“Die Rooi Gevaar”: Afrikaans for ‘The Red Danger’, the threat of communism taking over our beloved country, the refrain I grew up with. In fact, it was really ‘Die Swart Gevaar’ – the black danger – that they had in mind, but they cleverly turned the fight against dark-hued South Africans into the fight against Soviet and Chinese imperialism.
Cynical as I was about the apartheid government’s real motives, I was still deeply indoctrinated against the evil of communism. I will never forget my horror when in London at the age of eighteen – and a sophisticated eighteen by anyone’s standards at that – I discovered that Great Britain actually allowed a Soviet embassy in their country. I crossed to the opposite pavement when passing it.
This no-no is possibly why the flirtation of many a Thirties intellectual with communism has fascinated me ever since. The youngsters who lived through the Great Depression were looking for a system which was fair and which made sense. Communism seemed to be the answer.
One such was the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, who was a member of the British Communist Party from 1935-1938. He wrote this poem in 1935, obviously deeply under the impression of the irony of how far-fetched Marlowe’s rural idyll had become.
Come, live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
Of peace and plenty, bed and board,
That chance employment may afford.
I’ll handle dainties on the docks
And thou shalt read of summer frocks:
At evening by the sour canals
We’ll hope to hear some madrigals.
Care on thy maiden brow shall put
A wreath of wrinkles, and thy foot
Be shod with pain: not silken dress
But toil shall tire thy loveliness.
Hunger shall make thy modest zone
And cheat fond death of all but bone –
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.
Thankfully the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signalled the end of Soviet power and the (red) corner the South African Government had painted itself into. By February 1990 the ANC had been unbanned and the intricate journey to the first multi-racial elections in 1994 could begin.
There is a parallel story. After decades of apologies for capitalism, Margaret Thatcher, ‘the best man for the job’, burst upon the scene in the late Seventies, followed soon after by Bill Gates (how’s that for simplification ?) and the world embarked on forty years of unprecedented economic growth.
Capitalism was not only celebrated, but communism was trounced, and soon billion-dollar decisions were being taken by people who never knew anything other than prosperity. The glory of the system was taken for granted, and like (we now know) the universe would continue to expand, not only in our lifetimes, but for millions of years to come, so would economies continue to grow and the world would become more and more prosperous.
With precious little understanding of economics, I was one of the sceptics who felt that something would sooner or later prick the bubble, and the whole late-twentieth-century economic edifice would come tumbling down. It seems, I am sad to say, to be happening.
And as philosophers debate, and protestors protest the graspingness of it all, I sense that we return to the fundamental questions that led a century and a half ago to the various economic theories our modern world was based on, and amid the confusion humanity tries to rebuild its systems.
So far we have been relatively lucky in South Africa. A third world economy where mining, agriculture and basic production, rather than services and sophisticated consumer demands are the order, we have not felt the extremes of the meltdown. Yet.
But I am beginning to wonder if the science-fiction possibility I have considered often in the past – of the world becoming an inhospitable and unmanageable place – is not perhaps becoming true. If being on this farm, in this climate, with these people, is not perhaps going to make it possible to survive on the chickens we keep and the vegetables we grow.
Then I laugh and shrug it off. No. I shrug and laugh it off, and think ‘Why, yes, it might be ten percent true in the years to come, or even twenty. The world economy is going to have to become simpler, and self-sufficiency more desirable, and every man and woman on this planet is going to have to adapt to the changes in some way. And whatever those changes are, I’d rather face them here than anywhere else in the world. With him who is going to live with me and be my love.”