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Fully Automated Luxury Communism: Confusionism for Happy Bunnies.

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Oddly Absent from Aaron Bastani’s pick of five books to understand Marxism (Guardian. May 2018)

I had hoped that by ignoring Bastani he would go away.

Apparently not.

Respected commentators, or sages as we call them, such as Hegemony describe him in terms of a “huckster and half baked ideas” and the below as “essentially what you get if you filter the Utopianism of the hard left through Iain M Banks’ Culture science fiction novels, and then have the result narrated to you by a gym-bunny.”

Then,

Very redolent of the late 60s and early 70s, an era of hucksters and grifters pushing half-baked ideas on the populace, mystics and futurologists competing in the marketplace of ideas and actually being taken seriously.

So here is some background.

Located on the futurist left end of the political spectrum, fully automated luxury communism (FALC) aims to embrace automation to its fullest extent. The term may seem oxymoronic, but that’s part of the point: anything labeled luxury communism is going to be hard to ignore.

“There is a tendency in capitalism to automate labour, to turn things previously done by humans into automated functions,” says Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media. “In recognition of that, then the only utopian demand can be for the full automation of everything and common ownership of that which is automated.”

Bastani and fellow luxury communists believe that this era of rapid change is an opportunity to realise a post-work society, where machines do the heavy lifting not for profit but for the people.

“The demand would be a 10- or 12-hour working week, a guaranteed social wage, universally guaranteed housing, education, healthcare and so on,” he says. “There may be some work that will still need to be done by humans, like quality control, but it would be minimal.” Humanity would get its cybernetic meadow, tended to by machines of loving grace.

Guardian.

Many people will have thought he was a bleeding idiot on this basis alone.

And,

In the run-up to the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016, Bastani initially campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Bastani went on to change his position on pragmatic grounds two weeks before the referendum.

 

But Bastani keeps popping up , including on the paradigm of luxury communism, the Venezuelan media TeleSUR,

 

 

Bastrani has his eye on the future,

Interplanetary Gold Rush  

As outlandish as it sounds, space exploration, like AI and renewables, is an important terrain on which a rising left must fight. The technology is changing, as are the legal frameworks; we need a politics which understands the possibilities of the future and puts them at the service of social justice and abundance – the province of us all – rather than private profit and scarcity.

Not everybody likes the idea,

Fully automated luxury communism: a utopian critique  mcm_cmc

Fully automated luxury communism thus rests on a highly optimistic vision of the potential of technology to meet our desires with a minimum of human labour. But is this a practical vision? One point that challenges the luxury communist notion is the way in which conceptions of goods as luxurious are often tied up with exclusivity. For example, a Cartier watch isn’t valued for its superior timekeeping abilities as compared to other watches or for its staggering beauty (they are often quite ugly) so much as that they are known for being expensive and thus owning one confers the status of being able to buy something other people cannot afford. ‘Cartier for everyone’ would thus make it meaningless as a status symbol and destroy the very reason it was viewed as a luxury in the first place.

Beyond this, the well established problems of limited natural resources and the damage done to the environment by production raises questions about the possibilities for the growth in production that luxury communism must be predicated upon. Our reliance on maintaining the earth’s environment for our very survival means that sustainability is a key concern to any future vision whilst the new technologies of late capitalism, including technologies such as the internet that rely on vast banks of mainframes consuming large quantities of electricity, have a major impact on the environment, the effects of which we are already seeing. There may well be technological developments that can attenuate or even go some way to reversing these effects, however it would be foolhardy to assume that technology will pull through and avert disaster in the end.

In addition, the limited quantities of materials available for production must inevitably act as a limitation on productive expansion. Thus environmental concerns must limit this promise of ‘luxury for all.’ Older limitations of scarcity may have been overcome, but the problem of environmental scarcity is more pressing than ever before.

Finally, by focusing on work as the production of goods, fully automated luxury communism risks overlooking other forms of labour such as those involved in social reproduction and care. Care work, such as the raising of children, looking after the sick, disabled and the elderly and the everyday tasks required for staying alive remains a large (and proportionately growing) burden of labour time, one for there seems no easy technological fix. Sure, care robots and other forms of automation have been suggested and implemented in part, but these are ill suited to accommodate the complex needs, requirement for human interaction and demands for dignity and agency which must surely be a key part of the provision of care in any future communist society.

As Sylvia Federici argues ‘while production has been restructured through a technological leap in key areas of the world economy, no technological leap has occurred in the sphere of domestic work significantly reducing the labour socially necessary for the reproduction of the workforce.’5

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If production isn’t infinitely expandable and the scope for the technological replacement of labour power is limited then we will need to rethink what we mean by ‘luxury’, and indeed what we mean by ‘communism’. Here it is necessary to think more generally of a transformation of social relations and relations between humanity and nature, looking towards the creation of a ‘public affluence’ rather than the ‘private luxury’ of capitalist desires.

Luxury communism focuses on the fulfilment of privatised, materialistic desires as they exist now through technologically created plenty. This approach has the benefit of clearly resonating with popular demands without telling people what they ‘should’ want, however if this plenty is limited then we need to look more carefully at the transformation of social relations and how desires are constructed.

For example, the promise of a work free society resonates with people’s unhappiness in work; work is something we do to survive and given the choice we would prefer to not do it. However, if it isn’t possible to replace all these tasks with machines what should the alternative be? Aaron Bastani touches on this with the promise of a 10 hour week, and certainly this would be preferable to working 40+ hours. However, this would still mean 10 hours a week in the same miserable, unsatisfying labour.

Readers of this Blog will hardly need reminding of James Bloodworth’s book Hired which describes the use of new technology to make people’s lives a misery of surveillance and hard labour. Not to mention the fate of those ‘freed’ from work relying on benefits. Or the fact that the Italian Movimento 5 Stelle , now in power, has, faced with the obvious difficulties of implementing the idea in a large country, quietly shelved the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

We can “demand” full automation and full common ownership as much as we like, but without agencies organising people with an interest in socialisation, and without real plans to divest the present owners of their power, this has much likelihood of any effect as Richard Neville’s Oz era advocacy of the ‘alternative society’ replacing the old world with playful “heads”.

For a more in-depth analysis of some these ideas on the end of work in the form advocated by André Gorz, see, André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gianinazzi. Review.

 

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Not Forgetting Stalin. Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler. Margarete Buber-Neumann.

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Not Forgetting Stalin.

“There were twenty-eight men and Betty and I in our group. Betty and I, an old professor and a prisoner with a wounded leg, were taken on in a lorry. The men had to walk. We got out on the Russian side of the Brest Litovsk bridge and waited for them to come up, looking across the bridge into occupied Poland. The men and arrived and then a group of GPU men crossed the bridge. We saw them retiring after a while, and the group was larger. There were SS officers with them. The SS commandant and the GP chief saluted each other. The Russian was a good head taller than the German.

The GPU officials still stood there in a group watching us go. Behind them was Soviet Russia. Bitterly I recalled the Communist litany: Fatherland of the Toilers, Bulwark of Socialism, Haven of the Persecuted.”

Margarete Buber-Neumann. 1949

Buber-Neumann was one of around 350 Soviet prisoners handed over to the German authorities between November 1939 and May 1941. This, on Russian initiative, selected, often arbitrarily, Germans held in Gulag and sent them over to the Nazis. Some, on arrival, were interrogated and, if cooperative, were set free. She was not. From time in the Soviet Karaganda forced labour complex, Buber-Neumann was put in

Translated into English in 1949 Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler remains a unique account of Stalinism from a victim of the Gulag, and of Ravensbrück.

The wife of a former leading figure in the German Communist Party, the KPD, Heinz Neumann, the author had sought refuge in Moscow from Hitler’s rule. This was never a safe haven. The focus of internal party attacks, as a “troublemaker” and target for their failure to resist the Nazi advance, he was marked. The Great Terror began. In 1937 the NKVD murdered Heinz for “fractional activity”, after a ritual confession. His death came amongst hundreds of other German, and other exiled, Communists.  The spouse’s arrest came in 1937. She was found guilty of “counter-revolutionary agitation and organisation against the Soviet State.”

In Karaganda they “slept on the bare ground with our head top the walls all in a line, and about five or is yards in front of us a soldier sat on a stool with his rifle over his knees to see that no one made an attempt to escape” (Page 91) In the Gulag she came across the orphans “produced by the forced collectivisation and the famine.” (Page 116). There was back-breaking work, in freezing conditions during the winter, for a daily pound and a half of bread.

Initially the transferred prisoner found the German camp, though grim, was run “with typical Prussian thoroughness” and a higher level of provisions. Nevertheless conditions were harsh. She became a “slave of the Assembly line” in the Industrial Complex, beset with suspicion by Communist prisoners who considered her a ‘Trotskyite’ and “more or less the scum of the earth”. Buber-Neumann was deeply affected when the health of her friend, Jesenka Milena (the recipient of Kafka’s Briefe an Milena) and she  died of kidney failure.

As the war reached its end Buber-Neumann met Auschwitz prisoners who told her of the mass exterminations. It was not long before the Ravensbrück authorities began to murder the old and unfit in two crematoria. She survived and wandered a devastated Germany. Her memoir ends in a moment of joy as the prisoner of two dictators was reunited with her mother and sister in Thierstein.

Kravchenko Trial.

Buber-Neumann was a key defence witness in the 1949 Victor Andreevich Kravchenk  libel case. The author of I Chose Freedom had described the Soviet Union in these terms, “The magnitude of the horror has never been grasped by the outside world. Perhaps it is too vast ever to be grasped. Russia was a battlefield strewn with corpses, blotched with gigantic enclosures where millions of wretched ‘war prisoners’ toiled, suffered and died.”  (2) This, and his other works, were attacked by the French Communist Lettres françaises. They criticised it as “fake news”. of”being a traitor, a draft dodger and an mebezzler. His ex-wife appeared as well, accusing him of being physically abusive and sexually impotent.  They described Kravchenko as vain, a drunkard, and a “traitor” to the USSR. “He had fabricated the book’s material with the help of US disinformation services, and was himself a creation of the American secret services.

Whatever Kravehenco’s promotion by the US and right-wing long-standing anti-Communists  his key facts, Buber-Neumann’s evidence underlined, were correct. A recent history of the period notes that her testimony played a significant role in establishing Kravcehneko’s credibility. Les Temps Modernes registered that after her book “one cannot dispute the existence of concentration camps in Russia.” (3)

The independent minded left-winger David Rousset began a parallel prosecution for libel. The same Lettres françaises had claimed that in his writings had “invented” the Russian Gulag, “forging the texts of the Soviet laws, and spreading misinformation.”

The growing evidence – Rousset was able to cite the Russian penal codes own punishments – told. The Communist journal lost both the cases and was condemned for defamation. The result was a public controversy that swept the left. It undermined the influence of the Parti Communiste français (PCF), above all amongst the reading public.

The Gulag and the Left.

The debate about the existence of Soviet camps was far reaching. Were these just crimes of Stalin? It raised again the Soviet-German Pact, the backdrop of the decision to send Margerte Buber-Neumann from one universe of camps to another. What means could be justified (as already discussed and decided largely in Communism’s favour by Merleau-Ponty in Humanisme et Terreur. 1947) in terms of the eventual “goal” of equality and freedom? Was the Gulag, far from disappearing with victory in the Second World War, an essential pillar of a system?

The French left – in common with other lefts – has since that time been shaped by the fall-out from different stands on these issues.

After an initial discussion about whether the Soviet system, which left at least some people alive, was better than the Shoah, a debate, which has yet to conclude, on the nature of the USSR began. The place of forced labour and mass murder at the heart of Stalin’s USSR – was perhaps the most decisive. Claude Lefort, who considered that Moscow’s ‘totalitarian” regime rested on forced labour and repression of dissidence, fell out with others in the leading intellectual left journal of the time, Les Temps Modernes. He, and Cornelius Castoriadis, in Socialisme ou Barbarie, argued that the French Communists, did not just defend the Soviet Union against all comers, but would try to inflict these practices at home. They were a junior part of the same bureaucratic exploiting class.

Other did not and do not consider tyranny and murder to have been the motor of the USSR, but as part of a historically contingent wrong course. Some, even Sartre for a time, thought that the world Communist movement was the only hope for the future whatever regimes and parties may have been at the present. Many of the independent French left while wary of the Communists, pointed to their strength amongst organised labour. They refused to reject their policies en bloc. Orthodox Trotskyists continued to consider that the fundamentals of the USSR, state ownership, were, for all the bureaucratic pile up, privileges and repression, sound.  One can find the same positions across the world’s left.

Coming to terms with the Fall of Official Communism remains a central difficulty for the left. Today, in Britain, all that remains of an already small Communist Party of Great Britain (with some influence in the trade unions and intellectual life) is a minuscule Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and ultra-Stalinist fragments. But there is a more diffuse legacy from those who supported Soviet Union, that continues within the labour movement. Some on the left have not come to terms with the basic facts about Stalinist crimes. Key figures around the Labour leader promote a Boy’s Own view of Stalin, as, if nothing else, a dashing and successful War Leader. Margarete Buber-Neumann reminds us that Stalin’s darkest side was there at that very moment.

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(1) Page 143. Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler. Margerte Buber-Neumann.1949 Pimlico. 2008.

(2) Page  303. I Chose Freedom. Victor A. Kravchenko. The Personal and Political Life of a Soviet Official. Transaction Publications. 2002.

(3) Pages 351 – 360. La Révolution rêvée. Michel Surya. 2004.

Red Famine, Anne Applebaum. Stalin’s War on Ukraine. A Review.

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Red Famine, Anne Applebaum. Stalin’s War on Ukraine. Allen Lane 2017.

“I saw one cart, it was stacked with the bodies of children. They looked thin and long – faces like dead birdies, sharp little beaks. Some were still making cheeping noises: their little heads were like ripe ears of grain, bending the thin stalks of their necks…”

Everything Flows. Vasily Grossman. (1)

The catastrophes of the 20th century leave deep traces. The famine in Ukraine, portrayed in Grossman’s uncompleted novel ((begun in 1955, and worked on until his death in 1964), rendered his witness to one of the greatest tragedies of history immortal. In the middle of the 1930s the anti-Stalinist leftist Boris Souvarine estimated that more than 5 million died across the USSR in the mass hunger that followed the collectivisation of agriculture of 1932 –3. (2)

Anne Applebaum totals 5 million who perished in the Holodomor (Hunger-extermination in Ukrainian) alone. This mass starvation was a “famine within the famine, a disaster specifically targeted at Ukraine and Ukrainians.”(Page 193) In this the author of Red Famine follows Robert Conquest who considered that the deaths were deliberately inflicted for ethnic reasons and constituted genocide (The Harvest of Sorrow. 1986). More recently Timothy Snyder has called it “premeditated mass murder” (Bloodlands. 2010).

In Iron Curtain (2012) Applebaum narrated the post 1945 strangulation of Eastern Europe’s politics and civil society in Stalin and his satellites’ embrace. But the ordered effort “to control every aspect of society” barely describes what Isaac Deutscher called the “pandemonium” of forced collectivisation at the beginning of the 1930s which precipitated these mass fatalities. (3)

Spurred by the prospect of national, notably urban, food shortages in the late 1920s, Stalin, Applebaum observes, ordered the programme to ensure “internal accumulation” for Soviet industry. The peasants were driven into Kolkhozes, collective farms, and the “liquidation of the Kulaks as a class” met resistance. By the end of March 1930 the secret police, the OGPU recorded 2,000 mass protests in Ukraine alone.

The response was coercion. Teams of ‘activists’ herded people up, lectured them, poked their noses into their meagre belongings, and confiscated at their whim. Armed Soviet agents surrounded rebellious villages with machine-gun and forced them to surrender. There were mass deportations.

The Marxist Deutscher compared the fate of the peasants to that of “mere factory hands”. In the USSR this meant life ruled by party appointed bosses, internal passports, and military discipline. They did not welcome their new lives. In the collective farms, badly supplied, and ramshackle, people worked as little as possible. Vast tracts of land were “left untilled”.

But rules began to grip. Recalcitrant districts were blacklisted. “With no grain, no livestock, no tools, no, money and no credit, with no ability to trade or even to leave their places of work, the inhabitants of blacklisted villages could not grow, prepare or purchase anything to eat at all.”(Page 200)

The Mass Famine.

The reduction of the independent peasantry to appendages of the state bureaucracy, and the deportation of the slightly better off kulaks, took place against the backdrop of famine.

From exhortations, backed by violence to join the Kolkhozes, the state focus shifted to procuring food. The quest for gain through forcible requisitions became a prime activist task. Bringing back memories of marauding armies in the Civil War, appeared “a man who brandished a gun, spouted slogans and demanded food”.

In a haunting description Applebaum outlines the peasants’ dilemmas. They were forced “give up their gain reserves and die of starvation, or they could keep some grain reserves hidden and risk arrest, execution or the confiscation of the rest of their food – after which they could also die of starvation.”(Page 195)

By the winter of 1932 –3 people in the countryside had exhausted their supplies and started to search for “everything edible”. Many were unable to find anything. There were harrowing incidents of cannibalism. The result was that, demographers estimate, 4,5 million people starved to death.

Stalin’s Policy Against Ukrainians.

Red Famine states that there was policy behind the disaster in Ukraine. Stalin was hostile to Ukrainian nationalism, from the 1917 Rada onwards, and Ukrainians, including their own Bolsheviks whom he believed favoured the national movement and culture. This had a basis in that millions of Ukrainian peasants had wanted “a socialist revolution, but not a Bolshevik revolution” and distrusted anything that came from Moscow. If those with such views in the villages could be sorted out by direct force, the intelligentsia presented another obstacle to be met with by the same methods. Beginning with Stalin’s consolidation of power all signs of national consciousness were repressed; above all, the educated Ukrainian speaking elite were targeted in successive purges.

Stalin, while adept at claiming a certain distance from those “dizzy with success” I applying his decrees never admitted any responsibility for the deaths in the early 30s Apologists such as visiting French Minister Édouard Herriot, concerned to make a treaty with the USSR, and the US reporter Walter Duranty aided his work. The Pulitzer Prize winner replied to evidence of famine from the young journalist, Gareth Jones, with the headline, “Russians Hungry, not Starving.” The facts reached only a limited audience. Not only was there no international movement of protest, but the Soviet Union neither appealed for helps from other countries, nor set up its own relief operations. To talk of the wretched conditions of the victims was a crime. 

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For Applebaum the evidence is clear. Stalin “helped created the conditions that led to the famine”. “Starvation was the result, rather, of the forcible removal of food from people’s homes; the roadblocks that prevented peasants forms eking work or food, the harsh rules of the blacklists imposed on farms and villages; the restrictions of barter and trade; and the vicious propaganda campaign designed to persuade Ukrainians to watch,unmoved, as their neighbours died of hunger.”(Page 354)

If Stalin did not seek to eliminate all Ukrainians, but the “the most active and engaged Ukrainians, in both the countryside and the cities” was this a crime of genocide? It is distressing to broach the issue. The reader, shaken by this book, can only express humility towards those determined to commemorate the Holodomor and a wish to stay clear, very clear from those who still attempt to rehabilitate Stalin’s rule in the USSR and slander the martyred Ukrainians.

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(1) Page 145. Everything Flows. Vasily Grossman. Translated by Robert & Elizabeth Chandler with Anna Aslanyan. Harvill Secker. 2010. On Stalin’s role Grossman notes, “This fusion of party and State found its expression in the person of Stalin. In the mind and will of Stalin, the State expressed its own mind and will.” (Page 205) “It was Stalin – who was both a European Marxist and an Asian despot – who gave true expression to the nature of Soviet statehood. What was embodied in Lenin was a Russian national principle; what was embodied in Stalin was a statehood that was both Russian and Soviet.”(Page 205)

(2) Le paysan soviétique. Boris Souveraine. In Cauchemar en URSS Paris, Revue de Paris, 1937. 

(3) Pages 324-5. Stalin. Isaac Deutscher. Penguin. 1990 (1949).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 16, 2018 at 1:53 pm

The British Communist Party and the Soviet Union. An Introduction.

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“Stalin, whose great work tends to undervalued today, was a great creative statesman, however much he may have blundered in his later years. It is doubtful whether any less determined leadership would have laid the foundations of socialism.”

John Lewis. Socialism and the Individual. Lawrence and Wishart. 1961.

“The achievements of socialism, once a distant dream, are now a reality for all to see, in many countries of the world.”

The British Road To Socialism. Communist Party Programme. 1968.

Nick Cohen recently wrote of “Corbyn surrounding himself with aides from the Communist Party of Britain and the fragments of the Socialist Workers Party. (9.12.17. Observer). We can largely dismiss the histrionic overtones of the columnist’s polemic. But what is he talking about? Many on the left are familiar with the SWP, or at least its placards. Even the Taafites, who have taken to imitating the hand-held-poster-road-to-socialism have a degree of public recognition, as “formerly the Militant.”

Yet apart from an awareness that the organisation exists, about 1,000 strong, and that it dominates the small circulation but widely read in the labour movement, Morning Star, the views of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) are not widely known even on the left.

The fate of the unpublished letters to the Guardian by one of the CPB’s leading representatives, Nick Wright, further indicates a lack of interest in the left of centre MSM (Last month’s unpublished letters to the Guardian).

This short introduction hopes to remedy the gap.

To begin any discussion of the Party (usually capitalised in their documents) one has to start with….Communism. As Evan Smith has underlined, “The Communist Party of Britain was, and remains, probably the most significant party that was sympathetic to the Soviet Union and Soviet-styled Marxism-Leninism.” (1)

John Lewis and the 1960s editions of the British Road to Socialism indicate that strong support for the Soviet Union was long dominant in the party the CPB came out of, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). This continued right up till the 1970s, with party members (I am citing personal experience) reading Soviet Weekly and Sputnik. This is not the place to describe the clashes which ended in the dissolution of the Party in 1991 and the processes that led to the CPB foundation in 1988. The strand we concentrate is their position, post refoundation, on the USSR.

In a section of the present edition of the (CPB) British Road to Socialism – devoted to the reasons for the end of the Soviet Union – it is asserted that,

Russia and the other countries of the Soviet Union were transformed from semi-feudal, semi-capitalist monarchist dictatorships into modern societies with near-full employment, universally free education and healthcare, affordable housing for all, extensive and cheap public transport, impressive scientific and cultural facilities, rights for women and degrees of self-government for formerly oppressed nationalities. This was achieved through a world historic break with capitalist ownership and social relations, on the basis of social ownership of industry and centralised economic planning.This was achieved through a world historic break with capitalist ownership and social relations, on the basis of social ownership of industry and centralised economic planning. (2)

The CPB’s account of how they came to consider flaws in this praiseworthy society, (from “full employment” “social ownership”, to “degrees of self-government for formerly oppressed nationalities”) is set out in The Communist Party 1920–2010 (Robert Griffiths, the present Party General Secretary, and Ben Stevenson). It is as follows,

“the downfall of the Soviet Union and the socialist states of Eastern Europe compelled Britain’s Communists – and serious Marxists everywhere – to analyse the reasons for counter-revolution.”

“The reconvened 41st Congress of the CP in November 1992 made its assessment; ‘The root cause if the collapse lay in the particular forms of economic and political structure which developed in the Soviet Union. Specifically, the great mass of working people came to be progressively excluded from any direct control over their economic and social destiny. This erosion of the very essence of socialism increasingly affected all aspects of Soviet society’.” (3)

The build up to this statement is outlined in the Hateful of History article already cited. The Morning Star had begun to lay out this view during the collapse of the Soviet Union. They flagged up the,

….authoritarian straitjacket’ that was ‘suffocating’ the Soviet Union was a theme returned to repeatedly in the Morning Star’s reporting on the final days of the Soviet Bloc. While the paper and the CPB commended the Soviet Union for transforming Russia ‘from its state of backwardness in 1917’ into ‘a highly industrialised state with enormous potential’ and defeated the Nazis in the Second World War, it criticised the ‘inertia of the bureaucratic-command system that it created’ and argued that during the Cold War, this centralised command economy ‘ultimately stultified social development and limited the democratic participation of the people.’ (4)

Stalin.

What did they have to say about Stalin’s rule? The Communist Party 1920 – 2010 states, that for its admirers, it had its good side, “For much of the 1930s, the Soviet Union had appeared a bastion of peace and stability amid a world of mass unemployment, fascist aggression and colonial exploitation, Communists everywhere helped publicise its enormous economic, scientific and cultural achievements.” (5)

On the Terror and the Gulag they wrote principally about the Moscow Trials, “When respected lawyers, politicians and diplomats attended the Moscow Show trials and confirmed that the defendants had indeed confessed to being members of a ‘Trotsky-fascist;’ campaign of espionage and subversion, Britain’s Communists were not alone in believing that such plots had indeed existed.” (6)

It was only after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had taken place, and Khrushchev revealed the extent of the horrors, many Communists around the world were shocked to learnt that violations of socialist democracy and human rights had taken place on such a scale.”(7) Despite this, and the armed Soviet intervention in Hungary to “protect the socialist state”, “For many Party members, the class struggle at home provided reason enough to stay” (Ibid).

The section following the favourable account of the Soviet Union’s achievements, in the British Road to Socialism (reprised and modified by the CPB) ,  makes this side of their analysis of the Soviet Union clear “‘a bureaucratic-command system of economic and political rule became entrenched. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the trade unions became integrated into the apparatus of the state, eroding working class and popular democracy. Marxism-Leninism was used dogmatically to justify the status quo rather than make objective assessments of it.At times, and in the late 1930s in particular, severe violations of socialist democracy and law occurred. Large numbers of people innocent of subversion or sabotage were persecuted, imprisoned and executed. This aided the world-wide campaign of lies and distortions aimed at the Soviet Union, the international communist movement and the concept of socialism. (8)

Most readers will have seen that the statement avoids saying why the predecessors of the CPB, the CPGB, and its fellow travellers, avoided a global critique of the USSR, from the pre-war period up to the 1980s. The reason is perhaps too obvious to state: they supported the Soviet system. That was the reason why the Communist Party existed. While the CPGB (at least after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) allowed partial criticisms of Moscow policy, the current that became the CPB was founded on the idea that it was part of a ‘world historic break’ with capitalism. When it comes down to it, it claim that, however much it may have lacked “popular democracy”, the actually existing form of the “concept” of ‘Socialism’ had to be defended against “lies and distortions”.

Marxism-Leninists’ own History.

The ‘science’ of Marxism-Leninism is a poor guide to the thinking of the CPB. A sceptic would remark that the history Griffiths and Stevenson present, is a projection backwards into the minds of those who in the 1930s gloried in the Socialist Sixth of the World and would not recognise that they had been wrong. But to conjure up, today, the hopes raise by the defeat of Nazi Germany with the USSR’s decisive contribution, and the spread of the ‘socialist’ social system in Eastern Europe and the victory of the People’s Liberation Army in China is not a help to understanding the history of the Soviet Union. This is an account by those willing to put blinkers over their eyes faced with the evidence of Soviet repression that came out in the post war years trying to retrospectively justify their forebears.

There are reasons not to off hand dismiss the account.  If we take this imaginative step further we can see that our resurrected Communist activist of the past would have had other reasons for not listening to those opposed to Stalinism. As Paul Flewers has pointed out, during the 1930s, that to admit faults in the homeland of socialism would have been to agree with the Right, even the far-right which they could see only too well in Nazi Germany and Italy. In Britain, he writes, it was largely from the “many “traditional anti-Communists” who pointed to the mass murder and “extreme authoritarian rule” in the USSR. While there were reservations about Stalin by social democratic and Labour figures there were only isolated critics from the left. Indeed, “the idea that the “Soviet regime under Stalin was essentially a conservative counter-revolutionary force – was seldom is ever publicly broached in the political mainstream, and only occasionally elsewhere.”(9)

After the Second World War this tendency was reinforced. Even with evidence and acknowledgement of mass repression there were earnest debates amongst French intellectuals like Merleau- Ponty (Humanisme et terreur. 1947) and in the following decade around Jean Paul Sartre’s  Les communistes et la paix (1952)  over whether Stalinist terror was justified in the name of building a communist future. Flewers points out that the Communist defence of the Soviet Union continued during the Cold War, when polarisation of opinion meant that many on the left continued to feel that they had to “take sides”. It was in this context that John Lewis offered a defence of the “justified” use of “compulsion by a “constitutionally elected Socialist government” and qualified but “globally positive” picture of Stalin in laying the ‘foundations’ of socialism. (10)

It was not just on the Communist Party that people believed that some kind of ‘jump’ into a different social system, socialism, had taken place in the years following the October Revolution. The existence of the USSR, followed by China and other ‘socialist states’ was considered part of the progressive development of history. This held even for those who considered that the Soviet regime was “deformed” or “degenerated”. This thinking continues to inform many in the orthodox Trotskyist movement, which has had almost as may difficulties coming to terms with the collapse of Official Communism as its Stalinist opponents.

The Linear History that the USSR Failed to Follow.

One interpretation of Marxism, which goes back to Engels, is that modes of production exist in a “linear” schema”. In this view the USSR was a society in “transition” through forms of collective ownership, and a socialist transformation of social relations, towards a new mode of production, communism. This was accepted even by many of those who criticised the way this change was enforced by a party bureaucracy. By the revolutionary advance to power by a proletarian party, the Bolsheviks began the transformation of the relations of production and distribution by the exercise of workers’ power.

From a variety of standpoints a “detour” back towards capitalism could only happen by a “counter-revolution”, that is in terms not far off the CPB’s broad analysis. Marcel Van der Linden’s Western Marxists and the Soviet Union (2007) describes this as the “unilinear” approach: once you began this “world historic break”, a new social trajectory (social ownership of the means of production you were embarked on a voyage. How it fared was up to those in control of the helm. But the trip had started.

Outside of this consensus a miniature galaxy of critical left wing theories on the nature of the Soviet Union which was built, including those who challenged the premise of this assertion, that Lenin’s Bolsheviks ever embodied the interests or the views or the working class.

However, as der Linden describes, the unilinear approach faded away for other reasons. Gradually the ‘sequence”, or proceeding along a line, picture of the USSR as undergoing a ‘stage’ in world history, not least “towards” anything at all, had been eroded. And study after study shed light on the social and economic reality of the state and its satellites were written, as literary and historical studies of the Gulag appeared, the magic of a new world had evaporated. The determination in the last instance was economic, “Increasingly dominant in all currents of thought became the idea that the Soviet Union had embodied a model of economic growth which, although it had initially been successful using extensive methods of industrialisation and extra-economic coercion, could not maintain its economic and military position in the competition with ‘globalising’ world capitalism, because of growing inefficiencies and the absence of a transition to intensive growth.” (11) Eric Hobsbawm expressed a similar thought more directly, “The tragedy of the October revolution was that it could only produce its kind of ruthless, brutal, command socialism. (12)

Labour Totalitarians?

One can criticise the CPB for its failure to come to terms with more than the surface difficulties which were, by the time the Soviet Union collapse, no secret. One can attack their inability to see that there was more at stake than “errors” and authoritarian rule that is commands on the basis of the science of Marxism-Leninism or arbitrary legal producers. It is right to deny them the comfort of believing that they were serving the cause of the future, a location in which communism is to come. But one thing they cannot be accused of it is complete blindness.

Andrew Murray, until recently a member of the CPB, and now, it is said, a key Labour actor, is one of those, one can assume targeted by Cohen. But is he culpable of endorsing the Soviet Union’s totalitarian terror? This is not the case. Murray written of the Stalinist period, “The killing of former oppositionists is now known to have been a small part of a very much larger and more horrifying operation.” And, “Stalin was both greater and more terrible than Trotsky knew. He is long since indicted with vast crimes” (13).

The difficulty is, and remains there, is that Murray, reflecting a view expressed many times elsewhere, also observes, “The USSR won the war and Stalin emerged stronger than ever, with socialism spreading to half of Europe and much of Asia, perhaps the most significant of the many circumstances which left Trotskyism without Trotsky stillborn as a major political movement.” (Ibid) It is not Trotskyism to comment that until the CPB and those still wrapped in its way of thinking that calls such states ‘socialist’. You can indeed can them anything you like, you can invent, he suggests a “new political vocabulary”. But but very few are going to want to admire, still less emulate, these ‘socialist’ regimes or their legacy, today. (14)

********

(1) The Communist Party of Britain, the Morning Star and the legacy of the Soviet Union. Dr Evan Smith.  Hatful of History.
(2) Britain’s Road to Socialism. 8th Edition. 2011.
(3) Page 41.The Communist Party 1920- – 2010. Robert Griffiths and Ben Stevenson. Communist Party History Group. 2010.
(4) The Communist Party of Britain, the Morning Star and the legacy of the Soviet Union.
(5) Page 15. The Communist Party 1920- – 2010. Op Cit.
(6) Page 16. The Communist Party 1920- – 2010. Op cit.
(7) Page 26.The Communist Party 1920- – 2010. Op cit.
(8) Britain’s Road to Socialism. 8th Edition. 2011.
(9) Page 221 The New Civilisation? Understanding Stalin’s Soviet Union 1929 – 1941. Paul Flewers. Francis Boule. 2008. To illustrate this point further a key text from an early Menshevik critic of Lenin, Fedor Il’ich Dan’s Two years of Wandering, (1922) has only recently appeared in English (translated by Francis King. 2016). Some other important works, such as the first hand account of the rise of the Stalinist system, published in French by the dissident leftist circle round Boris Souvarine, notably Vers l”autre flamme après seize mois dans l”U.R.S.S., Panaït Istrati.(1929) remain largely unknown in the English speaking world
(10) Page 79. Socialism and the Individual. Lawrence and Wishart. 1961.
(11) Page 303. Marcel Van der Linden. Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. Brill. 2007.
(12) Page 498. Eric Hobsbawm. Age of Extremes. The Short Twentieth Century 1914 – 1991. Abacus 1994.
(13) Trotsky on Stalin. Andrew Murray. October 2016.

(14) For some of the many reasons, the tragic wrecked lives in the former Soviet Union given voice in Second-hand time : the last of the Soviets. Aleksievich, Svetlana. (Translated by Shayevich, Bela). Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2016.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

‘Straight Left” from Tankie Faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Heart of the Labour Party.

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Straight Left.

“The hatred and contempt with which each side treats the others—as also the bewilderment and distress of the silent majority of Party loyalists—seems now to exceed that in the Labour Party at the height of Bennism. In the Eurocommunist camp, as then on the Labour Left, it is typically expressed in generational terms—‘Why don’t you just die?’ was the shout of one of the new wave ‘pluralists’ when, at a recent aggregate, an old-timer attempted to speak.

Whereas in previous Communist crises, such as those of 1939–40 or 1956, the factory branches remained solid or even increased in strength, while it was the ‘intellectuals’ who were then wracked by doubt, this time it is the industrial comrades who have been ready to put their Party loyalties in question. In their majority they seem to have rallied to the Morning Star. Trade unionists—‘white, male, middle-aged’, as they were recently characterized by the Party’s Industrial Organizer, after a week at the TUC—are no longer honoured in the Party but viewed with social and even sexual disgust.

As in other political formations of the Left, political disagreement has been exacerbated by sociological discomforts which it seems increasingly difficult for a unitary organization to contain, and although the outcome is different in the Communist and the Labour Party, it does not seem fanciful to discern the same fissiparous forces at work: a simultaneous break-up of both class and corporate loyalties.”

Raphael Samuel. The Lost World of British Communism. Part 3. New Left Review I/165, September-October 1987.

This, apparently, is the atmosphere that reigned in the party, the CPGB, that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s key staff, from Seumas Milne to the new deputy director of strategy and communications,  Steve Howell, were involved with  in their – relative – youth.

The faction, “Straight Left” appears to be a common tie,

The leading ideological force in the Straight Left faction was Fergus Nicholson, who had previously worked as the CPGB’s student organiser. According to Michael Mosbacher in Standpoint magazine, the faction was “a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party”. Unlike the leadership, they supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia  in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. They also thought the party should concentrate its work in Trade Unions , and not in social movements such as feminism and environmentalism.

Because the CPGB’s rules banned the formation of factional groups, SL operated in secret. Members of the faction contributed funds to the organisation through significant monthly donations, which helped fund the groups educational gatherings, often referred to as camping weekends. Its meetings were not publicly announced, and writers in their newspaper Straight Left and their theoretical magazine Communist wrote under pseudonyms like Nicholson, whose pen-name was “Harry Steel”. The Straight Left faction also produced anonymous bulletins to try to influence CPGB Congresses usually under the heading “Congress Truth”.

The faction produced a dissident internal pamphlet entitled “The Crisis in Our Communist Party – Cause, Effect and Cure”, which was distributed nationally but not under its name. This was authored (in all likelihood in conjunction with others), by veteran miner and communist Charlie Woods, who was expelled from the CPGB for putting his name to the publication.

The reason for the sudden interest?

After Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigns chief Simon Fletcher quit his role earlier this month, it was branded a victory for Seumas Milne. Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU. Now, in a sign things are moving further in Milne’s favour, Steve Howell has been appointed as deputy director of strategy and communications.

Happily, the pair are unlikely to clash over their political views anytime soon. They are old comrades who were both involved with Straight Left, the monthly journal in the Eighties that became associated with the ‘Stalinist’, pro-Soviet, anti-Eurocommunist faction that eventually split from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Described by Standpoint magazine as ‘a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party’, the Straight Left movement was also where Milne met Andrew Murray, the first chair of the Stop the War campaign who previously called for solidarity with North Korea.

Introducing Corbyn’s new spinner: the Straight Left comrade who is Mandelson’s old communist chum. (Steerpike. Spectator).

This was also immediately noticed on the left, provoking it must be said some jealousy on the part of former members of rival factions within the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Bob from Brockley  posted,

Fletcher’s replacement is Steve Howell, brought in from a PR firm in South Wales. Howell has not been politically active for a while, as far as I can see, but does have history: like Milne and Andrew Murray he was active in the Stalinist faction Straight Left. Howell, then based in Sheffield, led its Yorkshire group. Their faction was called “the artists” – most of its key figures were Oxbridge types, in contrast to the salt of the earth workerists who led the main rival tankie faction, the Communist Campaign Group.

At that point in the 1980s, hardcore Stalinists (known as “tankies” for their support for the tanks sent in by the Soviets to crush dissent in its various satellites) were fighting to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain loyal to the memory of Uncle Joe Stalin, who was seen as something of an embarrassment by its Eurocommunist leadership. Straight Left sought to re-orient the party towards operating in the Labour Party and trade union movement.

Some of the denunciations of its tactics by rival Stalinists from the time are amusing, but also a bit sinister now it finally has achieved getting some of its activists into key positions in the Labour Party.

This is from the ultra-tankie Leninist newspaper (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) in 1983:

And this is about Straight Left’s strategy of covertly using the Labour Party rather than Communist Party as the vehicle for promoting Stalinism, a strategy the Leninist denounced as “liquidationism”:

I have no idea if Howell has, like Murray, remained true to his Stalinist roots. (His schoolmate and old comrade in Hendon Young Communists, Peter Mandelson, clearly hasn’t.)

Now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have offered their assessment.

Corbyn’s Leader’s Office is dominated by the former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne and by people close to Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union. Milne’s political formation was in the Stalinist sect “Straight Left”.

Another Straight Lefter was Andrew Murray… Milne, like Murray, is still a Stalinist. Writing for the Guardian, as he has done for many years, he puts his views in urbane double-negative form, but he is still a Stalinist… Operators used to snuggling into the established political and media machines, ideologically imbued with and trained over decades in ‘top-down’ politics, will not serve Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and us well in opening up and revitalising the Labour Party” (Solidarity 382, 28 October 2015).

“Stalinist ideas were drilled into swathes of labour movements and the left in decades when activists could see the USSR (or Cuba, China, Albania) as practical examples of the alternative to capitalism. Today we have a more demoralised Stalinists and Stalinoids: while sometimes loud in denunciation of Tory misdeeds, they generally see no further in positive policy than what were only stepping stones for Stalinism in its heyday: economic nationalism, bureaucratic state-directed economic development…

The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office. The office’s response to the Copeland by-election has been to get another “Straight Left” old-timer, Steve Howell, seconded from the PR company he now owns….

Martin Thomas.  The dangers of Stalinism in Labour. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Of particular interest are the claims about the EU, “Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU.” and “the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”.

This article, published by those Simon Fletcher is said to be close to (aka Socialist Action), which argues against the fantasy that there is a “People’s Brexit”, may help explain his departure.

There is no ‘People’s Brexit’  By Tom O’Leary. Socialist Economic Bulletin. (Published by Ken Livingstone, Simon Fletcher’s former employer)

There is no socialist or even ‘people’s Brexit’. Everyone operating in the UK will still be subject to the laws of the market. The problem will be that the market will suddenly be much smaller and less productive than the EU Single Market the UK has been participating in for the last 25 years. If the Tories continue to get their way, there will also be a stripping away of the workers’ environmental and consumer rights that were instituted under the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’. These have long been a Tory target for abolition in the UK. Post-Brexit, the economy will be operating behind a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers as others protect their markets. All of these will make the economy less competitive and will increase costs.

Of course, the pound could depreciate sharply again to offset these disadvantages, but this would lower living standards and real incomes even further. If currency devaluations alone were the answer then Britain would be an earthly paradise. In 1940 there were 5 US Dollars to the pound. Now there are 1.25. Over the same period the relative size of the UK in the world economy has shrunk dramatically in real terms, to less than one-third its proportion of world GDP, 2.3% now versus 7.3% in 1940.

There is a widespread notion on the right that Brexit will lead to ‘taking back control’ of the economy. Unfortunately, this is also shared by important sections of the left. It is a delusion. The 1930s saw a whole series of countries taking back control, in what might be called an early anti-globalisation movement. Although the authors of these policies are now widely and rightly derided their arguments will actually be very familiar.

It was said that other countries were taking our jobs, they are dumping their output on us causing our industries to fail and that those industries need protecting and government support, or state aid. Once we have done that, then we would be able to trade freely with the whole world. Of course, the more virulent version also included vile invective against foreigners, immigrants, Jews, gay men and others. When the economic policies went spectacularly wrong, the racist invective became policy.

The reason these policies failed spectacularly should be clear. Behind the protective barriers, costs rise, potential markets are closed off (especially as they respond with barriers of their own), industry becomes less not more productive, profits decline and workers are laid off. The economic crisis that ensued was finally resolved only by general rearmament.

Economics aside Milne, it is said,  is equally no friend of the politics of the internationalist supporters of Another Europe is Possible.

And he has this in his file: Seumas Milne: Charlie Hebdo Had it Coming to them.

More detailed background:

WHAT WAS STRAIGHT LEFT? AN INTRODUCTION BY LAWRENCE PARKER

Straight Left’s origins lie in the left pro-Soviet oppositions that emerged in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s. In this period, a definite ‘party within a party’ emerged, with figures such as Sid French, district secretary of Surrey CPGB, becoming key leaders. The general critique that emerged from this faction was a concern over the CPGB leadership distancing itself from the Soviet Union (such as around the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) and other ‘socialist’ countries; a preference for a more ‘workerist’ identity (for example, the faction would have been happy with the CPGB’s paper remaining as the Daily Worker in 1966) and a concentration on workplaces/trade unions; and a sense that the party was squandering its resources in futile election contests and alienating the left of the Labour Party, with whom it was meant to be developing a close relationship on the British road to socialism (BRS), the CPGB programme. However, a significant part of the faction felt that the BRS was ‘reformist’ and ‘revisionist’ in all its guises from 1951, counter-posing a revolutionary path to the parliamentary road to socialism envisaged in the CPGB’s existing programme.

Read the rest of the article on A Hatful of History.

 

Fidel Castro passes: his anti-colonialist legacy

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Muere Fidel Castro, el último revolucionario

Muere Fidel Castro, el último revolucionario.

Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro, one of the world’s longest-serving and most iconic leaders, has died aged 90.

We make no apologies for reproducing in full this not uncritical tribute, by Dr Manuel Barcia, and published by Al-Jazeera, which stands out as one of the most balanced.

Fidel Castro’s anti-colonialist legacy.

Soon after his capture in 1953, following an attack he led on the Moncada Army Barracks, a young Fidel Castro was put on trial.

While conducting his own defence, Castro accused then-President Fulgencio Batista’s regime of depriving Cuba of democratic rule and of establishing a dictatorship.

He finished his speech with a phrase that has become well-known in Cuba and abroad:”You can condemn me but it doesn’t matter: History will acquit me.”

Interesting enough, Castro’s subsequent actions placed him in one of those inconclusive historical wormholes where agreeing on anything about him, let alone an acquittal for his actions, is almost an impossibility.

To some, he was an irredeemable monster who submerged Cuba into a long, dark age of tyranny and human rights violations.

To others, he was a socialist superman who brought about social equality – at least partially for women and for Afro-Cubans – and who introduced free education and universal healthcare.

From an economic and political point of view, Castro’s rule was characterised by a catalogue of mistakes that over the years led to more than one “rectification of errors” campaign. Domestically, many of his policies seemed bound to failure from the start.

A heavy dependence on the Soviet Union as a result of an unremitting American embargo left the country exposed to the rough forces of the free market in the early 1990s, fostering an economic crisis known in Cuba as the “special period in time of peace” that arguably still continues.

Internationally, Castro’s involvement in world affairs, especially those concerning Latin America, was a thorn in the side of US policies.

His alliance with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which brought the USSR and US to the brink of nuclear war in 1962, was an early red flag that Castro was not about to back off when it came to confronting US imperialism.

Castro lent his support to Latin American armed groups fighting US-backed dictatorships countless times in the following decades, and in some cases supported movements taking on democratically elected governments, such as that of Romulo Betancourt in Venezuela in the 1960s.

Cuban secret agents wandered across the continent, training guerrilla commandos from Guatemala to Argentina.

One of the icons of the Cuban Revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, even lost his life while trying to set up a guerrilla movement in Bolivia to topple the government of President Rene Barrientos.

Beyond the confines of Latin America, Castro’s influence grew steadily throughout the Cold War years.

In 1979, Cuba was elected to take over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), an organisation formed in 1960 to offer a peaceful alternative to the belligerent East-West blocs that characterised the Cold War.

Castro’s presidency of the NAM came as recognition of Cuba’s role in the international arena and was widely accepted and praised by all NAM members.

However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan only three months into Castro’s presidency of the NAM caused havoc among the member states, and in particular affected Castro’s leadership since he was forced to side with the USSR.

In doing so, he failed on two fronts. He failed to stick to the actual principle of non-alignment enshrined in the NAM name and constitution, and he did so by turning his back on one of the NAM member states while supporting a Cold War power.

Even though Castro’s stock took a massive tumble afterwards, he continued to influence international politics, and nowhere more so than in Africa.

Cuba in Africa

Castro’s (and Guevara’s) role in assisting the decolonisation process in Africa was second to none. From the early 1960s, Castro threw all his support behind the Algerian liberation struggle against France.

Cuban doctors and soldiers were some of the first to arrive in Algeria to offer a hand to the independence forces fighting to push French colonialism out of their country.

In the following years, that support increased in size and scope across the continent. Castro offered Cuban support to the liberation struggles in Mozambique, Namibia, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Guinea-Bissau, and Angola, among many others.

In some cases, this support involved military interventions that did not always go according to plan.

For example, in the mid-1970s after Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the Derg regime, Castro was forced to change sides – as the Soviets, East Germans, Czechs, and Americans also did – during a realignment of forces in the region provoked by ongoing disputes between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Cuban personnel were required to abandon their former ally Mohammed Siad Barre, the Somali president, who now sided with the Americans, and take sides with their new ally Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Cuban troops fought the Somali invasion of the Ogaden alongside Ethiopian forces, and by remaining in Ethiopia gave at least tacit support to Ethiopian campaigns against Eritrean armed groups fighting for independence.

This position almost certainly became a political dilemma for Castro, who until then had always supported anti-colonial movements of liberation across the world.

While Castro’s intervention in the Horn of Africa was characterised by dubious decisions and tainted by the purges that Mengistu’s regime would eventually carry out between 1977 and 1978, his involvement in the Angolan war is the outstanding episode in his career as a champion of decolonisation.

Not only did he demonstrate to the world that Cuba was far from being a pet project of the USSR – Cuba’s support for the socialist MPLA was done without the approval of the Kremlin and almost certainly against its wishes.

It also helped raise his profile, and that of Cuba, to new levels of recognition and influence throughout the developing world.

Securing Angola’s independence

Cuban backing for the MPLA helped Angola to secure independence from Portugal in 1975, and helped repel the joint attempts of the South African apartheid government and Zaire’s Mobutu regime to occupy Angola.

Growing up in Cuba at the time, I can certainly say that I don’t recall any other Castro enterprise that united Cubans behind the regime to such an extent – except perhaps Cuba’s resistance to the 1983 US invasion of Grenada.

Contrary to what has been argued for years, Cuba’s involvement in Angola was a response to previous US and South African interventionism and to the very tangible threat of a South African invasion.

After almost two decades of struggle, when Cuba’s troops left Angola, they had secured not only the independence of the country, but had also contributed significantly to the independence of Namibia and to the fall of the apartheid regime.

Little wonder, then, that Raul Castro, in place of his brother, was one of the few world dignitaries asked to speak at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a few months ago.

Ultimately, Castro’s legacy in Africa is more of a Cuban legacy. Everywhere I have visited in Africa, from Dakar to Addis Ababa, from Niamey to Luanda, I have been welcomed with open arms and big smiles as a Cuban.

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, in response to a New York Times question about Cuba’s role in Africa, said: “I am not sure that there is a single Cuban in the African continent who has not been invited by some members of the continent. So long as this is the case, it is not easy to condemn their presence.”

I am far from certain that history will acquit Fidel Castro. More likely history will record his journey through the past six or seven decades as a controversial one.

Almost certainly, he will continue to be an irredeemable monster to some – and a socialist superman to others.

Dr Manuel Barcia is Professor of Latin American History at the University of Leeds.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Communist and Workers’ Parties Meeting in Vietnam: on Syria, and the EU.

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In the Morning Star Robert Griffiths reports,

Communists United Against Imperialism

THIS year’s international meeting of Communist and Workers Parties at the end of October took place in Hanoi, Vietnam against a global background of economic slowdown, political upheaval, rising military tension, forced mass migrations and growing climate instability.

This is of interest:

At least 25 parties also signed a solidarity statement calling for an end to “war, terror and human catastrophe” in Syria. (1)

It condemned the imperialist powers and their reactionary allies in the Middle East for creating a major crisis of war and destruction in the region. Their aim is to consolidate imperialist hegemony, ensuring unrivalled control over the flow of oil and free access to natural resources and markets.

“The US and EU powers are considering altering the existing borders of Syria and Iraq and creating new statelets in their place based along ethnic and sectarian fault lines,” the statement continued. “The New Middle East Plan is speedily taking shape.”

Making a distinction between foreign forces in Syria invited in by the Assad government and those not — who are in breach of the UN Charter — the signatories declared that there could be no military solution to the conflict.

Instead, communists called for all key non-terrorist players to return to the negotiating table without preconditions, respecting the independence and territorial integrity of the country. The arming and funding of terrorist organisations inside Syria should cease.

“The future of Syria and its government should be decided by the Syrian people alone, by their own free will,” the statement demanded.

As is this,

Most of the parties from Europe condemned the austerity, privatisation and militaristic policies of the European Union.“The Brexit vote of the British working class was a blow to the EU imperialists, and important support for our fight against the EU and the EU-EEA Agreement,” declared Svend Jacobsen of the Communist Party of Norway.

Eddie Glackin from the Irish CP said that the referendum result had “caused panic in the Irish ruling class and its subservience to London, Brussels and Washington DC.”

Not to be outdone:

Danish communists pointed out that people in their country had voted against their own rulers and the EU in a referendum last December, to retain national and democratic control over home affairs. Bo Moeller, the international secretary of the Communist Party in Denmark, told the meeting that “a break with the EU will be a major step towards our goal of socialist revolution.”

The German Communist Party (DKP) condemned the “unreformable” EU and its recent anti-refugee deal with Turkey. (1)

“Europe does not need a European Union as a capitalist construction guided by imperialist ideas and practice,” insisted DPK secretary of international relations Gunter Pohl.

We await the socialist Brexit revolution with bated breath.

 

(1)  For an end to war, terror and human catastrophe in Syria

We, the undersigned communist and workers parties meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, during the 18th IMCWP, strongly believe that the policies and actions of the imperialist powers and their reactionary allies have created an unprecedented political, social and humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East. The region is currently going through a major crisis of war and destruction. It has been the focus of carefully orchestrated attempts by US-led imperialism to consolidate its hegemony and to ensure unrivalled control of the flow of oil, the ability to freely plunder the region’s resources and to exploit its markets.

We are concerned that if the current situation continues, the Middle East has only a future of further wars, destabilisation and imperialist domination to look forward to.  Wars and terror in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan, the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel, as well as political crises in Lebanon and Egypt have scarred the face of the region.

The real beneficiary of the current situation is imperialism and its plans for continued economic, political and geostrategic domination.

The US and EU powers are considering altering the existing borders of Syria and Iraq and creating new statelets in their place based along ethnic and sectarian fault lines. The New Middle East Plan is speedily taking shape.

Currently there are a number of countries, some legitimately invited by the Syrian government, and others in direct contravention of the UN Charter that are militarily involved in the conflict in Syria.

We are concerned that the conflict in Syria could develop into a large-scale military conflict enveloping the region. From the outset of the crisis in Syria, we have stated that this conflict has no military solution and hence we have advocated a negotiated settlement in Syria respecting the independence and territorial integrity of the country and opposing every manifestation of direct or indirect foreign interference against the national sovereignty of the Syrian state.

We believe that without the people’s struggle and mass solidarity campaigns for peaceful resolution of existing conflicts in the region and in defence of the peoples, the tragedies will only continue to grow. The only victim will be the working people and the poor who have no other option but to take desperate measures in order to survive. In their desperate attempts to flee war and terrorism they have been forced to leave their homes and livelihood behind in a quest to find a place of safety.

We call for the immediate return of all key players in this crisis to negotiations based on the provisions of the UN Charter. There must be no place for any terrorist organization at the table, and the support, financing and arming of the terrorist organisations must be condemned and immediately stopped. The future of Syria and its government should be decided by the Syrian people alone with own free will,and the removal of Bashar al-Assad and the government should not be a precondition for an end to violence and a lasting peace.

We pledge to continue to do the following:

  • Mobilise the widest possible forces against the ongoing interference and aggression of imperialism in the region,
  • Mobilise our movements to disengage with apartheid Israel and pledge varied solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people,
  • Mobilise and organize mass demonstrations and marches for world peace and particularly for genuine peace in the region,
  • Mobilise against sale of weapons of war to apartheid Israel,
  • Organise seminars and other public fora to back the struggle for peace in the region.

Signed by:

  1. Communist Party of Australia
  2. Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB)
  3. Communist Party of Britain
  4. AKEL
  5. Communist Party of Cuba
  6. Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
  7. Communist Party in Denmark
  8. Communist Party of Finland
  9. German Communist Party
  10. Communist Party of Greece
  11. PPP of Guyana
  12. Communist Party of India
  13. Communist Party of Iraq
  14. Tudeh Party of Iran
  15. Communist Party of Ireland
  16. Communist Party of Jordan
  17. People Party of Palestine
  18. Communist Party of Pakistan
  19. Philippine Communist Party (PKP – 1930)
  20. Portuguese Communist Party
  21. South African Communist Party
  22. Communist Party of Spain
  23. Communist Party of Sri Lanka
  24. Communist Party of Sweden
  25. Communist Party, Turkey
  26. Communist Party of Ukraine
  27. Communist Party of USA
  28. Communist Party of Venezuela

 

(2) German Communist Party Deutsche Kommunistische Partei, (DKP).

For the 2005 federal elections, the DKP endorsed the ticket of the Left Party, successor to the PDS. As of 2008, its membership has dropped to some 4,000, less than a tenth of its pre-unification strength.

The DKP received national public attention in early 2008 when Christel Wegner, elected to the state parliament of Lower Saxony on the list of the Left Party as the first DKP member of a state parliament, allegedly endorsed the Berlin Wall, the Stasi and other aspects of the East German state in an interview. This caused embarrassment to the national Left Party leadership. Despite denying that she made the controversial statements (at least in the form that was reported) she was expelled from the Left Party faction a few days later.

European election vote (2014):  25,204, 0,1%. ( Deutsche Kommunistische Partei)

This is also of relevance:

Dmitri Novikov of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, chair of the Duma’s foreign relations committee, shared these anti-Nato, anti-EU positions. But he also pointed to the erosion of democratic rights, incomes and living standards under President Vladimir Putin and his austerity regime.

Statements by the CP’s on Brexit (Updated)

COMMUNIST PARTY OF BRITAIN:

Statement from the Communist Party of Britain on the EU referendum result

The referendum result represents a huge and potentially disorientating blow to the ruling capitalist class in Britain, its hired politicians and its imperialist allies in the EU, the USA, IMF and NATO. 
The people have spoken and popular sovereignty now demands that the Westminster Parliament accepts and implements their decision. The left must now redouble its efforts to turn this referendum result into a defeat for the whole EU-IMF-NATO axis.
But it is clear that the Cameron-Osborne government has lost the confidence of the electorate and cannot be trusted with the responsibility of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union. It should resign forthwith.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm