The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog:
January 11, 2013
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?
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.’
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 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.