The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.
On December 17, 2014, Washington and Havana agreed to a pathbreaking change in a relationship that, for more than fifty years, was characterized by the United States’ efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the sponsorship of invasions, naval blockades, economic sabotage, assassination attempts, and terrorist attacks.
The new accord set free the remaining three members of the “Cuban Five” group held in US prisons since 1998 and, in exchange, Cuba freed the American Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a previously unknown US intelligence agent imprisoned on the island for almost twenty years, in addition to over fifty Cuban political prisoners. Far more consequential are the resumption of official diplomatic relations and the significant relaxation of travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba.
The agreement covers the political normalization but not the full economic normalization of relations: that would require Congress repealing the Helms-Burton Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.
There were previous efforts to resume political and economic relations between the two countries since the United States broke ties in early 1961. The most important was undertaken by the Carter administration, which in pursuing an initiative originally undertaken by Nixon, renewed secret negotiations with the Cuban government in 1977, when the Cuban exile right-wing in South Florida was still a negligible political force.
The two countries made mutual concessions that included the establishment of diplomatic “interest sections” in Washington and Havana and the lifting of the ban on tourist travel to the island, a restriction later reinstated by Reagan in 1982. In the wake of the Carter-Castro negotiations, the Cuban leader released most political prisoners, of which about 1,000 left for the United States, and in 1979, Cuban-Americans were, for the first time, allowed to visit their relatives on the island.
Yet the reconciliation process came to a halt. While the presence of US troops throughout the world was taken for granted by Washington as an imperial entitlement, the deployment of Cuban forces in Africa became an obstacle to the normalization of relations. Many in the US blamed Castro’s foreign involvement as the decisive reason for the collapse of the talks both under Nixon and Carter. But there were other more important factors at work.
For one thing, the Carter administration was itself divided on the question. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance supported the resumption of normal relations with Cuba, while Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s powerful national security adviser, opposed the move. But it was domestic political developments in the US unrelated to Cuba, that ultimately stopped the process.
The American right was becoming agitated over the negotiations concerning the transfer of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians. In September 1977, Carter suspended negotiations with Cuba until after the Canal treaties were ratified by the Senate.
The suspension turned out to be indefinite. Faced with attack over Panama, the Carter administration decided to shore up its right flank by adopting a tougher posture on Cuba, a stance that was shortly after reinforced by the victory of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, and by the political weakening of the Carter administration as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis.
American capitalists approve
Why did Obama succeed where previous US administrations failed? More than anything else, the end of the Cold War, the departure of Cuban troops from Africa, and the less militant stance of Cuba in Latin America have, through the years, qualitatively downgraded the importance of Cuba in American foreign policy, as witnessed by the fact that practically all US government strategic studies in the last two decades don’t even mention the island. Read the rest of this entry »
On 11 September 1973, a bloody military coup in Chile ousted the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende. Allende was killed defending the Presidential Palace during the coup.
Workers in the factories attempted to defend themselves against the military attacks — but they were not sufficiently organised or sufficiently armed, to stop the onslaught.
The military regime of General Pinochet which followed tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of working-class militants and political activists.
Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) coalition government was elected in 1970. The two main parties were the pro-Moscow Communist Party and Allende’s Socialist Party. Allende considered himself a Marxist.
The Chilean Communist Party had a stagist strategy for achieving socialism in Latin American countries. The first stage was for the workers to defeat the “reactionary feudal sector”, forming an alliance with the “progressive” national bourgeoisie. Then the workers’ movement would proceed to a struggle for socialism.
Yet by 1970 Chile was a fully bourgeois society. Even if there had been an important economic distinction between landlords and capitalists, politically the ruling class as a whole was united against working class or struggle.
The Socialist Party was nominally Marxist. In 1973 the overthrow of the capitalist state was still party policy, but not a policy that the party adhered to in practice.
The Popular Unity government came to power on a wave of radicalisation in 1970, boosted by dissatisfaction with a mild reform programme of a Christian Democrat government. Allende promised more.
The Popular Unity government believed Chilean economic development should take place without reliance on aid, loans or investment from abroad, particularly the United States. It stood in the tradition of the 1938 -1946 Chilean “Popular Front” government of the Radical Party, supported by the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.
Popular Unity’s reforms were far-reaching. By 1973 about 40% of land had been expropriated and turned into smaller plots and co-operatives. Copper and nitrate mines were nationalised, as were the banks and many smaller industries. The government intended to compensate the capitalists but could not afford it! Many nationalisations were on the initiative of the workers.
From day one the US State Department, headed by Henry Kissinger, funded the military and right-wing opposition to Popular Unity. The 1973 coup was actively backed by the CIA.
By 1972 Popular Unity began to be destabilised: the US withdrew credit; financial speculation was rife; agricultural productivity was low; wage strikes continued right through to 1973.
This led to economic crisis and crippling inflation which by 1972 had generated a middle-class and bourgeois reaction threatening the existence of the government.
Instead of building on the mass working-class support for its policies, the government grew less inclined to make concessions to the workers.
In May 1972 a demonstration in Concepcion in support of further nationalisation, was fired upon by cabineros acting on the orders of the Communist Party mayor.
Instead of acting against the Chilean financiers, the government encouraged wage “restraint” in order to “conquer” inflation.
Allende believed a loyal “constitutional” majority among the officers would not allow a military coup.
In August 1972 the government sent in the police against a shopkeepers’ strike in Santiago to try to get them to open up (many of them had been hoarding and conducting black market trading). This prompted violence from the fascist opposition.
In October 1972 the truck owners went on strike against a proposed state-controlled truck company. The strike spread to many other small businesses. In Parliament the opposition tried to impeach four government ministers.
During the middle-class strikes the Chilean workers tried to keep the factories operating, to defend the government and to try to stop the worsening of shortages. But Allende did not build on this support.
Workers’ councils known as cordones were formed in several areas of the country. They saw their goal as keeping production going during the crisis, and defending the gains the workers had won under Allende.
Armed detachments were organised to meet the right-wing threat but were nowhere near widespread enough to save the Chilean workers from the savagery of the army.
Large sections of the Socialist Party supported the cordones, but the Communist Party was very hostile to them, seeing them as a challenge to their hegemony in the trade unions.
In the March 1973 legislative elections, Popular Unity increased its share of the vote to 45% (from 36% in 1970). By May the right was out in force on the streets
Now the miners struck against the withdrawal of the sliding scale of wages. Under this system — won in the first months of the government — wages were pegged to inflation and would rise automatically with the cost of living.
An attempted coup led by a rebel section of the military took place in June 1973. It was not supported by the whole of the military, only because they had not yet fully formulated their policy.
The government still enjoyed massive support amongst the working class. Only five days before the final coup a million people demonstrated in Santiago to celebrate the third anniversary of Allende’s election.
In the event, apart from small armed detachments of workers, the Chilean proletariat was defeated with minimal fighting and then subjected to a terrible butchering.
There followed 16 years — until 1989, when the junta was forced into an election — of the viciously anti-working class Pinochet government.
Marxist socialists have had many debates about the lessons of the coup. They have pointed out that Allende’s refusal to arm the workers was decisive in the defeat of the working class. This is true. But it was only the last act in a tragedy at the core of which was the Popular Unity government’s decision to try to conciliate the capitalists, trying to convince them to go along with its reforms.
As the elected government, the UP thought they had the power — the armed forces. That is why they did not arm the workers. They learned that when it came to it, the capitalists, not parliamentary democracy, had the ultimate loyalty of the armed forces.
The working class of Chile paid for Allende’s weakness, confusion and vacillation with many tens of thousands of proletarian lives.
Opinion differs, even on the left (and I use the term in its broadest sense), as to the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Francis Sedgemore reckons it’s a pretty big deal whereas Workers Liberty seems somewhat more sanguine.
But what most of us could agree on, at least until now, was that Snowden seemed to be a well-intentioned and quite brave individual, entirely worthy of our support.
But his decision to flee rather than face the consequences of his actions, has inevitably diminished his credibility. And worse, his apparent willingness to seek refuge in some of the most repressive states in the world, can only make things worse. The hand of the tyrant-lover and arch-hypocrite Assange is obviously behind this, manipulating a second vulnerable, idealistic young man (poor Bradley Manning being the first).
Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon papers, has been unstinting in his support for Snowden, but the truth is that there’s a fundamental difference between the two: Ellsberg faced up to the consequences of his actions and stood before his accusers. Come to that, so has Bradley Manning. Snowden has slunk away (and yes, I know it’s easy for me to sound off from the safety of my comfy little home, but the point stands nonetheless).
“It’s a tragedy that Snowden’s made this mistake because what he had to reveal about the US security state was very troubling. But while the message remains important, the messenger has been exposed as unworthy of it. Snowden’s totalitarian tour is an embarrassment to his cause.”
With populism in the air at home and abroad, our old friend Coatsey draws our attention to this exposé of the horrible (but still supposedly “left”) CounterPunch magazine’s attempt to paint the racist Huey Long as some sort of progressive in the Hugo Chavez mould. Regular readers will know that here at Shiraz we don’t share the prevailing liberal-leftist adulation of elComandante, but to compare him to the racist Long is simply an insult to Chavez (and a particularly ironic one: see below). It’s time that some leftist idiots realised that anti-capitalist rhetoric does not a socialist make.
Mike Whitney has posted an article on CounterPunch titled Our Chavez: Huey Long. There seems to be an effort in recent years on the part of some people to try to portray the sometime governor of Louisiana and U.S.Senator as a great champion of the people, no doubt because of his anti-capitalist rhetoric. Yet when one takes a closer look at his life, it becomes clear that things were not that simple.
During Long’s lifetime, most of the Left regarded him with deep wariness, if not outright hostility. There were good reasons for that. First of all, he governed Louisiana as a virtual dictator. He even organized a secret police force to keep watch on his opponents as well as on his followers.
Long was also a white supremacist. He maintained Louisisana’s Jim Crow laws. (Long would sometimes smear his opponents by spreading rumors that they had “coffee blood”. This gives a bitter irony to calling him “our Chavez”.) Long’s apologists point out that he didn’t talk about white supremacy in his speeches. This was perhaps because he didn’t need to. In 1935, Roy Wilkins interviewed Long for The Criis. They discussed an anti-lynching bill that Long opposed in the Senate…
I sent this letter to the Morning Star back in January. They published it, albeit in a slightly edited form. It producedsome truly Jesuitical responses, attempting to explain why the Falklanders do not have the right to self-detemination. Extraordinary, isn’t it, how sections of the “left” are so ready to tie themselves up in knots in order to justify the denial of basic democracy to ordinary people..?
Neither John Wight in his article on the Falklands (M Star January 7) nor Mike Starke in his letter (M Star January 9) address the central issue for socialists and consistent democrats: the right of the Islanders to self-determination.
The Islanders are a distinct historical, ethnic, linguistic economic and geographic community 400 miles from Argentina. They exploit no other community, threaten no other community, have not dispossessed any other community and are not being used, and are not likely to be used, as a base for imperialist control of any other community.
The Falkanders’ right to self-determination cannot be invalidated by their desire to adhere to Britain: that desire would only be of significance if it resulted in direct imperialist / colonial consequences for the people of Argentina – and no-one, including President Kirchner, has been able demononstrate any practical (as opposed to demagogic) way in which that is the case.
Mike Starke at least acknowledges that Argentina’s claim to be an “anti colonial” force in this situation is somewhat incredible, given the fact that it only exists as a result of European settlers, mainly Spanish and Italian, having vitually wiped out the native population. Argentina’s “claim” to the Falklands rests on a few years of formal possession in the 1830’s by a garrison sent to establish a penal settlement! There never was an indigenous population there.
Galtieri’s 1982 invasion did not liberate anyone from colonialism or imperialism. It did not lessen the burden of imperialist exploitation, or improve the conditions for the fight against it, for a single Argentine worker. Kirchner’s government may be somewhat less reactionary than the fascistic Galtieri regime, but her posturing over the Fallkands is just as contrived – a cynical ploy to divert the Argentine masses at a time of economic crisis at home.
Argentina is a developed bourgeois state and possesses political independence. It also occupies a subordinate rank within the imperialist world economy. That subordination, however, in no way gives any progressive character to the Argentine ruling class and their mini-imperialist designs on the Falklands and its harmless population.
John Wight, like too many British leftists, is engaging in a fantasy “let’s pretend” “anti imperialism” that in fact makes him an apologist for the regime and a vicarius Argentine chauvinist.
The question stands: If authentic internationalist Marxism is dead, from what standpoint does one launch a critique of Chavez and his followers without joining the Venezuelan opposition nostalgic for neoliberalism? The only answer is history: The consciousness that the present has fallen short of what once seemed politically possible, and that this possibility could once again become available. The knowledge that there was once such a thing as an international Left that was able to intervene, transform, and lead social movements around the world in the direction of the overcoming of capitalism. The awareness that the mass politicization of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has put the word “socialism” on the lips of hundreds of thousands of working people, will end up as yet another wasted opportunity if such a Left is not reconstituted.
Admittedly, this standpoint is not much to start with. It is clearly not as immediately gratifying as the self-deceiving “optimism” of supposedly Marxist publications such as the International Socialist Review and the Monthly Review. But the game they are playing is no more than a spectator sport. Cheering for team Chavez is a way for such post-mortem leftists to hold on to dear life. It is how they justify their existence and convince themselves that they are still serving a purpose: The good fight is still being fought; even if they are helpless, they can be complacent in this helplessness, since they can always look at the next populist strongman or, even better, wait for the next American invasion of a Third World country to give them a new lease on life. But if we are to reconstitute an international revolutionary Left, the first step will be to stop kidding ourselves. People continue to struggle, but the struggle to overcome capitalism has not really been sustained. Revolutions with a hope of actually overcoming capitalism around the world are now a distant memory, at best. The current changes in Venezuela cannot contribute to any real revolution until a genuine Left challenges the regime that has instituted them. But such a feat will be impossible if we do not finally get it into our heads that the fatalistic slogan, “¡Patria, socialismo o muerte!” means the exact opposite of the visionary words, “¡Proletarios de todos los países, uníos!”
‘Post-mortem left’ is an extraordinarily useful term…..
That preening narcissist and ex-revolutionary Tariq Ali writes about his friend, ‘the Commandante’ in the Graun G2. Predictably, the piece is as much about Mr Ali as it is about its supposed subject. However, the article does contain a genuinely revealing statement from Chavez, about himself and his politics, which Ali quotes with obvious approval:
”I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don’t think so. But if I’m told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labour – and never forget that some of it was slave labour – then I say: ‘We part company.’ I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society. Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said: ‘You must pay your taxes.’ I believe it’s better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing … That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse … Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it’s only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias.”
Now, that seems to me remarkably like a classic reformist “the inch we live in” /”dented shield”-type statement. A much more realistic and honest (self-) assessment that all the guff about a supposed Venezuelan “revolution” trumpeted by Chavez’s more deluded “Marxist” cheer-leaders.