Living Together: The ANC, the Soviet Union, and the National Question.

Presented by Hilary Lynd

Monday, 19 October, 2020 - 16:00

This paper takes a fresh look at the relationship between the ANC and the Soviet Union, using archival records, interviews, and memoirs from both South Africa and Russia. An old set of highly-politicized debates concerns the extent of Soviet control over the military and political-economic direction of the ANC-SACP alliance. That traditional focus has obscured how important to the ANC’s relationship with the Soviet Union was the ‘national question,’ the question of how human difference should be organized in a post-imperial society. When the Soviet Union became the ANC’s patron in the early 1960s, the ANC and the Soviet Union shared a broadly inclusive, pluralist idea of citizenship in a post-imperial society. Soviet nationalities policy differed from apartheid particularism in its optimistic commitment to living together, mixing, and merging, as it differed from liberal universalism in its emphasis on cultural diversity and affirmative action for formerly oppressed peoples. In interactions with their Soviet hosts, as well as in interviews and memoirs recounting their experiences, ANC visitors to the Soviet Union paid special attention to a Soviet model for how different people might live together without either dissolving difference or pathologizing it.

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