Above: Seumas (right) and his hero
Castro leads his victorious troops (photo: History Archive/Rex/Shutterstock)
Pablo Velasco and Sacha Ismail examine Castro’s legacy in an article written in early 2012, largely informed by Cuba Since The revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment, by Sam Farber.
The 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro and his 26 July Movement to power was a bourgeois revolution which smashed Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, but replaced it with their own Bonapartist regime.
Half driven by US hostility and half by choice, this government opted to become a Stalinist state in 1961, adopting the model of the USSR and similar states.
Farber calls this a “bureaucratic system of state collectivism”, in which society’s economic surplus “is not extracted in the form of profits from individual enterprise, nor is it realised through the market. Instead, it is obtained as a surplus product of the nation as a whole. The surplus is appropriated directly, through the state’s control of the economy”. Cuban workers and peasants received their means of subsistence in the form of largely non-monetary rations — low cost or free food, housing, education, health and other welfare facilities. However the surplus product pumped out of the direct producers is controlled and allocated by the ruling bureaucracy — “without any institutional constraints by unions or any other independent popular organisations”.
Cuba’s achievements and failures “resemble those of the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam before these countries took the capitalist road”. Part of this was Cuba’s receipt of “massive Soviet aid from the early sixties to the end of the eighties… even the most conservative estimates would place it well above Cuba’s calculated losses from US economic aggression during that period”. Between 1960 and 1990, Cuba received about 65 billion dollars of Soviet aid on very favourable terms.
The “systematic repressive nature of the Soviet-type regimes made it politically difficult to build enduring oppositions within those societies”. In Cuba there was “certainly no lack of physical brutality… particularly during the first twenty years of their rule. There were thousands of executions, and there was large-scale imprisonment, throughout the revolutionary period, of tens of thousands of people under typically very poor living conditions and physical mistreatment.”
Who rules Cuba?
The state bureaucracy that developed out of the revolution is still in power.
The state owns the means of production and the bureaucracy “owns” and controls the state. The “one-party state” is in fact a no-party state, since the bureaucracy rules directly through the myriad of state and state-sponsored “mass” organisations.
The bureaucracy has privileged access to consumer goods through special stores, separate hospitals, recreational villas, and trips abroad. The armed forces and security services have their own medical facilities. Since the two-tier economy of hard currency and pesos was legally established in 1993, more conventional inequality has been unleashed.
The political ideal of the Cuban elite has been summed up by current head of state Raúl Castro as “monolithic unity” (2009). Although there is enforced mass participation in Cuba’s polity, there is a complete absence of democratic control. Cuba has had a variety of ruling institutions, but none function democratically. The Communist Party was formed in 1965 and has only had six congresses in over 50 years. The Popular Power assemblies were not established until 1976 and allow only vetted candidates to stand on their biography, with those “elected” able only to rubber stamp decisions taken elsewhere by the bureaucrats.
Cuba does not have the kind of impersonal rule of law and citizens’ rights against the arbitrariness and capriciousness of the state which exist in some bourgeois societies. This is evident in the crimes of “social dangerousness”, and “antisocial behaviour”, and the use of imprisonment, electric shock treatment and psychiatric institutions for opponents. Fidel Castro has admitted that there have been 15-20,000 political prisoners in Cuba and Cuba currently has 531 prisoners per 100,000 people, the fifth highest rate worldwide.
What about the workers?
The idea that Cuba is ruled by its workers is laughable. In 1959, the Cuban working class “was not socialist in any meaningful sense of the term, nor did it lend its own distinctive character to the Cuban revolution”. Fidel Castro himself has admitted as much on numerous occasions.
The working class was certainly not passive during Batista’s dictatorship. Despite the shackles of the state and business-gangster trade unionism, sugar workers, rail workers and bank workers fought militant reformist struggles around pay and conditions. The 26 July Movement had its own trade unionists who did organise successful strikes on a number of occasions after the rebel leadership landed in Cuba in 1956. But the general strike they called in April 1958 was a failure and workers’ action only an adjunct to the main, guerrilla warfare strategy for taking power. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: the “Cultural Revolution” begins in 1966
Fifty years ago in China one of the bloodiest episodes in recorded human history began, in which as many as two million people died.
What followed was an unprecedented period of upheaval, bloodshed and economic stagnation that only ended with Mao’s death, in September 1976.
The so-called People’s Republic of China had been declared in 1949 and began the history of China as a one-party totalitarian nation-state, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
During the 1950s, the conditions of existence in the countryside (where the majority of the population resided) and in the cities were transformed by the CCP, in an effort to economically develop and exert political control within all arenas of everyday life (from work to leisure to home). Agricultural land in the countryside was bloodily “redistributed” to cooperatives and collectives, and cities were ordered into work units and neighbourhood units. The state owned everything. Layers of Communist Party bureaucracy proliferated and corruption thrived.
“Enemies Without Guns” was an early Party propaganda campaign that illustrates the pervasive affect the bureaucratic state was able to exert on its population: breeding distrust amongst neighbours, and breaking down camaraderie among the working class and peasant masses.
The Party encouraged the population to anonymously submit the names of those who they suspected were linked to, for example, money, foreign devils and/or the rival Nationalist Party, into designated post boxes.
Alongside early rural land reforms and urban industrial projects, which sought to launch China (then home to one in four of the world’s population) into a global superpower, was the omnipresence of the state. Effort towards economic modernisation would go hand-in-hand with political repression – the defining feature of China’s political economy.
The 1930s and 40s were shaped by a struggle between the Nationalist Party, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong. The Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan when Mao took power in 1949. Taiwan has since benefited from US military aid, which is an ongoing source of annoyance for the CCP. Moves by the Chinese state to act on its claim that Taiwan is part of China have long threatened to draw the United States into war.
Tibet is another major geopolitical tension and conflict. The CCP launched a military offensive on the region of Tibet in 1950, claiming the area was a part of China mainland. A Tibetan uprising to CCP rule in 1959 was brutally crushed. The Dalai Lama calls for political autonomy for Tibet, not a separate nation-state. The CCP refuses to negotiate.
While most intellectual life was controlled by the CCP, a momentary opening was created by Mao Zedong’s instruction in 1956 for the country’s citizens and intellectuals to constructively criticise the Party, known as “A Hundred Flowers to Bloom in the Arts and a Hundred Schools of Thought to Contend in Science”. What it released was a huge wave of criticism against Party bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption. Walls of universities were plastered with such criticism.
In 1957 Mao declared those he had encouraged previously to criticise the Party as “Enemies and Rightists”, and he appointed Deng Xiaoping to head the subsequent “Anti-Rightist Movement”. This effectively silenced China’s key intellectuals for decades.
When I have visited China in the years 2007-2013, various of my contacts (working in the fields of academia, teaching, and business) have observed that Chinese students and graduates struggle with a sense of critique, i.e., of questioning things. Without doubt, the silencing of the country’s intellectuals decades previously has left a legacy on education, where only a few brave teachers and students dare to question.
The launch of the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958 signified Mao’s ambition to equal the West in industrial output within fifteen years. Actually it was a huge propaganda campaign with ludicrous and counterproductive initiatives and targets that, in combination with natural disaster, literally starved to death millions.
People were told to convert scrap iron and steel into pots, and so the countryside was marked by rows of giant furnaces that made piles of pots which were useless and cracked easily. And yet it went on. To meet targets, Party bureaucrats inflated the figures for the actual production of grain. Too much grain left the countryside, generating a food crisis while grain lay stored in excess in the cities. One propaganda slogan, “The corn will grow higher the more you desire”, accentuates the farce.
There was little to no questioning of the Great Leap Forward as a consequence of the Hundred Flowers Campaign and Anti-Rightist Movement.
Historian Frank Dikötter, in Mao’s Great Famine: The Story of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, argues that the Great Leap Forward, with a death toll of 45 million, “ranks alongside the gulags and the Holocaust as one of the three greatest events of the 20th century…. It was like Pol Pot’s genocide multiplied 20 times over”.
By 1964 the infamous “Little Red Book”, a book of Mao quotes, had been produced and widely distributed. Its reach cannot be underestimated, both within China and globally. And what it came to symbolise was the cult of Mao, that is, his status as a living god and the irrational fervour that went along with that. In this climate, Mao decided that he needed to call on new forces to boost his hegemony in the Party. In May 1966 he launched a campaign that called on the youth to attack the Party and steer it onto the path of true “revolutionary politics”. The “Cultural Revolution” was born.
In April 1966, the Cultural Revolution was launched, under the direction of Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife) and Kang Sheng. Mao’s personality cult reached fever pitch — the Little Red Book was recited daily and 4.8 billion Mao badges and 1.2 billion Mao portraits were produced. China was turned into a cultural desert — schools were closed for a year and Red Guard groups (led by the children of high officials) assailed teachers, writers and artists, and participated in state plunder.
Red Guards were given licence to attack virtually anything from “Hong Kong haircuts” to the “bourgeois-feudal reactionary music of Bach, Beethoven and Shostakovich.” The regime issued spine-chilling edicts, condemning: “workers concerned only with love and romance, pandering to low tastes, claiming that ‘love’ and ‘death’ are eternal themes. All such bourgeois revisionist trash must be resolutely opposed.”
But the Cultural Revolution threatened to escape Mao’s control. Proletarian and peasant masses went out on unprecedented strikes and fought pitched battles against Red Guards. A notice in Fuzhou warned that: “A handful of freaks and monsters have cheated the misled members of the worker Red Guard units and some worker masses to put forward many wage, welfare and other economic demands to the leadership and administrative departments of the units.”
There was a significant rebellion in Wuhan, followed by bloody faction fighting. Mao solved the crisis by rusticating the youth and instituting state terror. He purged the top leadership of his regime — Liu Shao-chi and Deng Xiaoping were denounced as “capitalist roaders”, and the purged positions were replaced by appointees drawn from the army.
As Raya Dunayevskaya noted, Maoism was the application of the theory of “socialism in one country” to a technologically backward country in a world divided between two industrialised superpowers. Because of this situation, and because the regime had “no perspective of world revolution ‘in our time’, [it felt] compelled to drive the masses all the harder. Under private capitalism this was known as primitive accumulation; under state capitalism, calling itself Communism, it is called, internally, ‘fighting self-interest’, and, externally, ‘Mao Tse-tung’s Thought Lights Up the Whole World.’”
As such, Maoism belongs to humanity’s reactionary past, not its socialist future.
The fever-ridden young Red Guards were instructed to destroy the “Four Olds”: “Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Customs, Old Habits”.
The very cultural and historical fabric of Chinese society was devastated — museums, libraries, temples, street signs, and so on. By 1967 the Cultural Revolution descended into factional warfare, with a splinter from the Red Guards forming, known as the Rebels (supported by Mao). By the summer China was in civil war.
It is estimated that thirty six million people were harassed during the Cultural Revolution and up to one million killed (Branigan, 2013).
There is no doubt that the post-Mao Chinese government pursued a series of reforms. But today, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the economic forces that were really transforming the Chinese economy in the first decade of reform were private farming, township and village enterprises, private business in cities, and the Special Economic Zones. None of them was initiated from Beijing. They were marginal players operating outside the boundary of “socialism”. For these marginal forces, the Chinese government was happy to leave them alone as long as they did not threaten the state sector or challenge the Party’s political power. This created a room for what we called the “marginal revolutions” that brought entrepreneurship and market forces back to China during the first decade of reform. Today, China is a major capitalist power, likely to overhaul the US economy in the present century, but still lacking in bourgeoisie democratic rights and free trade unions.
• Branigan, T (2013) “China’s Cultural Revolution: son’s guilt over the mother he sent to her death”, The Guardian.
NB: this piece is based upon the work of various contributors to the AWL’s paper Solidarity, and in particular the late Mike Kriazopoulos.
The 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, which triggered a series of events leading to Ireland’s war of independence, is bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets of Dublin for a largely romantic and apolitical commemoration. But for many years the commemorations were low key, and the 26 County bourgeoisie was embarrassed to even acknowledge the insurrection that, indirectly, brought present day Ireland into existence.
Sean Matgamna commented in Socialist Organiser (a forerunner of Solidarity) in April 1991, on the 75th anniversary:
By their heroes shall ye know them
This year’s markedly muted celebrations in Dublin to mark the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and of the martyrdom before the British firing squads in Dublin and on the gallows in Pentonville Jail of the founders of the Catholic Irish state, reminded me how starkly people, classes and nations may change their heroes.
From Lenin to Yeltsin is a long way down. The descent from Wolfe Tone to Ian Paisley is even longer and steeper. In Britain it isn’t “mainstream” any more to think much of the World War Two heroes whose very stiff-upper-lip exploits held the attention of the generation after the war, filling the movie screens, books of memoirs, novels and boys’ comics. In part this change is the natural result of the distance that comes with the passing of time and of generations.
Of a different order is the changing public attitude in the Twenty Six Counties to “the names that stilled their childish play” — the heroes of Catholic Ireland’s struggles for independence in the first quarter of the 20th century. This is icon-smashing with a vengeance! The blind, panicky vengeance of Ireland’s huckster bourgeoisie, to be exact.
For many decades they endorsed and propagated a version of the story of Ireland’s unequal contest with England, burnished into a splendid epic legend. The long half-forgotten myths of ancient pre-Christian Ireland — such as the story of the young champion Cuchullainn — were rediscovered, refurbished, and woven into the fabric of living history by men like Padraig Pearse. They took heroes like Cuchulainn, the great warrior who died on his feet, having tied himself to a tree to face his foes, his wounds staunched with moss, and Jesus Christ in Gethsemane and on the cross, as their inspiration for the lives they expended in political action.
Pagan myth. and Christian myth were merged and fused with ancient and modem history — and with the history of Christianity, in which the Irish have played and play a big part — to create a powerful messianic Catholic Irish nationalism. And, naturally, Irish nationalism also drew into itself much from the currents of romantic nationalism with which Europe was saturated for the first half of this century.
And whose history was this? What had all this struggle led to? To the rule of the miserable Twenty Six Counties’ own pocket bourgeoisie — who lived on after their apotheosis as exporters of farm produce, and exporters, too, of generation after generation of Ireland’s young!
As we used to say, arguing for socialism, anything less than the Workers’ Republic was a grim mockery of the long struggle of the common people of Ireland embodied in our history, and represented even in the mythological version of it. The Ireland of the bourgeoisie was a grim mockery indeed.
In fact, it was never their history. All that should be said about the true worth of the bourgeoisie and of their ancestors in the struggle of the great mass of the disinherited Irish people was said by one of the Jacobin “United Irishmen” leaders, Henry Joy McCracken, 200 years ago: “The rich always betray the poor.”
So they did. So they do. Immediately after the 1916 Rising, which was to become the keystone of the Irish bourgeoisie’s myth of its own origin, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce passed a “loyal” resolution denouncing the Rising and branding it as a form of “Larkinism” (the name then of Irish working-class militancy, which had fought the bosses to a standstill in an eight month industrial conflict in 1913-14).
The Ennis Chamber of Commerce, on the other side the country, passed a similar resolution — and many other such bodies across Catholic nationalist Ireland will have responded in the same vein.
After most of the 1916 leaders had already been shot, the Irish Independent — today the organ of Fine Gael, one of two main parties, only encouraged the British military authorities to go ahead and shoot the badly wounded “Larkinite”, James Connolly (pictured above). They had scores to settle from the great Dublin Labour War of 1913-14.
It was never really their history: only the myths were theirs, and they gloried in them, preening themselves, dressing up like baboons who have broken into a theatrical prop room.
The disgusted pseudo-aristocrat Yeats, believing in noblesse oblige, had got their measure during the 1913 lock-out and strike, when they starved the workers and their children in an attempt to break their union.
In his youth he had spent three years in William Morris’s Hammersmith Socialist Society, and he had actively sided with the workers in 1913, writing in the Irish Worker and speaking at at least one public meeting in support of the workers.
What need you, being come to sense
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer until
You have dried the marrow from the bone?
For man was born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave
It was a sort of warning to them. And then, when the war of independence was over, and the bourgeoisie had seized control over the popular mass movement, divided and suppressed it, and assured their own rule behind the legal and ethical walls of the Catholic state they built — then, in safety, they could indulge themselves, not noticing the incongruities Yeats pointed to so bitterly.
Fifty years or so it lasted. And then the North blew up. The official Catholic-Irish myth had it that “the North” was just a matter of British imperialism and “British-occupied” Ireland, nothing to do with the other Irish bourgeoisie, the one enmeshed in the collapsing myths of the British Empire, and the Northern farmers and workers who followed them.
It had no grip on reality. Neither had the Irish bourgeoisie. Their interest in Northern Ireland collapsed, and so did their myths.
Perhaps the moment of sobering up came in 1970 when Prime Minister Jack Lynch put two of his Cabinet ministers (one of them the present Prime Minister, Charles J Haughey) and an Army officer, Captain Kelly, on trial for “gun-running” to the beleaguered Northern Catholics! (They were acquitted).
According to the Constitution Lynch was pledged to defend, the Six Counties was part of his government’s “national territory”
But Lynch didn’t believe it. They bourgeoisie didn’t either. Like the sobered adolescent whose day-dreaming has brought him close to disaster, they turned tail and extravagantly repudiated their former view of themselves. Now Romantic Ireland really was dead and gone. It has been succeeded by an age of the cold revision of history. Like pikes and guns, in the old song mocking British pretensions in Ireland, heroes such as Pearse and Connolly had been found to be dangerous things. They were cut down to size.
The Irish bourgeoisie has finally adapted to reality!
From Pearse and Connolly to the grasping millionaire C Haughey — a son of Catholic refugees driven south by pogromists in the early 20s — and his rival, Fine Gael understudy blue-shirt John Bruton, that is the history of the modern Irish bourgeoisie in the nutshell! It is a long, long way down. This Easter’s commemoration service sums it up nicely.
Like the Irish bourgeoisie for so long, many socialists have lived for decades in a world of inappropriate myth and misunderstood reality. That too has collapsed.
In Ireland, those who know what Pearse and Connolly and the Fenians and their predecessors really stood for will disentangle it from the bourgeois collapse, as they disentangled it from the grotesque parodies of it the bourgeoisie used to brandish.
And in the world of international socialism, the serious revolutionaries will disentangle the true socialism — working class liberation — from the Stalinist and other myths, fantasies and alien ideological encrustations. We will continue to do now, when so much has collapsed, what we did in the days when all sorts of freaks and horrors paraded around the world eagerly proclaiming their own horrible deeds to be the essence of socialism.
In both cases the collapse of the debilitating and imprisoning myths and fantasies is good because the way is thereby cleared for the truth.
By Paul Canning (cross-posted from his blog):
Last winter there were some reports that people had starved to death in Eastern Ukraine. The reason was that humanitarian aid was being stolen by the criminals who run the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR).The insidiousness of Russian propaganda is shown by what you’ll find if you look for that information, which is widespread Western media reports of deaths being blamed on Ukraine and not the ‘rebels’. This is because Ukraine stopped social payments and because some truck convoys were blocked.
That humanitarian aid to the Donbas was being stolen was the claim of former rebel leader Igor Girkin on Russian TV. Another rebel commander, Pavel Dremov, said that only one in ten of Russian aid convoys actually reached the people. Trucks supposedly delivering aid through Ukrainian checkpoints have been found to be carrying alcohol instead.
International agencies operating in the Donbas have come under increasing pressure. Monitors from the OSCE, there because of agreements signed by the ‘rebels’ and by Russia, have been harassed and had their vehicles destroyed. In April the International Rescue Committee, which looks after refugees, was expelled after being kidnapped and accused of ‘spying’. Aid from the European Union that does get through has been repackaged to appear to come from the ‘republics’.
Now, just weeks before temperatures plunge, the rebels have expelled every single international aid body bar the Red Cross – and Russian groups. This includes the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières. The Red Cross may be next given that they have been harassed in the past.
According to the UN, this is the situation in Luhansk:
Sick children deprived of essential medications, patients forced to undergo surgery without anesthesia, and food prices so high that many residents can’t afford to eat properly.
The UN also said that when the ‘rebels’ switched pension payments to rubles they “duped” pensioners by rigging the exchange rate.
Said the UN’s Stephen O’Brien:
Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.
Those most at risk are in the villages and small towns, especially in the east. Well away from Donetsk itself, so unlikely to be seen by Western journalists. Much trumpeted Russian humanitarian aid convoys have time and again been found instead to contain weapons.
So why are the ‘rebels doing this? According to the newspaper News of Donbass it is because of “a new strategy for the external security and counter external and internal threats.” Specifically a “threat posed by these counter-revolution within the republic.”
Just let that sink in. So because of politics, because of ideology, because of paranoia their ‘people’ can be sacrificed?
The mentality that ‘foreign’ organisations must be a threat of course comes from Russia, where numerous human rights and even scientific groups have been effectively closed down after being labeled as ‘foreign agents’. It is also indulged by many in the West who think that Russia is ‘surrounded’ and at risk of a Western supported ‘colour revolution’. Russian TV (all the people in the Donbas are allowed) is devoted to feeding this paranoia so of course a benign humanitarian group like Doctors Without Borders cannot be what the sane people reading this blog post see it as. No, it must be peddling ‘illegal psychotropic drugs’!
But these are the lunatics that the likes of Unite’s Andrew Murray, the RMT union and Stop The War Coalition’s Lindsey German (and many, many others) are supporting. So called ‘anti fascists’ who think the UN will foment counter revolution and who are prepared to see their ‘citizens’ starve or die in agony, the weakest among them first. Thousands will die because of this decision.
It is not like there has not been fair warning aplenty before but this should be the final straw. ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ should shut up shop and anyone on the left who continues to back these people deserves to be shunned.
Edited to add: KHRPG reports that:
Ukrainian billionnaire Renat Akhmetov’s humanitarian aid is also not affected by the ban. Jock Mendoza-Wilson from Akhmetov’s Foundation is reported to have suggested that the militants are hoping to receive humanitarian aid from Western countries via Russia. His idea is that the aid would be presented as though from Russia. It seems difficult to believe that western agencies would agree to this, especially given that they would be in breach of Ukraine’s law on temporarily occupied territory if they entered such territory from Russia, without Ukraine’s permission.
By Dmitri MacMillen
I have made little secret of my disappointment with much coverage and discussion of the ongoing developments in Ukraine this past year, but rarely more often so than when it is stirred by certain elements of the British left. Earlier this week I happened to see Seumas Milne, a Guardian editor and columnist, as well as a leading voice on the British left regarding capitalism and imperialism, at an event and thought it appropriate to approach him and confront him over his poor reporting on Ukraine; unfortunately, the opportunity did not arise. As an individual who sympathises with many of Milne’s and the left’s arguments, I find it disheartening when they fail to apply standards of moral consistency and objectivity for the likes of Ukraine and not only.
So I wrote him two emails of varying lengths, openly expressing my frustrations with his coverage of Ukraine, and also his chairing, days earlier, of a discussion featuring Putin at the Valdai conference. To a large degree, I can say that the impressions penned in these emails are an accurate summary of not only my dissatisfaction with Milne’s politics, but also that of swathes of the left (John Pilger comes to mind) in this country and others, who refuse to contemplate embracing anything other than a ‘tunnel vision’ disproportionately suspicious of the West and its allies, consequently producing material which regrettably falls short of balanced and well-researched journalism. The correspondence is as follows:
Dear Seumas Milne,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dmitri and I am a student at a London university. I was also present at the event last night at the Argentine embassy, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to you as I would have hoped to.
There is much that I admire about your work and writings, in particular that what you have written regarding the War on Terror, Palestine and the effects of capitalism in this country. However, and to be frank, I have begun to despair of your writing of late.
As a matter of disclosure, I am a Russian citizen, and one appalled by the events for over the past half year in Ukraine, to a very large extent instigated by my own government. Your writing on Ukraine has been unimpressive to put it mildly, almost entirely pinning the blame for the conflict on the West (funnily enough, not a word from you about Russia’s own devastating intentions and actions – just mere apologism) as well as propagating the notion of swathes of fascists and neo-Nazis roaming in the Ukrainian establishment and society; the absurdity of your latter thesis was effectively laid to rest by the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the nature of their conduct.
As someone whose reputation as a campaigner and journalist is to a large extent seen as having been consistently grounded on anti-imperialism, to see you sharing a stage with Vladimir Putin just days ago was bewildering, if not exactly surprising by now. If you are serious on seeking out the dangerous forces of fascism, I politely advise you to reread a transcript of Putin’s Q and A session at the session you moderated and look at his comments regarding ethnic Russians in Crimea, just for a start. If this does not incite concern in you, then that is unfortunate and equally inconsistent.
You are a powerful voice on the left and one which many read and look up to. You are a writer of considerable talents and one whose campaigning I have often admired. However, if moral consistency across the board is not something you wish to strive for, and your politics are really defined by an innate suspicion of the West, but not the rest, then so be it. If you want to exclusively judge the likes of Ukraine on the basis of a pre-conceived world view, rather than carefully examining the country’s own circumstances, then so be it. But that is a tunnel vision, and it is rarely worthy of wider respect. And I, alongside many other erstwhile enthusiastic readers of yours, deeply regret that.
A courteous reply promptly ensued, the exact contents of which I shall not publish here but instead paraphrase. In brief, Milne said he disagreed with my interpretation regarding responsibility for the events in Ukraine over the past year as well as my criticism of his portrayal of the far right’s significance. He added that moderating Putin’s speech in no way constituted endorsement of him, given that journalists are often asked to fulfil such a role. He did not accept that his politics are innately anti-Western, but underlined the imbalance in power between the West and its allies and that of powers such Russia and others in world affairs. I followed up with a reply.
Dear Seumas Milne,
Thank you for courteous reply, for which I am grateful considering how harsh some of what I may have said did sound. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few points regarding the aforementioned.
Regarding the far right in Ukraine, I in no way dismiss it. I am of direct Ukrainian Jewish descent and my family have had their own experiences with Ukrainian nationalism, so I am more than aware and also wary of its potential dangers.
But the role of the far right in Ukraine, as you and others have put it, as it now stands, is too often exaggerated and overblown. You may insist otherwise, but the impression that many gathered from your readings was that Maidan was effectively a fascist coup (and no, I do not subscribe to the comfortable and simple narrative of a pro-Western, pro-democratic revolt against Russia). Maidan was complex, as were its origins – there is no straightforward interpretation. The nature of Ukrainian nationalism and the far right is also fairly complex and deserves scrutiny. But to describe it all with broad brushstrokes, often entirely ignoring the real significance to modern-day Ukrainian nationalism of basic figures such as Stepan Bandera, no matter how unpalatable to some like myself, is intellectually dishonest. Accusations of an astronomical surge in xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine, as a result of the protests, have time and again been disproved by public figures and protestors, many of them of the very ethnic backgrounds that you would believe are most at risk from marauding fascists. In fact, many of these communities have stated time and again that those most responsible for fascism in Ukraine are not the far-right, but Putin and his very actions in Ukraine.
At the beginning of the Maidan, the fascists were almost invisible. After the New Year, as the protests radicalised in the face of government intransigence and the subsequent crackdowns on the square, their presence grew (although they were still a minority). You suggest Yanukoyvch was overthrown in a coup. A figure as repulsive as Yanukoyvych, who in the face of popular pressure was prepared to resort to armed force on his own people, plundered the national budget in the billions and ran away to Russia of his own volition (a coup?) at a time when statesmanship was most needed (with the assistance of the Russian state, as you would have heard at Valdai), surely also merits some condemnation from you too.
To say the government that came after Maidan had many fascists is dishonest; there were at best a few. To see how badly the far-right did in this Sunday’s elections (and this at a time when Ukraine is fighting a war with an external aggressor, that has historically been a catalyst for Ukrainian nationalism, struggling to retain its eastern provinces and fighting on so many other domestic fronts) is by and large a testament to the maturity of a great deal of the Ukrainian electorate and also the relative irrelevance of fascists in Ukrainian politics, at least on a substantive level.
Yes, the West no doubt bears some responsibility for what has taken place; but why cannot you bring yourself to recognise Russia’s more than considerable role? If fascism is what you feel strongly about, why don’t you also condemn Russia for fuelling some of its worst effects, especially in Ukraine? Why cannot you condemn the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea (especially when it is grounded on such spurious and equally disconcerting arguments such as a supposed threat to Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians – why is it neither imperialism)? Is it not fascism when Russian rule has led to thousands of Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and others having to leave Crimea, or the abductions and murders of local pro-Ukrainian activists and Tatars (none of which have been investigated), coupled with attacks on local religious minorities or communities, all with Russian acquiescence? Or is the installation of puppet states in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, professing totalitarian and rabidly pro-Russian nationalistic narratives, ostracising and oppressing, with often murderous and gruesome consequences, locals supportive of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, not fascism? That is fascism and its real life consequences; overtly totalitarian and militaristic tendencies, insisting on dividing people on ethnic markers which until recently were of very little relevance on a daily basis, and now bearing devastating repercussions.
I am not advocating whataboutism; I am in no way blind to abuses committed by the Ukrainian establishment. But I ask for consistency – something which I have not felt apparent in your writings.
Regarding moderating the Putin event; I understand journalists might need to moderate these events, but where does the buck stop? You have accepted that he is authoritarian (although to leave it at there would be simplistic); but is it still acceptable? If you were invited, in the unlikely event, to moderate an event featuring Barack Obama, would you go? Would you reject an invitation by a certain government? Is there not a moral compromise in any case by involving oneself in these events in such a capacity?
I am happy to discuss this further.
I rest my case.
Many people were surprised to note that amongst those MPs who didn’t support the motion to recognise Palestine, was George Galloway. I have not been able to ascertain whether Galloway turned up to abstain, or whether (much more likely for such a poltroon) he simply didn’t turn up at all.
Here, Galloway explains his position, which boils down to the fact that his hatred of Israel takes precedence over his (supposed) support for Palestinian national rights. All this filthy charlatan’s past claims to support two states and a democratic solution is now exposed as so much bluster:
I have been urged by a number of my constituents to support a motion being debated and voted on in parliament on Monday “that this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel”.
As many probably know the Palestinian cause has been central to my political activity for the last 40 years. I appreciate the good intentions many have in urging me to support this motion.
However, unfortunately I cannot support this motion as it accepts recognition of the state of Israel, does not define borders of either state or address the central question of the right of return of the millions of Palestinians who have been forced to live outside Palestine.
Israel was a state born in 1948 out of the blood of the Palestinians who were hounded from their land. Since then it has grabbed ever more land from the Palestinian people. In the last five years it has twice launched murderous assaults on the Palestinian people of Gaza, some 1.8 million people crammed into what is in effect a prison camp. In the wake of the most recent war on Gaza, Israel has announced its biggest land grab in the Occupied West Bank so far. Israel has defied UN resolution after UN resolution with impunity because of the continued backing of Western countries and, above all, the US.
I continue to support the only realistic solution, one democratic and secular state, called Israel-Palestine or Palestine-Israel. The proposed two-state solution is to all intents and purposes dead and is only used in order to provide Israel further breathing space to consolidate the illegal settlements and expand its land grab further.
For these reasons, I am afraid I cannot support this motion and will abstain on Monday.
By Barry Finger in New Politics , July 29, 2014
[NB: Shiraz doesn’t necessarily agree with all of this: but we think it’s important and should be widely read]
Supporting the Struggle Against Apartheid Then and Now
The discussion of a socialist strategy towards Palestine never recedes from global pertinence and urgency. The basic terms of the Palestinian tragedy established in 1948 remain a festering wound—unaddressed, malignant and oozing in blood and rot. With it the Israeli garrison state continues to descend, and rightfully so, into isolation and disrepute in the court of civilized opinion. But under the protective and ever indulgent umbrella of American imperialism, Israel nevertheless continues to defy international outrage without consequence in its relentless march to impose a grotesque and monstrous caricature of a one-state solution on the whole of Palestine.
The Palestinian plight has its origins in the 1948 partition and ensuing war, although this was a direct continuation of the Zionist-Arab conflict that had been brewing for decades. In that conflict, both sides practiced ethnic cleansing, with no Jews remaining in areas conquered by the Arabs and few Palestinian remaining in areas conquered by Israelis. But the UN partition plan called for the Israeli state to constitute 55 percent of Palestine, in which the Arab population would represent almost half of the population. In the run up to and during the war, the victorious Israeli state expanded its territories to 78 percent, and mostly emptied those regions of their Arab inhabitants. Three quarters of a million Palestinians, some from the original 55 percent allotted to the Jewish state, were driven out; over 450 Arab villages were uprooted and their dwellings leveled. New Jewish villages, kibbutzim or immigration camps were built on or near the former sites of these Arab villages. Urban dwellings were reoccupied by Jews, often holocaust survivors. Jewish refugees from Arab nations, subsequently cleansed in retaliation for the Palestinian catastrophe (Nakhba), were sent to jerry-rigged development towns.
Gaza and the West Bank, the sites of huge concentrations of Palestinian refugees, fell—with Israel’s approval—into the hands of Egypt and Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) respectively; the possibility of a Palestinian state all but extinguished. This all changed when, after the Six Day war in 1967, these territories were brought under the control of the Israelis, uniting all of historic Palestine and reviving the Palestinian national movement. The colonial project at the heart of Zionism, of settlement and expulsion, was also reignited and several hundred thousand additional Palestinians were again expelled to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remnants were left to the mercy of an ever more brutalizing occupation. The armistice boundaries of the 1948 war (the green line) were effectively effaced and Israel emerged as a nation unique in its refusal to define its borders—symptomatic of an Israel further seeking to consolidate its character as an ethnic Jewish state, but on a vastly broader canvas.
Today the struggle for justice for Palestinians continues. Where are Palestine’s allies? What power can it leverage? International solidarity has yet to save lives, to redeem territories, to compensate and repatriate refugees, or to establish the right of Palestinians to national self-determination in defiance of Israeli intransigence. An internationalist Israeli left, never more than a tiny minority and unable to implant itself in the Hebrew working class, is besieged not only by state repression, but also by a now burgeoning fascist street presence. The protracted Arab Spring, momentarily checked by United States and Iranian intervention, has yet to mature as an agency that can brake and reverse the momentum of Israeli settlement and dispossession. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never seen or heard it expressed better, or more succinctly, than this from my comrade Patrick Murphy:
Something I will never understand is left wing support for Scottish independence.
This is not a matter of championing the RIGHT to self-determination against national oppression, rather it consists of socialists running around trying to persuade an electorate which has been consistently opposed to independence and prefers unity that they are wrong and should separate from their fellow-workers across national borders
The default position of the entire socialist tradition is for internationalism and no borders. The right to self-determination is an important exception to address particular conditions (colonies, Ireland, Palestine etc). It’s not the norm and we certainly shouldn’t be agitating for it where those conditions don’t exist in any meaningful sense.
Yet another bizarre reflection of a loss of political bearings.
Many responses from the left to the Ukraine crisis have ignored, sidestepped, or downplayed the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people.
Yet Ukraine is one of the longest-oppressed large nations in the world. In an article of 1939 where he raised Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an urgent question, Leon Trotsky wrote: “The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many ‘socialists’ and even ‘communists’ have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force”.
The same is true today. If the right of nations to self-determination is important anywhere, it is important in Ukraine. If the axiom that peace and harmony between nations is possible only through mutual recognition of rights to self-determination is valid anywhere, it is valid in Ukraine.
Only a few currents on the left side with Putin, and even those a bit shamefacedly: Counterfire and Stop The War, No2EU, the Morning Star.
Others propose a “plague on all houses” response. The US Socialist Worker (which used to be linked with the British SWP, but has been estranged from it, for unclear reasons, since 2001) puts it most crisply: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism”.
For sure socialists side with Ukrainian leftists in their fight against the right-wing government in Kiev. But as between Ukraine being dominated by Moscow, and Ukraine being ruled by a government based in Kiev and among the people of Ukraine, our response should not be “neither… nor”. We support Ukraine’s national rights.
Nations’ right to self-determination does not depend on them having a congenial governments. The governments under which most of Britain’s colonies won independence were authoritarian and corrupt. The socialist who responded with the slogan “Neither London nor New Delhi”, or “Neither London nor Cairo”, or “Neither London nor Dublin”, would be a traitor.
The even-handed “plague on all houses” response also leads to a skewed picture of reality. Thus, the official statement from the SWP’s international network includes no call for Ukrainian self-determination, for Russian troops out, or for cancellation of Ukraine’s debt; but it declares:
“The anti-Russian nationalism that is strongest in western Ukraine has deep roots. Russia has dominated Ukraine since independence in 1991…” And for centuries before that!
“The memory of Russian oppression within the USSR is still vivid and reaches even earlier to the independence struggles of the first half of the 20th [century]”. Stalin’s deliberately-sustained mass famine in eastern Ukraine killed millions in 1932-3. There is a deep historical basis to Ukrainian nationalism in eastern Ukraine, and among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as in the West.
“On the other side, many of the millions of Russian speakers identify with Russia”. And many don’t. On the evidence of the referendum in 1991, where 92% of the people, and at least 84% even in the most easterly regions, voted to separate from Russia, most do not.
“One of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government after the fall of Yanukovych was to strip Russian of its status as an official language. This encouraged mass protests in the east of the country”. The parliament voted to reverse the 2012 law making Russian an official language. That was undemocratic — and stupid. The new president vetoed the measure, and it was dropped. Even if passed, it would not have applied in Crimea. Russian had not been an official language in Ukraine (outside Crimea) between 1991 and 2012. The protests in the east (often violent, but not, by most reports, “mass”) were generated by Russian interference, not by the language question.
The “plague on all houses” response is an addled version of the “Third Camp” attitude which AWL has advocated on many issues; but a very addled version.
Usually the SWP argues for “two camps”. Really to oppose US imperialism and its allies, they say, you must to some degree support the US’s adversaries, whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Israel-Palestine, Saddam Hussein and then the sectarian Islamist “resistance” in Iraq, or Milosevic in Kosova. To do otherwise is to be “pro-imperialist”. Support for an independent working-class “third force”, against both the US and allies, and their reactionary opponents, is ruled out.
On Ukraine (as also on Syria) they break from that “two camps” approach, but to an approach which is more “no camp” than “third camp”. (The “no camp” stance has precedents in SWP history, in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia, for example).
Our slogans of Russian troops out and cancelling Ukraine’s debt to the West seek to support the Ukrainian people as a “third camp”. We solidarise with the East European leftists who, on the LeftEast website, call for “the third position [opposed to both Yanukovych and the new Kiev regime]… namely a class perspective”, and appeals to Ukraine’s left “to form a third pole, distinct from today’s Tweedledums and Tweedledees… You are the only ones who can give meaning to the deaths and wounds of the [occupied square in Kiev]”.
Our position is defined primarily by its positive support for those “third poles” — the people of Ukraine, as against Putin’s troops or the IMF and Western government imposing neo-liberal measures; the working-class left in Ukraine, as against the oligarchs and the chauvinists. When we use negative “neither, nor” slogans, we use them as consequences, expressions, or summaries of that positive alignment; and they do not stop us assessing the other “poles” in the political situation in their varied realities.
The “no camp” stance, instead, offers only abstract ultimate aims (international socialism) as an evasion.