the urban elite calling each other camarada (comrade). Even the party rhetoric sounded remarkably similar to that of the revolutionary years of the 1970s. But a few months into my new job, when the country’s “fourth war” finally erupted, I could no longer hide from the blindingly obvious: if revolutionary politicians were what I was after, I was at least 20 years too late.

In fact, this was also wrong. I began to discover that the idea of a 1970s MPLA heyday was just as misguided. An Angolan colleague told me about 27 May 1977, the day an MPLA faction rose up against the leadership, and the honeymoon of revolution crashed to a halt. Some called it an attempted coup, but my colleague insisted it was a demonstration that was met with a brutal overreaction.

Whichever story you believe, six senior members of the MPLA were killed that day by supporters of the uprising. In response, President Neto, the politburo and the state media made many highly inflammatory statements that incited extraordinary revenge. In the weeks and months that followed, thousands of people – possibly tens of thousands – were killed. Some of the executions were overseen by Cuban troops sent to Angola by Fidel Castro to repel a South African invasion.

But what rattled me was that Angola-watchers on the left – intellectuals whom I admired – all seemed to have turned a blind eye to the thousands of killings. It was as if their commitment to the party was so deep that, in the end, they heard only the voices of its leaders and fell deaf to the calls from below.

That white conservatives also had their moment of disillusion regarding an Angolan liberation movement, when Jonas Savimbi of UNITA allegedly had Tito Chingunji and Wilson dos Santos executed – or when whatever really happened with that bloody business happened – is somewhat better known. The MPLA has escaped similar scrutiny, for the usual reason.

9 comments to Deaf to the calls from below

  • Lee Moore

    Ms Pawson wiping the stardust from her eyes is welcome of course, but it is getting drearily repetitive. Stalin – omigod he was a slaughterer of millions ! Who knew ? Mao – omigod he was a slaughterer of millions – who knew ? Pol Pot – known for his kindness to old ladies ? Trotsky – big fan of the rule of law ? Che Guevara – keen on increasing the old age pension ? For an ideology that harps on about history, it’s made remarkably little impression on generations of useful idiots.

  • AngryTory


    And the INLA is a “radical socialist movement that epitomised the heroism of Irish liberation”.

    and Te Mana Motuhake O Tuhoe is a “radical socialist movement that epitomised the heroism of Tuhoe liberation”.

  • Mr Ed

    Surely it is the prospect of murdering people that Lefties like about these movements? As the old joke about the USA visa questionnaire used to go Q: “Do you intend the armed overthrown of the US government?” A: ‘Sole purpose of visit’, the sole purpose of these movements is tyranny and with that murder. If the movement did not support murder, the Lefties would regard them as soft, Mensheviks, Right Oppositionists, or whatever.

    The Left always have a Socialist paradise one 5 year plan away, Cuba in the 1960s (until he was ‘pushed into the arms of the Soviets’ (my ar*e), Chile in the 1970s, until the Congress declared Allende’s rule illegal and the military stepped in, Nicaragua in the 1980s until the election went wrong and the 1990s was spoilt by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Wall. Now we have Venezuela, which looked fine for the Left until they put a ex-bus driver in charge and he’s turning out to be an uncharismatic loony thug unlike his loony thug predecessor, like ‘Brezhnev’ Brown after Blair, and let us not forget that the Labour Party is far closer to these thugs than is good for us.

    And never give Lenin a pass either, he was, in Victor Suvorov’s words, the most bloodthirsty degenerate who ever lived.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    Those of us who were politically aware near and at the end of the Cold War can never forget the cynicism of the Western Left. They, complicit in the worst crimes against humanity ever committed, innocently glided from “It isn’t happening, you fascist!” to “Who cares, you fascist? It can never happen again!”

  • Rob

    Is this woman astonished to see the Sun rise every morning?

  • monoi

    So, she is basically saying:”I am a stupid bint”.

    Shouldn’t she now disappear and try and atone for her stupidity because people like her made those millions of deaths at the hand of her ideology possible?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    By coming out and saying in public that she was deluded to an audience most of whom are still deluded, she is atoning, and doing penance.

  • Jason

    I must admit to a similar process of discovering to great surprise what, in retrospect, was blindingly obvious.

    But I think one can easily build a defence from naivety: That, in most cases, an individual becomes politically aware at just the age when binary opposites are a more attractive prospect than any more complex analysis; when the individual is at a very moralistic, flag-waving stage of their intellectual development; and that, on the face of it, left-wing politics is based in the very best of intentions, (and, by extension, the binary opposite of the left must also be the binary opposite of moral rectitude, hence the readily available references to ‘evil capitalism’ and wicked self-interest of anyone who does not subscribe to left-wing sermonising).

    The rest is pretty obvious – it’s an unusual person that can keep hold of that mindset for the rest of their life. Hence the cliché often misattributed to Churchill: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.”

    (And if that doesn’t cut it, I’d also point out than the male undergraduate who fails to trot out the correct mantra at the student union can look forward to three years of celibacy. It takes a persuasive argument to militate against the instinct to reproduce.)

  • Rich Rostrom

    It’s a three-step process.

    1 Minimize or deny sins of the favored group.

    2 Invent or exaggerate sins of their opponents.

    3 Declare that the other side is worse.

    Also, of course, invent/deny/minimize/exaggerate virtues as needed.

    Sometimes the other side is worse. And if the other side is really bad, there is a powerful temptation to idealize this side, if only to sustain the fight against the other side. Supporting the lesser evil is at best a unpleasant necessity, even when there are no good guys.