Category Archives: Soviet Union

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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.

Actually Existing Socialism in Vietnam

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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!

 

Will Damascus Survive Washington’s Latest Attempt to Impose a Puppet Government on Syria?

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US secretary of state Hillary Clinton says Washington needs “an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution,” (1) but fails to add that it must also be open to the United States doing the same.

By Stephen Gowans

After several months of showing solidarity to the de-facto govt. Syrian National Council (SNC), Hillary Clinton announces the U.S. no longer recognizes the SNC.

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.

Washington has decided that the Syrian National Council, which it “initially charged” to “galvanize opposition” (2) to Syria’s Ba’thist government is unacceptable to Syrian rebels and therefore has no hope of leading a successor government. As an alternative to the failed council, it has handpicked the leaders of a new government-in-waiting, to be unveiled in Doha on November 7, and soon after receive the pre-arranged blessing of the Arab League and Friends of Syria. Make no mistake. What emerges from Doha will be a US creation, intended to represent US interests in Syria and the Middle East.

At a press conference following an October 30 meeting with the president of Croatia, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton revealed that the Syrian National Council, Washington’s initial pick to lead the opposition to the Asad government, no longer had Washington’s support. The SNC, in Washington’s view, had become irrelevant. The armed opposition to the Asad government is happening outside the leadership of the SNC, an organization of exiles with no legitimacy within Syria and internally divided by incessant squabbling between its Islamist and secularist factions. The SNC, commented one armed rebel, “has been over with for a long time now; fighters only talk about it sarcastically.” (3)

Equally problematic for Washington was the SNC’s narrow base of political support. “From the beginning, the council was seen as a prime vehicle for the long-exiled Muslim Brotherhood” (4) and therefore “failed to attract significant representation from minority groups,” (5) including Alawites, Christians and Kurds. Its failure to win support from fighters on the ground, and to expand beyond a narrow sectarian base, hardly recommended it as a viable government-in-waiting. Sounding the council’s death knell, Clinton decreed “that the SNC can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition.” (6)

For weeks now, Robert Ford, the former US ambassador to Syria, has been putting together a plan to anoint a new US-approved government-in-the-wings. The initiative is known as the “Riad Seif plan” (7) named after a wealthy Damascus businessman and former Syrian parliamentarian who has long played an active role in the opposition to the Asad government. Acceptable to Washington owing to his businessman politics (as against the Ba’athist’s ideological commitment to state domination of the economy, marginalization of the private sector, and controls on foreign investment (8)), Seif has been endorsed by Washington to lead a post-Ba’athist government. It is hoped that his opposition credentials—he was jailed by the Syrian government for his activities—will put him in good stead with the rebels on the ground.

The plan calls for the creation of a “proto-parliament” comprising 50 members, 20 from the internal opposition, 15 from the SNC (i.e., the exile opposition), and 15 from various other Syrian opposition organizations. An executive body made up of 8 to 10 members—who have been endorsed by the US State department (9) — will work directly with the United States and its allies. (10) Washington and its subordinates, the Arab League and misnamed Friends of Syria, both democracy-hating clubs of plutocracies and oil monarchies, will attempt to make the body acceptable to Syrians by recognizing it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

There’s no guarantee the plan will work. One of its goals 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. But there’s a question mark hanging over Seif’s appeal to religiously-inspired militants, especially when the hands of the marionette-master, the US State Department, are so visible. The same goes for the new council’s appeal to the anti-imperialist secular opposition, who “are against any new political entity that becomes subject to the agendas of foreign countries.” (11) And there’s no mistaking that the new ‘Made-in-the-USA’ council will be subject to the political agenda of the United States.

We needn’t tarry long on debunking the naive belief that Washington’s intervention in Syrian affairs has the slightest connection to promoting democracy. If democracy promotion motivated US foreign policy, absolutist monarchies with execrable records of human rights abridgements and violent repression of popular uprisings against their dictatorial rule would not make up the bulk of the United States’ Arab allies. The last thing the wealthy investors, bankers and corporate heavyweights who make up the US ruling class want is democracy, either at home or aboard. They want its polar opposite—plutocracy, rule by people of wealth in the interests of piling up more wealth through the exploitation of the labor of other people and the land, resources and markets of other countries.

When Saudi Arabia sent tanks and troops into Bahrain on March 14, 2011 to crush a local eruption of the Arab Spring, the United States did nothing to disturb their democracy-abominating ally’s assault on the popular uprising, except issue a meaningless call for “political dialogue.” As the New York Times explained,

The reasons for Mr. Obama’s reticence were clear: Bahrain sits off the Saudi coast, and the Saudis were never going to allow a sudden flowering of democracy next door…In addition, the United States maintains a naval base in Bahrain…crucial for maintaining the flow of oil from the region. “We realized that the possibility of anything happening in Saudi Arabia was one that couldn’t become a reality,” said William M. Daley, President Obama’s chief of staff at the time. “For the global economy, this couldn’t happen.” (12)

Considering that William Daley is an investment banker from a politically well-connected family; that “maintaining the flow of oil” means “maintaining the flow of oil revenues to US oil giants”; and that “the global economy” means “investors’ returns,” it’s clear why the plutocracy condoned their ally’s repression of the Bahrain uprising. Under plutocratic rule, steps toward democracy—even baby ones—are not allowed to get in the way of profits.

Nor need we tarry on the naive belief that a government that has been handpicked by Washington—the US State Department has “recommended names and organizations that ….should be included in any leadership structure,” disclosed Clinton (13)—will represent Syrian interests against those of its sponsor. US interests in Syria have no intrinsic relationship to protecting Israel, which—with its formidable military, yearly $3 billion dollop of US military aid, and an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons—hardly needs further assistance defending itself against Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas, none of which are significant threats to Israel anyway but are threatened by it. Weakening Iran, Syria’s ally, may be one of Washington’s objectives in trying to orchestrate Asad’s ouster, but not because Iran may acquire nuclear power status and therefore threaten Israel (which it could hardly do anyway considering that it’s severely outclassed militarily (14)), but because, like Syria, it zealously safeguards its economic territory from the US plutocracy’s designs, allowing the state to dominate its economy and protect its domestic enterprises, land and resources from outside domination. The real reason the US plutocracy wants to topple the Syrian and Iranian governments is because they’re bad for the plutocracy’s business interests. Democracy, existential threats to Israel, and nuclear non-proliferation, have nothing to do with it.

The Syrian government is no stranger to formidable challenges. It has waged a longstanding war with Islamists who have rejected the Ba’athist’s secular orientation from the start. Its war with the ethnic-cleansing settler regime in Tel Aviv oscillates between hot and cold. The United States has waged economic warfare against Syria for years, and has connived at overthrowing its government before. Still, Damascus is in a particularly bad spot now. The world’s strongest plutocracies have escalated their hostility. Jihadist terrorists from abroad—to say nothing of home-grown ones—are doing their best to upset Ba’athist rule. But the support of the Syrian military and a substantial part of the Syrian population, plus assistance from Russia and Iran, have allowed it to hang on.

In the face of imperialist and Islamist opposition, its future looks grim, but governments have faced bleaker prospects before and survived, some even going on to thrive. To be sure, there are profound differences between the Asad government and the early Bolshevik regime, but the Syrian government and its supporters may take heart knowing that at one point it seemed all but certain that Lenin’s fledgling government would fail. Famine had gripped the cities. An imperialist war had thrown Russia’s industry into chaos and all but ruined its transportation system. Civil war had broken out and predatory hostile states had launched military invasions to smother the infant government in its cradle. Yet, in the face of these tremendous challenges, the Bolsheviks survived and over the next seven decades went on to build a great industrial power that eliminated unemployment, overwork, economic insecurity, extremes of inequality, and economic crises, while almost singlehandedly eradicating the scourge of Nazism. And it did so without exploiting other countries but helping to build them economically and escape colonialism and imperialist domination, often at great expense to itself. Similarly the Syrian government may overcome its challenges, both internal and external, and carry on a course of independent, self-directed development, free from the backwardness of Islamic fundamentalism, sectarianism and domination by the world’s great plutocracies. Let’s hope so.

1. Neil MacFarquhar and Michael R. Gordon, “As fighting rages, Clinton seeks new Syrian opposition”, The New York Times, October 31, 2012

2. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “U.S. pulls support for key anti-Assad bloc”, The Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2012

3. MacFarquhar and Gordon

4. MacFarquhar and Gordon

5. MacFarquhar and Gordon

6. Hillary Clinton’s Remarks With Croatian President Ivo Josipovic After Their Meeting, October 31, 2012. http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/10/199931.htm

7. Josh Rogin, “Obama administration works to launch new Syrian opposition council”, Foreign Policy, October 30, 2012. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/10/30/obama_administration_works_to_launch_new_syrian_opposition_council

8. See the Syrian page of The Heritage Foundations’ Index of Economic Freedom, http://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria

9. Andrew Quin, “Hillary Clinton calls for overhaul of Syria opposition”, The Globe and Mail, October 31, 2012

10. Rogin

11. MacFarquhar and Gordon

12. Helene Cooper and Robert F. Worth, “In Arab Sprint, Obama finds a sharp test”, The New York Times, September 24, 2012

13. Quin

14. Stephen Gowans, “Wars for Profits: A No-Nonsense Guide to Why the United States Seeks to Make Iran an International Pariah”, what’s left, November 9, 2011. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/wars-for-profits-a-no-nonsense-guide-to-why-the-united-states-seeks-to-make-iran-an-international-pariah/

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The struggle for hegemony in the Muslim world

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For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world.—Tariq Ali [1]

By Stephen Gowans

The Jihadists who toppled the secular nationalist Gaddafi government—and not without the help of Nato bombers, dubbed “al Qaeda’s air force” [2] by Canadian pilots who participated in the bombing campaign—are no longer disguised in the pages of Western newspapers as a popular movement who thirsted for, and won, democracy in Libya. Now that they’ve overrun the US consulate in Benghazi and killed the US ambassador, they’ve become a “security threat…raising fears about the country’s stability” [3]—exactly what Gaddafi called them, when Western governments were celebrating the Islamists’ revolt as a popular pro-democracy uprising. Gaddafi’s description of the unrest in his own country as a violent Salafist bid to establish an Islamic state was doubtlessly accepted in Washington and other Western capitals as true, but dismissed in public as a transparent ploy to muster sympathy. This was necessary to sanitize the uprising to secure the acquiescence of Western publics for the intervention of their countries’ warplanes to help Islamic guerillas on the ground topple a secular nationalist leader who was practicing “resource nationalism” and trying to “Libyanize” the economy– the real reasons he’d fallen into disgrace in Washington. [4]

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which played a major part in the rebellion to depose Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, may have plotted the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which led to the death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens, according to US officials.

The uprising of militant Muslim radicals against a secular state was, in many respects, a replay of what had happened in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, when a Marxist-inspired government came to power with aspirations to lift the country out of backwardness, and was opposed by the Mullahs and Islamist guerillas backed by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China.

An Afghan Communist explained that,

“Our aim was no less than to give an example to all the backward countries of the world of how to jump from feudalism straight to a prosperous, just society … Our choice was not between doing things democratically or not. Unless we did them, nobody else would … [Our] very first proclamation declared that food and shelter are the basic needs and rights of a human being. … Our program was clear: land to the peasants, food for the hungry, free education for all. We knew that the mullahs in the villages would scheme against us, so we issued our decrees swiftly so that the masses could see where their real interests lay … For the first time in Afghanistan’s history women were to be given the right to education … We told them that they owned their bodies, they would marry whom they liked, they shouldn’t have to live shut up in houses like pens.” [5]

That’s not to say that Gaddafi was a Marxist—far from it. But like the reformers in Afghanistan, he sought to modernize his country, and use its land, labor and resources for the people within it. By official Western accounts, he did a good job, raising his country’s standard of living higher than that of all other countries in Africa.

Gaddafi claimed that the rebellion in Libya had been organized by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had vowed to overthrow him and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law. A 2009 Canadian government intelligence report bore him out. It described the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of eastern Libya, where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicenter of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” Earlier, Canadian military intelligence had noted that “Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” [6] Significantly, US officials now believe that the AQIM may have plotted the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. [7]

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan rebellion’s most powerful military leader, was a veteran of the U.S.-backed Jihad against the Marxist-inspired reformist government in Afghanistan, where he had fought alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s to lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to his al-Qaeda comrades. His aim was to topple Gaddafi, as the Communists had been toppled in Afghanistan. The prominent role Belhaj played in the Libyan uprising should have aroused suspicions among leftists in the West that, as Western governments surely knew, the uprising was not the heroic pro-democracy affair Western media—and those of reactionary Arab regimes—were making it out to be. Indeed, from the very first day of the revolt, anyone equipped with knowledge of Libyan history that went back further than the last Fox News broadcast, would have known that the Benghazi rebellion was more in the mold of the latest eruption of a violent anti-secular Jihad than a peaceful call for democracy. [8]

“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police. At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiraled out of control.” [9]

As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators didn’t chant, “Power to the people”, “We are the 99 percent”, or “No to dictatorship.” They chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” [10] The Islamists touched off the rebellion and did the fighting on the ground, while U.S.-aligned Libyan exiles stepped into the power vacuum created by Salafist violence and Nato bombs to form a new U.S.-aligned government.

Syria’s Hafiz Asad, and other secular nationalists, from his comrade Salaf Jadid, who he overthrew and locked away, to his son, Bashar, who has followed him, have also been denounced as enemies of Allah by the same Islamist forces who violently denounced Gaddafi in Libya and the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan. The reason for their denunciation by Islamists is the same: their opposition to an Islamic state. Similarly, Islamist forces have been as strongly at the head of the movement to overthrow the secular nationalists in Syria, as they have the secular nationalists in Libya and the (secular) Marxists in the late 1970s-1980s Afghanistan.

As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.”

The secular nationalists’ rise to power in Syria was a heavy blow to the country’s Sunni Islamic militants who resented their society being governed by secular radicals. Worse still from the perspective of the Islamists, the governing radicals were mostly members of minority communities the Sunnis regarded as heretics, and which had occupied the lower rungs of Syrian society. From the moment the secular nationalists captured the state, Islamists went underground to organize an armed resistance. “From their safe haven deep in the ancient warrens of northern cities like Aleppo and Hama, where cars could not enter, the guerrillas emerged to bomb and kill.” [11]

In 1980, an attempt was made to group the Sunni opposition to the secular nationalists under an “Islamic Front’, which promised free speech, free elections, and an independent judiciary, under the banner of Islam. When militant Islamic terrorists murdered Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year later in Egypt, Islamists in Damascus promised then president Hafiz Asad the same fate. Then in 1982, Jihadists rose up in Hama—“the citadel of traditional landed power and Sunni puratinism” [12]—in a bid to seize power in the city. The ensuing war of the Islamic radicals against the secular nationalist state, a bloody affair which costs tens of thousands of lives, convinced Asad that “he was wrestling not just with internal dissent, but with a large scale conspiracy to unseat him, abetted by Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the United States.” [13] Patrick Seale, a veteran British journalist who has covered the Middle East for decades, described the Islamists’ movement against Syria’s secular nationalists as a “sort of fever that (rises) and (falls) according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.” [14]

Media accounts of Syria’s civil war omit mention of the decades-long hostility between Islamists and secular nationalists—a fierce enmity that sometimes flares into open warfare, and at other times simmers menacingly below the surface—that has defined Syria in the post-colonial period. To do so would take the sheen off the armed rising as a popular, democratic, progressive struggle, a depiction necessary to make Western intervention in the form of sanctions, diplomatic support, and other aid, against the secular nationalists, appear just and desirable. Today, only Trotskyists besotted by fantasies that the Arab Spring is the equivalent of the March 1917 Petrograd uprising, deny that the content of the Syrian uprising is Islamist. But the question of whether the uprising was initially otherwise—a peaceful, progressive and popular movement aimed at opening democratic space and redressing economic grievances–and only later hijacked by Islamists, remains in dispute. What’s clear, however, is that the “hijacking”, if indeed there was one, is not of recent vintage. In the nascent stages of the rebellion, the late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid noted that the “most puritanical Islamists, known by their shorthand as Salafists, have emerged as a force in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with suspicions that Saudi Arabia has encouraged and financed them.”[15]

Secular nationalists, socialists and communists in Muslim lands have struggled with the problem of Islamist opposition to their programs, to their atheism (in the case of communists) and to the secular character of the state they have sought to build. The Bolsheviks, perhaps alone among this group, were successful in overcoming opposition in the traditional Muslim territories they controlled in Central Asia, and improving the lives of women, who had been oppressed by conservative Islam. Female seclusion, polygamy, bride price, child and forced marriages, veiling (as well as circumcision of males, considered by the Bolsheviks to be child abuse) were outlawed. Women were recruited into administrative and professional positions and encouraged – indeed obligated – to work outside the home. This followed Friedrich Engels’ idea that women could only be liberated from the domination of men if they had independent incomes. [16]

Western governments, led by the United States, have made a practice of inflaming the Islamists’ hostility to secular nationalists, socialists and communists, using militant Muslim radicals as a cat’s paw to topple these governments, which have almost invariably refused to align themselves militarily with the United States or cut deals against the interests of their own people to fatten the profits of corporate America and enrich Wall Street investment bankers. But whether Washington aggravates fault lines within Muslim societies or not, the fact remains that the fault lines exist, and must be managed, but have not always been managed well.

For example, no matter how admirable their aims were, the reformers in Afghanistan had too narrow a political base to move as quickly as they did, and they rushed headlong into disaster, ignoring Moscow’s advice to slow down and expand their support. The Carter and Reagan administrations simply took advantage of their blunders to build a committed anti-communist guerilla movement.

Salah Jadid, who Hafiz Asad overthrew and locked away. Jadid pursued an unapologetically leftist program, and boasted of practicing “scientific socialism.” The Soviets thought otherwise. Jadid came to power in a conspiracy and never had more than a narrow base of support.

The leftist Syrian regime of Salah Jadid, which Hafiz Asad overthrew, did much that would be admired by leftists today. Indeed, Tariq Ali, in an apology apparently intended to expiate the sin of seeming to support the current Asad government, lauds Jadid’s regime as the “much more enlightened predecessor whose leaders and activists…numbered in their ranks some of the finest intellectuals of the Arab world.” [17] It’s easy to see why Ali admired Asad’s predecessors. Jadid, who lived an austere life, refusing to take advantage of his position to lavish himself with riches and comforts, slashed the salaries of senior ministers and top bureaucrats. He replaced their black Mercedes limousines with Volkswagens and Peugeot 404s. People connected with the old influential families were purged from government. A Communist was brought into the cabinet. Second houses were confiscated, and the ownership of more than one was prohibited. Private schools were banned. Workers, soldiers, peasants, students and women became the regime’s favored children. Feudalists and reactionaries were suppressed. A start was made on economic planning and major infrastructure projects were undertaken with the help of the Soviets. And yet, despite these clearly progressive measures, Jadid’s base of popular support remained narrow—one reason why the Soviets were lukewarm toward him, regarding him as a hothead, and contemptuous of his claim to be practicing “scientific socialism.” [18] Scientific socialism is based on mass politics, not a minority coming to power through a conspiracy (as Jadid and Asad had) which then attempts to impose its utopian vision on a majority that rejects it.

Jadid backed the Palestinian guerrillas. Asad, who was then minister of defense, was less enamored of the guerrillas, who he saw as handing Israel pretexts for war. Jadid defined the bourgeoisie as the enemy. Asad wanted to enlist their backing at home to broaden the government’s base of support against the Muslim Brothers. Jadid spurned the reactionary Arab regimes. Asad was for unifying all Arab states—reactionary or otherwise—against Israel. [19]

Asad—who Ali says he opposed—recognized (a) that a program of secular nationalist socialism couldn’t be implemented holus bolus without mass support, and (b) that the government didn’t have it. So, after toppling Jadid in a so-called “corrective” movement, he minimized class warfare in favor of broadening his government’s base, trying to win over merchants, artisans, business people, and other opponents of the regime’s nationalizations and socialist measures. At the same time, he retained Jadid’s commitment to a dirigiste state and continued to promote oppressed classes and minorities. This was hardly a stirring program for Marxist purists—in fact it looked like a betrayal—but the Soviets were more committed to Asad than Jadid, recognizing that his program respected the world as it was and therefore had a greater chance of success. [20]

In the end, however, Asad failed. Neither he nor his son Bashar managed to expand the state’s base of support enough to safeguard it from destabilization. The opposition hasn’t been conjured up out of nothing by regime change specialists in Washington. To be sure, regime change specialists have played a role, but they’ve needed material to work with, and the Asad’s Syria has provided plenty of it. Nor did Gaddafi in Libya finesse the problem of mixing the right amount of repression and persuasion to engineer a broad enough consent for his secular nationalist rule to survive the fever of Salafist opposition rising, as Patrick Seale writes, according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad . The machinations of the United States and reactionary Arab regimes to stir up and strengthen the secular nationalists’ opponents made the knot all the more difficult to disentangle, but outside manipulation wasn’t the whole story in Gaddafi’s demise (though it was a significant part of it) and hasn’t been the sole, or even a large part of the, explanation for the uprising in Syria.

The idea that the Syrian uprising is a popular, democratic movement against dictatorship and for the redress of economic grievances ignores the significant history of struggle between secularist Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brothers, mistakenly minimizes the role of Salafists in the uprisings, and turns a blind eye to Washington’s longstanding practice of using radical Muslim activists as a cat’s paw against Arab nationalist regimes.

The idea that the uprisings in either country are popular, democratic movements against dictatorship and for the redress of economic grievances, (a) ignores the significant history of struggle between secularist Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brothers, (b) mistakenly minimizes the role of Salafists in the uprisings, and (c) turns a blind eye to Washington’s longstanding practice of using radical Muslim activists as a cat’s paw against Arab nationalist regimes that are against sacrificing local interests to the foreign trade and investment interests of Wall Street and corporate America. With Islamists lashing out violently against US embassies in the Middle East, their depiction by US state officials and Western media as pro-democracy fighters for freedom may very well be supplanted by the labels used by Gaddafi and Asad to describe their Islamist opponents, labels that are closer to the truth –“religious fanatics” and “terrorists.”

Reactionary Islam may have won the battle for hegemony in the Muslim world, as Tariq Ali asserts, and with it, the United States, which has often manipulated it for its own purposes, but the battle has yet to be won in Syria, and one would hope, never will be. That’s what’s at stake in the country: not a fragile, popular, egalitarian, pro-democracy movement, but the last remaining secular Arab nationalist regime, resisting both the oppressions and obscurantism of the Muslim Brothers and the oppressions and plunder of imperialism.

1. Tariq Ali, “The Uprising in Syria”, http://www.counterpunch.com, September 12, 2012.
2. Stephen Gowans [A], “Al-Qaeda’s Air Force”, what’s left, February 20, 2012. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/al-qaedas-air-force/
3. Patrick Martin, “Anti-American protests seen as tip of the Islamist iceberg”, The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2012.
4. Gowans [A]
5. Rodric Braithwaite. Afghantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989. Profile Books. 2012. pp. 5-6.
6. Gowans [A]
7. Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous, “U.S. probing al-Qaeda link in Libya”, The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2012.
8. Gowans [A]
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
10. Pugliese
11. Patrick Seale. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. 1988, p.324.
12. Seale, p. 333.
13. Seale, p. 335.
14. Seale, p. 322.
15. Anthony Shadid, “After Arab revolts, reigns of uncertainty”, The New York Times, August 24, 2011.
16. Stephen Gowans [B], “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan”, August 9, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/women%e2%80%99s-rights-in-afghanistan/
17. Ali
18. Seale
19. Seale
20. Seale

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Nations Want Liberation: The Black Belt Nation in the 21st Century

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

By Vince Sherman & Frank Thomson, with contributions from Black Uhuru
June 24, 2012

Thousands rally for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL.

In the past year, the United States has experienced an upsurge in black political consciousness as hundreds of thousands of organizations and people poured into the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old African-American youth brutally murdered in Sanford, FL. Martin’s case has drawn enormous attention to the daily terrorism inflicted on African-Americans by both the US government and vigilante terrorists, like George Zimmerman, who uphold and enforce a vicious system of white supremacy.

As the movement against police brutality and racist oppression continues to grow, Marxist-Leninists must grapple with the burning question of how to build a revolutionary national liberation struggle capable of ending white supremacy and imperialism in the United States.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing struggle against racism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has republished a series of articles from the 1980s reflecting their understanding of “The History of Black America” in its newspaper, Socialist Worker. Complete with all of the errors endemic to their bizarre Trotskyite understanding of revolutionary history, these articles are a flaccid attempt for a mostly white organization – an organization that expelled several activists of color from its Washington DC branch in 2010, no less – to make itself relevant to the struggle of African-Americans against white supremacy.

However, one article in particular, republished on Saturday, June 16, stands above the rest in its historical revisionism, its fallacious analysis, and its generally poor syntactical construction. Lee Sustar’s piece, “Self-determination and the Black Belt” is a hit piece on the Marxist-Leninist demand for African-American self-determination, the entire concept of the Black Belt nation, and black nationalism in general.

Rife with historical errors, strawman characterizations, and misspellings, Sustar’s piece itself is barely worth a response. Never missing an opportunity to denounce and slander Josef Stalin, Sustar makes the totally absurd claim that “The Black Belt theory was part of a sharp “left” turn by the Communist International (Comintern) used by Joseph Stalin to mask his bureaucracy’s attack on the workers’ state,” arguing that somehow upholding the demand for African-American self-determination allowed Josef Stalin to better consolidate his so-called “state capitalist regime in Russia.” (1) The relationship between the struggle for black nationalism and the USSR is never explained or warranted by Sustar.

Neither is his claim that the demand for black self-determination was based “on the works of a Swedish professor who aimed to theoretically justify the political turns of the bureaucracy which was coming to control Russia.” (2) Sustar never names this Swedish professor, supposedly the progenitor of the demand for black self-determination, nor does he offer any evidence that such a professor had any impact on the development of the black national question adopted and implemented by the Communist International (Comintern). But a lack of evidence never stands in the way of the ISO’s vicious slander of Marxism-Leninism so the omission of key facts is both unsurprising and expected.

However, the continued relevance and renewed importance of the black national question in the 21st century demands serious consideration by Marxist-Leninists. It is important to respond to these unprincipled criticisms and slander of the experiences of black nationalist organizations and the CPUSA. The ISO may have published this piece nearly 30 years ago, but the same theoretical bankruptcy demonstrated in this re-published essay continues to inform their strange blend of Cliffite-Trotskyism today.

Instead, Marxist-Leninists must put forward a principled and materialist evaluation of the successes and failures of these various groups struggling for black liberation that appropriately contextualizes their specific struggles.

The Soviet Union and the National Question

V.I. Lenin

The Marxist-Leninist position on the African-American national question and the Black Belt South developed directly out of the Soviet Union’s own experience with actualizing the demand for self-determination for oppressed nationalities. The October Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union marked the end of tsarist oppression of the nations in the transcaucasus and Central Asia. In addition to Russia, many other nations under the Tsarist empire participated in the proletarian revolution in October 1917, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, began to work towards the creation of a voluntary federation of free, self-determined nations.

The destruction caused by the Russian Civil War, waged between 1918 and 1922, along with the Allied invasion of Russia by fourteen countries in 1921, forged a sense of unity between the underdeveloped constituent nations of the former Russian empire and the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary government. After exiting World War I through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and emerging victorious over the tsarist White Army, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) met with representatives from these formerly oppressed nations and formed the Soviet Union in 1922. The Soviet Union’s recognition of its constituent nations’ right to self-determination finds its embodiment in the 1917 “Declaration of the Rights of the Russian People,” which legally guaranteed “equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of peoples of Russia to free self-determination up to secession and the formation of independent states, abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions, [and] free development of national minorities and ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.” (3) Thus, any analysis of the Soviet Union must account for the complexities of its international composition, rather than viewing it as a purely Russian political phenomenon.

After the formation of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) implemented a policy of korenizatsiya to encourage the indigenous development of revolutionary leadership among the USSR’s constituent nations. While the CPSU argued that the process of socialist construction for each nation was generally the same, it acknowledged a firm belief that “each nation which has overthrown capitalism seeks to plot the course of its economic, political and cultural development in such way as to be most in conformity with its concrete historical features and progressive traditions.” (4) Korenizatsiya was a means by which the CPSU would help create indigenous communist parties, culture, and economies tailored to the specific needs of the nation in question. The central component of this, in the view of the CPSU, was the cultivation of native communist leadership in each nation’s party and the promotion of national minorities in higher Soviet institutions. (5)

In practice, the CPSU “supported local languages, educated and promoted local elites and thus built new loyalties to the socialist cause” as a part of korenizatsiya. (6) Reza Zia-Ebrahimi of the London School of Economics & Politics describes this process in a 2007 article entitled “Empire, Nationalities and the Fall of the Soviet Union,” pointing out that “each Soviet republic was flanked with an official culture, official folklore and national opera-house. (7) Soviet authorities went as far as to develop written systems for local languages that had previously lacked them.” (8) She notes that this policy of nativization also had the effect of combating Russian national chauvinism, citing Ukraine in the 1920s as an example, in which “a Russian residing there also had to be educated in Ukrainian.”(9)

Though the precise manifestations of korenizatsiya oscillated over the history of the USSR and at times nations had less operational freedom – particularly during the glasnost period brought on by Gorbachev – the Soviet state’s dedication to raising the status of national minorities and guaranteeing political representation demonstrates a genuine ideological commitment to national self-determination that inspired oppressed nations around the world. (10)

Developing the Black National Question

Harry Haywood, one of the founders of the Marxist-Leninist line on the Black Belt nation.

Among the many activists inspired by the Russian Revolution was African-American communist Harry Haywood. In his autobiography, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Haywood recounts his excitement at the many achievements of the Russian Revolution, noting its specific importance to African-Americans: “Most impressive as far as Blacks were concerned was that the revolution had laid the basis for solving the national and racial questions on the basis of complete freedom for the numerous nations, colonial peoples and minorities formerly oppressed by the czarist empire.” (11) Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ handling of the national question in North Asia prompted Haywood to join the CPUSA in the winter of 1923 and to visit the Soviet Union as a part of a student delegation in 1925.

Sustar views genuine African-American revolutionaries like Haywood, who developed the demand for black self-determination in the Soviet Union, with condescending contempt. He writes, “For these leaders, the Comintern’s theory of self-determination for the Black Bell (sic) must have appeared as a revolutionary commitment to fighting the enormous racism in the U.S.” (12) The implication, of course, is that Haywood, Otto Hall, and James Ford were more or less passive recipients of the black national question line – a falsehood that flies in the face of historical fact – and that they were basically duped into accepting a position hoisted upon them by Stalin.

In actuality, the black national question established by the Comintern came about through vibrant debate and struggle between African-American comrades, the white comrades in the CPUSA, and Soviet comrades, who contributed their own first-hand experience in building a multinational republic of the 15 unique constituent nations of the USSR. During his four-year visit to the Soviet Union, Haywood meticulously analyzed the character of black oppression in the US alongside other comrades.

The CPUSA’s position at that time was that black workers were subject to harsh societal prejudice based on race, but fundamentally they experienced the same capitalist exploitation as white workers. Haywood and the Communist International (Comintern) came to criticize this position because “To call the matter a race question, they said, was to fall into the bourgeois liberal trap of regarding the fight for equality as primarily a fight against racial prejudices of whites.” (13) This simplistic view placed total emphasis on building the trade union movement irrespective of race, leading the CPUSA to mistakenly see the struggle for black civil rights “as a diversion that would obscure or overshadow the struggle for socialism.” (14)

Furthermore, looking at the exploitation of African-Americans purely as a question of race “slurred over the economic and social roots of the question and obscured the question of the agrarian democratic revolution in the South.” (15) In describing Reconstruction, Haywood writes that the “revolution had stopped short of a solution to the crucial land question; there was neither confiscation of the big plantations of the former slaveholding class, nor distribution of the land among the Negro freedmen and poor whites.” (16) The White Supremacist counter-revolution of 1877 brought an end to Reconstruction, and through fascist terrorism by paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan, African-Americans were denied the political rights and economic opportunities afforded to White citizens. Thus, Haywood writes in his 1948 book, Negro Liberation, “The uniqueness of the Negro problem in the United States lies in the fact that the Negro was left out of the country’s general democratic transformation.” (17)

Influenced by Lenin’s Draft Theses on the National-Colonial Question and Josef Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question, both of which identify African-Americans as an oppressed nation within the US, Haywood and the leadership of the Comintern launched an intensive study of the character of African-American people. (18)  In Marxism and the National Question, Stalin outlines the objective conditions for nationhood, which are, “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (19) Using the criteria set out by Stalin, Haywood notes that “Under conditions of imperialist and racist oppression, Blacks in the South were to acquire all the attributes of a single nation.” (20)

A common territory is one of the criteria for nationhood. Although African-Americans were spread out across the US, Haywood argued that the “territory of this subject nation is the Black Belt, an area encompassing the Deep South,” because even after the post-war Northern migrations of black workers, the Black Belt “still contained (and does to this day) the country’s largest concentration of Blacks.” (21) Additionally, Robin D.G. Kelley writes in his book, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression that “This region, dominated by cotton plantations, consisted of counties with a numerical black majority.” (22) The demographic concentration of African-Americans, along with their historical tie to the land, led the Comintern to adopt a resolution affirming the presence of a black nation in the American South at its Sixth World Congress in 1928. (23)

The Black Belt Nation, derived from James Allen’s 1938 pamphlet, Negro Liberation.

Sustar’s article spins a web of sophistry in trying to back-handedly argue that Lenin would have opposed the Comintern’s line on the black national question. While he acknowledges that Lenin viewed African-Americans as an oppressed nation, he then proceeds to ignore that fact in painting Lenin’s position as one in harmony with the ISO’s Trotskyite position: That the struggle for national liberation is simply “a means to fight chauvinism and racism in the working class.” (24)

In actuality, Lenin maintained that “it is necessary that all Communist Parties render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and subject nations (for example, in Ireland, among the Negroes in America, etc.) and in the colonies.” (25) True to Trotskyite form, Sustar leaves out any mention of the other toiling masses besides the proletariat, whose support is vital to the national liberation struggle. Lenin writes, “the cornerstone of the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions must be a closer union of the proletarians and working masses generally of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landlords and the bourgeoisie.” (26) The term “working masses” unmistakably refers to the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, who can and must support the proletariat for a revolutionary national liberation struggle to succeed. Much as Trotsky held contempt for the Bolshevik line on a strategic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in Russia, the ISO holds contempt for the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the other nationalist classes comprising the oppressed African-American nation. He can hold that position, but it is characteristically anti-Leninist, as is the entirety of Trotsky’s theory of revolution.

The Comintern’s groundbreaking new line on the African-American question maintained that “African-Americans had the right to self-determination: political power, control over the economy, and the right to secede from the United States.” (27) In a broader sense, however, Haywood’s line on the national question represented an affirmation of the revolutionary character of black nationalist movements, whose efforts could strike blows against US imperialism from within. While Marxist-Leninists view nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, it can nevertheless fuel revolutionary movements against imperialism in colonized nations, whose economic and social development were held back by foreign exploitation.

Organizing in the Black Belt Nation

Sustar has an incredibly superficial understanding of the black national question in theory, but his historical evaluation of its impact is equally flawed.

When Haywood returned to the US in 1930, the CPUSA had already begun implementing the African-American national question by sending party cadre into the Black Belt to organize and raise the demand of black self-determination. Suster claims that “the new perspective launched the CP into a series of senseless sectarian attacks on reformist Black and working-class leaders, alienating the party from the mass of workers,” the actual effect of the Party’s focus on the black national question was tremendous growth in its black membership. (28) The Alabama Communist Party was particularly successful in building strong ties with African-Americans through applying the theory to political organizing. Kelley notes that “From the beginning, Birmingham blacks exhibited a greater interest in the Party than did whites.” (29) The party’s appeal among African-Americans came from its outspoken opposition to racism and its support for national self-determination. Kelley writes that “During the 1930 election campaign, the Communist Party did what no political party had done in Alabama since Reconstruction: it endorsed a black candidate, Walter Lewis, for governor. The election platform included complete racial equality and maintained that the exercise of self-determination in the black belt was the only way to end lynching and achieve political rights for Southern blacks.” (30)

The Alabama Communist Party’s orientation towards building a strong, independent African-American movement translated into exponential growth in black cadre. Starting with a mere three organizers in 1929, the Party “was augmented to over ninety by the end of August 1930, and over five hundred working people populated the Party’s mass organizations, of whom between 80 and 90 percent were black.” (31) Contrary to Sustar’s baseless claims, the correct application of the national question to organizing fueled the early rapid levels of growth for the CPUSA among African-Americans.

Black workers were hit hardest by the Great Depression’s rampant unemployment due to racist firing preferences by White managers. In response to the mass demand among African-Americans for jobs, the Alabama Communists organized an unemployment relief campaign in 1933. By the end of the year “the Party’s dues-paying membership in Birmingham rose to nearly five hundred, and its mass organizations encompassed possibly twice that number.” (32) The unemployment relief campaign was particularly successful in its goal “to increase the number of black female members, who often proved more militant than their male comrades, from open confrontation to hidden forms of resistance, and would later prove invaluable to local Communists continuing their work in the mines, mills, and plantations of the black belt.” (33) The Alabama Communist Party maintained high diversity because of its attention to the plight of African-Americans, and in particular, the plight of African-American women.

Southern communists heavily involved themselves in the sharecropper labor movement, whose composition was primarily African-American. In Alabama, for instance, the Party organized the Share Croppers Union (SCU) in 1931, which grew to “a membership of nearly 2,000 organized in 73 locals, 80 women’s auxiliaries, and 30 youth groups.” (34) The SCU was openly organized by Alabama communists, and while it drew substantial support from the African-American community, it was also subject to a harsh crackdown by state and non-state actors. (35) Nevertheless, “the SCU claimed some substantial victories. On most of the plantations affected, the union won at least seventy-five centers per one hundred pounds, and in areas not affected by the strike, landlords reportedly increased wages from thirty-five cents per hundred pounds to fifty cents or more in order to avert the spread of the strike.” (36) The mass appeal of the SCU, an explicitly red trade union, and its tremendous victories demonstrate the power once possessed by the CPUSA in the American South.

Because sharecropping and rural wage labor was dominated by African-Americans, the SCU gave Alabama communists an interesting opportunity to apply the national question to trade union organizing. African-American communist Al Murphy was chosen as the Secretary of the SCU, and the bulk of the union’s leadership was always black. (37) Kelley writes that as Secretary, “Murphy, an unflinching supporter of the Party’s demand for self-determination in the black belt, had very definite ideas about the radical character of the SCU. He saw within each and every member ‘standard bearers of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass,’ and regarded the all-black movement as the very embodiment of black self-determination.” (38) The SCU came to represent the embodiment of Black self-determination applied to organizing because African-American cadre themselves comprised the union’s leadership, rather than the white labor bureaucrats that marked most other industrial trade unions in the 1930s. Nearly all of the Party’s black leadership had no prior experience in radical movements, making the SCU an authentic people’s trade union reflecting the class conflicts of the South. (39)

Perhaps the only aspect of Sustar’s piece with a kernel of principled criticism is his claim that the black national question was never “consistently put forward in practice.” While the CPUSA did implement and adapt the theory to much success, the rise of fascism and the breakout of World War II produced zig-zags in the Party’s line on African-American liberation, much to the detriment of the Party. For instance, the CPUSA abandoned Haywood’s line on the national question in 1935 in order to collaborate with conservative middle class black organizations in anti-war work related to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. (40)

It is important to understand that Sustar is completely wrong in his assessment of the line’s implementation. Contrary to Sustar’s claim that the black national question “means subordinating the needs of workers to those of the middle class in the oppressed nation,” it wasn’t until the CPUSA dropped the demand for black national self-determination in 1935 that the Party began tailing the conservative black petty-bourgeoisie. (41) While the demand for a black nation was gaining traction among the black proletariat in the American South, the political pivot to a more rightist position proved costly to the CPUSA and actually fueled their waning influence in the working class. Sustar’s claim is outrageously ahistorical, and the facts actually demonstrate that abandoning the line seriously damaged the proletarian character of the black nationalist movement that the Party was building.

This political zig-zag was the product of Northern communists, who dominated the CPUSA leadership at the time. (42) Additionally, the sudden appearance of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), one of the only national trade unions to allow black members, prompted communist leaders to fold the SCU into the CIO in 1936. Although organizing within the CIO had tactical advantages in terms of available resources, the dissolution of the SCU “exacted a costly toll from the Alabama cadre, especially black party organizers.” (43) Because of racist internal policies limiting African-American leadership, “Black Birmingham Communists, for the most part, did not (and often could not) become pure union bureaucrats in the way that their comrades had in Northern and Western CIO unions.” (44) Reflecting deeper changes in their political line, the Alabama Communist Party’s influence declined across the South as it gradually lost its mass base among the African-American Nation.

One of the more bold claims made by Sustar is his claim that the CP pushed a line not shared by African Americans: “in the early 1930s, it was the Communist Party–not Black workers and farmers–who called for self-determination of the Black Belt.” Exactly who else is to put out slogans and calls? Is it a communist party’s job to wait until the people have perfected their demand and in the meantime there is nothing to do but twiddle one’s thumbs and hope for the best? Absolutely not. We say it is the job of the party to collect the best sentiments of the masses and translate them into coherent revolutionary action. Additionally, the tremendous success of the Communist Party in the South, especially among African-Americans and despite incredible state repression, indicates that the workers and sharecroppers in the South responded positively to the line precisely because they demanded it.

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June 4: A look into the Tiananmen Square counter-revolution, 23 years later

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The following article below was originally written last year in response to the ultra-leftist approach by the Kasama Project news blog toward the Tiananmen Square counter-revolution. It also was written during a time of heated struggle between NATO-backed counter-revolutionary rebels and the Gaddafi-backed Libyan armed forces. With Kasama siding with the rebels during that conflict, and seeing the results of said conflict a year later, it is obvious at how wrong they were in their analysis of the Libyan conflict, just as they were equally wrong about the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

I re-publish this article of mine a year later to continue providing a balance in the story of counter-revolution against the Chinese Communist Party, which continues today to provide socialist development toward the country and its people:

From China to Libya: A Critique to Kasama’s “Remembering the Rebels of Tiananmen”

“The elimination of counter-revolutionaries is a struggle of opposites as between ourselves and the enemy. Among the people, there are some who see this question in a somewhat different light. Two kinds of people hold views differing from ours. Those with a Right deviation in their thinking make no distinction between ourselves and the enemy and take the enemy for our own people. They regard as friends the very persons whom the masses regard as enemies. Those with a “Left” deviation in their thinking magnify contradictions between ourselves and the enemy to such an extent that they take certain contradictions among the people for contradictions with the enemy and regard as counter-revolutionary persons who are actually not. Both these views are wrong. Neither makes possible the correct handling of the problem of eliminating counter-revolutionaries or a correct assessment of this work.

“To form a correct evaluation of our work in eliminating counter-revolutionaries, let us see what repercussions the Hungarian incident has had in China. After its occurrence there was some unrest among a section of our intellectuals, but there were no squalls. Why? One reason, it must be said, was our success in eliminating counter-revolutionaries fairly thoroughly.”

-Mao Zedong (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People)

by BJ Murphy

Here on June 4th, around the world, people will be celebrating honor to the “pro-democracy” students of the so-called Tiananmen Square “massacre”. Just as the media did so 22 years ago, the media will again paint the very elaborate portrait of Communist “suppression” against what were labeled as Chinese students seeking “democracy” and “freedom”.

Though, this very mindset over the 1989 event isn’t just attained by that of various bourgeois media, but is also shared by a wide selection of revolutionary leftists, particularly that of ultra-leftist western Maoists, like that of who run the news blog Kasama Project.

In fact, this very article is a response to another, written by the blog’s founder Mike Ely.

According to Ely, “the regime in China suppressed a powerful movement of rebellion, using the Peoples Liberation Army against the students and workers gathered in the heart of Beijing.” (Ely, Kasama) In other words, as the media paints this portrait as well, the PLA were the bad guys – the capitalist oppressors – and the students were of course the good guys – the socialist “vanguard of liberation” (Ely, Kasama).

The only problem with this very nice painting is that it’s a complete sham!

This is, of course, not being said as a means of “opportunism”, nor to be controversial. The point of this article is to defend the truth of that very event: a counter-revolution led by that of pro-western “democracy” students in the objective goal of the Communist Party’s destabilization.

A revolution out of the sky?

Hundreds of Chinese citizens gathering in front of “Democracy Wall”.

As member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization – Fight Back! (FRSO) Mick Kelly once said of the event, “the so-called “democracy” movement did not fall from the sky one day,” (Kelly, FRSO) as is the very picture Ely seems to be painting throughout his short article. In Ely’s mindset, the 1989 set of protests was an event that erupted out of thin air; a response to Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng’s economic reforms.

This is an absolute lie! A misleading one at that, as Ely seems to conveniently leave out certain important historical events leading up to the Tiananmen protests. One of which starts with what was known as “Democracy Wall”.

As Mick Kelly points out, “it was probably the only place in China where a person could hear Mao denounced as a ‘fascist.'” (Kelly, FRSO) Though, “Democracy Wall” acted out as a gathering spot by several ideologically differing citizens. Some of which who were suffering through the Cultural Revolution. Though, to others, it was the breading ground for counter-revolutionary activities. And because of such growing activities, what was known as “Democracy Wall” was eventually shut down.

From then on, a split between the CPC – and amongst the people as well as to who they aligned themselves with – began to increase.

An ongoing counter-revolutionary tendency

To now introduce the other topic at-hand, Ely had also held a recent position, similar to that of what we see here on the Tiananmen Square event, towards Libya. Although I cannot link you to this conversation between myself and Ely, it was a debate held between us on the internal conflict (now NATO-led imperialism) in Libya, where rebels presided in Benghazi are waging a (counter)revolution against forces loyal to Col. Gaddafi.

Despite my attempts of trying to show that the rebels were clearly reactionary and deserved no support by that of the revolutionary left, Ely inclined that the rebels were “a democratic force for the good.”

But what does this have to do with the Tiananmen Square protests? Well despite the fact that, in both events, Ely has a clear tendency of throwing his support towards counter-revolutionary rebels, it was the fact he conveniently decided to leave out any mention of the Libyan rebels’ anti-African migrant stance throughout all his articles written on the Libyan event.

That’s right, a stance not just in words, but in action as well. Horrific actions at that, ranging from imprisonment, execution, and even resorting to lynching them.

The correlation here is the fact that, like on the Libyan subject, in 1988, just a year before the “pro-democracy” protesters make their final move on Tiananmen Square, there was an anti-African student demonstration held in China. Led by right-wing students, it became an organized event with objections to what they deemed as “African privileges” amongst China’s universities. Although this was not as large of an event as Tiananmen Square’s, and came nowhere near the violent repression against Africans like that in Libya, it was still an event which characterized the right-wing’s growing strength amongst Chinese university students.

In remembrance of Hu Yaobang, Tiananmen emerges

April 18: Students hold aloft a banner calling for “Freedom & Democracy Enlightenment” on the Martyr’s Monument in Tiananmen Square festooned with a large portrait of Hu Yaobang, surrounded with wreaths dedicated to him by people from many universities.

Another interesting point to be made, one that Ely seems to have conveniently left out as well, was the fact that the Tiananmen Square protests erupted in honor to that of CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s death. And I’m sure there’s a reason for Ely’s silence of Hu Yaobang’s role in the protests.

As pointed out in China: Revolution and Counterrevolution by the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), “China’s version of Boris Yeltsin was Secretary General Hu Yaobang, who was widely seen as a proponent of pushing the reforms ahead at a faster pace until his resignation in 1987.” (PSL, China p.73) Boris Yeltsin was the spokesperson of Soviet leader Gorbachev’s perestroika economic reforms. Unlike Gorbachev’s failed wish of sustaining socialism, all while allowing market privatization under the command of the Soviet state, Yeltsin instead wished to see socialism ended altogether.

The storyline is the same during China’s “perestroika” period, when Deng Xiaoping laid forth economic reforms, used as a means of modernizing China from it’s unfortunate massive underdeveloped economic state left after Mao’s death. Though, the outcome of the storyline is very much different. Unlike Yeltsin’s success in hijacking Russia’s period of reforms, thus putting an end to Soviet socialism, Hu Yaobang was left with no victory in destroying China’s socialist struggle.

To make a long story short, it was Hu Yaobang’s death that transitioned the right-wing’s ideals to practice:

“The period of mourning which followed his death provided the opening that the “pro-democracy” movement was waiting for. Huge funeral wreaths began to appear on the martyrs’ monument in Tiananmen Square. On many of these wreaths inscriptions were written, attacking the Party leadership and demanding that the criticisms of Hu’s rightist errors be dropped from the historical record.

[...]

“On April 18, 4000 students from Beijing University and People’s University held campus rallies. Later that day about 2000 students marched to Tiananmen Square, carrying a banner with the slogan “Forever cherish the memory of Yaobang, the soul of China.” That night about 200 students stayed in the square. The Washington Post reported the six demands that were put forward. The demands were: public disclosure of the income of national leaders; repudiation of the struggles against bourgeois liberalization and spiritual pollution along with rehabilitation for those who were criticized; increased funding for education; no restrictions on street demonstrations; freedom of speech and the press; and a reassessment of Hu Yaobang.” (Kelly, FRSO)

Soon after, throughout the entire month of April, thousands gathered in Tiananmen Square, continuing their demands, which also led to some protesters attempt to storm Zhongnanhai, the CPC’s headquarters. Although unsuccessful, it marked the beginning of an ever-increasing violent presence amongst the “pro-democracy” protesters.

This isn’t to say that every protester in Tiananmen Square were right-wing counter-revolutionaries. A good portion of them in the beginning were legitimate protesters seeking both answers and action to that of the reforms, which allowed privatization over a third of the economy, including health care.

“On April 26, the line of the politburo was run out in a People’s Daily editorial. The editorial made note of the good intentions of many of the demonstration’s participants and pointed out several areas where the desires of the student movement overlapped with those of the Party. However, what really grabbed people’s attention was the charge that the protests were being manipulated by forces that wanted to do away with socialism and negate the leading role of the Party.” (Kelly, FRSO)

This was further clarified by that of the Yenica Cortes, member of the PSL, stating:

“There were a large number of students involved in the demonstrations [...] And while there were many political trends within the student movement, there was a dominant leadership group. The goals of this group had nothing to do with democracy for China’s vast majority of poor and working people.” (PSL, China p.76)

Fact of the matter is that, from April to May, a large section of the student protesters left the Square and returned to school. Despite what the media may try and paint, before the June 3-4 riots by that of “pro-democracy” students, the CPC had continuously laid out peaceful negotiations with thousands of the protesters. Some of which became successful almost immediately.

In a speech by that of Chen Xitong, then-mayor of Beijing, to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, he stated:

“Compared with the demonstration of April 27, the number of students taking part on May 4 dropped from over 30,000 to less than 20,000, and the on-lookers decreased by a big margin. After the May 4 demonstration, 80% of the students returned to class as a result of the work of the Party and administrative leaders of the various universities and colleges. After the publication of the People’s Daily April 26 editorial, the situation in other parts of the country became stabilized quickly. It was evident, with some more work, the turmoil instigated by a small handful of people making use of the student unrest, was likely to calm down…” (Kelly, FRSO)

Although the mayor’s analysis was overall correct, his conclusions to that of the analysis was not.

The symbol of their “democracy”

“Pro-democracy” students carrying a large statue of the Goddess of Liberty in Tiananmen Square.

To symbolize their demands for “democracy” and “freedom”, unlike the original protesters who waved portraits of Mao, carried the Little Red Book, and called for the end of reforms, the right-wing students, who’s goal was to hijack the reforms and overthrow the CPC, carried something else: a large statue of the Goddess of Liberty. The Goddess of Liberty stood as their symbol for “democracy” and “freedom”, eerily depicting that of the U.S.’s Statue of Liberty.

The statue was constructed by Federation of College Students as a stunt to help push the protests forward. This was then deemed as the “Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square”, although not officially on paper, due to the sculpture’s objections:

“The federation suggested that the sculpture be a replica of the Statue of Liberty, like the smaller one that had been carried in a procession by demonstrations in Shanghai two days earlier. But the sculpture students rejected that idea: It might be seen as too openly pro-American and copying an existing work was contrary to their principles as creative artists.

[...]

“The place on the Square had been chosen carefully. It was on the great axis heavy with symbolism, that extended from the main entrance of the Forbidden City, with the huge portrait of Mao Zedong, through the monument of People’s Heroes, which had become the students’ headquarters. The statue was to be set up just across the broad avenue from Mao so that it would confront him.” [emphasis added](Kelly, FRSO)

April 25: An American Revolution slogan hung at Peking University on someone’s bed sheet.

Further clarification of the students’ true intentions were subsequently made after the construction of the statue:

“Their signs were in English. Their symbol, the so-called “Goddess of Democracy,” bore a striking resemblance to the Statue of Liberty. Many expressed their hope of founding a new student organization on July 4 – Independence Day in the United States.” (PSL, China p.76)

Though, despite both their support in Hu Yaobang and their symbol of “democracy”, another high-rank figure was recognized by the “pro-democracy” students: Zhao Ziyang, right-wing Premier of the PRC and was an open advocate to free-enterprise expansion.

Among those of the hunger strike waged in Tiananmen Square, one of them was a Liu Xiaobo. In which Liu had stated that, “We must organize an armed force among the people to materialize Zhao Ziyang’s comeback.” (Kelly, FRSO) Today, Liu Xiaobo is currently imprisoned for his various calls of overthrowing the CPC and to expand privatization over China’s majority State-run economy.

Another well known leader of the student demonstrations was Liu Gang. Through Liu, alone, one was able to understand the class character of that of the “pro-democracy” students: an anti-Communist class character, as stated by Liu himself:

“There was a disproportionate number of physicists among the dissidents. As I mentioned earlier, almost all the student movements in Beijing were started by physics students. Six of the 21 most-wanted student leaders are physicists. This phenomenon can be explained. Under Communist rule, education has been controlled by Marxist, Leninist and Maoist doctrines, especially in the social sciences. Even mathematics had to be learned according to Marx’s notes.

“Among all the disciplines, physics is least controllable by Communist ideology. People with an inquiring mind naturally take up physics as their major in the universities. Human creativity in the search for truth requires freedom.”

The Tiananmen Square massacre: myth or reality?

Before we’re to go into the “massacre” itself, it’s best to first find out what really took place weeks before. Understanding the following events is crucial in the overall understanding over the PLA’s position as victims, rather than executioners, contrary to what was claimed by that of the international bourgeois press.

May 4: Over 100,000 “pro-democracy” students surround a group of unarmed policemen, demanding for “democracy” and “freedom”.

Despite the CPC’s long weeks of pressing forward negotiations with that of the protesters, on May 20, they then decided to declare martial law. This was, of course, not an act of violence by that of the PLA who were dispatched to Tiananmen Square long before martial law was ever declared. Instead, violence was waged against the unarmed PLA, with the open goal of provoking violence by that of the PLA themselves, as was admitted on May 28 by one the student leaders Chai Ling:

“I feel so sad. [...] How can I tell [the students in the Square] that what we are actually hoping for is bloodshed, the moment when the government is ready to butcher the people brazenly? Only when the Square is awash in blood will the people of China open their eyes. Only then will they be really united.” (PSL, China p.74)

June 3: A group of Chinese troops taken hostage by the “pro-democracy” students as they read their demands.

Despite early warnings to the protesters encamped in Tiananmen Square to leave peacefully before violence was to ensue, many remained unresponsive and held their ground (thankfully, some of those protesting actually listened to the warnings and eventually left before violence broke out). In response, an unarmed group of PLA were dispatched to Tiananmen Square, though were then subsequently blocked by the protesters, left only to feel their wrath as the students set “army trucks and armoured personnel carriers ablaze, their crews incinerated.” Many of which were taken hostage:

“On June 2, unarmed People’s Liberation Army troops were called in to regain control of the square. Students left the square to confront the troops in the streets leading to the square. Some of the unarmed troops were taken hostage.

“On June 3, the soldiers were issued arms – “though under orders to avoid violence” as reported in a June 5 article in the Wall Street Journal. On June 4, however, demonstrators resorted to violent attacks on soldiers as protesters grabbed hold of army equipment and seized weapons.” (PSL, China p.75)

Jay Matthews, who was a reporter for The Washington Post, was sent to Beijing to cover the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. What he discovered wasn’t a “massacre” of any sort, rather a violent rebellion against the CPC and PLA, leading to a reported death count of around 300 outside of Tiananmen Square, despite the media misleadingly reporting of deaths amongst the Tiananmen Square protesters:

“A few people may have been killed by random shooting on streets near the square, but all verified eyewitness accounts say that the students who remained in the square when troops arrived were allowed to leave peacefully. Hundreds of people, most of them workers and passersby, did die that night, but in a different place and under different circumstances.

“The Chinese government estimates more than 300 fatalities. Western estimates are somewhat higher. Many victims were shot by soldiers on stretches of Changan Jie, the Avenue of Eternal Peace, about a mile west of the square, and in scattered confrontations in other parts of the city, where, it should be added, a few soldiers were beaten or burned to death by angry workers.”

June 3: Unarmed PLA soldiers, outside of the Great Hall of People, showing maximum restraint as they try to blockade the protesters from advancing forward.

As soon as the student demonstrators made it very clear of their violent counter-revolutionary objectives, the CPC knew then what they had to do:

“There was no massacre in Beijing, at least in any normal sense of the word’s usage. There was in fact a rebellion, which was counter-revolutionary in nature, that was eventually put down by military force. The myth that tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square one evening and proceeded to shoot down peaceful students would be laughable, if people, including some who profess to be revolutionaries, did not happen to believe it.

“The actual situation was very different. Between June 1st and June 4th there was a rising tide of violence in Beijing. Although the “democracy movement” had lost some of its steam, there was still a situation of dual power within the city. While the Party did everything possible to resolve the conflict peacefully, they had no intention of handing over the city to the forces of liberalization or Zhao. Nor did the Party intend to allow the crisis to drag on until the scheduled opening of the National People’s Congress on June 20, which the students had voted to continue their occupation of the square until.” (Kelly, FRSO)

It was because of both the CPC and PLA’s actions that Chinese socialism was protected and a bourgeois counter-revolution averted. Despite both the western media and various groups of ultra-leftists’ wishes of painting a beautiful story of “David versus Goliath”, like that of Ely’s account of the events, the truth of what really happened on that heroic, yet tragic day remains unhindered.

**UPDATE** Thanks to Wikileaks, secret cables have now been released showing once and for all that there was no bloodshed inside the Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests.

Notes:

“China & Market Socialism: A Question of State & Revolution”, Return to the Source, May 20, 2011.

“Chinese Counter-Revolution Crushed”, Lalkar, August 1989.

Ely, M., “June 4: Remembering the Rebels of Tiananmen”, Kasama Project, June 3, 20011.

Gowans, S., “Liu’s Nobel Prize for Capitalism”, what’s left, October 12, 2010.

“In His Own Words: Liu Gang: A Story of Physics and Freedom in China”, APS Physics, October 1996.

Kelly, M., “Continuing the Revolution is Not a Dinner Party”, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, 1989.

Matthews, J., “The Myth of Tiananmen: And the price of a passive press”, Columbia Journalism Review, June 4, 2010.

Mclnerney, Andy, ed. China: Revolution and Counterrevolution. San Francisco, CA: PSL Publications, 2008. Print.

Murphy, B., “From socialist Afghanistan to socialist Libya: al-CIAda are back in business!”, Red Ant Liberation Army News, March 31, 2011.

Professor Toad, “The Chinese Economy in 1978″, The Marxist-Leninist, June 14, 2010.

Can nations survive world imperialist terrorism? (Looking at Libya, Iran, Syria and South America)

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Soviet poster stating: Vietnam Lives, Fights and Will Finally Win! - 1970

Will they fall like Libya, or can Syria & Iran Survive? 
Or, how to survive a world dominated by imperialist terror

By Sukant Chandan
March 18, 2012

Whatever were the limits of the Soviet Union it is an accepted fact by any student or historian of the post Second World War period that if a small nation was oppressed or colonised by imperialism, that it’s only recourse to  any semblance of closing the gap between the empire’s arms and itself would be to make an alliance with the USSR and access the weaponry that they had.

The Vietnamese inspired the world by their militant mass resistance, and this legacy continues to inspire the world today, but it also should be borne in mind that this victory also came not in small part thanks to the USSR that helped to arm and train and also fought in the field with the Vietnamese against imperialism.

This is not to say that struggles should not rely on themselves first, they must. But in the highly imbalanced situation of arms in relation to imperialism’s massive unrivalled military it would but be foolish to think that  small nations could have defeated empire without alliances with the USSR, the Eastern Bloc in general and also Socialist China.

The world has recently seen this internationalist dynamic in dramatic action with the veto at the UN by China and Russia that stopped another massive war of aggression against Syria. Russia and China have saved Syria for the time being, much to the chagrin of the warmongers in London, Paris, Washington and Tel-Aviv. Having stopped the war, one would have thought that the western ‘Stop the War’ groups would give full respect to Russia and China for doing so, they dont. But that’s another story.

One lesson from the last century or more of struggle against imperialism is that the only way to get anything approaching respect from imperialism is to let them know that as an independent nation you will not tolerate any violation on yourself without the west getting a bloody nose in the process. The danger of not applying this was most tragically played out in Libya last year, with some of Gadafi’s sons and other elements being allowed to corrupt the state in favour of empire. Gadafi was a militant himself, but those elements which he allowed to dominate the state not only forgot this, but actively lowered their guard, some did so naively as in the case of Saif Al-Islam Gadafi, and some with an outright agenda of counterrevolution in collaboration with nato.

Whereas Gadafi thought he was out-playing the empire, which he was to a certain extent, the two major mistakes made by the regime were that they did not manage to modernise their armed forces and that the regime elite failed to keep in check counterrevolutionary elements. These elements came out of the wood work subsequent to the outbreak of the conflict there last year, it was plain to see that these counterrevolutionary elements were all over the leadership of the Libyan state. One can only ponder of the ‘what ifs’ for Libya, if the Libyan state had managed to purge itself of these elements.

We are no longer living in the post Second World War period in which the USSR’s stated clearly to imperialism that if they were attacked by the usa by nuclear strike and wipe out Soviet society, which the usa were threatening to do, that the USSR would likewise flatten most of the usa in kind. The usa knew this, and this balance between the USSR and the usa kept imperialist aggression in check to a considerable degree.

In the absence of the Soviet anti-imperialist umbrella in the post 1991 period, nations trying to defend themselves against imperialism have a straight forward strategy to pursue for survival:

1. To keep the state purged as much as possible from pro-imperialist counterrevolutionary forces. Compare the sell outs infesting the Libyan regime from the outset of the conflict to the Syrian regime which has seen next to no high profile sell outs going over to the counterrevolution.

2. Modernisation of the nation’s armed forces. This will make imperialism think hard about attacking the nation, as they are thinking hard about attacking Syria and Iran, as Syria and Iran have been and continue to work in modernising their armed forces. Iran especially have done relatively well in doing this with the support of friendly states, but respect to them also for using their own resources to have achieved an impressive level of scientific and military development.

3. International unity,or mutual security/defence pacts. One can have the first two conditions, but without this factor, the state and the masses are most likely have to conduct a protracted, a long term war of resistance by the masses, with final victory, if it will come at all, taking decades to achieve as was the case with Vietnam and Algeria, amongst many others.

Soviet military discussing with Vietnamese comrades

In the case of Iran and Syria, we can see that they seem to have achieved these first two preconditions. On the third factor of international unity, Syria and Iran will support each other in the event of open military aggression by imperialism, and they also have the support of one of the strongest anti-imperialist guerilla movements in the world – Lebanese Hizbullah. Just as importantly, some would argue perhaps more importantly, Syria has the support of Russia and China, with former Russian joint chief of staff stating on Russia Today that Russia will just not allow Syria to fall to nato.

Gadafi tried in vain to develop a mutual defence pacts of the nations of the South, a project called SATO – the South Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is tragic to reflect on what happened to Libya since last year when Gadafi was the ‘third world’ leader, more than any other, who saw the urgency of developing a real meaningful internationalism based on international anti-imperialist defence treaties.

The Latin American progressive states most important ally in Africa – Libya – was decimated, without a finger being lifted by any South American leader including Gadafi’s close brothers who promised that they ‘would not be fickle’ and ‘would not to forsake him’. All anti-imperialists have full respect and support our leadership in South America, but at the same time its all fine and well bestowing unto Gadafi national awards of Bolivar etc, but when your same brother is lynched courtesy of nato and its agents, one would expect a little more than speeches on the telly. ‘Do unto others what you have them do unto you’, is something that chimes in one’s head when thinking about this relationship, or maybe more precisely what is lacking in a relationship. The courage and loyalty displayed by Che Guevara in relation to Korea, Vietnam, Africa, and other places is not always followed through by our leadership today.

When faced with total devastation that imperialism has visited upon Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya most recently, one has to state that Syria and Iran’s position of threatening to open fronts of military resistance against israel and against imperialist military presence and interests in the region is the minimal position for these states to take if they are to survive in this world where imperialist terrorism reigns supreme.

Anyone who seeks a fairer world, a world without imperialism which is the reason for wars across the world, divisions of nations, poverty, especially child poverty, would wish Syria and Iran the very best in resisting but more importantly, defeating imperialism. What will happen in this great confrontation we all will be witnessing in the coming months ahead.

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Michael Parenti: Must We Adore Vaclav Havel?

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By Michael Parenti
December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel died recently and the mainstream media has been filled with adulatory obits. Here is something I wrote about him many years ago. It gives the reader a more substantive view of what Havel really stood for.

From Michael Parenti’s Blackshirts and Reds (1997) pp. 97-99:

Must We Adore Vaclav Havel? by Michael Parenti

No figure among the capitalist restorationists in the East has won more adulation from U.S. officials, media pundits, and academics than Vaclav Havel, a playwright who became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia and later president of the Czech Republic. The many left-leaning people who also admire Havel seem to have overlooked some things about him: his reactionary religious obscurantism, his undemocratic suppression of leftist opponents, and his profound dedication to economic inequality and unrestrained free-market capitalism.

Raised by governesses and chauffeurs in a wealthy and fervently anticommunist family, Havel denounced democracy’s “cult of objectivity and statistical average” and the idea that rational, collective social efforts should be applied to solving the environmental crisis. He called for a new breed of political leader who would rely less on “rational, cognitive thinking,” show “humility in the face of the mysterious order of the Being,” and “trust in his own subjectivity as his principal link with the subjectivity of the world.” Apparently, this new breed of leader would be a superior elitist cogitator, not unlike Plato’s philosopher, endowed with a “sense of transcendental responsibility” and “archetypal wisdom.” Havel never explained how this transcendent archetypal wisdom would translate into actual policy decisions, and for whose benefit at whose expense.

Havel called for efforts to preserve the Christian family in the Christian nation. Presenting himself as a man of peace and stating that he would never sell arms to oppressive regimes, he sold weapons to the Philippines and the fascist regime in Thailand. In June 1994, General Pinochet, the man who butchered Chilean democracy, was reported to be arms shopping in Czechoslovakia – with no audible objections from Havel.

Havel joined wholeheartedly in George Bush’s Gulf War, an enterprise that killed over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. In 1991, along with other [e]astern European pro-capitalist leaders, Havel voted with the United States to condemn human rights violations in Cuba. But he has never uttered a word of condemnation of rights violations in El Salvador, Columbia, Indonesia, or any other U.S. client state.

In 1992, while president of Czechoslovakia, Havel, the great democrat, demanded that parliament be suspended and he be allowed to rule by edict, the better to ram through free-market “reforms.” That same year, he signed a law that made the advocacy of communism a felony with a penalty of up to eight years imprisonment. He claimed the Czech constitution required him to sign it. In fact, as he knew, the law violated the Charter of Human Rights which is incorporated into the Czech constitution. In any case, it did not require his signature to become law. in 1995, he supported and signed another undemocratic law barring communists and former communists from employment in public agencies.

The propagation of anticommunism has remained a top priority for Havel. He led “a frantic international campaign” to keep in operation two U.S.-financed, cold war radio stations, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, so they could continue saturating Eastern Europe with their anticommunist propaganda.

Under Havel’s government, a law was passed making it a crime to propagate national, religious, and CLASS hatred. In effect, criticisms of big moneyed interests were now illegal, being unjustifiably lumped with ethnic and religious bigotry. Havel’s government warned labor unions not to involve themselves in politics. Some militant unions had their property taken from them and handed over to compliant company unions.

In 1995, Havel announced that the ‘revolution’ against communism would not be complete until everything was privatized. Havel’s government liquidated the properties of the Socialist Union of Youth – which included camp sites, recreation halls, and cultural and scientific facilities for children – putting the properties under the management of five joint stock companies, at the expense of the youth who were left to roam the streets.

Under Czech privatization and “restitution” programs, factories, shops, estates, homes, and much of the public land was sold at bargain prices to foreign and domestic capitalists. In the Czech and Slovak republics, former aristocrats or their heirs were being given back all lands their families had held before 1918 under the Austro-Hungarian empire, dispossessing the previous occupants and sending many of them into destitution. Havel himself took personal ownership of public properties that had belonged to his family forty years before.

While presenting himself as a man dedicated to doing good for others, he did well for himself. For all these reasons some of us do not have warm fuzzy feelings toward Vaclav Havel.

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