Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 12, 2009

Cuba and Eritrea: setting the record straight

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

Johnny Sanchez

A guest post by Johnny Sanchez

(Read interview with Sanchez here.)

****

There is an old Jewish proverb that says: “A half-truth is a whole lie.”

I recently came across an article written by Sam Farber entitled “Contradictions of Cuba’s foreign policy” that appears in the ISO newspaper. I found this article fascinating because it went on to claim how self-interested Castro is and, because of such, Cuba therefore has no real relationship to true revolution.

Farber declares that “while it is true that Cuba has followed a consistent policy of opposition to U.S.-sponsored imperialism, it has not followed that policy towards other imperialist aggressors. In fact, the Cuban government has taken the side of oppressor states on various occasions…. [and] also supported the suppression of the Eritrean national movement in the 1970’s.” Farber then asks: “How can we explain the contradictory policies of Cuba regarding the right of nations to self-determination?”

I was genuinely intrigued by Farber’s questions and comments because A) I love to learn about history and B) I visited Cuba and found myself inspired by its people and the Cuban nation – so much so that while in Cuba I better understood the meaning of Frederick Douglass’ quote “without struggle there is no progress”. So, naturally, I was inclined to question Farber’s article because I wanted to understand his point of view.

So, what did I do? I found a book that supports Sam Farber’s claims in regards to Cuba’s policy, but more specifically in relation to Eritrea’s independence movement. Further, to keep objectivity -with my limitations and all, I questioned what I found in that book as much as I could. The book in question is Eritrea: a Pawn in World Politics written by Okbazghi Yohannes.

In the book, Yohannes comments that in 1966 “Cuba had warmly embraced Eritrean nationalism as an indigenously authentic and internationally credible movement”. He then writes that some Eritrean guerillas received their drilling in Cuba and also states that Castro’s advocacy for Eritrea’s inclusion in the nonaligned movement helped Eritreans obtain their anti-imperialist credentials. In addition, Yohannes says, that Cuban propaganda organs gave ample coverage and analysis to the Eritrean movement. He says that, “Cuba’s public affirmation of the justness of the Eritrean and Somali struggles represented an open repudiation of Ethiopia’s imperial acquisition”. This affirmation was justified on the basis of the principle of national self-determination for the Eritreans, and the Cubans placed such support within the context of “proletarian internationalism”.

But he then goes on to claim that although, at first, Castro characterized the Eritrean struggle against Ethiopian as positive that he later changed his mind. He accuses Castro, of being an opportunist who did a full about face against Eritrean Liberation and even went as far as saying that Castro categorized their movement as similar to the southern secessionism in the United States during the Civil War.

The problem with this analysis is that Yohannnes has no direct quotes from Castro that support this ‘about face’ claim… nor does he give a date as to when Castro said any of this. All I am supposed to do is just trust that Castro said this somewhere -at sometime.

He then uses the February 1977 trip of Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, a high-ranking Cuban Military official, to Ethiopia as evidence that Cuba struck military plans to defend Ethiopia against Eritrean Independence. Although, in the same sentence, he admits that the real reason for Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez’s 1977 trip was not clear. This only leaves one obvious answer; Yohnnes can’t make claims of a Castro about face if he doesn’t have clear evidence of why Arnaldo went to Ethiopia, and much less if he can’t find a direct quote from Castro against Eritrea.

Yohannes then relates that in December of 1977 Cuban troops were airlifted from Havana, Angola and the Congo to Ethiopia and that by April 1978 the number of Cuban troops deployed to the Horn reached 17,000.

Still, Yohannes never bothers to relate how big the Horn is: Answer: The coastline of the Horn is bigger than the Eastern United States -actually, a whole lot bigger! In other words, that would be like directly blaming US Military Personal stationed in Key West for Canada’s successful suppression of Québec’s Independence Movement.

Yohannes also states that 3,000 soldiers had been airlifted to Asmara where they immediately began probing the operational strength of the Eritrean guerillas in the vicinity. – But what does he mean by the phrase ‘probing the operational strength of the Eritrean guerillas in the vicinity’? That can mean anything! It can even mean they were there to help the Eritrean guerillas. In other words, he never explains what ‘probing’ means. He just throws terms around to vaguely convey any ideas he wants to promote.

But this is where his biggest blunder is: he goes on to say that in 1980 there were at least 3,500 Cubans in Eritrea fighting alongside the Ethiopians and that Cuba’s involvement in the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict is “certainly dubious and even unconscionable”. He asks, why was Cuba willing to support the Eritrean’s desire for independence early on but not why later on? He then says that an objective analysis can help probe this question and his eventual conclusion is similar to Sam Farber’s accusations, that Castro is opportunistic and not interested in anyone but his own selfish needs.

Well, I agree with him in one thing, we do need to have objective analysis. But my idea of an objective analysis means looking at the whole story, and not just half of it, so that we may question everything. So, since I don’t see him doing that, let me pick up where I feel he left off and try to be objective. For starters, I will cite a report by the US on Cuba because, as we know, the US government has nothing pretty to report when it comes to Cuba. So, let’s start with an official US Intelligence report on Cuba to see where it goes; and rest assured that US reports do not try to favor Cuba or Castro in a positive light.

I have obtained materials from the US Department of State entitled “Cuban support for terrorism and insurgency in the Western Hemisphere”. As you see, even the title is not positive for Cuba because it claims Cuba’s support of terrorism. To continue, Assistant Secretary Thomas O. Enders originally presented the data on these materials as testimony on March 12th, 1982. This was, of course, during the height of the Cold War -when the US kept stealthy watch of Cuba’s military actions. This data was later presented again by Powell Allen Moore in front of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, Committee on the Judiciary, on July 21st 1982. Powell Allen Moore was the Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations in the 1980’s (aka Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs) and US Senator for Alabama Jeremiah Denton, a former Navy Admiral, was the Chairman of the Committee.

The data on this report is very thorough and it asks the following question:

What is the status of the discipline, morale and effectiveness of the Cuban troops in Angola and Ethiopia? Have there been defections and desertions from the ranks? The Cubans have said that the first military contingents to reach Angola were elite Ministry of Interior Units. What has become of these units? Please furnish the subcommittee with the Department’s complete assessment of Cuban involvement, military and otherwise, in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Zaire and Ethiopia. Please give a separate answer to each country.”

That was just question 12 on the report, and as you can see it is not a short one. The whole compiled Intel and data is even longer. The details gathered are very specific and breaks down Cuba’s military activities and actions in each country cited above. Since the focus of this article is Ethiopia and Eritrea then I’ll relate all the materials gathered on Cuba’s actions concerning that area only, and as reported to the US Department of State:

On the question of Ethiopia and Eritrea the report states:

There are now between 11,000 -13,000 Cuban military personnel in Ethiopia. The military presence is down from a high of about 17,000 troops in early 1978, when Cuban forces played a decisive role in the successful Ogaden campaign. After completion of these operations, Chairman Mengistu tried to persuade Havana to help Ethiopia with the fighting taking place in Eritrea. Castro refused, partly because he wanted no further casualties and partly because he believed the political costs would be too heavy and cause friction with Cuba’s radical Arab allies. (Havana also had had ties with the Eritrean Liberation Front for many years.) The Cuban military presence was reduced in late 1978 and remains at about 11,000 -13,000 today. Cuban forces do not see much action now, play mainly support and logistic-support roles and remain in garrisons most of the time.

Havana would like to increase its civilian role in Ethiopia, mainly to earn hard currency, but so far these efforts have been unsuccessful. There are several hundred (perhaps 600 ­700) Cuban civilians in Ethiopia.

Even the US Department, a sworn enemy of Cuba and invested on making them look bad, reported in 1982, Castro refused Mengistu’s request to help Ethiopia with the fighting taking place in Eritrea. The report clearly states Cuba played a decisive role in the Ogaden campaign but when it comes to Eritrea – Castro refused and Cuban forces mostly remain in garrisons.

How come Sam Farber and Okbazghi Yohannes can’t quote actual Intel reports? How come they don’t investigate their accusations further?

As a matter of fact, all they had to do was go into the ‘Country Studies Series by Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress’ to get more information on this. Even the Library of Congress says that “Although there is some disagreement, most military observers believe that Cuba refused to participate in the operation in Eritrea because Castro considered the Eritrean conflict an internal war rather than a case of external aggression.”

Instead, Farber and Yohannes want me take them at their word, their own individual assertions, and want me to accept these personal claims that since Cuba had troops in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia then it must mean Cuba purposefully and intentionally suppressed the Eritrea Independence Movement. This is like believing that because the US Army has invaded Iraq then it must be successfully suppressing forces of Al-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan –so much for that argument. Hasn’t Sam Farber learned yet that apples and oranges don’t compare as neatly as we’d like them to?

Even Jorge I. Dominguez in the book To Make a World Safe for a Revolution, who Farber quotes in his own article Contradictions of Cuba’s Foreign Policy, wrote “Cuba was able to assure African countries that its commitment [to Ethiopia] was confined to a specific task.” Mr. Dominguez then opines that, although Cuba did confine its task to Ogaden, Cuba unwittingly aided Ethiopia in suppressing Eritrean independence because Ethiopia was able to send troops to Eritrea while Cuba fought for them in the Ogaden against the Somali invasion. Dominguez does not accuse Castro of purposefully suppressing Eritrean Independence – where as Farber does do that in his ISO article and conveniently leaves out the part of Dominguez’s writings that say Cuba assured African countries that its commitment [to Ethiopia] was confined to a specific task. Yohaness and Farber only use what they want and, sadly, ignore the whole story.

Still, if one argues that because Cuba sent troops to the Ogaden it unknowingly and unwittingly supported Ethiopia against Eritrea Independence then we must then ask what would have resulted if the opposite had occurred? Meaning, what if Cuba had not supported Ethiopia in its fight against Somalia’s invasion? Would it then mean Eritrean independence would have been easier?

So, let’s really objectively ask that question and, to really delve into it, let’s look at all the players and honestly find what could’ve occurred if Cuba had not gotten involved.

The Ogaden War was a conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia in the late 1970’s over the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. By 1980, the United States had officially adopted Somalia as a Cold War client state in exchange for use of Somali bases, and as a way to exert political influence upon the region of the Horn. Interestingly, however, Ethiopia at one point had been backed by the USA. But, please, don’t take my word for it… let’s look at the full scale of chronological events from sources who can better verify the events.

David A. Korn, United States Ambassador to Togo and US diplomat who spent 37 months in Ethiopia, wrote a book titled Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Korn writes that the Ethiopians asked the US for support since threats from Somalia were growing. But although the US had big investments in Ethiopia, it was reluctant to give any further military support and aid since the pains of Vietnam were still fresh.

Eventually, the pleas for help from Ethiopia grew louder and hit world center stage. Therefore, the US decided to supply Ethiopia with about $180 Million in aid between 1974-1977. Interestingly though (during the time the US was enjoying relations with Ethiopia) Cuba and the USSR were slowly building strong relations with Ethiopia; and all of this occurred while Somalia, Cuba and the Soviet Union were still close allies.

It gets even more complicated and, as Mr. Korn notes, things got heated in Ethiopia with both the USSR and the US there at the same time so “Washington decided to make a public move” and by the end of 1977, the US decided to give no further aid, both financial and military wise, to Ethiopia.

The reason for cutting off support to Ethiopia, the US claimed, was because Ethiopia had violated human rights. So, while the US cut support to Ethiopia, Cuba and the USSR maintained closed ties to both Ethiopia and Somalia -but this posed a problem for them.

Mr. Korn relates that: “As the Soviets publicly embraced Ethiopia, they began to consider what to do about the dilemma that this posed for their relations with Somalia”, since Somalia kept expressing aggression towards Ethiopia and wanted control of the Ogaden.

This is where Cuba steps in hoping to create an accord which prompted Castro to try his hand at a peaceful solution and, as Mr. Korn describes, “in mid-march of 1977, surprise visits to Ethiopia and Somalia by Fidel Castro and a secret meeting between Mengistu (of Ethiopia) and Siad Barre (of Somalia) in Aden. There the Cuban [leader] proposed to the Ethiopian and Somali leaders that they should burry the differences between their countries in a federation together with South Yemen, in which the Ogaden and Eritrea would enjoy a status of autonomy. Notice how it states that Castro was thinking of Eritrean autonomy in this peaceful accord. But the attempt at peace was in vain.

Aggressions between both African nations grew and many people demanded that the US take a side and that the USSR, along with Cuba, also choose a side. So, in the midst of this, Somalia started to put its feelers out to Washington in hopes of getting any kind of support there. By this point, Ethiopia terminated its relations with the USA, since no further aid was coming from there. But, Cuba and the USSR still kept ties with Somalia.

And in response, “As early as March 1977 Vice President Mondale sent Carter a memorandum advocating rapprochement with Somali”, former Ambassador Korn also tells that “On June 16th, of that year, Carter received a visit from Somali Ambassador Addou” and the Somali expressed that if Somalia got American support they “would shift allegiance from the Soviets to the United States.” Korn tells that Carter had hesitations. Still, Carter expressed support for Somalia if it was ‘genuinely’ threatened by Ethiopia.

The Somalis took advantage of Carter’s support on the basis of defense and, on July 9th, the Somali Embassy in Washington created a long list of military equipment that was desired from the United States. On July 15th Carter approved a decision ‘in principle’ to help meet Somalia’s ‘defensive requirements’ -Korn relates all of this based on his expertise and years of relationships in Washington.

The Somalis welcomed the support and on July 25th Washington announced it. Barely a week later, Somalia forces were operating in the Ogaden and the Carter administration found itself in a conflict. Although, at this point, the US had yet to give Somalia a blank check – so to avoid any further conflicts, the US stopped further support of Somalia until 1982 where the US decided to clearly give Somalia official military and financial aid.

Regardless, the damage was done by 1977 since Somali forces swept into Ethiopia by then -and though the US had not sent them military aid yet it had publicly announced support of Somalia. Korn clarifies that if the US really wanted to avoid any blunders: “the United States should have taken this into account in its dealings with [Somalia].”

Still, the US did gain something out of this ‘blunder’ and that was military intelligence, which Korn well describes: ‘US Intelligence on the Somali invasion of Ethiopia was very good. When the Somalis invaded, the United States knew almost exactly where they were, when, and how they got there.” This is where we see that, though reluctant at first, the US did eventually find a reason for formalizing aid to Somalia. Through this, we see the US became a player in the Horn because it gained strategic military Intel in the region.

Korn tells of Dr. Kevin Cahill, an American who was a personal physician to Somalia’s President, and says that “Dr. Cahill alleged he was told in the spring of 1977 by a State Department Official that the United States was ‘not averse to further guerrilla pressure in the Ogaden.” Mr. Korn explains that “Dr. Cahill was a frequent caller at the offices of the White House Domestic Staff.” He further explains that Dr. Cahill “meticulously avoided officials of the NSC and the State Department who had responsibility for the Horn of Africa”. Why would a physician avoid public officials so meticulously? Personally, I think that tells a lot about the back door dealings the United States prefers.

One thing is clear, and as Korn relates “The Somalis had been preparing to seize the Ogaden for years.” Of course, the Somali’s sought support (even if only verbal) to back their invasion and this is where the US, even if reluctant at first, becomes a player.

As we know, Somalia invaded Ethiopia and their advances were stopped by the USSR and Cuba (not by the US) and Korn expresses a personal view here: ‘So long as they were defending Ethiopia’s territorial integrity from Somali invasion, the Ethiopians and the Soviets [along with the Cubans] had the moral and political high ground.”

On October 19th, Korn describes, “the Soviet Ambassador in Addis Ababa issued a statement, quickly broadcast by Ethiopian radio, announcing ‘officially and formally’ that ‘the Soviet Union has stopped arms supplies to Somalia.” Of course the Somalis were outraged and, from here on, relations became strained and Somalia ordered all Soviets and Cubans to leave and on November 13th, 1977 Siad Barre officially announced his break of relations with Cuba and the USSR.

The Cubans were very successful in stopping the Somali invasion and the Somali attack collapsed in March 1978. Right after this collapse, the US was sceptical about giving any more support, verbal or otherwise, to Somalia until two major events occurred – the Iranian Hostage Crisis (November 1979) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1980).

These events prompted the well-known ‘Carter Doctrine’ that formalized military bases in Somalia, all in the name of security. In August of 1980 the US signed an official agreement with Somalia allowing US access to air and port facilities (most notably at Berbera – just north of the Ogaden) and from that moment on Somalia clearly received $65 million in military aid over three years. By 1982, US support to Somalia increased.

In the summer of 1982 the US sent ammunitions, arms, air defense equipment and transport, and communications and engineering supplies to Somalia in support of its war against Ethiopia. As The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (a group dedicated to news and analysis from and about the Middle East and U.S. policy in there) reported on February 7, 1983: “The U.S. justified last summer’s emergency arms shipments on the grounds that Somalia was not doing the attacking, but was being attacked.”

Consequently, due to this military defense aid, the Horn becomes a region where a war can break out again – backed with official US support now and in the name of defense. So, Cuba clearly keeps a military presence to suppress any further invasions by Somalia.

Seeing how the chronological events unfolded and how the US eventually gave military aid to Somalia, we can conclude that had Cuba had not kept a presence in the Ogaden Ethiopia might have fallen. Further, if Somalia’s invasion had ever been successful would they allow Eritrea to be independent afterwards? Can we accept that a Somali invasion would have favored Eritrean freedom while Castro only wanted to purposefully stall it?

I hope it’s obvious to you, as it is to me, that had Somalia been successful in invading Ethiopia their hunger for control of the Horn would not have stopped there but continued.

As well, after 1980, if Cuba had immediately left Ethiopia, can we naively believe that Somalia would not try to re-invade?

Still, to keep objective, and if you are the kind of person who wishes to argue that if, after 1980, had Somalia re-invaded Ethiopia with US support (the Carter Doctrine) that America would have spread freedom to Eritrea because that is America’s goal -freedom.

Well, to go back to reports Based on the Country Studies Series by the Federal Research Division of the Library of CongressA large Cuban contingent, believed to number 12,000, remained in Ethiopia after the Ogaden War. However, by mid 1984 Havana had reduced its troop strength in Ethiopia to approximately 3,000. In 1988 a Cuban brigade, equipped with tanks and APC’s, was stationed in Dire Dawa to guard the road and railroad between Ethiopia and Djibouti, following attacks by Somali-supported rebels.

It is evident that after 1980 Somalia kept finding ways to invade Ethiopia and Cuba kept guarding. I don’t think that a Somalia invasion of Ethiopia, even with US support, would have brought freedom to Eritrea. I say that because I assume we all know to well the US’s suppression of left wing progressive movements based in Africa, Latin America and Asia

– and all while, many times, supporting right wing suppressive movements.

But in case you are not sure what I mean, and to keep questioning, I will quote a document created in 1966 (slightly over a decade before the Ogaden War) by the US Government. This document was entitled The Tricontinental Conference of African, Asian, and Latin American Peoples -A Staff Study. This ‘staff study’ was prepared for the Subcommittee in charge of investigating the Administration of Internal Security Act and other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. Again, this ‘study’ was printed in 1966 and it discusses The Tricontinental Conference that took place in Cuba in that same year.

This ‘staff study’ reports the following:

An event of outstanding importance to the Free World took place in Havana on January 3 of this year. The Cuban capital was the site of what was probably the most powerful gathering of pro-Communist, anti-American forces in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

In other words, the ‘study’ states that an event occurred in Cuba that the ‘free world’ must keep an eye on because it is pro-Communist, anti-American and very powerful. The ‘study’ continues:

The first Tricontinental Conference of African, Asian, and Latin American Peoples, as it was called, was convened in the Hall of the Ambassadors at the once-swank Habana Libre Hotel (formerly the Havana Hilton Hotel) in Havana, Cuba. In all, there were 83 groups from countries on three continents-reportedly represented by approximately 513 delegates, 64 observers and 77 invited guests. These groups included 27 Latin American delegations.

Asian countries were represented by 197 delegates, while African countries had 150, and the 27 Latin American groups comprised 165 delegates.

The ‘study’ then goes on to give its opinion on Cuba, Communism and the people present… it’s rather lengthy so I will spare you. But the most interesting part is where the following opinion is shared:

The gravity of the threat posed by the Tricontinental Conference is the subject of a recent study prepared by the Special Consultative Committee on Security of the Organization of American States at its sixth regular meeting. Its study concluded:

That the so-called first Afro-Asian-Latin American Peoples’ Solidarity Conference constitutes a positive threat to the free peoples of the world, and, on the hemisphere level, represents the most dangerous and serious threat that international communism has yet made against the inter-American system. It is necessary and urgent, for the purpose of adequately defending democracy:

a. That the [proven] intervention of communism in the internal affairs of the American Republics be considered as aggression, since it constitutes a threat to the security of the hemisphere.

b. That the American governments define their position regarding the present treatment of every kind to be given to communism, and that they consequently adopt coordinated measures that will lead to the common goals.

In other words, the ‘study’ concludes that the gathering of the people of color through out the world (note: this is not a report on European peoples), and which occurred in Cuba, constitutes the most positive threat yet made against the inter-American system.

In other words, whenever people of color gather to discuss their needs and independence, especially in Cuba, then it is a threat to American society. This is a fascinating ‘study’ but, please, let’s continues our questioning of things before we reach any conclusions.

This gathering was also labeled an aggression since it poses a threat to the hemisphere. Based on that supposed aggression, the American government a) must make its position clear and b) adapt coordinated measures to reach its goals. Fascinating word: goals.

What are these goals? In case the reader needs this spelled out, and in hopes of objective analysis, but to also keep this short: I highly recommend the book “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent”. It spells out what these goals are and how it is the US maintains security in Latin America, but more so, what that actually means for all people of color who seek independence, progress and social reform.

So, to continue and taking the above into consideration, Farber ignores the counter argument that had Cuba NOT fought Somalia in the Ogaden -then Eritrean independence may not be a reality today because if the US had claimed more control in that region (via the Carter Doctrine) you can bet that the continued existence of any Eritrean liberation (whether by the ELF or EPLF) and their fight for Independence would’ve been harder.

Case in point, since Somalia lost in the Ogaden, therefore, the US could only exert influence within a limited area of the Horn region. So much so, that in 1993 Eritrea was able to successfully free itself from Ethiopian rule and today it is an independent nation.

As we know, Eritrea is independent of Ethiopia today. So, why can’t Farber or Yohannes accept that since Cuba helped stop a Somali invasion it made it easier for Eritrea to eventually gain independence? Instead, they both just seem intent on avoiding the whole story, the complex possibilities of it all and only tell us a small portion of the events.

Sadly many left-wing socialist organizations also simply take Sam Faber at his word… such as the ISO… and never challenge or even bother to question claims against Cuba and, instead, it seems as if they rather cut down Cuba’s positive accomplishments rather then acknowledge them.

I mention the ISO, in particular, because they’ve gained a lot of respect but when it comes to Farber they’ve dropped the ball since they print much of what he writes without always fact checking the whole story. If the ISO had done their homework on these half-truths then they would’ve found out that Cuba and Eritrea had good relations before the1980’s, during the 1980’s and after the 1980’s.

But, rather than just make my own claims about Cuban and Eritrean relations, I’ll simply cite an official statement. In a bulletin dated March 17th, 2007, and published on the official website of the EMBASSY OF THE STATE OF ERITREA in SOUTH AFRICA (http://www.eritreaembassy.co.za/Embassy%20Bulletin/March%2015%202007.htm), the Eritrean government states the following in regards to cooperation between Cuba and Eritrea: “ Eritrean-Cuban relations and cooperation has registered satisfactory achievement and represents an exemplary development.”

Strange, no mention of any Cuban betrayals or even about-faces, past or present.

All I ask of Yohannes and Farber is for them to tell the whole story and not just what they want to tell. Otherwise, it just looks like ‘hate’. So I ask the reader, the ISO and its members, Sam Farber, and also of Yohannes to keep objective analysis and avoid any demonization since that is the best commitment to keeping the whole truth alive.

Does that mean Cuba is free of criticism? Of course not! My point is, we have an obligation to tell the whole truth and not half of it. Otherwise, we create lies and there’s no better way to promote hate than with lies. The ISO must fact-check everything, even an article written by one of its friends: Sam Farber. Otherwise, they’ll come across like just ‘hating’ on Cuba and, as you know, hatred and revolution do not go hand in hand.

Like I said, Cuba is not perfect. But there is a difference between objectively critiquing a country’s policies and between helping to demonize it by leaving out the whole story.

So, please, remember the old Yiddish proverb: “A half-truth is a whole lie.”

40 Comments »

  1. Without going into details now I only have to remember what I learnt from Marx (among others): De omnibus est dubitandum. Dear comrade Sanchez how can you seriously expect that an official representation of a country – Eritrea in this case – could say ONE word against a country with which it has diplomatic relations?

    Comment by Steiger — November 12, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  2. Johnny Sanchez is right: Cuba isn’t perfect. But the International Socialist Organization, when it writes about Cuba, is perfectly AWFUL. Consider this:

    On the masthead of its newspaper, SOCIALIST WORKER, we read:

    China and Cuba, like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, have nothing to do with socialism. They are state capitalist regimes. We support the struggles of workers in these countries against the bureaucratic ruling class.
    http://www.socialistworker.org/WhereWeStand.shtml

    The ISO is conflicted about the US blockade of Cuba. They say they are against the blockade, but they say ending the blockade would cause Cuba to be reincorporated into the United States. So do they really oppose the blockade? Or are they just that hostile to the Cuban Revolution that they would prefer that the island be re-incorporated in to the US empire? Read what they themselves write:

    Paul D’Amato: Cuba: Image and Reality (2007)
    All sincere anti-imperialists should condemn the cruel U.S. economic blockade of Cuba; but we should have no illusions as to what the lifting of that embargo would mean. The proximity of Cuba to the U.S. and the latter’s size and power will lead to the more or less rapid reintegration of Cuba with the U.S. economy.
    http://www.isreview.org/issues/51/cuba_image&reality.shtml

    One could find any number of other quotes like this in the literature of the ISO.

    To follow the Cuban story and Cuba’s struggles on a daily basis, I would like to recommend CubaNews, the Yahoo news group which I edit, now in its tenth year of service. Over 100,000 items are available in its free, easy-to-use archives.

    Comment by walterlx — November 12, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

  3. In theory, the ISO’s position vis-a-vis Castro and the Cuban Revolution flows from its adherence to Tony Cliff’s “theory” of “state capitalism.” Prior to their split/expulsion from Cliff’s “International Socialist Tendency,” they could rely on the British SWP’s Latin American expert Mike Gonzalez to furnish them with articles on Cuba. Since then they have had to rely on Farber, a supporter of Solidarity and a left Shactmanite, who, I would assume, holds a “bureaucratic collectivist” position on Cuba. Eritrea, Ethiopia or any other country that Cuba may have had something to do with just provides an excuse for them to vent their spleens against Castro.

    Whether it’s Max Shactman or Tony Cliff who provides the ideological inspiration for their positions, all of these individuals and organizations are equally as hostile to the Cuban Revolution and generally equate Cuba under Castro to the USSR under Stalin and his successors. All of them are heavy on Stalinophobia and the capitulation to the US government’s cold war anti-communism that goes with it. The ISO, for example, has run far more front page articles in its ISR magazine attacking Castro than Obama, who they have had a soft spot for ever since their target audience of middle class college students started falling for him. The only time they will openly polemicize with other left groups (e.g., the Marcyites of Workers World Party and its clone, the PSL) is over the latter’s uncritical support for Castro.

    Needless to say they all went head over heels for the “democratic” counter-revolutions that toppled Stalinism in favor of capitalism in the Soviet bloc 20 years ago. In spite of all that has happened since then, ie, the whole-scale destruction of the cradle-to-grave welfare states that existed in those countries and the massive impoverishment of the working class that went with it, they are still sticking to those positions, objectively joining with the ruling class and its mass media in hailing the 20th anniversary of the “collapse of the Berlin Wall.” Small wonder that they feel the same way towards Cuba and want to see the same thing happen there that occurred in the USSR and Eastern Europe, Unfortunately for them (and fortunately for the Cuban workers and peasants) Fidel and Raul, whatever their imperfections may be, are not Gorbachev or Hans Modrow.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 12, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  4. Roy, are you actually insinuating that you’re in favor of Stalinism/ The Berlin wall?

    Comment by Jenny — November 12, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  5. Jenny. For the last time I hope. Defending the USSR (or Cuba for that matter, which I’m hard prssed to find much different than Stalinism when you really get down to it although few will admit it) is not the same as defending Stalinism, no more than defending the UAW is the same as defending Ron Gettelfinger. What part of this (dare I say dialectical) dual-nature of a trade union formula escapes you? The Bolshevik revolution, sociologically speaking, amounted essentially to a giant trade union taking state power. Do you defend a trade union against it’s class enemies during a strike or a sit-down or a plant takeover or don’t you? If, for arguments sake, in it’s height of power & popularity the AFL-CIO + UAW & Teamsters were together to have managed to take state power what do you suppose the outcome might have been? What kind of external pressures would have been imposed on that bureaucratic labor leadership (National Guard, etc.) and what would the outcome of such a struggle, if victorious (or even if not) have done to the nature of that leadership? More importantly, which side of the barricades, alas, civil war, would you be on? If one were to distill the fragrance of all your combined posts here the answer is clear.

    Changing the subject a bit now. MN Roy is on to something important. If, as some might reasonably argue, CLR James was the most important American Marxist thinker (he lived here for 20 years or so), that doesn’t ring true insofar he came to the same State Cap conclusions that lead erstwhile socialists (like the ISOers) to falsified critiques of socialist states like Cuba, which to me, as a sociologist, still most closely resembles Trotsky’s definition of a degenerated workers’ state. The simple question then is, do you defend against imperialism that giant trade union that’s taken state power, that degenerated workers’ state, or don’t you?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 1:24 am

  6. Karl Friedrich writes:

    “Cuba, which to me, as a sociologist, still most closely resembles Trotsky’s definition of a degenerated workers’ state.”

    Walter Lippmann responds:

    Trying to force the Cuban Revolution into the framework of the Russian Revolution is an error. There never were soviets in the course of the Cuban Revolution, and so faulting Cuba for not having soviets is both unhistorical and unfair.

    Degeneration is a process, which suggests a movement from up there to down here.

    That simply hasn’t been the course of the Cuban Revolution. Most who address Cuba, or other revolutions in this Trotskyist framework make the same mistake. Cuba has evolved in many interesting ways during the course of its revolution. But it never began with the Russian Revolution as a model for Cuba, and has never proposed such a foundation for its process.

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 2:28 am

  7. The Berlin Wall! Jenny. Can you ever get past the Reaganoid/Liberal view of the reason why the Berlin Wall was erected — or are you just stuck in the world of a perpetual ignoramaus?

    Notice I say Reagan & Liberal in the same breath. Why? Because US foreign policy has ALWAYS been LIBERALISM, period. I defy anybody to counter this point. I know liberals like Jenny find that hard to fathom but it’s a stubborn fact. A fact that in the end seperates liberalism from socialism.

    Liberalism, starting from when Napoleon’s army, a state on wheels, decreed that “feudalism is hereby abolished” has always sought to impose formal democracy with bayonets. That’s the essential hypocricy of liberalism.

    Liberals like Jenny always assume that the Berlin Wall was erected from the organic machinations of those cruel, Stalinist meanies, who represent the inherent essence of Bolshevism, which is why the Bolshevik revolution was bad, very bad, Leninism being the inevitable precursor of gulags.

    Jenliberals never could imagine, for a moment, if they were in charge of say a Warsaw pact country that spent incredible amounts of its meager resources educating for free, from cradle to grave, innumerable citizens in the sciences, aerospace, engineering, etc and how the imperialists, out to destroy such societies as bad apples that threaten to destroy the whole barrel, would try & bribe, lure and otherwise sabotage such investments away from these societies, thereby necessitating restrictions on freedom of travel.

    Goddam it Jenny. If you’re, say for arguments sake, in charge of a workers’ state (even a highly degenerated one) and through your leadership I become, for free, some fancy pants engineer that’s highly desirable by your class enemies, and then, say, I have the audacity & temerity to snivel & whine about why I cannot suddenly become a free agent and sell my soul to the highest bidder, well then I wouldn’t be too surprised if you at least reprimanded me, or at worst sent me to some gulag, or, god forbid, erect a giant fence to keep me and my colleauges from absconding from our freaking social contracts, the goddamned ingrates!

    It’s that general formula that explains the Berlin Wall and in that context it’s hardly the big crime that you relentlessly portray it as.

    Hypocrisy is the hallmark of a libral. That’s why the teabaggers & townhallers get so much traction in this putrid political climate.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 2:39 am

  8. I would suggest that Jenny take a look at a poll taken by the BBC on whether or not one thinks that the demise of the USSR (and, by implication, the rest of the Soviet bloc) was a positive or a negative development. The majority of those asked in Russia and the Ukraine “voted” that it was for the worse, i.e., that things were better under Stalinism, with all its defects, than under “free market” capitalism. as for the Berlin Wall, look at the unemployment rate in the ex-GDR as well as the drop in population since the counter-revolution took place if you want an answer to that one.

    I would also recommend to Jenny that she read either Trotsky, or, better still, for an updated Trotskyist analysis on Stalinism and the class nature of the USSR, Ernest Mandel, so that these kind of questions can be avoided. The most important writings on the subject by both of them are available on the Marxist Internet Archive. Karl’s answer is also right on the ruble insofar as the trade-union analogy goes.

    However, I hardly think that CLR James “was the most important American Marxist thinker” whether he lived here for 20 years or 20 days. Possibly the most overrated by many an anti-Leninist or anti-Trotskyist with some particular gripe with Cannon or by New Left leftovers or just plain white guilt-trippers looking for some Third World figure with anti-Stalinist credentials, but hardly the “most important.” How many “Jamesite” or “Jamesist,” depending upon where one stands, organizations does one find these days? Plenty of groupies and devotees in academia or at the Brecht Forum, perhaps, but few organized activists. His conclusions on a whole range of other issues, besides “State Capitalism” left much to be desired from a consistent class struggle perspective, to say the least. Hell, consistency was the last thing that James could ever be associated with.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 13, 2009 @ 2:41 am

  9. In my opinion, the most important Marxist thinker in the United States today is Mumia Abu-Jamal. And he wouldn’t even give himself the label.

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 2:46 am

  10. Walter Lippmann responds that Karl F. somehow is mistaken by superimposing a Trotskyist framework of the Russian Revolution on the Cuban Revolution, concluding that the sociological definition of a degenerated workers’ state is somehow inappropriate as a sociological definition of Cuba today. With all due respect to Mr. Lippmann Karl F. responds that’s bullshit. Those 2 revolutions are admittedly distinctly different animals. I’m no fool that cannot see that. But in the last analysis, Castroism, albeit better, more tolerant & humane, differs STRUCTURALLY little from Stalinism for all sociological purposes, hard is that is for millions of progressives to admit.

    Now one could proclaim that’s just what the State Deptartment and the Gusanos in Miami argue. And I say fuck them both! Leninists and NRA Conservatives are both against gun control — so what’s that prove? Those that don’t see that defending Cuba requires the same intellectual fortitude as defending the USSR are deluding themselves in a world that I simply will never comprehend and will never, ever, concede and inch to.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 3:06 am

  11. KARL FRIEDRICH writes:
    “But in the last analysis, Castroism, albeit better, more tolerant & humane, differs STRUCTURALLY little from Stalinism for all sociological purposes, hard is that is for millions of progressives to admit.”

    WALTER LIPPMANN responds:
    Sorry, the above is an assertion. No facts at all are advanced to back it up. The ISO, about whose politics this is supposed to be a discussion, favors the overthrow of the Cuban government. How about a little intellectual fortitude, or at least a few facts to back up the assertion?

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 3:14 am

  12. Jamal being the most important Marxist thinker alive today? Maybe, as there’s not too many important ones alive any more. Yet I’d defend his life with my own if that’s what it took for some justice on this godforsaken planet! That’s one thing liberals can never quite get their arms around — the fact that there’s really no justice in this world. Bottom line, speaking of Mumia, I defy anybody to prove to me that Jamal doesn’t view the the sociolocal nature of the Cuban state vis-a-vis the former USSR as I outlined in my previous post, because I happen to know that’s the way he views it!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 3:23 am

  13. Sorry Walter, but in this case, since the comparison is so glaring, you’re the one who needs to back up your assertions with facts as millions (albeit half of them congenital reactionaries) have concluded from facts that Castroism and Stalinism have many more similarities than differences. If you imagine that Mumia Jamal disagrees with that then you’d again be wrong. The point is both me and Mumia and don’t give a damn if there are more similarities than differences — we defend both against imperialist turpitude to the bitter end.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 3:36 am

  14. Mumia supports the Cuban Revolution and the leadership of Fidel Castro. Don’t take my word for it. Read or listen to what Mumia himself has said:

    http://www.prisonradio.org/FidelMumiaAbu-Jamal.htm

    If you think Mumia agrees with you that Cuba is Stalinist, please document your claim, or withdraw your claim. As of now, it’s completely unsubstantiated.

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 4:07 am

  15. Okay then, what’s the communist justification for the Berlin Wall?

    No,really, don’t just tell me to fuck off and go read some tract,I want to hear your explanation. Hell, Stalin was the one who put it up in the first place, I was denouncing Stalin, not Lenin.

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 4:43 am

  16. Are you hard-of-reading Jenny? I just gave you an example, that is, if you yourself were in power, actually in a responsible position versus the one you’re in now, why the Wall would be absolutely necessary, that is, you yourself would have been forced to construct it to protect your intellectual property. If your only reply is that pathetic one above, like you were only simply being cursed at, then my point stands as well made.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 4:53 am

  17. This also sums up my view quite well: http://pink-scare.blogspot.com/2009/11/four-perspectives-on-fall-of-wall.html

    How the fuck can you say that defending communism is not the same as defending Stalinism in one post and then defend his actions in the next? I want answers.

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 4:54 am

  18. JENNY:
    Stalin was the one who put it up in the first place

    HISTORY:
    Stalin died in 1953.
    The Berlin Wall was built in 1961.

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 5:12 am

  19. My mistake then. He still had the idea for it though.

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 5:14 am

  20. Sir Walter affirms that Jamal supports the Cuban Revolution — as if that’s some big news flash! Did that link you cited of Jamal’s ANYWHERE affirm that he didn’t support the Russian Revolution or the USSR? If not then what’s your point?

    I thought Sir Walter was supposed to be some kind of intellectual? Some kind of historian? I’m just a lowly truck mechanic, albeit with a sociology degree or two, but clearly you’ve refuted none of my points and in fact only bolstered them with such a pathetic, non-responsive response.

    Here’s why. If you were to substitute in the article by Jamal you so righteously link, say the names of Stalin or Kruschev or Breznev for Castro, or Washington for Miami, or Moscow for Havannah, or Angola for Vietnam, or one progressive act that Cuba did for one progressive act that the USSR did, then the article would be would be utterly absurd insofar as the USSR gave way more decisive material & objective support to 3rd World victories against imperialism than Cuba could ever dream of.

    Of course. Cuba isn’t a virtual autarchy with a land mass over 10 time zones possessing a standing army that threatened all of Europe! In fact, just as Israel wouldn’t still stand today without the objective aid of US Imperialsm — neither would the Cuban revolution still be standing today without the objective support of the USSR. You want facts rather than assertions, Walter, there they are, objective ones, which only fools attempt to refute.

    Again, assuming, for the sake of argument, the USSR still stood but the Cuban revolution never happened, but every other revolution that we know of did happen, Jamal would have given the same damn dungeon speech in defence of the USSR and it’s decisive role in China, Vietnam, etc, etc, for without the USSR the Cuban revolution would have been crushed by US Imperialism long before the Bay of Pigs invasion.

    What’s up with pro-Cuban anti-Stalinists that don’t know where their bread was buttered? They’re sure as hell not Fidelistas!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 5:39 am

  21. So Stalin’s better than Castro? Jesus Christ,Karl, you’re rather inept aren’t you?

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 5:43 am

  22. Hey Jenny. You prove you’re hopeless with every other post! Now go fuck off & try & teach something you may have learned here to some of the lost souls on the Daily Kos or Huffinton’s site. Patience has its limits.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 5:53 am

  23. KARL FRIEDRICH:
    In fact, just as Israel wouldn’t still stand today without the objective aid of US Imperialsm — neither would the Cuban revolution still be standing today without the objective support of the USSR. You want facts rather than assertions, Walter, there they are, objective ones, which only fools attempt to refute.

    WALTER LIPPMANN responds:
    I agree. Had the USSR not supported Cuba, it would not have survived. There’s nothing to refute. You claimed Mumia thinks Cuba is Stalinist. I asked you to document your claim. So far all we’ve received is hot air, but no documentation.

    Please, continue to have a nice day.

    Comment by walterlx — November 13, 2009 @ 6:03 am

  24. No, not until you explain your numerous contradictions within these posts. I’ve read these comments again and again and I still can’t figure out what the hell you’re talking about.

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 6:26 am

  25. I never wrote anywhere that Jamal “claimed” Cuba is Stalinist state, ever. He doesn’t think along those lines. After all, the Soviets collapsed before his Marxism matured into its present, allegedly, “most important Marxist thinker in the United States today” status, as Walter Lippmann asserts (interestingly without facts other than one Mumia citation that, while quite cogent, is no more erudite than any other pro-Cuban formulation).

    Rather, I argue, like Trotsky, that Stalinism is the inevitable result of what amounts sociologically to a giant trade union that takes state power while encircled by imperialism.

    OK. The Cuban experience differed radically from the Soviets insofar as erstwhile workers’ councils took manifold different forms in Cuba, but structurally state power took a remarkably similar form as Russia’s insofar as it was encircled and blockaded by imperialism & needed first & foremost to defend itself by any means necessary, nationalize property, monopolize exports, and put some bullets into the heads of some dirtbags just to placate the seething masses for legitimacy.

    What was the sociological status of Attica prison in the late 60’s when taken over by inmates surrounded by National Guardsmen? It was analogous to the above, that’s what. Czarism was the prisonhouse of nations just like Cuba was the prisoner of US Imperialism.

    This is the foremost analogy that Mumia relates to. And this is why Mumia doesn’t differentiate too sharply beteen Cuba and the USSR vis-a-vis imperialism if you were to ask him, which nobody has to date. But that doesn’t mean his logic will falter.

    Mumia doesn’t differentiate between victims of imperialism, like gradations of slavery. That’s why he didn’t differentiate between the USSR when it was in its death throes, and Cuba, which was equally threatened by the collapse of the USSR.

    Just as Sam Marcy and his cadre in the WWP (who happen to be very close friends of Mumia) didn’t have any use for the word “Stalinist” in their literature for the last 40 years — neither does Jamal. That doesn’t mean that if you were to press him for a concise sociological definition of the state superstructure of Cuba versus the USSR he wouldn’t find them more similar than different.

    As a young boy my father warned me that this conclusion about Cuba was very difficult for many leftists to swallow, but swallow it they must he said. I’ve yet to meet a more important Marxist than my father. Of course this too is just an assertion. But I can back it up with facts if one insists.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 7:39 am

  26. Jenny says — “No, not until you explain your numerous contradictions within these posts. I’ve read these comments again and again and I still can’t figure out what the hell you’re talking about.”

    Jenny. Got news for you. Nobody posts more contradictions here than you. Period. Like Stalin building the Berlin Wall 8 years after they mummified his corpse! Oh, but that’s what he longed for! Well you’re right. He did long for such a wall, not because he was a degenerate psychopath, which he was, but because his completely rational side loathed the prospect of the innumerable ingrates he so alienated taking millions of rubles worth of intellectual property to the other side. What part of that don’t you grasp? What part of the fact that workers may despise their trade union’s leadership but still lay down their life on a picket line escapes you? The answer is that, through no fault of your own so we cannot hold it against you, you are completely alien to working class struggle in general and the trade union movement in particular. My guess is that you are from the university milieu, which is undoubtedly why Lenin said he’d trade 50 Finnish professors for Jack Reed.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 13, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  27. KARL FRIEDRICH writes (#1):
    I never wrote anywhere that Jamal “claimed” Cuba is Stalinist state, ever.

    KARL FRIEDRICH writes (#2):
    Defending the USSR (or Cuba for that matter, which I’m hard prssed to find
    much different than Stalinism when you really get down to it although few will admit it)
    ———–
    I argue, like Trotsky, that Stalinism is the inevitable result of what amounts sociologically to a giant trade union that takes state power while encircled by imperialism.
    ———–
    Just as Sam Marcy and his cadre in the WWP (who happen to be very close friends of Mumia) didn’t have any use for the word “Stalinist” in their literature for the last 40 years — neither does Jamal.

    That doesn’t mean that if you were to press him for a concise sociological definition of the state superstructure of Cuba versus the USSR he wouldn’t find them more similar than different.

    As a young boy my father warned me that this conclusion about Cuba was very difficult for many leftists to swallow, but swallow it they must he said. I’ve yet to meet a more important Marxist than my father. Of course this too is just an assertion. But I can back it up with facts if one insists.

    WALTER COMMENTS:

    Filial piety can be a positive and honorable trait.
    I do not know who Karl Friedrich’s father is, so
    Karl Friedrich’s declaration only signifies that
    he agrees with and is influenced by his father.

    Karl Friedrich writes of Mumia, IF PRESSED he would
    not disagree with, or come up with an alternative
    view to Karl Friedrich’s view. OK. I accept this.
    However, I will leave the project of pressing
    Mumia to Karl Friedrich.

    Perhaps Karl Friedrich could initiate a threat about
    his father and the influence his father had on him.

    That ought to be separate from whether or not Cuba
    is “Stalinist” and, therefore, if Karl Friedrich
    thinks that the Cuban government should be overthrown
    and replaced by a new regime of “workers democracy”
    as seems to be the direction Karl Friedrich is going
    and which IS the opinion of the International Socialist
    Organization, the group whose politics are the focus of
    this particular thread.

    CONTINUING: Karl Friedrich declares:
    ==============================
    “The Cuban experience differed radically from the Soviets insofar as
    erstwhile workers’ councils took manifold different forms in Cuba,
    but structurally state power took a remarkably similar form as
    Russia’s insofar as it was encircled and blockaded by imperialism &
    needed first & foremost to defend itself by any means necessary,
    nationalize property, monopolize exports, and put some bullets into
    the heads of some dirtbags just to placate the seething masses for
    legitimacy.”
    ==============================

    The workers councils took different forms in Cuba, yes. That was
    they DID NOT EXIST. Soviets were not part of the process of the
    Cuban Revolution. Whether this was good or bad can be left to be
    debated by the historians, but in actual fact, there were no such
    councils created by the Cuban workers during the revolution there.

    At times I ponder various roads which might or might not have been
    taken. However, I always keep in mind that such efforts are nothing
    other than speculation. It’s find to speculate, of course. Alas, the
    ISO does not speculate. It opposes the Cuban Revolution and favors
    what it would call the revolutionary overthrow of the Cuban government
    and its replacement by “the workers” of Cuba.

    That’s all for now.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — November 13, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  28. I’m not sure if I’m following Karl Friedrich’s argument. If he’s saying that the layers of substitionism employed in Cuba are no more egregious then those introduced by the Bolshevik party at its nadir (civil war years), I’m in agreement. I’ve never bought into the ISO line on state capitalism, or for that matter, the analysis of CLR James that reached the conclusion of state capitalism, because I’ve come across anything in my studies of early Leninist policy that was all that different then the excesses of the Cuban state once the Bolsheviks came under siege. It’s possible to split hairs endlessly over the origins of the Granma crew, or their isolation from the working mass, but the whole idea sort of hits the shoals when one considers that the Batista regime went down right alongside the Castroist moves on Havana in early 1959. It’s a pretty hard sell for me that an isolated guerilla front could have seen a whole urban center capitulate without support from the masses. I mean, given that possibility, wouldn’t the isolation of the “left” in this country guarantee our victory, despite our isolation from mass politics?

    I think that Castro, as Isaac Deutscher once said of Mao, is Cuba’s Lenin and Stalin rolled into one. And I think the revolution he helped lead was a real product of the working masses of the city and country, with all the contradictions that such a process entails. Beautiful at some moments, uglier than a mud fence at others. I don’t see anything in all the gyrations of the ISO that makes more sense than that.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — November 13, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  29. I seem to remember a time when Karl claimed that Stalinism was in fact a grotesque version of Leninism caused by imperialistic invaders: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/said-sayrafiezadeh-david-horowitz-wannabe/#comments

    So why are you praising Stalin’s actions now? Once again, there’s a giant difference between saying something such as this:

    “Jenny. For the last time I hope. Defending the USSR (or Cuba for that matter, which I’m hard prssed to find much different than Stalinism when you really get down to it although few will admit it) is not the same as defending Stalinism”

    and this:

    “Jenliberals never could imagine, for a moment, if they were in charge of say a Warsaw pact country that spent incredible amounts of its meager resources educating for free, from cradle to grave, innumerable citizens in the sciences, aerospace, engineering, etc and how the imperialists, out to destroy such societies as bad apples that threaten to destroy the whole barrel, would try & bribe, lure and otherwise sabotage such investments away from these societies, thereby necessitating restrictions on freedom of travel.

    Goddam it Jenny. If you’re, say for arguments sake, in charge of a workers’ state (even a highly degenerated one) and through your leadership I become, for free, some fancy pants engineer that’s highly desirable by your class enemies, and then, say, I have the audacity & temerity to snivel & whine about why I cannot suddenly become a free agent and sell my soul to the highest bidder, well then I wouldn’t be too surprised if you at least reprimanded me, or at worst sent me to some gulag, or, god forbid, erect a giant fence to keep me and my colleauges from absconding from our freaking social contracts, the goddamned ingrates!”

    So why the rapid switch?

    Comment by Jenny — November 13, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

  30. Michael & Walter & MN Roy & I agree then. The State Cap thesis not only doesn’t withstand scrutiny but worse, it leads to bad politics.

    As for Jenny, we’ll evidently never agree on anything except maybe what a swine George W. Bush is.

    The points of her posts, if there are any, are completely incoherent, and strike me as written by somebody whose frankly a little bit nuts.

    I’ve never articulated the assanine formula that “Stalinism was in fact a grotesque version of Leninism caused by imperialistic invaders” whatever that means? My politics have been consistent for 40 years. I’ve always beieved that Stalinism is the product not of Leninist party politics but rather a socialist revolution in an underdeveloped country isolated & blockaded by imperialist encirclement.

    Finally Jenny, in case you’re unaware, if Cuba wasn’t an island then it too would be compelled to build a Berlin-style wall in order to thwart their publically educated engineers & doctors from easily absconding with the state’s intellectual assets.

    So if Cuba weren’t an Island it’s almost certain they’d have to erect such a wall and then, of course, it’d be much harder to convince oneself that Cuba isn’t essentially a Stalinist state.

    What Jenny seems organically incapable of understanding, however, (and this is typical of the university milieu) is that, like Trotsky, defending a Stalinist state does not make one a Stalinist no more than defending the Teamsters makes one a fan of Hoffa’s son.

    You see Jenny. Class conscious workers defend their trade union despite the often criminal turpitude of the trade union’s leadership, just as revolutionary Marxists (more often than not) defended the Soviet UNION not because of Stalin but despite him.

    I defend Cuba with every bone in my body not BECAUSE it displays many similarities with a Stalinist state but DESPITE it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 14, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  31. “I’ve always beieved that Stalinism is the product not of Leninist party politics but rather a socialist revolution in an underdeveloped country isolated & blockaded by imperialist encirclement.”
    Yes, that’s what I was trying to say, but it unfortunately came out convuluted.

    And I understand that workers can defend their organizations without worshiping Stalin,but to me, the berlin wall construction was an oppressive act of power, not another progressive move. Socialist worker agrees: http://socialistworker.org/series/The-fall-of-the-wall

    And yes, I know their stance on Cuba,etc. I disagree about Cuba(somewhat) but they’re right about Mao and Stalin.
    Even Trotsky loathed Stalin after all.

    Comment by Jenny — November 14, 2009 @ 3:33 am

  32. Jenny — once again your convoluted writing leads to convoluted logic as you repeatedly put your thoughts into other people’s heads. Nobody on this blog ever said that the Berlin Wall was “another progressive move”? Where do you make this stuff up from? It’s like arguing with a snowball!

    What part of the explanation of why the wall erected didn’t you get? I mean I put it in the simplest terms possible — of supposing YOU were in charge of protecting the state’s vital intellectual property. You as a state leader have paid considerable amounts of workers’ sweat to pay for 25 years of some doctors’ or nuclear physicist’s education and then they threaten to defect because some CIA agent is bribing them with a higher paying job and a fancily furnished condo next to a discoteque. Do you just let them walk off and abscond with all that sweat equity or do you restrict their travel by any means necessary? Well what are the means necessary? Build a wall. Crude, true, but effective.

    Here’s a clue for you if you didn’t get it the first time. How would Cuba protect its intellectual property if it weren’t an island? The answer is it would build a wall. Of course this is a BAD thing to be forced to do but the point is such walls have much more to do with imperialist turpitude than Stalinist control freaks or bureaucratic meanies.

    Forcing socialist societies to do unpopular things is what imperialism is all about for if they let socialism thrive unharassed then places like Cuba become examples to the rest of the subordinated world which imperialists view as a rotten apple that threatens to spoil the whole barrell. In other words poor people acting in concert to uplift themselves is antithetical to what Uncle Sam really wants.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 14, 2009 @ 4:23 am

  33. I really don’t understand why the reaction to Jenny’s inquiry has been so violent, there are a number of contradictions relied upon by our freind Karl here, for instance, that Cuba has to be examined from the same perspective one would examine the USSR, one of the most forbidable superpowers that the 20th century has seen.
    Another problem is reading too deeply into the meaning of the wall, as if it was some kind of grand socialistic acheivement, a grand design to safeguard USSR from brain drain. It was neither.
    The partition of Germany was the consequence of early cold war politics and practices by the Allied diplomacy stationed in Germany.
    Immidietely following the war Stalin, at this stage of collaboration with the Allied, saught to expand not to draw back his collaborative effort with the capitalist forces as he did before WWII during the Spanish civil war, the Weimar Republic as a result of the Rapallo treaty and especially Britain and the US ever since joining the allied forces, which subsided Stalin’s greatest fears (quite justified paranoia) that the latter were about to say ‘fuckit’ and lend their neutrality to the Germans in taking the eastern front as long as the latter were not proceed westward.
    Here’s a review of an interesting book on the subject of the division of Germany provided by our good friend Louis in the ol’ Marxmail mailserv archives: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2003w39/msg00043.htm

    Comment by Michael T — November 14, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  34. Good points on Stalin’s collaborationist politics from Spain on up Mike but as Walter pointed out Stalin didn’t erect the wall.

    As far as alleged violence I’ve perpetrated — I don’t regard suspecting somebody is a little nuts as an act of violence but I’m beyond tired of the constant exclamations about tearing down the Berlin Wall like so many regurgitated CNN soundbytes any time the subject of the Warsaw Pact comes up.

    It’s like being repeatedly interrupted by creationists at a biology seminar.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 15, 2009 @ 2:20 am

  35. “A half-truth is a whole lie.”
    Yup.
    I’m remain unconvinced by the arguments regarding the Ogaden War.
    There’s no discussion of the validity of the Somali claim to the Ogaden in this piece.
    Or of what the inhabitants of the region wanted.

    Was a democratic plebiscite ever discussed during the meeting in Aden in May 1977, where Fidel tried to get the Somalis and Ethiopians to form a “Marxist Federation”?
    Why did the meeting fail to prevent the Somali invasion?
    Were the Somalis driven into the arms of the US by a failure to consider the validity of their claim?
    The population of the Ogaden are mostly Somali Pastoralists. It was incorporated by Imperial Ethiopia in the late 19thC.
    The Ethiopian-Somali border dispute re-emerged during the Italian invasion of Abbysinia and the aftermath of its defeat.
    Following this, Britain helped restore Haille Selassie, who proclaimed;
    “I have come to restore the independence of my country including Eritrea and Southern Somalia whose people will henceforth dwell under the shade of the Ethiopian flag.”

    But the Somalis, gradually reunifying their country from British and Italian rule, didn’t see it that way.
    The border stopped Somali Pastoralists using their traditional grazing lands and divided clans and families.
    Siad Barre proved to be an opportunist, quite prepared to switch sides to further his aims.
    In which case, why was he regared as an ally in the first place?
    But the fact that “the Somalis had been preparing to seize the Ogaden for years”, simply indicates that there was an ongoing territorial dispute over the region.

    Prior to the Ethiopian Revolution, Siad Barre had been a Soviet ally and Somalia was regarded as a “State with a Socialist Orientation”.
    Hence, it was armed the Soviet Union.
    After the Ethiopian Revolution, Moscow believed that the anti-feudal, secular Dergue were a more reliable ally in Africa.
    Rather than basing its policy on creating a mass party, supporting consistent democratic demands, leading towards socialism, the Dergue supressed the domestic Ethiopian left-wing movements like the EPRP, cracked down on autonomous unions and had no democratic programme on the national question.
    Moscow played a part in encouraging this policy and, as part of its diplomatic offensive towards the Dergue, began to back the Ethiopian claim over the Ogaden as early as mid-1976.

    Although the US and Saudi Arabia were undoubtedly trying to win over Siad Barre by July 1977, it was Soviet armaments which were used in the invasion of the Ogaden.

    Comment by prianikoff — November 15, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  36. MICHAEL HUREAUX wrote:
    It’s a pretty hard sell for me that
    an isolated guerilla front could have
    seen a whole urban center capitulate
    without support from the masses.
    ——————————-
    I think that Castro, as Isaac Deutscher
    once said of Mao, is Cuba’s Lenin and
    Stalin rolled into one.

    WALTER LIPPMANN says:

    The overwhelming majority of the Cuban population supported Fidel and
    the armed struggle, other than the immediate retinue of the dictatorship
    of Fulgencio Batista. That revolution was organized on a program of modest
    social reform, but armed struggle was the only way when a military coup
    had eliminated parliamentary electoral possibilities for change.

    Once Batista and his supporters fled, the capitalist state apparatus more
    or less collapsed, though some of the worst regime supporters had to be
    arrested and punished, including by execution. Those workers councils of
    soviets whose absence the various Trotskyist tendencies invariably bemoan
    never came into existence during this process. They arose spontaneously
    in the Russian Revolution of 1905, and again in 1917. They’ve also come
    into existence in other places from time to time, spontaneously. But in
    Cuba that didn’t take place.

    Fidel Castro was and is the leader of the Cuban Revolution, just as
    Mao led the Chinese Revolution and Lenin led the Russian Revolution.
    All of these leaders have one or another thing in common, as well as
    their obvious differences in time, place and circumstances.

    One essential difference, of course, is that Fidel Castro is alive
    and active and still practicing the art of politics in what I think
    is an exemplary manner. For example, his reflection on Barack Obama,
    published just yesterday, entitled “A Science Fiction Story”. That
    can be read online here:
    http://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-11-11-2009.html

    Fidel’s political skill is expressed in his being able to speak to
    his intended audiences, on the island and in the United States, in
    a language that they can understand. This is being commented on in
    the international media today.

    On the political left, the long-time Canadian-Nicaraguan activist
    Felipe Stuart wrote about this at some length yesterday:

    Fidel criticizes Obama, respectfully but with powerful irony
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GreenLeft_discussion/message/67667

    Groups like the International Socialist Organization, about whose
    politics toward Cuba this discussion is focused, maintains a posture
    of absolute, relentless hostility toward the Cuban Revolution and
    its leadership. Because of that, they are unable to appreciate nor
    relate to the effective manner Fidel Castro uses to reach audiences.

    Finally, where is Johnny Sanchez? This is his posting and I’m sure
    that I and others would be interested to know what he thinks of the
    discussion his comments has evoked.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — November 15, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  37. […] the Somalian invasion of the Ogaden alongside Ethiopian forces, and by remaining in Ethiopia gave at least tacit support to Ethiopian campaigns against Eritrean guerrillas fighting for […]

    Pingback by Fidel Castro's anti-colonialist legacy -RocketNews — November 26, 2016 @ 6:59 am

  38. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Fidel Castro passes: his anti-colonialist legacy | Tendance Coatesy — November 26, 2016 @ 11:18 am

  39. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by Fidel Castro’s anti-colonialist legacy… | Hutts Strange World — November 27, 2016 @ 4:06 am

  40. I respect your critical analysis of Yohannes’ writing on Cuba’s involvement in Ethiopia. However, one can not deny the indirect moral and military support for one of the worst dictators of the world/Africa: Colonel Mengistoe Hailemariam. I was a teanager at that time. I was in Asmara, my birtherplace. When the Cubans helped Mengistoe defeat Somalia; many Ethiopian soldiers flew to Eritrea together with their Russian advisors. The Cubans and the Russians prolonged the life of Mengistoe Hailemariam

    Comment by Habtom Yohannes — December 5, 2016 @ 7:17 pm


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