Category Archives: History

Fidel Castro’s Reflections: The duty to avoid a war in Korea

Standard

April 5, 2013

A few days ago I mentioned the great challenges humanity is currently facing. Intelligent life emerged on our planet approximately 200,000 years ago, although new discoveries demonstrate something else.

This is not to confuse intelligent life with the existence of life which, from its elemental forms in our solar system, emerged millions of years ago.

A virtually infinite number of life forms exist. In the sophisticated work of the world’s most eminent scientists the idea has already been conceived of reproducing the sounds which followed the Big Bang, the great explosion which took place more than 13.7 billion years ago.

This introduction would be too extensive if it was not to explain the gravity of an event as unbelievable and absurd as the situation created in the Korean Peninsula, within a geographic area containing close to five billion of the seven billion persons currently inhabiting the planet.

This is about one of the most serious dangers of nuclear war since the October Crisis around Cuba in 1962, 50 years ago.

In 1950, a war was unleashed there [the Korean Peninsula] which cost millions of lives. It came barely five years after two atomic bombs were exploded over the defenseless cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which, in a matter of seconds, killed and irradiated hundreds of thousands of people.

General Douglas MacArthur wanted to utilize atomic weapons against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Not even Harry Truman allowed that.

It has been affirmed that the People’s Republic of China lost one million valiant soldiers in order to prevent the installation of an enemy army on that country’s border with its homeland. For its part, the Soviet army provided weapons, air support, technological and economic aid.

I had the honor of meeting Kim Il Sung, a historic figure, notably courageous and revolutionary.

If war breaks out there, the peoples of both parts of the Peninsula will be terribly sacrificed, without benefit to all or either of them. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was always friendly with Cuba, as Cuba has always been and will continue to be with her.

Now that the country has demonstrated its technical and scientific achievements, we remind her of her duties to the countries which have been her great friends, and it would be unjust to forget that such a war would particularly affect more than 70% of the population of the planet.

If a conflict of that nature should break out there, the government of Barack Obama in his second mandate would be buried in a deluge of images which would present him as the most sinister character in the history of the United States. The duty of avoiding war is also his and that of the people of the United States.

Fidel Castro Ruz

April 4, 2013

11:12 p.m.

Source

The Siege and Terrorism

Standard

By Stephen Gowans
March 18, 2013

In his 2011 book Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War, Tim Beal writes,

The Americans, and their friends and allies, tend to have a disengaged attitude toward sanctions—disengaged both ethically and in terms of causality. Sanctions are, after all, but the modern version of the age-old military tactic of the siege. The aim of the siege is to reduce the enemy to such a state of starvation and deprivation that they open the gates, perhaps killing their leaders in the process, and throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers.”

Later, Beal adds, “There are strong parallels between sanctions/sieges and terrorism: both inflict pain on ordinary, vulnerable people in order to turn them against their leaders…”

While Beal writes in connection with North Korea, Washington’s use of the modern-day siege extends to other countries, as well. Like North Korea, Iran is despised by Washington for its insistence on using its labor, markets and natural resources, not for Wall Street’s profits, but for self-directed development. And like North Korea, Iran is menaced by a campaign of sanctions. These sanctions, too, aim, as terrorism does, to make ordinary people suffer so they’ll pressure their government to change its policies to accommodate the interests of the besieger/terrorist (in this case, to replace the current economically nationalist government with one that will open the Iranian economy to ownership by foreigners and create business conditions favorable to foreign investors reaping handsome returns, albeit under the guise of building “democracy” and relinquishing an independent nuclear energy industry.)

The accustomed practice in mainstream journalism is to gloss over the effects of sanctions on besieged countries, or to insist that they’re targeted at a country’s leadership and therefore do no harm to ordinary people.

But in a March 17 Washington Post article, reporters Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan acknowledge that the sanctions on Iran are aimed at hurting ordinary people.

Warrick and Gearan write,

Harsh economic sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran’s economy, but U.S. and European officials acknowledge that the measures have not yet produced the kind of public unrest that could force Iranian leaders to change their nuclear policies.

Nine months after Iran was hit with the toughest restrictions in its history, the nation’s economy appears to have settled into a slow, downward glide, hemorrhaging jobs and hard currency but appearing to be in no immediate danger of collapse, Western diplomats and analysts say.

At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program.

They continue,

The impact has been hardest on the middle and working classes, which have seen savings evaporate and purchasing power dry up. Yet, in recent months, Iran’s fiscal crisis appears to have eased, and economists say neither complete collapse nor widespread rioting appears likely in the near term.

So, sanctions aren’t working because they haven’t inflicted enough suffering to engender widespread unrest and rioting.

If sanctions do produce their desired effect, and wide-spread rioting does break out, the public unrest most assuredly will not be blamed by Western reporters on the suffering produced by sanctions, but dishonestly on Tehran’s “economic mismanagement.” And aid will continue to flow to opposition forces in Iran, who will be presented as “thirsting for democracy” (rather than relief from the suffering inflicted by the United States and European Union) to help them topple their government (which is to say, open the gate to let the besiegers in.)

The Warrick and Gearan article’s emphasis on the sanctions’ failure to promote rioting, may signal that policy-makers are coming to the conclusion that Washington’s goals for Iran cannot be achieved by sanctions alone, and that military intervention is also required.

Military intervention, however, may not be an alternative to the siege, but its complement. US Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 US-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia resonates with the aim of the besieger/terrorist. Explained Short,

“If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” (“What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 26, 1999.)

The modus operandi, then, of US foreign policy is to inflict pain on ordinary people who live in countries whose governments resist integration into the US-superintended system of global capitalist exploitation, in order to create public unrest that will either force the country’s leaders to change their policies, or step down and yield power to local representatives of global capitalist interests (deceptively labeled by Western state officials and establishment journalists as “pro-democracy” or “democratic” forces.)

The only thing “democratic” about US foreign policy is its insistence on democratizing suffering.

Source

Now Online: The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (full volume)

Standard

The Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping

Modern Day Contributions to Marxism-Leninism

RT Interviews President Lukashenko – ‘I have no resources to be a dictator’

Standard

The following interview below was originally published by Russia Today

March 18, 2013

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

His reputation precedes him: The long-time Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko has been often referred to in the Western media as ‘Europe’s last dictator’. But he insists he doesn’t have the means to be one as RT sits down with the President.

“In order to be a dictator and dictate one’s will one has to have the resources: economic, social, military, population, and so on. But we have none. And I am being objective about it,” Belarusian president told RT’s Sofiko Shevardnadze.

The 58-year-old former head of a state-owned farm told RT he has no intention to hand over power to any of his sons. “I swore I would never delegate the reins of power to any of my relatives, loved ones or children. It’s out of the question,” Belarusian leader emphasized.  “Who wins a fair election will have the power. Like I did when I won the race as a candidate from the opposition,” he added.

The Belarus leadership has repeatedly been the target of fierce criticism from the EU over its crackdown on the opposition and lack of respect for democracy and human rights. Up to 250 Belarusian officials, including President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and 32 companies are currently subject to travel bans and asset freezes within the EU.more

For more on this as well as Lukashenko’s view on relations with Russia and international community, his presidency and successors, and the overwhelming economic crisis and Belarus’ fate read the full interview below.

Read the rest of this entry

North Korea or the United States: Who is a Threat to Global Security?

Standard

The following article below was originally published by Global Research

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky
March 5, 2013

Long lines of refugees fleeing from Yongdong on 26 July 1950. The day before, hundreds of refugees were massacred by U.S. soldiers and warplanes at bridge at No Gun Ri, eight miles away.

Most people in America consider North Korea as an inherently aggressive nation and a threat to global security.

Media disinformation sustains North Korea as a “rogue state”.

The history of the Korean war and its devastating consequences are rarely mentioned. America is portrayed as the victim rather than the aggressor.

North Korea lost thirty percent of its population as a result of US led bombings in the 1950s.

US military sources confirm that 20 percent of North Korea’s  population was killed off over a three year period of intensive bombings:

“After destroying North Korea’s 78 cities and thousands of her villages, and killing countless numbers of her civilians, [General] LeMay remarked, “Over a period of three years or so we killed off – what – twenty percent of the population.”

It is now believed that the population north of the imposed 38th Parallel lost nearly a third its population of 8 – 9 million people during the 37-month long “hot” war, 1950 – 1953, perhaps an unprecedented percentage of mortality suffered by one nation due to the belligerence of another.” (See War Veteran Brian Willson. Korea and the Axis of Evil, Global Research, April, 2002)

Official South Korean government sources estimate North Korean civilian deaths at 1,550,000.

During The Second World War the United Kingdom lost 0.94% of its population, France lost 1.35%, China lost 1.89% and the US lost 0.32%.

During the Korean war, North Korea lost 30 % of its population. In the words of General Curtis Lemay:

There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders. (emphasis added)

Reflect for a few minutes on these figures:  If a foreign power had bombed the US and America had lost thirty percent of its population as result of foreign aggression, Americans across the land would certainly be aware of the threat to their national security emanating from this unnamed foreign power.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the North Koreans, who lost 30 percent of their population as a result of 37 months of relentless US bombings.

From their standpoint, the US is the threat to Global Security.

Their country was destroyed. Town and villages were bombed. General Curtis Lemay acknowledges that “[we] eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.”

There is not a single family in North Korea which has not lost a loved one.

Everyone I talked with, dozens and dozens of folks, lost one if not many more family members during the war, especially from the continuous bombing, much of it incendiary and napalm, deliberately dropped on virtually every space in the country. “Every means of communication, every installation, factory, city, and village” was ordered bombed by General MacArthur in the fall of 1950. It never stopped until the day of the armistice on July 27, 1953. (See War Veteran Brian Willson. Korea and the Axis of Evil, Global Research, April, 2002)

For the people of North Korea, in their inner consciousness as human beings, the aggressor, which inflicted more than two million deaths on a country of  8-9 million (1950s) is the United States of America.

These facts continue to be concealed by the Western media to sustain the “Axis of Evil” legend, which portrays North Korea as a threat and “rogue state”, to be condemned by the “international community”.

Genocide is defined under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) as the

“the deliberate and systematic destruction of, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”. Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

What is at stake is an act of genocide committed by the US. During the Korean War an entire civilian population was the target of deliberate and relentless bombings, with a view to destroying and killing a national group, which constitutes an act of genocide under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Castro Didn’t “Take The Guns”, Alex Jones: Guns & Socialism

Standard

The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog:

January 11, 2013

Looks like he missed a few guns…

True, we have a higher gun violence level, but overall, muggings, stabbing, deaths — those men raped that woman to India to death with an iron rod 4 feet long. You can’t ban the iron rods. The guns, the iron rods, Piers, didn’t do it, the tyrants did it. Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns, and I’m here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms! It doesn’t matter how many lemmings you get out there in the street begging for them to have their guns taken. We will not relinquish them. Do you understand?

Alex Jones on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, 1/7/13

Of all the most common arguments used by the Right in the US to defend their helter skelter view of the Second Amendment, none stands more dishonest than their indictment of socialist leaders like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro as ‘tyrants who take guns’.

The argument goes something like this. First, throw out the names of some political leaders demonized in the United States. Second, claim that they banned guns and confiscated firearms from the population and that this act more than anything else facilitated their rise to power. Finally, liken gun control advocates and liberals to these leaders and argue that regulation of gun ownership is a slippery slope towards ‘tyranny.’

The infamous Drudge Report headline, bizarrely likening Stalin to Hitler

Incidentally, this argument has gotten a lot more press coverage in the last week. The now-infamous Alex Jones-Piers Morgan interview was only outdone by a Drudge Report headline from January 9th, which featured pictures of Stalin and Hitler above a caption that read, “White House Threatens Executive Orders on Guns.”

It’s all nonsense, of course, starting with the premise that the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, warrior of the highest escalations of capital, has anything in common with revolutionary leaders like Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Chavez. Then there’s the bloated death totals we hear quite often in the corporate media and Western academia, parroted most recently by Jones, who claimed that Mao “killed about 80 million people because he’s the only guy who had the guns.”

However, a closer examination of the historical record reveals that the entire argument is based on distortions or outright falsehoods. Guns were not summarily banned in any of these countries – including Nazi Germany, as a matter of historical note. Although firearm ownership took a distinctly different form than the Wild Wild West policies in the United States, which favor individual rights and vigilante justice over social and class rights, guns remained an important part of defending socialism from imperialist aggression.

Before we go any further, I want to make one point very clear: Return to the Source has already published a piece on the Marxist position on gun control, to which people ought to refer back. We have no interest in defending liberals and gun control advocates like Piers Morgan, whose position is just as much a part of bourgeois class oppression as the right-wing’s gun fanaticism. We also have no interest in beating a dead horse by calling attention to Alex Jones’ bizarre antics and combative demeanor.

Instead, our focus is on the allegations that socialist government is predicated on the confiscation of firearms. History runs completely counter to this claim by the right-wing, and the record in most socialist countries reflects that the people generally retained the right to bear arms socially as a class, while also retaining benign individual gun rights related to hunting and sports.

Let’s start with Cuba. If Fidel Castro’s goal was to confiscate all private firearms in Cuba, one has to conclude from the data that he’s done a poor job. According to GunPolicy.org, there are an estimated 545,000 privately owned guns held by civilians in Cuba, meaning that approximately 4.8 people per 100 own guns. It’s not as high as the staggering 88.8 guns per person in the US – a grossly inflated statistic that doesn’t account for at least 48% of all gun owners having more than four guns – but it patently disproves the assertion by Alex Jones, the Drudge Report, and the right-wing fanatics that “Fidel Castro took the guns.”

Of course, there are regulations for firearm ownership in Cuba, but even this reflects the very different meaning of ‘the right to bear arms’ in a socialist country. Chapter 1, Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba enshrines this right:

“When no other recourse is possible, all citizens have the right to struggle through all means, including armed struggle, against anyone who tries to overthrow the political, social and economic order established in this Constitution.”

At first glance, this horrifies the gun fanatics, who argue that one only has the right to bear arms in Cuba if they are doing so in defense of the existing government. Indeed, that is exactly the case. Arms for hunting and personal protection in some cases are allowed, again according to GunPolicy.org, but the chief function of the right to bear arms in a socialist country is to defend the class power of the workers.

The Bay of Pigs invaders captured and detained by an armed Cuban citizen

The lunacy of the anti-communist gun argument is accentuated further though by a look at Cuban history. After taking power on January 1, 1959, Castro and the July 26th Movement set to work expropriating the property held by oligarchs, corporations, wealthy land owners, and bankers in Cuba. This angered the US and those elements loyal to the Batista government, who sought to restore capitalism to Cuba through an invasion. Castro, well-aware at the foreign plots to bring down the Cuban revolution, “universally armed all of its workers, including women, for the defense of their country,” according to the Cuba History Archive.

Castro put it this way in a 1960 speech entitled ‘Establishing Revolutionary Vigilance in Cuba‘. After a bomb went off nearby the place he was speaking, Castro defiantly proclaimed, “For every little bomb the imperialists pay for, we arm at least 1,000 militiamen!” His words received thunderous applause.

To best exercise the right to bear arms collectively in defense of the revolution, the Cuban people organized themselves and formed popular citizens militias to defend themselves and the revolution, which was immediately under attack. After US planes bombed three Cuban sugar mills in October 1959, “Cubans form[ed] a popular militia” to rebuild. By September 1960, the CIA was funding rogue forces within Cuba to sabotage industry and stage terrorist attacks aimed at bringing down Castro’s government. The people responded in the form of popular citizens militias again, who promptly put down the imperialist-instigated unrest.

From the same speech, Castro described the role of these militias, which would later go on to form the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, as follows:

“The imperialists and their lackeys will not be able to make a move. They are dealing with the people, and they do not know yet the tremendous revolutionary power of the people. Therefore, new steps must be taken in the organization of the militia. Militia battalions will be created throughout Cuba. Each man for each weapon will be selected. A structure will be given to the entire mass of militiamen so that as soon as possible our combat units will be perfectly formed and trained.”

Of course, the largest and most trying test for the new revolutionary government and the Cuban people was the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, organized by Eisenhower and executed by Kennedy. An armed band of Cuban exiles were to invade Cuba from the Bay of Pigs, establish a foothold in the country, and with US military support, create “a new Cuban government under U.S. direction.” The Cuban History Archive describes the initial moments of the invasion:

Shortly before 3 a.m. on Monday morning, a civilian member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution spots the U.S. warships, just yards off the Cuban shores. Less than 20 minutes later, the entire Cuban government is informed about the invasion, and their response is immediate. Castro tirelessly coordinates defense of the island; first the civilian population is immediately alerted about the invasion: for the past months the Cuban government had begun an aggressive program of giving weapons to the entire Cuban population and training their people in basic military tactics to defend the island in case of invasion.

Coordinating with the newly assembled Cuban Armed Forces, the armed Cuban populace repelled the US invaders handily. A pledge of support by the Soviet Union discouraged Kennedy from fully committing to US air support for the rebels. When Kennedy did finally authorize overt US military intervention, it was too late. One last time, we look to the Cuban History Archive:

All planned support by the U.S. Air Force is called off, and the 2506 Brigade is left stranded to fend for itself in Cuba. The battle was going poorly for the U.S. invaders, not able to gain an inch on the beach they had been deserted. In the face of utter defeat, Kennedy continues to maintain that the U.S. is not involved in the invasion. After two days of intense fighting, Kennedy momentarily reverses his previous decision with his stomach full of regret, and orders the U.S. Air Force to assist the invasion force in what way they can. Four American pilots are killed, shot down by people who months ago had known little more about the world than harvesting sugar.

Let’s call it what it is: the Alex Jones/Drudge Report argument against gun control is a flat-out lie. The Cuban people were widely and universally armed, and they received their guns from Castro’s government, no less.

Jones was right about one point, though. Guns and an armed population were essential to resisting the rise of tyranny. Without an armed population, there’s a chance that the Bay of Pigs invasion would have re-installed the corrupt, mafioso Batista regime for the profit of US corporations and banks. Instead, the Cuban people exercised their right to bear arms collectively – thus democratically – and defended the Cuban Revolution, free from foreign rule or dominance. They were successful, and their experience is a testament to the role of guns in a socialist society.

This isn’t uniquely true to Cuba, either. The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania’s Constitutionguaranteed the right of its citizens to own firearms, for which military training was a necessity. Even before the right was enshrined in the 1976 Constitution, Chairman Enver Hoxha said this in a 1968 conversation with Ecuadorian leaders:

“All our people are armed in the full meaning of the word. Every Albanian city-dweller or villager, has his weapon at home. Our army itself, the army of a soldier people, is ready at any moment to strike at any enemy or coalition of enemies. The youth, too, have risen to their feet. Combat readiness does not in any way interfere with our work of socialist construction. On the contrary, it has given a greater boost to the development of the economy and culture in our country.”

In her book Albania Defiant, Jan Myrdal describes the tremendous scale to which Socialist Albania armed its people:

The entire Albanian people are armed, but the navy, the air force, and armored units are—naturally enough—not particularly strong. In May 1961 the Soviet leaders tried to undermine Albania’s defenses by giving their officers orders to steal Albania’s eight submarines. Naturally, this theft irritated the Albanians. But it hardly undermined Albania’s defenses, which are based on the ability of its totally armed population to defend its mountains.

Chinese support is important, but crucial to Albania’s defense is that the entire Albanian people are armed, have weapons. There are weapons in every village. Ten minutes after the alarm sounds, the entire population of a village must be ready for combat. There has never been any shortage of weapons in Albania, but never have the people been as armed as they are today. (Source)

Other socialist states like the former Yugoslavia and nationalist states like Libya guaranteed widespread gun ownership. In the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries, military-grade education that included the assembly and use of guns was mandatory for all students in middle school onward, according to Joseph S. Roucek’s October 1960 article, ‘Special Features of USSR’s Secondary Education’.

The People’s Republic of Poland went a step further and maintained a citizens militia called Milicja Obywatelska until its fall in 1990, which any citizen could join and receive indoor firearm training and bear arms. Some kind of collective outlet for gun use and ownership existed in most socialist countries, not unlike Cuba’s own Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Like all capitalist countries, the socialist countries adopted different laws and had different levels of regulation, but the overarching trend was that the right to bear arms was to be exercised socially and collectively. While this won’t satisfy the cravings of fanatics like Jones, it provides leftists with a more democratic way of understanding the right to bear arms.

Different material conditions require different responses, though. Jones’ claim that Venezuela has “taken the guns” under Hugo Chavez is dishonest for a number of reasons. It is true that Venezuela has discontinued the legal right of citizens to purchase firearms from state manufacturers for private use, but this came after international outrage at the unusually high murder rate in the South American country, with nearly 18,000 murders annually. About 70% of murders in South America are linked to guns – versus just 25% in Western Europe – so the Venezuelan government has taken the logical step of ending the widespread sale of firearms to curb crime.

Will it work? Time will tell. The point, though, is that Chavez didn’t “take the guns” to consolidate ‘tyranny’. In fact, he’s stood for eight elections, most recently in October 2012; an elections process that former US President Jimmy Carter called “the best in the world.”

All of it goes to say that Alex Jones and the Drudge Report are guilty of outright falsifications. It’s not that we expect better from these two fringe right-wing sources, but we are concerned that many people will hear these outlandish claims and associate socialism with gun control.

The right to bear arms means something different in socialist countries, but it still exists. Instead of the individual bourgeois right as it exists in the US – resulting in the vigilante murder of Black and Latino people from Reconstruction to the present day – gun ownership becomes a social right of the working class to exercise in defense of the revolution. And regardless of the lies and distortions that the right-wing puts out, that socialist exercise of the right to bear arms makes it a fundamentally more democratic right than we have in the US.

The Diaoyu islands belong to China

Standard

The following statement below was originally published by Red Youth, the youth organization of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and issued by the International Department of Red Youth in connection with the recent demonstrations in China; not the demo’s promoted in Western media concerning “censorship” [censorship of anti-socialist propaganda] – BUT the really massive, militant and anti-imperialist rallies against at Japanese and US imperialism!

January 9, 2013

This past year China has seen huge demonstrations against the increasingly aggressive and bellicose behaviour of Japanese imperialism. These protests have gripped every region and major city across the country, with protestors shouting “Down with Japanese imperialism!” and “1.3 billion Chinese can smash little Japan!” At a recent protest, Chinese students surrounded the US ambassador’s motorcade in Beijing, shouting at him to answer for his country’s support for Japan.

People from all sections of Chinese society, from middle-school students to the elderly, have participated in the protests holding placards denouncing imperialism, waving red banners and the flag of the People’s Republic of China – and many proudly raising portraits of Chairman Mao.

One of the largest days of protest coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Mukden incident, which marked the beginning of Japan’s invasion of China. Many Chinese are angry that Japan still refuses to acknowledge or apologise for its slaughter of many millions of Chinese. This unrepentant attitude towards its imperial past, as well as its ongoing colonial delusions, disgusts the people of China, who know the price they paid for their freedom from colonialism.

The background to these protests begins in 1895, when Japan forced China to relinquish control over many of its island territories – the Taiwan and the Diaoyu islands to name just two. This was only three years before Britain was able to occupy all of Hong Kong. In this era, China was characterised as ‘the weak man of Asia’, and seen as an easy target by both European and Japanese imperialists. Many European countries controlled swathes of China and their colonial puppets could operate outside of Chinese law.

Even when the Chinese communist party was founded in 1921, European empires dominated Shanghai and the French colonial police attempted to break up the first congress of the CPC. The era of colonial subjugation in China didn’t truly end until the victory of the communist forces in 1949, when Jiang Jieshi’s (Chiang Kai-shek’s) surrogate regime (which was entirely dependent on US capital and weapons) was finally defeated by the People’s Liberation Army.

At the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the USA promised freedom to Japan’s colonial subjects, but, as we know from the case of Korea, the people of Japan’s former colonies in fact just swapped one master for another.

These recent China protests have also highlighted the way the alliance between Japanese and US imperialism. The USA stands with Japan against China and other nations in Asia, including the DPRK. The USA’s backing of Japan is important in its so-called ‘Asia pivot’ of international relations, as it seeks to encircle, contain and weaken an ever-stronger and more confident China. This strategy is reminiscent of the US approach in the late 1940s, when President Harry Truman talked about “containment” of communism. It is clear that the US is as determined as ever to undermine socialism in Asia.

The USA’s ‘pivot towards Asia’ shows that imperialism is preparing military aggression in Asia. The governments of Japan and Taiwan are upgrading and expanding their militaries with huge US help, and large numbers of US troops and bases are being deployed to countries such as Australia in a definite trend towards increased militarisation of the region.

The new right-wing Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said there would be no negotiation or compromise by Japan over the disputed islands and that he is prepared to send more ‘permanent staff’ to the islands. At the same time, the Japanese right wing are calling for a scrapping of a clause in the Japanese constitution which says Japan’s military can only be used in self-defence.

On 6 January this year, Japan’s prime minister ordered the military to consider deploying fighter jets to the Diaoyu islands to prevent Chinese planes flying through the island’s airspace. Meanwhile, as this article is being written, and in another act of unprovoked and unjustified aggression, Japan has boarded Chinese ships near the islands.

Progressive people everywhere must oppose the designs of Japanese and US imperialism in China and throughout Asia.

Down with Japanese imperialism! Down with US imperialism! Hands off China!

For more information on this dispute and Chinese socialism, visit:

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/754115.shtml

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90883/8084122.html

http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-01/09/content_16096980.htm

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/754535.shtml

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90883/8044425.html

 

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

Standard

The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

January 8, 2012

Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam

At Return to the Source, we frequently use the term ‘actually existing socialism’ to describe various countries that we identify as socialist. The term specifies ‘actually existing’ to highlight the need to approach socialism from a materialist, rather than idealist perspective. We would define actually existing socialism as the material manifestation of the socialist ideal. Imperfect as it may be, it is the reality of what it takes to build socialism in a world dominated by imperialism.

But what does actually existing socialism mean for revolutionaries in the 21st century, long after the fall of most of the socialist bloc? Five countries – Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – survived the wave of counter-revolutions in the early 1990s, but their survival has forced them to make certain concessions and retreats to the market system in varying degrees.

Much to the dismay of many leftists, China, Vietnam and Laos have all pursued a path of development that emphasized the role of a heavily regulated market economy in continuing to build socialism. Cuba and the DPRK maintained planned economies more similar to the Soviet Union’s model, but even recently they have accepted strategic market reforms.

Though the market reforms of China and Vietnam have both led to tremendous economic growth, the actual implementation of these new economic policies is decidedly unique. For Trotskyites and left-communists, these market reforms are simply manifestations of state capitalist policies. However, a closer look reveals that these market reforms were deliberate policy decisions demanded by the masses to continue building socialism in a post-Soviet world.

Like China, the commanding heights of the Vietnamese economy remains in the hands of the state. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) – the party of the working class and peasantry – remains at the helm of the state, and it still relies on a planned economic model that incorporates some market elements. The working class still holds political and economic power in Vietnam, and the market reforms were implemented as a means of strengthening socialism rather than weakening it.

Indeed, if many critics of actually existing socialism actually looked into Vietnam, they would find a vibrant protest movement by workers and peasants who work with, rather than against, the CPV to improve socialism. The state subordinates the interests of capital, both foreign and domestic, to the class interests of the people, and the CPV plans the economy to address the needs and demands of the working class first and foremost.

At varying points in history, socialist countries have had to make certain temporary concessions to the market in order to strengthen and preserve socialism. Economically backwards nations that have socialist revolutions face the task of revolutionizing the productive forces in order to meet the material needs of the masses. As Lenin so adequately put it, “Electricity plus soviets equals socialism.”

Vietnam is continuing the arduous task of socialist construction. Hardened by the experience of savage onslaught by US imperialism and inspired by their victory over it, the Vietnamese people have persevered through periods of retreat and economic crisis to continue building socialism in the 21st century. Though market reforms have brought many challenges and negative consequences, the overall orientation of the Vietnamese state and economy is towards the working class, and that alone makes socialism in Vietnam worth studying and defending.

This essay is broken into smaller, digestible chapters:

  • Doi Moi, Market Reforms & Socialism in Vietnam
  • Socialist Market Economies vs. Capitalist Market Economies
  • Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam
  • Trade Unions & Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam
  • Market Reforms as a Mass Demand
  • Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom’: Protest & the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Vietnam
  • What Does Actually Existing Socialism Mean for Socialists in the US?

While the specifics of Vietnam’s market reforms are discussed at length in this piece, we see no reason to reinvent the wheel and one again demonstrate how market socialism is rooted firmly in the direct ideas and experiences of Marx and Lenin. Readers interested in our discussion on market socialism and Marxism-Leninism should refer back to China & Market Socialism: A Question of State & Revolution.

Doi Moi, Market Reforms & Socialism in Vietnam

In his 2010 book, Vietnam: Rising Dragon, journalist Bill Hayton argues that despite market reforms, Vietnam remains a patently socialist country. Sympathetic but not apologetic towards Vietnamese society, Hayton is a Western liberal but even he cannot escape the conclusion that Vietnam is decidedly different from the other capitalist countries in Asia. His book may be the most useful and telling study on modern Vietnam available in English, and we will quote it profusely throughout this piece. Unless otherwise denoted, all quotes come from his book.

After the devastation wrought by the US imperialist war against Vietnam and the continued legacy of French colonialism, “the rural economy was in ruins, the north had been bombed back to a pre-industrial age and the war had killed, wounded or displaced millions.” Vietnam’s ravaged infrastructure forced the country to import about “200,000 tonnes of rice just to prevent starvation.” Further adding to the economic problems, Vietnam was drawn into a war against its neighbor, Democratic Kampuchea (DK), after Khmer Rouge troops attacked Vietnamese citizens on the border. This led to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an ally of the DK, to cut off essential economic aid to Vietnam.

In this context, limited market reforms were implemented to preserve, rather than dismantle, socialism. These reforms strikingly resembled the New Economic Policy (NEP) that Lenin and the Bolsheviks implemented in the Soviet Union in 1921. Under this first set of market reforms, “State-owned enterprises still had to meet their commitments to the central plan – but they were now allowed to buy and sell any surplus independently.” In the agricultural sector, “Farmers could also sell any rice they had left over once they’d supplied their allotted quota.”

Rather than undermining socialism, these reforms actually protected the working class orientation of the Vietnamese economy. Like in the Soviet Union, “some State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were already trading informally, and even doing business with foreigners, just to pay the bills. By tacitly approving these informal transactions the Party leadership hopes to control them and gradually rein the in.” These initial efforts failed, and illegal trading doubled from 1980 to 1982, creating a similar ‘second economy’ to the one seen in the Soviet Union.

The CPV responded and “tried to get tough” with measures like Decree 25-CP, which ordered “all state firms to register their market trading.” At this point, the CPV introduced the policy of doi moi, which means ‘change to something new’. Doi Moi boosted agricultural output and reduced the country’s rampant inflation, which had “hit almost 500 per cent” in 1987.

Just as Lenin and Stalin saw the NEP as a temporary retreat in order to meet the challenges posed to socialist construction, the CPV used – and continues to use – market reforms to strengthen socialism, and continued control of the economy by the state insures that the fledgling class of business owners never develops an independent class character.

However, the limited scope of these market reforms changed in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. No event had a greater impact on the remaining five socialist countries than the dissolution of the USSR, which was the largest trading partner for four of the five countries. Not unlike Cuba, Vietnam was heavily dependent on Soviet aid, especially following China’s hostility after the war for the liberation of Kampuchea. It is critical to understand that the loss of the USSR as a trading partner forced the CPV to consider the long-term viability of these reforms to insure continued economic growth and prevent the overthrow of socialism in Vietnam. Hayton writes:

“In 1981, aid from the Soviet Union funded about 40 per cent of the Vietnamese state budget. In 1991, it was cut off completely. The Party declared Vietnam open for foreign investment and the combination of low wages, under-used factories and a great geographical location was too tempting for overseas corporations to miss.”

However, this was decidedly different from the counter-revolutions and capitalist restoration wave that swept Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Hayton continues:

“But even at this point, the state remained in control, and foreign investment was directed into joint ventures with state firms. In every other communist country that has embarked on economic transition, the proportion of the economy controlled by the state has fallen. In Vietnam it actually rose: from 39 per cent in 1992 to 41 percent in 2003 – and these figures exclude foreign-invested firms, which were usually joint ventures with SOEs.”

The economic reforms performed their stated purpose and strengthened Vietnamese socialism. With the state taking an increasingly greater role in the economy, Vietnam’s SOEs began to produce at a level that replaced the lost Soviet aid that had devastated the economy a decade earlier. Once again, we quote Hayton:

“But unlike many other countries, state control did not mean economic torpor – growth rocketed to 8 per cent a year. The boom was particularly strong in the south. By the end of the decade, state firms in Ho Chi Minh City contributed about half of the national state budget. In effect Saigon and its surroundings had taken over the role performed by the Soviet Union two decades earlier.”

Vietnam’s involvement in the World Trade Organization is often criticized as a deep concession to international capital, but this view demonstrates a mistaken, ill-informed view of Vietnamese socialism. Although the World Bank and the IMF were allowed to lend to Vietnam starting in 1993, Vietnam resisted taking even the most enticing loans from both since the “country had very little debt and was making enough money from exports and commercial foreign investment not to need cash.”

In 1998, Vietnam was offered more loans by the World Bank in the form of more than $2.7 billion in conditional and unconditional funding “if it [the government] agreed to implement a timetable to sell off the remaining SOEs, restructure the state banking sector and introduce a trade reform programme.” Although the CPV took the deal, they “took no action to implement it” because the “demands were too much for the mainstream of the Party to accept.” Hayton notes that “Over the course of three years, it turned down a total of $1.5 billion because it placed political stability ahead of the promises of economic liberalisation,” political stability meaning the working class orientation of the economy. He says, “Vietnam had gone eyeball-to-eyeball with the mighty institutions from Washington and won.”

Hayton takes exception to the idea that the presence of private businesses and commercial trade makes Vietnam a capitalist country. He argues instead that academic fixation on “the froth of petty trading is distracting.” He writes:

“Vietnam has not developed in the way it has – balancing rocketing economic growth with one of the most impressive reductions in poverty anywhere, ever – by completely liberalizing the economy. Yes, restrictions on private enterprise have been lifted, markets have been allowed to flourish and foreign investment has been encouraged – but Vietnam’s success if far from being a triumph of World Bank orthodoxy. Some might snicker at the official description of a ‘socialist-oriented market economy’ but it’s not an empty slogan. Even today, the Communist Party retains control over most of the economy: either directly through state-owned enterprises which monopolise key strategic sectors, through joint ventures between the state sector and foreign investors, or increasingly, through the elite networks which bind the Party to the new private sector.”

We cannot fully understand the importance of these market reforms without comparing Vietnam’s experience to that of the USSR. In their book, Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny meticulously detail how the growth of the ‘second economy’, or black market, in the Soviet Union materially undermined socialism and led to its overthrow in 1991. They point out that the short-lived ascension of Yuri Andropov as the General Secretary of the CPSU could have led to a crackdown on the black market economic relations that had developed in the Soviet Union, but his premature death led to the ascension of forces within the Party who had grown to accept and profit from the ‘second economy’. These forces, embodied in Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika, unleashed a wave of counter-revolution in the Soviet Union that led to the dissolution of socialism.

In Vietnam, the gradual implementation of market reforms allowed the CPV to insure the continued dominance of the socialist state over the private sector. Additionally, it forced ‘second economy’ enterprises to emerge from the black market and placed them under control of the state. The Enterprise Law of 1999, for instance, led to 160,000 enterprises registering with the government, most of which were “existing businesses which had been operating without licenses and took advantage of the new law to register.”

Socialist Market Economies vs. Capitalist Market Economies

The fundamental difference between a socialist market economy and a capitalist market economy is the role of the state. As Lenin describes in State and Revolution, the state is an instrument of class rule. It does not exist above class, but is wielded by one class to dominate another. In the US and the capitalist countries in Western Europe, state intervention and regulation in the economy is wielded by and in the interests of the capitalist class.

However, in a socialist market economy, the state is controlled by workers and dominates the private sector. It allows it to flourish only to the degree that it helps in the economic development of the whole country and serves the greater class interests of the working class and peasantry. The vast majority of businesses and companies are not independent of the government and are instead dominated by the workers state. Hayton describes this in Vietnam specifically:

“There are bigger private firms but they’re few in number. Although 350 companies are now listed on the country’s two stock exchanges, 99 per cent of the country’s businesses are still small or medium sized. In 2005 there were just 22 domestic privately owned firms among the top 200 companies and…’private’ is a debatable term.”

Even in the realm of foreign investment, the Vietnamese state dominates international capital ventures, rather than the other way around. In addition to its rebuke of the World Bank and IMF privatization policies, Hayton points out:

“The foreign-invested sector is a highly visible part of the economy, employing millions of people and providing plenty of tax revenue, but it doesn’t dominate the commanding heights. They are still, in theory at least, controlled by the state. In 2005, 122 of the 200 biggest firms in Vietnam were state-owned. The figure has changed only marginally since then, although some privately owned banks are now marching up the league. For the Party, a strong state sector is the way it can maintain national independence in an era of globalisation. It means the Party can still set the big goals – like its decision, in December 2006, to develop the country’s ‘maritime economy’ – a catch-all concept covering everything from oil to dish and ships. It is also determined to maintain high degrees of state control over strategically important sectors such as natural resources, transport, finance, infrastructure, defence and communications.”

Workers overwhelmingly support these policies as well, even those employed in joint enterprises with foreign firms. Hayton quotes Vu Thi Tham, a shoe production line worker, who noted that the work provided higher income and a better way of life “than being a peasant.” She said, “It’s OK. I’m working here because the income is stable. Before I was a farmer and my income depended on the weather. If it was good, I could make good money. But if it was bad, I couldn’t. Even in good times I could only make $30 per month but working here I can make $60 or more if I do overtime.”

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

None of this is to say that the introduction of market reforms has not brought negative effects associated with capitalist markets to Vietnam, but the overall orientation of the state and the economy is still in the class interests of the workers and peasants. Hayton writes, “Growth is vital, but not at the expense of creating too much inequality.” He continues by saying, “The beneficiaries have been the peasants and proletarians.” For instance, poverty in Vietnam dropped from 60% to less than 20% between 1993 and 2004, according to government data. In 2010, the government reported that poverty had dropped to a mere 9.45%, further demonstrating the positive effects of Vietnamese market socialism on the people.

Like most socialist countries, Vietnam has eliminated illiteracy and significantly reduced its infant mortality rate, corresponding to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The state continues to have guaranteed employment, which it’s able to achieve efficiently through the market reforms.

In a March 2011 article for Direct Action, Hamish Chitts notes the overall impact that these policies have had on the economy in raising the overall population out of poverty and underdevelopment. Chitts writes:

“According to World Bank figures, Vietnam’s gross domestic product per capita (measured in current US dollars) has grown from $239 in 1985 to $1155 in 2010. The government has ensured that this growth benefits the people. Vietnam has made impressive progress, reducing the poverty rate from 70% in 1990 to 22% in 2005.”

Much like China, market reforms have brought forth contradictions in health care and education, which are no longer purely administered through public channels. A May 4, 2005 article by Michael Karadjis writing for GreenLeft notes that, “Following the Soviet collapse, Vietnam introduced small fees for education and health.” Although Karadjis calls this a “blow against socialist fundamentals,” he also acknowledges that it “was forced by necessity” because  ”Vietnam’s per capita GDP had dropped to $78 by 1990.”

Nevertheless, health care in Vietnam is planned and administered by provincial people’s committees, according to Chitts, and 100% of rural communes now have health workers, demonstrating the CPV’s prioritization of insuring health care access for rural areas.

Further highlighting Vietnam’s socialist character, Karadjis notes that the government – as a part of the Poverty Alleviation and Hunger Elimination Program, launched in 2001 - ”builds schools, health centres, clean water systems and roads in remote areas, delivers free healthcare and education, and delivers a large amount of subsidised, low-interest collateral-free credit to the poor, to help them set up or improve small household businesses in farming, handicrafts and the like.”

Of the inequalities brought about as a result of market reforms, Chitts describes the changing productive forces that allow Vietnamese socialism to both survive and prosper, which lays the material basis for providing these services on an increasingly widening mass basis. He says:

“While doi moi has introduced some inequity through “user pays” systems for essential social services, this has always been alleviated as much as possible at every level. As the productive forces grow, more is available to improve people’s lives. Without doi moi, millions of people would have been condemned to poverty and disease. If it had ignored the objective reality of Vietnam, the government would have brought about what the French, US and allies like Australia could not achieve by 30 years of brutal war – the defeat of socialism in Vietnam. Instead the CPV and the people continue to build a stronger base for socialism in Vietnam and by example a stronger base for socialism internationally in the 21st century.”

The market reforms in Vietnam were essential measures designed to cope with the difficult task of socialist construction for a poor country in a post-Soviet world. They allow the revolution to move forward and continue revolutionizing the productive forces so the state can more adequately meet the needs and demands of the people.

For all of its shortcomings, socialism perseveres in Vietnam and deserves recognition for its achievements. The aforementioned article by Karadjis compares Vietnam’s economic performance with comparably impoverished nations. He writes:

“Vietnam is a “low income” country (US$430 per capita GDP), but its educational and health indicators are on par with, or better than, “middle income” countries such as Thailand ($2000 GDP per capita), China and the Philippines, and far above those of similarly poor countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania.”

Karadjis goes on to note that “Primary school enrollment rose from 88% to 95% between 1990 and 2001,” despite an enrollment decline in the overall East Asia and Pacific region in the same period. Secondary school enrollment is up, class sizes are down, and the nominal fees associated with school – mostly for supplies – are waived for poorer families.

In the realm of health care, Vietnam “cut child mortality to 23 per 10,000 live births, and infant mortality to 19, lower than Thailand, China and the Philippines, and dramatically lower than India and Indonesia,” according to Karadjis. Vietnam’s life expectancy outstrips comparably poor countries in the region and ranks equivalent to wealthier East Asian countries, like Thailand. The country’s elaborate health care infrastructure insures access to medical care for even the most rural citizens, and ethnic minorities, the poor, and children pay nothing for health care.

Even amid the world economic meltdown of developed capitalist nations like the US, Vietnam maintains a 2.29% unemployment rate. Unemployment that low indicates only frictional unemployment for workers who are going between jobs, meaning that Vietnam is essentially able to employ all of its people.

Though these observations of Vietnamese social programs are an important aspect of evaluating the orientation of the state and the economy, they are by no means the only determinant. We will now examine the relationship between the Vietnamese state and the most basic economic organization of the working class: the trade union.

Trade Unions & Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

Union workers in Vietnam celebrating Workers Month.

On the subject of trade unions, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) plays a vital role in representing workers’ day-to-day needs and grievances, but it also acts as their representative on larger legislative matters. Cynical critics claim that trade unions in socialist countries act as rubber stamps on government initiatives, but Simon Clarke and Tim Pringle of the University of Warwick, UK, find that the opposite is usually true. Writing in a comparison study between trade unions in Vietnam and China entitled ‘Can party-led trade unions represent their members?’, Clarke and Pringle find:

“Until 2007 VGCL was directly involved in drafting all labour legislation, and it continues to have the statutory right of consultation. Over the past five years VGCL has taken an increasingly independent position in pressing its own views on the government, most notably in criticising the inadequacy of government enforcement of labour legislation, in pressing for increases in the minimum wage and in insisting on the retention of the right to strike in the 2006 revision of the Labour Code.”

Contrary to propaganda put out by the Western media (and gobbled up by misguided leftist critics), strikes are legal in Vietnam, though there is a formal legal procedure required for launching strikes. However, most strikes in Vietnam, like China, are not necessarily legal but are also not interrupted or broken up by the government. Clarke and Pringle write:

“Faced with growing industrial unrest the trade union and the party-state are forced back into a fire-fighting role. In Vietnam the local office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MOLISA) generally takes the lead, persuading the management to meet the workers’ demands, at least to the extent that the strike has been provoked by legal violations, while the local VGCL representative encourages the workers to return to work before the strike spreads to neighbouring enterprises. The police will also be called to maintain order as the workers spill out onto the streets. It is rare for there to be any police action against strikers, although strike leaders, if identified, may subsequently be victimised by the employer.”

Strikes, even unauthorized strikes, function as critical pulse-checker for mass sentiment and economic conditions faced by workers, and they usually provoke new pro-worker legislation by the Party. In this sense, the true class nature of the Vietnamese state is revealed as proletarian. After all, if the state steps in to mediate and force concessions from management, the duration of the strike will naturally shorten. We look again to Clarke and Pringle’s findings:

“The strikes in the new booming capitalist industries in both China and Vietnam have been steadily increasing in scale and extent, so that ‘collective bargaining by riot’ (Hobsbawm 1964, pp. 6 –7) has become the normal method by which workers defend their rights and interests. Workers have developed a very good idea of what they can get away with and how far they can go, so that short sharp strikes and protests have become an extremely prompt and effective way of redressing their grievances.”

Indeed, this unravels the criticism levied against socialist countries by many leftist critics, who focus on the legal limitations on strikes rather than the outcome of unauthorized strikes and other forms of worker activism. For the last time, we quote Clarke and Pringle’s conclusion:

“The limitation of the right to strike has been by no means as significant a factor as the absence of freedom of association in inhibiting worker activism and the reform of the trade unions in China and Vietnam. The important issue is not so much whether or not a strike is legal as whether or not it is effective. In China and Vietnam strikes have proved to be an extremely effective method for workers to achieve their immediate demands, as the authorities refrain from repressing strikers for fear of exacerbating the situation and press employers immediately to meet the workers’ demands, to prevent the strike from spreading.”

Anytime strikes take place in socialist countries, leftist critics are quick to argue that this inherently demonstrates the antagonistic interests of the state and the workers. Time and time again, they blur the real issue at play, which is that the workers demands are almost always met by the state. This, in fact, highlights the importance of the concept of ‘actually existing socialism’.

For some leftist critics, there should be no class struggle under socialism. Every worker should be in a state of perpetual bliss, according to their view, because any evidence of poor working conditions or exploitation – usually from foreign companies – is evidence that the country in question is not socialist. Socialism is a complete end; a utopia. Intrinsically, this is an idealist conception of socialism that will never manifest itself in reality, ever.

Socialism is only as valuable as it actually exists in the material world, hence ‘actually existing socialism’. Class struggle continues because of the necessary measures taken to improve the lives of oppressed people; measures that often bring many unsavory, and indeed capitalist, contradictions. This struggle, however, does not disprove the existence of socialism. In actuality, it confirms its existence.

We learn about the essential class character of the state when looking at its overall orientation. A capitalist state does not mediate disputes between trade unions and management in favor of the workers. Strikes are short in capitalist countries because they are repressed with force. The capitalist state doesn’t allow trade unions to sit in the pilot’s seat in drafting labor law.

But all of these things happen in Vietnam. When looking at the class orientation of the state, it defies all logic and evidence – and if these Western leftist critics were honest with themselves, it defies their own experience with capitalist states – to claim that Vietnam is a capitalist country.

Market Reforms as a Mass Demand

There is a misunderstanding of market reforms as a purely top-down phenomenon, rather than an actual demand of the masses in Vietnam. While many of the policies were crafted by the CPV – itself made up predominantly of workers and peasants – many emerged as actual mass demands raised from villages and cities. In Saigon, for instance, urban workers began renovating their own homes and creating their own food production centers to meet demands where the crisis-stricken state economy could not. Although these economic changes were technically illegal, the Vietnamese state had no interest on cracking down on them because they strengthened, rather than weakened, socialism. Hayton notes:

“The houses and livelihoods were illegal, but if the state had enforced the law the result woul have been mass destitution and instability. Instead, households and state reached a compromise which was both pragmatic and tasty. In 1989, as state-owned enterprises and the military laid off a million and a half people, the streets were ‘opened’ and Vietnam’s street-food revolution began. Women led the way. They took control of the means of production: a charcoal burner, a large pot and a few wooden (later plastic) stools, and began to support themselves and their families by selling tea, pho noodle soup, bun cha mini kebabs on noodles, lau stew and all the other homemade delights for which Vietnamese food has now become justly famous. Previous petty trading would have been quickly, and literally, stamped out. Now, a change in police behavior made it obvious that they’d been told to leave the women alone.”

Economic market reforms benefited urban workers, particularly women, by allowing them to meet demands that were going unmet because of the period of crisis brought on by declining aid.

Many detractors from the left view market reforms simply from the perspective of the top leaders in the CPV and view it as a policy concocted by the Party bureaucracy to make more money. As the experience of Saigon in the late 80s demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth.

Actually existing socialism finds itself within the confines of a world dominated by imperialism. After the Sino-Soviet split and the fall of the Soviet Union, the continued improvement of material conditions for the masses was compromised, and despite its best efforts, the state could not continue to provide services at the same level that they were before.

Ever the innovative animus of society, the masses pushed for many of these market reforms to meet their own needs directly. Women in particular led this charge in the late 80s, and the state respected their act of civil disobedience. This demonstrates the unity of class interests between the masses and the state, which are both oriented towards the working class in Vietnam. Therein is the essence of actually existing socialism.

‘Let A Thousand Flowers Blossom’: Protest & the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh & Mao Zedong meeting together

The Right relies on the image of socialist countries as totalitarian to fuel its propaganda war against Marxism-Leninism. Even left anti-communists – most commonly in the form of Trotskyites and anarchists – frequently argue that existing socialist countries stifle dissent and that this makes them categorically not socialist.

Leaving aside the peculiar reading of socialism as a question of bourgeois civil rights, these criticisms have no basis in actual fact. Protest and criticism play an important role in actually existing socialism, albeit a role very different from that under capitalism. Nowhere is the vibrancy and dynamism of protest and criticism-self-criticism seen more prominently than in Vietnam.

In an article for Asia Sentinel called “Vietnam’s Not-So-Rare Protests,” reporter David Brown describes the frequent protests that take place in Vietnam on all manner of issues. He begins by quoting Article 69 and 79 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which enshrine the right of the people to free speech and assembly, but also reinforce the demand of the people to enforce and obey the law. Protests are frequent in Vietnam, despite what the Left and Right detractors claim. Brown writes:

“Invariably AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press, etc. describe these demonstrations as “rare.” The wires are wrong. Though a recent informal poll of academic Vietnam specialists failed to turn up anyone who’s been keeping careful count, a consensus readily formed that public protests have become relatively common in Vietnam.”

The state has a dialectical understanding of these two constitutional articles that follows in the tradition of Mao Zedong’s “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” in which protests and demonstrations that emerge from real demands of the masses – rather than hopes of capitalist restoration and counter-revolutionary efforts – should be encouraged, promoted, and respected. Mao writes:

“People may ask, since Marxism is accepted as the guiding ideology by the majority of the people in our country, can it be criticized? Certainly it can. Marxism is scientific truth and fears no criticism. If it did, and if it could be overthrown by criticism, it would be worthless. In fact, aren’t the idealists criticizing Marxism every day and in every way? And those who harbour bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideas and do not wish to change — aren’t they also criticizing Marxism in every way? Marxists should not be afraid of criticism from any quarter. Quite the contrary, they need to temper and develop themselves and win new positions in the teeth of criticism and in the storm and stress of struggle. Fighting against wrong ideas is like being vaccinated — a man develops greater immunity from disease as a result of vaccination. Plants raised in hothouses are unlikely to be hardy. Carrying out the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend will not weaken, but strengthen, the leading position of Marxism in the ideological field.”

We find evidence of the CPV’s attitudes towards principled criticism and dissent by the country’s working masses in the Party’s recent announcement to consider legalizing same-sex marriage. The Vietnamese Justice Ministry announced plans to include same-sex marriage in a new marriage reform law proposed in July 2012, according to the Huffington Post. While this move has raised the cynical ire of Vietnamese ex-pats in the US, it comes in response to the growing gay rights movement in Vietnam and the re-evaluation of the gay question by Marxist-Leninist ruling parties all over the world. If this proposal becomes law, Vietnam will become the first socialist country and the first Asian country – and only the 12th country in the world – to fully legalize same-sex marriage.

Indeed, an AFP article from August 5, 2012, describes the first gay pride parade in Hanoi that followed the Justice Ministry’s announcement. Though small, the activists and organizers faced no repression from the state and feel tremendous support from Vietnamese society in publicly demonstrating for gay rights. We quote a brief excerpt from the article:

“The first gay pride parade in communist Vietnam took place in the capital Hanoi on Sunday with dozens of cyclists displaying balloons and rainbow flags streaming through the city’s streets.

Organised by the city’s small but growing Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, the event went ahead peacefully with no attempt by police to stop the colourful convoy of about 100 activists despite their lack of official permission.

“There was no intervention which is a good thing for Vietnam,” said one of the organisers, Tam Nguyen.”

Whether or not same-sex marriage is legalized is still on the table, but the issue highlights the relationship between the Party and the masses. Protests that strengthen socialism and the position of the masses are allowed and supported.

However, the other side of this is the dealing of non-Marxist criticisms and dissent. In the same work, Mao writes, “What should our policy be towards non-Marxist ideas? As far as unmistakable counter-revolutionaries and saboteurs of the socialist cause are concerned, the matter is easy, we simply deprive them of their freedom of speech.” This is the protective function of the dictatorship of the proletariat - the class power of the workers to crush agents of imperialism, wreckers, and counter-revolutionaries.

Evidence of the dictatorship of the proletariat abounds in Vietnam. During a series of small-scale political dissent between 2006 and 2007, the Vietnamese state took measures to distinguish between criticism directed at improving socialism – in other words, criticism that came from a desire for unity – and criticism designed at undermining the workers’ power. Hayton writes:

“The events of 2006-7 seem to have generated a new modus vivendibetween the dissidents and the security forces. The dissidents who were arrested and jailed were not those who simply held dissident thoughts or even wrote about them online. They transgressed the Party’s limits of tolerance in much more significant ways – in particular by breaking its monopoly of political organisation with independent parties and trade unions. They were also involved at a much deeper level with activists based outside Vietnam, they took money from anti-communists overseas and they tried to take their message to the people in the offline world – in the universities, factories and streets of Vietnam.“

Indeed, the only protest and dissent that is dealt with harshly in Vietnam and repressed is that which is instigated from abroad for the purpose of undermining socialism. “Dissidents who did not do these things – the majority of signatories of the original Manifesto – may have been harassed or questioned by the police but they were not jailed,” according to Hayton.

This too follows along in the political tradition of Mao, who writes later in the same work:

“There are also a small number of individuals in our society who, flouting the public interest, wilfully break the law and commit crimes. They are apt to take advantage of our policies and distort them, and deliberately put forward unreasonable demands in order to incite the masses, or deliberately spread rumours to create trouble and disrupt public order. We do not propose to let these individuals have their way. On the contrary, proper legal action must be taken against them. Punishing them is the demand of the masses, and it would run counter to the popular will if they were not punished.”

The dissidents that receive the bulk of attention in the West are those who seek to restore capitalism in Vietnam, like the Bloc 8406 that gained notoriety in 2006. Hayton dedicates a substantial part of his book to describing the rise and fall of this so-called movement and why it failed to gain any substantial traction. Even liberal estimates put the Bloc’s membership at “around 2,000 open supporters within the country – about one in 40,000 of the Vietnamese population.” The US and European media praised this pathetic movement that lacked any mass base as a reform wave in the vein of Solidarity, which was the CIA front that overthrew the People’s Republic of Poland. Hayton dismisses the comparison on its face:

“Their [Bloc 8406's] idealistic comparisons with Poland and Solidarity were misplaced. In the 1980s, Poland’s economy was stagnant. Vietnam’s is growing; Solidarity had the backing of the Catholic Church but there is no equivalent mass support in Vietnam and the activists were not the same either – not so much shipyard trade unionists as capital-city lawyers. They didn’t have the same community roots. The parallels are less with Poland than with Czechoslovakia. The Czech dissident movement, the group known as Charter 77, comprised outspoken intellectuals who remained isolated and unknown by the mass of the population until the Party leadership finally cracked in 1989.”

Idealist leftists who attack Vietnam and other socialist countries often look to dissent movements as evidence of the state’s oppressive nature, but in doing so, they ignore the severe degree of isolation these dissidents face from the masses, who overwhelmingly support the Vietnamese government.

Furthermore, they ignore the blatantly imperialist, anti-socialist, and downright illegal practices and beliefs of these ‘opposition groups’. One of Bloc 8406′s ‘largest’ constituency groups was a small, bizarre faction mistakenly called the Vietnamese National Progressive Party (VNPP). Hayton describes their call for independent trade unions ‘opportunistic’ because  their “interim platform had little to say on workers rights. Indeed, the only thing it had to say on economic matters was that it would ‘Re-establish and exercise the full and legitimate right of the Vietnamese People to private ownership,’ which suggests that it might have been more favorable to the interests of the owners of capital than to those of the proletariat.”

While not all protests and calls for reform are anti-communist and pro-imperialist in socialist countries, these groups are often organized and supported by the US and Western Europe to push a pro-capitalist agenda. That these groups only face repression when they actively organize is a testament to the level of dissent and debate allowed in a country like Vietnam. Hayton sums up the relationship between the Vietnamese state and the so-called dissident movements nicely:

“The authorities’ paranoia is not entirely misplaced. Various US-based zealots have periodically hatched hare-brained plans to instigate uprisings in Vietnam. Their plans have underestimated both the security forces’ degree of control and the allegiance the vast majority of Vietnamese have to their country. Most people are, in fact, relatively pleased with their improving lot and quite happy to be loyal citizens of the Socialist Republic.But from their [foreign-based dissidents] faraway vantage point, the exiles convince themselves that this must be the result of propaganda and that if only they could break its stranglehold on the media, the Communist Party would be overthrown.”

What many leftist critics cannot seem to grasp is that the masses rule in socialist countries like Vietnam. Like these out-of-touch foreign dissidents, they convince themselves that the propaganda they hear is correct and they focus purely on the cosmetic changes in Vietnamese society. Yes, there is a private sector. Yes, there is state repression of some dissent. But by failing to properly contextualize these facts, they obfuscate the real class nature of Vietnam, which is ruled by and oriented towards the working class.

What Does Actually Existing Socialism Mean for Socialists in the US?

Market socialism is imperfect and certainly unorthodox. Some may call it revisionist. The important point is to contextualize these shortcomings and flaws so we can understand where they come from. Actually existing socialism will always fall short of the socialist ideal because it is precisely that ideal implemented within the confines of reality. The objective conditions limit the subjective conditions that revolutionaries can create, and Vietnam’s objective conditions became a lot more difficult after 1991.

Nevertheless, socialism continues to exist and prosper in Vietnam. For the student of Marx, the defects and inequalities still present in Vietnamese society should trigger Marx’s own words in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, in which he describes the ‘lower’ stage of socialism:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

Vietnam was a colonized, oppressed nation that was forcibly partitioned by the Western imperialist powers. After its partition, the nation suffered a vicious onslaught by the US military over fifteen years, and against all odds, the Vietnamese people defeated imperialism. Beaten and battered, but not broken, the CPV led the nation forward out of multiple economic crises to establish a better, more democratic society ruled by the working class.

The reality of the fall of the Soviet Union, the continued impact of the Vietnam War (Agent Orange, in particular), and their encirclement by imperialist powers forced the Vietnamese revolution to make some tactical, strategic retreats into market reforms. With these reforms, Vietnam has maintained the structural integrity of class-based socialism and improved living conditions for its almost 88 million people.

For socialists in the US, defending Vietnamese socialism is very important. Vietnam represents continued defiance of imperialism, and it exists as a symbol of hope that another – better – world is possible. Although Vietnam remains a poor country and its example is not as dynamically inspirational as the USSR in the 1920s or China in the 1960s, socialists in the US should use the experience of Vietnam when explaining the positive aspects of government by and for workers, i.e. socialism.

At a time when trade unions in the US are facing extermination by right-wing state governors, corporate handouts are disguised as ‘health care reform’, and public education funding gets slashed to the bone, actually existing socialism in Vietnam provides a powerful what-if for workers to consider.

Long live the Vietnamese revolution!

 

Against Left Opportunism: Syria & Anti-Imperialism

Standard

The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

By Vince Sherman
December 10, 2012

The time has come for the left in the United States to make a choice.

Either it can continue to play into the hands of Western imperialism through its bizarre, undying support for the Syrian rebellion, or it can break decisively from opportunism and consistently uphold Syria’s right to self-determination by supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO’s ruthless assault on Libya proved that all of the Western polemics in the world could not conjure a workers revolution into existence that opposed both Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and NATO. It proved that the call to support the rebellion while also condemning Western aggression was worse than taking no position at all. Liberals and opportunists in the US spent more time criticizing Qaddafi than they did organizing actual resistance to the horrific actions of their own government in Libya, and ultimately they supported the Obama administration’s so-called “humanitarian intervention,” if not in words than certainly in deeds.

With President Barack Obama winning a second term handily over Mitt Romney, the administration no longer has the disincentive towards war with Syria and Iran that it did a little over a month ago. Xinhua and RT challenge the narrative put forward by the Western media about the progress of the Syrian rebellion, arguing that they are essentially locked in a stalemate on the ground coupled with a worsening international situation. CNN, on the other hand, runs stories titled “Syria endgame in sight: ‘We welcome this fight’” that claim a rebel victory is within reach.

Washington tipped its hand last week in revealing the purpose of the propaganda war: Accusing a supposedly desperate Assad of planning to use chemical weapons. Imminent victory for the rebellion is an important component of the pro-war narrative because it gives Assad, by all accounts a rational world leader, a motive for planning a patently irrational action. While the US is in a less advantageous position internationally to launch an assault on Syria than they were ten years ago with Iraq, the possibility of invasion has never been greater.

This is the larger context of the US left’s positions, and it’s shocking how little hue and cry there is over imminent war with Syria. Takis Fotopoulos, the famed Greek left-libertarian political philosopher behind the “inclusive democracy” concept, perfectly describes the phenomenon of leftist support, explicit or tacit, for the criminal attacks on countries like Libya and Syria. In the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, he wrote of the “degenerate left” in the United States. We will quote him at some length:

The world mass media controlled by the transnational and Zionist elites, crucially assisted this time by the “alternative” world media (from Aljazeera — which has become the unofficial channel of the “revolutionaries” and the transnational elite — to the Iranian Press TV), have played a very important role in creating the illusion of a monolithic “world against the tyrant”, which was not created during all the previous criminal wars of the transnational elite (see Section 4).

This has had very important implications as regards the stand of the Left (statist, libertarian, Green, etc.), who have mostly sided with the “revolutionaries”, if not with the criminal campaign itself! Furthermore, it has not just been the reformist Left who have sided with the new criminal campaign, as they have done in the past. This time, a very significant part of the anti-systemic Left have also indirectly been in favour of this war, through their support for the so-called “revolutionaries” in Libya. This has created (or perhaps revealed) a new kind of degenerate “Left” who, instead of demystifying the systemic propaganda, as used to be their traditional role, have directly or indirectly been supporting it, justifying the conclusion I derived ten years ago about the end of the traditional antisystemic movements. (1)

We are eager to read Fotopoulos’ new book, Redesigning the Middle East: The Arab “Revolutions”, Counter-Revolution in Iran and Regime Change, which promises to explore this concept further.

The point is, by not putting forth a consistent, unified, principled anti-imperialist position on the Libyan or Syrian question, the left aids and abets Western imperialism. One cannot call the US left’s willingness to hitch its wagon onto any protest movement, regardless of its composition or political context, anything but the most degenerate form of opportunism. Just as in Libya, the Syrian rebellion today has generally worked with the West and its puppet states towards the overthrow of a nationalist, anti-imperialist government since the beginning. Thanks to news services like RT, even Western leftists have had access to this information from day-one, and yet they cannot be bothered to sacrifice some vague notion of “principle” and support Assad and Syrian self-determination. As we will see, this opportunism has run the gamut from outright support to more insidious forms.

Like Libya, Syria Reveals Opportunism in the US Left

A cruise-missile leftist blog called The North Star raised the ire of a number of leftist groups in the US when they posted an article entitled “Lybia and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” The piece took left-opportunism to a new level by openly calling on leftists to support the demand by the Syrian opposition for Western imperialist intervention. In subsequent pieces, the author, Pham Binh, heavily criticized the Cliffite-Trotskyite International Socialist Organization (ISO) for “quietly [abandoning] its support for the Libyan revolution once the going got tough and NATO’s F-16s got going.” (2) For Binh, the ISO’s clumsy and ham-handed justification for supporting the Libyan rebels but not the NATO intervention of 2011 was “the anti-imperialism of fools,” but not because they supported the invasion. Rather, Binh criticizes the ISO for not actively supporting the NATO airstrikes to bring down Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s government, claiming that leftists should support the ‘Arab spring’ – itself a completely empty term employed by the West to blur the line between popular uprisings, like those in Egypt and Tunisia, and the imperialist-instigated plots against Libya and Syria – “no matter what side the U.S. government eventually decides to back.” (2)

This bizarre episode of explicit opportunist support for imperialism provoked many strong responses from other left groups around the world. Directly responding to both The North Star and the ISO’s own left-opportunist view of the Syrian question, Mazda Majidi of the Party for Socialism & Liberation (PSL) wrote a fantastic piece for Liberation News entitled “When justifying imperialist intervention “goes wrong” Cruise-missile socialists.

At Return to the Source, we see no reason to reinvent the wheel, and we unite with the criticisms of Binh’s piece levied by Majidi and the PSL. We encourage any and all Marxist-Leninists interested in this debate to read the aforementioned article.

Unlike Libya, however, the question of the Syrian ‘rebellion’ is still at the forefront of the struggle against imperialism. anti-imperialists must resolutely struggle against the possibility of a Western military invasion of Syrian and rigorously combat the left-opportunist elements – like the ISO and The North Star – which seek to give cover to an invasion.

In terms of honesty, logic, and consistency, The North Star gets high marks. Polemic-trading between The North Star and the ISO should not blur the fact that both of these groups view the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’ in the same way: a genuine popular people’s movement against the so-called “Assad dictatorship.” This is crucial to understanding the common tie between the ISO and The North Star, which is left-opportunism and social imperialism. Majidi notes this in the PSL’s response, saying that ”[they] accept all the same premises: that the Libyan government had no significant base of support and that the revolt was a popular “revolution” with an “understandable” desire for foreign help.” (4)

However, The North Star accepts the logical conclusion of its support for the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’, while the ISO fallaciously tries to have their cake and eat it too. In perhaps the most bizarre piece put forward by the ISO, author Paul D’Amato presents its position “to support the revolutions in Libya and Syria against dictatorial regimes, while at the same time opposing intervention by the U.S. and its imperialist allies.” He follows up these mutually contradictory positions by saying that “some of us who haven’t lost our heads,” (!) presumably the ISO, “still consider imperialism to be the greatest enemy of both the revolutions of the Arab Spring and national self-determination in the Middle East.” (5)

D’Amato’s seems uncomfortable for the duration of the article as he attempts to distinguish the stance of the ISO from The North Star. The reason for D’Amato’s discomfort is that Binh’s piece on The North Star is just a more honest and logical presentation of the ISO’s own horrendous position: tactical support for imperialism.

It becomes evident in D’Amato’s piece, along with two follow-up pieces further articulating the ISO’s left-opportunist position, that the ISO supports an imaginary ‘rebellion’ in Syria. Lee Sustar of the ISO blatantly denies facts now acknowledged by the Western media in his August 16, 2012 screed entitled “What is the future of the Syrian revolution?”  We quote Sustar at some length to give the reader a sense of scale for the ISO’s delusion:

SocialistWorker.org has been among publications on the left that have supported the Syrian revolution while criticizing leading elements of the Syrian National Council (SNC) for their attempts to make alliances with imperialism. Key members of the SNC have called for stepped-up intervention by Western powers, such as military action to establish safe havens for refugees on Syrian territory or the imposition of a no-fly zone to neutralize Assad’s air power.

But for Rees and some others on the left, that’s enough to write off not only the SNC and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but also the Local Coordinating Councils (LCCs) that have organized heroic mass resistance for more than a year and half despite the most savage repression–mass arrests, torture, artillery attacks on civilian areas, massacres and, now, aerial bombardment.

Is it really the case that one of the most inspiring, self-organized revolutionary movements in recent decades has degenerated into a pliable tool of the West? Are we looking at a repeat of Libya, where NATO air strikes played the decisive role in turning the tide in the civil war? Are ultra-sectarian Islamist forces–backed by the Saudis and Qataris–becoming a dominant force?

The answer is no. While imperialist forces are angling to install a post-Assad leadership to their liking–a preferably a military strongman, as Reuters reported–the revolutionary movement has continued to develop in response to the struggle in Syria itself.

Moreover, there are well-documented divisions within the SNC and the FSA–and criticisms of both from grassroots Syrian revolutionary forces on the ground in the LCCs. And does it make any sense to equate an SNC leader who calls for a no-fly zone and meets with State Department officials with a farmer who distributes AK-47s smuggled in from Turkey in order to defend a village from Syrian army tanks?

Notice how Sustar actually avoids answering the serious indictments of the so-called ‘Syrian rebellion’ that he himself brings up via rhetorical questions. All he can muster is some flaccid claim that “the revolutionary movement has continued to develop in response to the struggle in Syria itself,” (?) and that “there are well-documented divisions within the SNC and the [Free Syrian Army].” (6)

Of course there are divisions in the ‘rebellion’! There were the same divisions in Libya between the comparador bourgeois elite and the Islamist elements connected to al-Qaeda. This isn’t the point, though. The point is that both of these interests, which have comfortably coalesced in Syria as they did in Libya, are the unquestionable leading forces for the ‘rebellion’. US officials, who are now openly collaborating with al-Qaeda to bring down the Syrian government, now admit that the radical Islamist network “has advanced beyond isolated pockets of activity in Syria and now is building a network of well-organized cells.” (7) With several hundred militants operating in Syria, the Associated Press writes that US officials “fear the terrorists could be on the verge of establishing an Iraq-like foothold that would be hard to defeat if rebels oust President Bashar Assad,” a peculiar concern for the US to hold if the ISO’s ‘local coordinating committees’ were in the driver’s seat separate from al-Qaeda and Islamists. (8) In trying to downplay their numbers, Sustar neglects the stark reality that Islamists “are using their experience in coordinating small units of fighters in Afghanistan to win new followers,” allowing them to take control of many so-called ‘independent’ groups of ‘rebels’ that the ISO claims to support. (9)

Even the US government acknowledges divisions in the rebellion. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks in late October that withdrew support for the Syrian National Council (SNC1) reflects Washington’s growing alarm at the presence of al-Qaeda militants on the ground, who have little to no loyalty to the Syrian exile elite. Independent scholar Stephen Gowans explains this phenomenon in a November 2, 2012 article:

Uprisings aimed at overthrowing governments are often divided between militants who do the heavy lifting on the ground and politicians who lead the fight in the political sphere. Outside powers scheme to anoint an acceptable politician as a leader-in-waiting to step into the void if and when the current government is toppled. The leader must be both acceptable to his or her foreign backers and to the militants on the ground. (8)

Gowans goes on to explain that the strong presence of exiled Muslim Brotherhood members – consistent opponents of Assad’s secular Ba’athist government in Syria – prevented the SNC1 from gaining the loyalty of the rebels on the ground. Indeed, the Obama administration and the faux-socialist Hollande government in France have gone back to the drawing board in supporting the rise of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC2), which hopes to garner the loyalty of the various sectarian elements in the Syrian rebellion.

Rest assured, though, Washington’s hesitance to commit to the SNC1 has nothing to do with minimizing a “revolutionary alternative” or the ‘local coordinating committees’ within the Syrian rebellion, as the ISO might claim. Gowans further explains that the impetus to the new SNC2′s formation “is to marginalize the influence of the Jihadists, many though not all of whom have spilled into Syria from other countries, bent on overturning a secular regime led by a president whose Alawi faith they revile as heretical. If the Jihadists can be sidelined, Washington may be able to funnel arms to “acceptable” militant groups, without fear of their being used later against US targets.” (8) Secular, “anti-imperialist” rebel groups are not a substantial factor in Washington’s calculus for intervention, despite what the ISO would have its members believe, because the truly anti-imperialist groups in Syria, like the two communist parties, critically support the Assad government.

Appalling as it may be, The North Star’s position is simply a more honest rendering of the same opportunist position taken by the ISO. It approaches the Syrian question not from a perspective of dialectical materialism, but from a perspective of craven idealism. The opportunists in the US left cannot view the Syrian rebellion in any terms other than a metaphysical struggle against tyranny. They buy wholesale the reports of retaliatory violence by the Syrian security forces in order to characterize Assad as a tyrant, and in doing so, they confound the central contradiction facing the Syrian people: the contradiction between imperialism and national liberation.

Ironically, Leon Trotsky – the ideological godfather of the ISO – may have put it best in a 1938 interview, when he said, “Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!” (9) It’s a testament to the absurdity of the US left’s opportunism that we now say, in this particular moment, D’Amato and Sustar could learn a lot from reading Trotsky!

Perhaps the most confounding question of all for the ISO is this: Where is their coverage of the ‘Libyan revolution’ now? Now that the rebels that were supposedly independent of the West have ascended to power, what happened to the ISO’s enthusiasm and the phrase-mongering about ‘democratic rights’? An ever-defiant ISO published an attempt at summating the lessons of the ‘Libyan revolution’ shortly after the fall of Tripoli. ISO leader Alan Maass, in an article titled, “Who really won in Libya?” writes, “Qaddafi deserved to be overthrown. But the circumstances of his downfall are an advance for imperialism–which means a setback for the struggle to extend democracy and freedom.” (10)

One almost expects to hear a Homer Simpson-esque “Doh!” at the end of the article, as if to say, what a shame that the US compromised the integrity of another revolution! The ISO did nothing but apologize for the crimes of the Libyan rebels – shamefully downplaying and apologizing for the lynching of black African migrants – and ignore the long-standing evidence that the rebellion was instigated and supported by Western imperialist countries from the beginning. And then they act surprised when NATO attacks Libya at the request of those same rebels for whom they pledged support.

If the ISO had published a thoughtful, reflective piece that asked honest, hard questions about the flaws with their line in Libya, they might have earned a little credibility. Instead, they applied their tautological ideology to Syria and doubled-down on their support for the foreign-backed rebellion, whose ties to the West are even more documented than those of the Libyan rebels.

The ISO may be the most peculiar of all the US left sects, but their position was echoed by countless liberal publications and thinkers, including The Nation, ZNet, and the academic Immanuel Wallerstein. Sadly, these groups and individuals have learned nothing from the Libyan experience and continue to support the Syrian rebellion, even in the face of renewed US aggression.

Opportunism in the Western Left

Although opportunism has led many groups in the US left down the path of social imperialism – socialist in word, imperialism in deed – this perverse trend extends far beyond to the US to many of the so-called “left” groups in Western Europe.

SYRIZA, the Greek coalition of ostensibly leftist groups, has enjoyed the support of many on the US left vis-a-vis the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” exposed its opportunism to the people of Greece in its continued acceptance of the Eurozone, despite its verbal commitment to opposing austerity. However, SYRIZA has quietly worked with the other conservative parties in Greece to support the Syrian rebels and argue for Greek intervention into the conflict. On September 12, 2012, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras “expressed his concerns about the developments in Syria and the need for Greece to “intervene” in order  for the EU to enhance assistance so Greece can host refugees fleeing the violence in the country.” (11) During the duration of NATO’s attack on Libya, SYRIZA leaders made nary a statement whatsoever and made only a vague reference to the criminal assault in a statement to the Coalition Against NATO/G8 rally on May 20, 2012.

We contrast SYRIZA’s opportunism with the plethora of statements by the KKE against Greek involvement in aggression towards Syria and Iran. (12) KKE consistently upholds proletarian internationalism and is strongly critical of any attempts by its own government to intervene in Syria. SYRIZA, instead, has broken their opportunistic silence during the assault on Libya and crossed the threshold into the territory of social imperialism, calling openly for Greek intervention in Syria.

SYRIZA is but one example of the increasingly prevalent role that so-called “left” parties and movements are playing in supporting imperialism. Much ado was made of France electing a ‘socialist’ President, François Hollande, earlier this year. Playing into the historical trend of social democracy towards supporting imperialism – the major schism in the Second International that Lenin fought against – Hollande has doubled-down on the increasingly hawkish policies of former President Nicholas Sarkozy and supported the Syrian rebels at every juncture. To date, France’s so-called ‘socialist’ government has supported the reactionary terrorist rebellion more prolifically than the United States!

France now delivers money and arms to proxies along the Turkish border that are subsequently funneled to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has primarily directed the terrorist activity of the rebellion in Syria. (13) The Guardian reports that Hollande’s support has even ”reached Islamist groups who were desperately short of ammunition and who had increasingly turned for help towards al-Qaida aligned jihadist groups in and around Aleppo.” (13) Going further than the United States, Hollande recognized the SNC1 as the legitimate government of Syria and has called for the Syrian opposition to begin forming a “provisional government.” (14)

Of course, every Marxist-Leninist should expect social-democrats like Hollande and SYRIZA to function as part of the capitalist system. However, the vanguard role that a nominally ‘socialist’ government is playing in spearheading imperialist aggression towards Syria is particularly striking in this period. Hollande and SYRIZA are opportunists, but the similarities in their positions on Syria with elements of the left in the US are incredibly disturbing.

Lenin, Syria, and the Struggle Against Opportunism

As Social-Democratic parties across Europe got behind their own bourgeois governments in lockstep during the First World War, Lenin was one of the harshest critics of what he termed “social chauvanism,” which was the placing of national interests above proletarian internationalism through the use of socialist phrases. Indeed, the distinguishing feature of the Bolsheviks was their consistent opposition to the First World War and the imperialist crimes of their own government.

Reading Lenin’s attacks on social chauvanism in 2012 will draw obvious analogies to SYRIZA, Hollande, and opportunist elements of the US left in the mind of astute readers. We will quote from his 1915 essay, Social Chauvanist Policy Behind a Cover of International Phrases at some length:

To influence the workers, the bourgeois must assume the guise of socialists, Social-Democrats, internationalists, and the like, for otherwise they can exert no influence. The Rabocheye Utro group disguise themselves; they apply plenty of paint and powder, prettify themselves, cast sheep eyes all around, and go the limit! They are ready to sign the Zimmerwald Manifesto a hundred times (a slap in the face for those Zimmerwaldists who signed the Manifesto without combating its timidity or making reservations!) or any other resolution on the imperialist nature of the war, or take any oath of allegiance to “internationalism” and “revolutionism” (“liberation of the country” in the censored press being the equivalent of “revolution” in the underground press), if only—if only they are not prevented from calling upon the workers to participate in the war industries committees, i.e., in practice to participate in the reactionary war of plunder (“a war of defence”).

Only this is action; all the rest is words. Only this is reality; all the rest is phrases. Only this is needed by the police, by the tsarist monarchy, Khvostov and the bourgeoisie. The clever bourgeois in countries that are cleverer are more tolerant of internationalist and socialist phrases if only participation in defence is assured, as is evidenced by comment in the French reactionary press regarding the London Conference of the socialists of the “Triple Entente”. With the socialist gentry, one of these papers said, it’s a kind of tic douloureux, a species of nervous malady which forces people involuntarily to repeat the same gesture, the same muscular movement, the same word. It is for that reason, the paper said, that “our own” socialists cannot speak about anything without repeating the words, “We are internationalists; we stand for social revolution”. This is not dangerous, the bourgeois paper concludes, only a “tic”; what is important to “us” is their stand for the defence of the country.

That is how the clever French and British bourgeois reason. If participation in a war of plunder is defended with phrases about democracy, socialism, etc., is this not to   the advantage of rapacious governments, the imperialist bourgeoisie? Is it not to the master’s advantage to keep a lackey who swears to all and sundry that his master loves them, and has dedicated his life to their welfare? (15)

The particulars have changed, but the general opportunist trend that Lenin observed in Social Democratic parties has re-emerged in 2012. Groups like the ISO and intellectuals like Wallerstein assert that their support for the Libyan or Syrian rebels is a part of some greater move towards ‘democracy’ or ‘revolution’. Central to the ISO’s argument for supporting the Libyan rebels, even after the NATO intervention, was constantly repeating the phrase, “Arab Spring,” and waxing on about how the rebellion in Libya was part of a larger revolutionary movement sweeping away “dictators” in the Arab world.

Reality collided with their idealist phrase-mongering, and the ISO tacitly supported the criminal assault on Libya by ruthlessly demonizing Qaddafi, first and foremost. Today, as opportunist groups on the US left call for the toppling of Assad – whether they take the next logical step and call for outright intervention, like The North Star, or veil it, like the ISO – we are witnessing a similar trend.

Just as Lenin and the Bolsheviks combated social chauvanism through ideological struggle, so too much genuine revolutionaries in the US and Western Europe combat the opportunist elements that functionally support US imperialism. There can be no more mixed messages; no more social democrats playing the role of imperialist cheerleaders. The anti-war left in the US must firmly embrace anti-imperialism and begin building resistance to war with Syria that includes upholding Syria’s right to self-determination.

Victory to Assad and the Syrian people!

Hands Off Syria!

For Return to the Source’s essay on supporting nationalist governments, like that of Assad, please refer back to Marxism & Bourgeois Nationalism.

——

(1) Takis Fotopoulos, The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Winter/Spring 2011, “The pseudo-revolution in Libya and the Degenerate “Left”,” http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol7/vol7_no1_takis_Libya_part1_pseudo_revolution.html

(2) Pham Binh, The North Star, July 18, 2012 “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools and the Syrian Spring,” http://bit.ly/OZaabI

(3) Reuters, Published on The Guardian (UK), August 20, 2012, “Barack Obama warns Syria over use of chemical or biological weapons,” http://bit.ly/Qj7N3s

(4) Mazda Majidi, Liberation News, July 17, 2012, “When justifying imperialism ‘goes wrong’: Cruise Missile Socialism,” http://bit.ly/LwSIPl

(5) Paul D’Amato, SocialistWorker, July 16, 2012, “Siding with the greatest purveyor of violence,” http://bit.ly/NY0VLe

(6) Lee Sustar, SocialistWorker, August 16, 2012, “What is the future of the Syrian revolution?” http://bit.ly/PmC19d

(7) Associated Press, August 11, 2012, “US officials: Al-Qaeda spreading in Syria,” http://bit.ly/NZqtqW

(8) Stephen Gowans, what’s left, November 2, 2012, “Will Damascus Survive Washington’s Latest Attempt to Impose a Puppet Government on Syria?” http://bit.ly/U5FnSz

(9) Leon Trotsky, “Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation,” September 1938, http://bit.ly/UpGian

(10) Alan Maass, Socialist Worker, “Who Really Won in Libya?” August 23, 2011, http://bit.ly/qJbLQG

(11) Al Yunaniya, September 12, 2012, “SYRIZA leader says Greece should host refugees from Syria,” http://bit.ly/Z2TqcY

(12) Communist Party of Greece, May 31, 2012, “NATO and EU are Preparing for Bloodshed,” http://bit.ly/K3QgM0

(13) Martin Chulov, The Guardian, December 7, 2012, “France funding Syrian rebels in new push to oust Assad,” http://bit.ly/VoCLdr

(14) Julian Borger, The Guardian, August 27, 2012, “François Hollande calls on Syrian rebels to form provisional government,” http://bit.ly/SJyvXW

(15) VI Lenin, December 1915, Social Chauvanist Policy Behind a Cover of International Phrases, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/dec/21.htm

Hanukkah – The Maccabee Intifada

Standard

The following article below was published as a Facebook Note and is being republished here with the author’s approval: 

By Benjamin Dictor
December 8, 2012

Rethinking Hanukkah

judeaThe modern retelling of the story of Hanukkah is similar to that of most Jewish holidays.  The storyboard adopts the exhausted themes of victim/victor and the relentless and indiscriminate persecution of the Jews. The story is fairly one-dimensional:

“King Antiochus IV sought to obliterate the practice of Judaism in the Kingdom of Judea.  After a military invasion, Judea was occupied until the Maccabees rose up and defeated the occupying force, restoring Judaism to the Kingdom.”

As materialists we must question this myopic focus on the suppression of religion as the primary point of conflict.

Today, the story is told in an attempt to further the founder’s myth in support of a Jewish Theocratic State while the underlying story of the struggle for national self-determination is often glossed over and forgotten.

Hanukkah is not simply about the struggle of the Jews, but rather, it is the story of the struggle for national self-determination of the people of Judea  —- as well as their uprising and resistance against occupation and imperialism.

In short, Hanukkah is the celebration of the Intifada of the Maccabees.

Hellenism and the Gusanos of Judea 

Like many of the devastating military conflicts presently unfolding in the world, the Maccabean Intifada began as a civil conflict that was ultimately exploited by foreign powers in furtherance of their imperialist objectives. Just as we have seen in recent years, these foreign invaders were welcomed by many gusano Judeans who requested the military support of imperialist powers to help them maintain their opportunist grasp on power in the kingdom.

The roots of the Maccabean Intifada began as a conflict between Jews that had begun to reform their traditions as a result of the Hellenistic influence (cultural imperialism) in the region and those Jews who sought to maintain their national and religious identity.

In approximately 200 BCE, the Kingdom of Judea came under the control of the Hellenist Seleucid Empire (Syria).   Judea was still a somewhat independent kingdom and its people were allowed to maintain their customs and religion.

During that period, Hellenism was used much like the West uses its own cultural imperialism today in support of its foreign conquests.  The people of Judea were not blind to this and saw that the imposition of Hellenist customs, values and religion were a direct attempt to undermine the political independence of Judea.

Some historians have focused on the wealth disparity between rural peasants in Judea and those Jews who lived in Jerusalem.  The rural Jews favored continued independence and self-determination while the bourgeois Jews of the city of Jerusalem were easily Hellenized and adopted the cultural identity of their would-be occupiers.  (See, Tcherikover, Victor Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, New York: Atheneum, 1975).  This tension led to periodic uprisings and ongoing hostility between those Jews who sought to maintain independence and those who favored Hellenism.

Prior to Syrian military invasion, Judea enjoyed considerable independence. However, the High Priest of Jerusalem, like most administrators or governors of colonized territories, served at the pleasure of the Seleucid King.

In the years leading up to the Maccabean Intifada, Jews in favor of self-determination made several attempts to oust these hand-picked High Priests and restore partisans to the leadership of Judea.  The Seleucid military invasion of Judea was, in fact, precipitated by these ongoing conflicts over the position of High Priest of Jerusalem.

It was the Jewish Hellenistic High Priest Menelaus who ultimately requested that Seleucid King Antiochas IV send troops into Judea to quash the pro-independence resistance. Just as we have seen in Libya and Syria, it was the collaborators in Judea — Jews themselves — that demanded an invasion of their homeland to suppress their countrymen insisting on self-determination.

With the welcome mat laid out by the collaborators in Jerusalem, Antiochus IV sent Apollonius with an occupying army to Judea to put down the resistance and restore the collaborator Menelaus to the position of High Priest.

The Maccabean Intifada

Around 168 BCE, after the occupation of Judea had begun, Antiochus began to slowly strip Judea of its independence — politically and religiously. The occupying Syrian army built fortresses and amassed a military presence in Judea. Antiochus issued edicts restricting religious practices and limiting civil rights of the Judean people.  The resistance against the occupation came in the form of an army of Jews known as the Maccabees (“Hammers”) — essentially the Hamas of their time.  The Maccabees fought the occupying Syrian army for seven years, relying heavily on guerilla tactics to defeat the overwhelming force of the Syrian army.

A series of military defeats and domestics disputes in Syria ultimately led to the victory of the Maccabees, the retreat of the imperialist Syrian occupiers, and the restoration of the independence of the Kingdom of Judea.

A New Hanukkah 

This year, I propose that we celebrate Hanukkah as a holiday that commemorates the true story of resistance against occupation and imperialism.  Rather than allowing it to be used to promote the ongoing occupation of Palestine, let us tell the story of Hanukkah to remind ourselves of our obligation, as Jews, to fight for all oppressed people of the world.

Our Jewish values implore us to recognize that imperialism must be opposed in all its forms.  In that spirit, I submit that, this year, we light the menorah in commemoration of those who struggle against oppression and imperialism:

1st Candle –  For The People of Palestine for their continued resistance against occupation.

2nd Candle –  For The People of Cuba for over half a century of resistance against imperialism, attempted invasions and an illegal blockade.

3rd Candle –  For The People of Syria who have been invaded by a massive foreign military force supported by the imperialist west, but continue to struggle against it.

4th Candle — For The People of Vietnam who, like the Maccabees, successfully fought off a massive military with guerilla tactics.

5th Candle –  For The People of Libya, particularly Bani Walid, who continue to resist occupation and invasion.

6th Candle – For The People of Venezuela who have successfully thwarted attempts by imperialists to overthrow their democratically elected government.

7th Candle – For The People of Bahrain who have continued to oppose Saudi and U.S. imperialism.

8th Candle —  For all Oppressed People of the World.