Category Archives: Chile

Rescues, Caves and Celebrity Salvation

It all risks becoming pornographic, looped and re-run with an obsessive eye for updates and detail about despair and hope.  The twenty-four hour news cycle tends to encourage this sort of thing, ever desperate for snippets, obsessively chasing the update.  With a soccer team of twelve youths and their coach trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave some one kilometre below the surface, the curious, the gormless, and those with an unhealthy interest in the morbid have assumed couch position.

First came the discovery of the team by British divers after the group had gone missing for nine days.  They were found on a ledge inside the Northern Thai cave system.  Divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen were feted as being among the best in the world, the former having been awarded an MBE for, of all things, services in cave diving.

There was much hooting and tooting in celebration, something prompted by the fact that any hope of finding them alive, according to the governor of Chiang Rai province, was nigh impossible.  But the mechanics of extricating the team from the cave started to mount in complexity and desperation, bursting the initial balloon of celebration.

With 2.5 miles of flooded cave between the team and the entrance, a sense of imperilment has grown.  This is compounded by a dreaded risk that adds a televisual ghastliness to the tale: the prospect of more heavy rain on the weekend, something that will foil current efforts to drain the excess water.

A village of international rescue experts including military personnel has grown around the enterprise, not to mention a vast hive of media representatives.  Four questions seem to be doing the rounds: to leave the team in the cave till there is a receding of the water level (dangerous given the monsoon season); pumping out the water to an extent to enable the trapped team to wade out; teaching the youths how to scuba dive, something which would be no mean feat given the length of time it would take for them to journey out of the cave (some five hours) and their status as virginal divers; and finally, drilling into the cave system.

Thai Navy Seals have been deployed, and much help is at hand, but the goriness has not been entirely dissipated.  The Navy Seal Chief Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yoo-kongkaew has been feeding the story to journalists keen to strike the optimistic note.

The Rear Admiral did not disappoint.  “Now we have given food to the boys, starting with food that is easy to digest and provides high energy.” He stressed that care has been given to the youths “following the doctor’s recommendation.  So do not worry, we will take care of them with our best.  We will bring all of them with safety.  We are now planning how to do so.”  Such confidence was given a dint with the subsequent death of one of his crew, Samarn Poonan, who perished due to lack of oxygen during a dive.

One similar incident stands out to what is currently unfolding in Thailand: the initial loss, the recovery and sanctifying of the “Los 33”, the Chilean miners who became celebrities of salvation in 2010.  They spent 69 days in the collapsed San Jose mine near Copiapó.  Over time, a process of mythologising began to take place.

It was fame imposed on the ordinary, confected by the mere fact, as important as that fact was, that they had survived.  Like Church miracle artefacts, they were vested with allure, attraction, and sheer pulling power.  They were also there to be exploited, used, and interpreted.  Otherwise, they were uncomplicated creatures of animal and mineral, many of whom believed that God had been the thirty-fourth miner keeping them resolute.

As the rescue effort unfolded, the minor celebrity bandwagon grew.  US radio personality Ryan Seacrest sent prayers and well wishes hoping, rather insipidly, “to see everyone on the surface soon.” The clownish Irish song duo of Jedward sent their own message of tinny idiocy: “All the miners remember it’s not about mining it’s about finding dinosaurs and dragons.” The late English presenter Keith Chegwin expressed some mock shame that “Dig Brother” had ended.  “Wonder what Chile 4 will put on now.”

The miners would subsequently add a touch of mysticism to the rescue, essentially sacralising it.  Jorge Galleguillos spoke of seeing “a white species… a butterfly” falling “like a paper” into the mine.  “Faith is nourishment… Faith is life.”  Stories abounded of how medical ailments were healed by prayer.  The drill used to tunnel to the miners was guided, according to miner Ariel Ticona, “by the hand of God”.

The miners became the heralds of a modern success story.  They were invited as guests of honour to Manchester United.  They did the US chat show circuit.  As a statement of pure fantasy, they went to that composite of fantasy, Disneyland. Then, for another sort of miracle dream work, they ventured to the Holy Land.  Expenses were footed.

Amidst the celebratory orgy typical of myth came a few sceptical qualifiers.  The degree of medical danger posed to them, for instance, had been given undue embellishment.  Dr. James Polk, deputy chief medical officer and chief of space medicine at NASA put this down to “not having all the facts, and things that people did not know about the situation”.

The workers were, for instance, trapped at sea level and could hardly have suffered from decompression sickness.  The miners were less confined as was portrayed, able to continue their labours underground.  Nor were they at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. “Chilean authorities,” according to Polk, “anticipated this, and they gave them a large dose of Vitamin D3 as part of their nutritional supplementation.”

Many of the rescued miners subsequently faced the ruination of imposed fame.  Mario Sepúlveda spoke of “fame but not money. It is the worst possible thing.”  The camera that had given him and his colleagues celebrity had also consumed them.  His world remains one of anti-depressants and a return to mining, where the darkness comforts.

The “Los 33” effect is very much at play regarding this young football team even as the rescue crews are busying themselves on tactics.  The big and the moneyed are seeking their place in the sun, offering advice.  Some are constructive; others are simply sentimental.  Elon Musk, according to a spokesman, has revealed that negotiations are underway on supplying location technology using Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or Boring Co. technology for digging purposes, or providing Tesla Inc. Powerwall battery packs.  But to every little bit of brain storming comes the deadly qualifier: engaging such services as that of Boring Co., with its colossal drills, might simply be too dangerous.

Even now, the young team has drawn on the heartstrings of the football community, encouraging a measure of faith.  Liverpool Football manager Jürgen Klopp, in an official video intended for the youngsters and their coach, spoke of “hoping every second that you see the daylight again.  You’ll never walk alone.” Such language, heartfelt yet tinged with a sense of funereal doom.

Cover Ups and Confessions: Pope Francis and Child Abuse

It is the season for exposures and exposes, and the Catholic Church has been making regular ripples of the wrong and undeniably crude sort.  Globally, the church is finding itself being picked bare in terms of institutional malfeasance, not merely on the issue of having harboured abusive priests, but of placing a dark, impenetrable cover over them.

No area of influence has been spared.  In Guam, the disruptive efforts of former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron made it into public eye with G. R. Pafumi’s work citing attempts to invalidate a 2016 statute lifting limitations for child sex abuse.  In Pafumi’s grave words, “The Church believes it is never wrong because it has been guided by the Holy Spirit for nearly 2,000 years.”

The Holy Spirit has not being doing much work of late, and seemed to have deserted Adelaide’s Archbishop Philip Wilson last week when he was found guilty of concealing acts of child abuse by a priest.  Australia’s media cognoscenti claimed this to be a globally significant move, as it made Wilson the most senior Catholic in the world to be found guilty of such a charge. The legal argument for Wilson had been one of ignorance: he had not known that a priest by the name of James Fletcher had abused a boy back in the 1970s.

Magistrate Robert Stone did not find much to merit that version, rejecting Wilson’s frail memory on a conversation in 1976 in which the then 15-year-old victim described the abuse by Fletcher, who was working in the Maitland/Newcastle diocese in New South Wales.

Would there be immediate effect upon his office?  Certainly no resignation, a move deemed arrogant by former NSW police detective chief inspector Peter Fox.  The Church, as ever, remains an obstinately self-policing institution at logger heads with secular institutions.  Wilson was hoping for a soft landing, a reprieve from “the people of the archdiocese of Adelaide” to whom he urged to “continue to pray for me.”   In the meantime, he would continue his “prayers and best wishes” for the faithful in the archdiocese.

There would, at best, be a temporary standing down, but hardly a genuine resignation.  Spokeswoman for the archdiocese Jenny Brinkworth seemed to undo the seriousness of the conviction with bureaucratic numbing.  “Standing aside doesn’t necessarily mean it’s forever.  He’s standing aside until process has run its course.”

Pope Francis has found himself reeling in managing the child abuse crisis, and more specifically the machinery of deception and concealment.  For all the claims of his supposedly more progressive streak, he has been traditionally resistant on the Church’s sclerosis in dealing with the culpable management of abusive priests.

Chile has proven to be particularly problematic, a veritable crown of thorns.  The Pope had, for instance, gone as far as accusing child abuse victims, notably those associated with the infamous Rev. Fernando Karadima, of calumny.  An exchange with a reporter at the gate of the Iquique venue, the site of Mass on the last day of his Chile visit, sent the press and commentators into a spin of dizzied alarm.

Central to the exchange was the pontiff’s 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros.  The appointee to the diocese of Osorno had been a Karadima protégé, who survivors say bore witness and covered-up abuses in Chile.  In a more moderate tone, the Pope decided to sober up matters on returning to Rome.  “You [reporters],” went Francis, “in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”  This was a far-fetched assertion, given that Barros has been lighting up matters on the abuse trail since 2012.

Since then, victims have been furnishing Chilean prosecutors with a bounty of testimony.  Former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Marie Collins, was significantly riled, having delivered a letter of 8 pages to the Pope outlining her own accounts of abuse.

Collins’ own resignation from the body was prompted by a seemingly incurable bureaucratic inertia.  “The most significant problem,” she penned in her resignation in March 2017, “has been reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope.”

In his January 31, 2015 letter to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, it became clear that Francis was entirely cognisant of the problems.  “Thank you for having openly demonstrated the concern that you have about the appointment of Monsignor Juan Barros.  I understand what you are telling me and I’m aware that the situation of the church in Chile is difficult due to the trials you’ve had to undergo.”

Having rounded up on critics of those accused of child abuse, he has been pushed into an act of near grovelling contrition, suggesting last month that there has been “serious errors of assessment and perception”.  The question lurking amidst the frocks was who had supplied the supposedly infallible Francis with the unreliable information. He had claimed to have precipitated the errors of assessment “due to lack of truthful and balanced information.”  Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Ricardo Ezzati, both archbishops of Santiago, have denied being involved in that defective information loop.

By the end of April, the pontiff had met three victims of Karadima in Rome.  One of the survivors, Juan Carlos Cruz, claimed that the Pope had sorrowfully relented.  “I was part of the problem,” he is reported to have said.  “I caused this and I apologize to you.”

The Vatican Curia’s response to the dimension of shuffling, moving and redirecting errant and abusive priests supplies a general, global blue print.  Dioceses have duly complied, taking their lead from the top.  All in all, responses by the Church have been irregular and often soft.  Sabbaticals and exit strategies have been promised to those in the higher realms of the church food chain.

Those constructively guilty of abuse – through denial and administrative dissimulation – are merely moved on.  Individuals like Apuron have not been defrocked, nor restrictions placed on his continued ministry.  Wilson, despite his conviction, remains defiant.  Given the Vatican’s previous form, he has every reason to be so.

Shakespeare said it best

Much ado about nothing.

That’s the “Russian interference” in the 2016 American election.

A group of Russians operating from a building in St. Petersburg, we are told in a February 16 US government indictment, sent out tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings, etc. to gain support for Trump and hurt Clinton even though most of these messages did not even mention Trump or Clinton; and many were sent out before Trump was even a candidate.

The Russian-interference indictment is predicated, apparently, on the idea that the United States is a backward, Third-World, Banana Republic, easily manipulated.

If the Democrats think it’s so easy and so effective to sway voters in the United States why didn’t the party do better?

At times the indictment tells us that the online advertising campaign, led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency of Russia, was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election. The Russians supposedly wished to cause “divisiveness” in the American people, particularly around controversial issues such as immigration, politics, energy policy, climate change, and race. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry. “We must not allow them to succeed.”1

Imagine that – the American people, whom we all know are living in blissful harmony and fraternity without any noticeable anger or hatred, would become divided! Damn those Russkis!

After the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants “used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment also states that defendants in New York organized a demonstration designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, defendants and their co-conspirators, organized another rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President”.

Much of the indictment and the news reports of the past year are replete with such contradictions, lending credence to the suggestion that what actually lay behind the events was a “click-bait” scheme wherein certain individuals earned money based on the number of times a particular website is accessed. The mastermind behind this scheme is reported to be a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin of the above-named Internet Research Agency, which is named in the indictment.2

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Point 95 of the Indictment summarizes the “click-bait” scheme as follows:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

Although there’s no doubt that the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton, the whole “Russian influence” storm may be based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in US social networks.

Here’s some Real interference in election campaigns

[Slightly abridged version of chapter 18 in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; see it for notes]

Philippines, 1950s:

Flagrant manipulation by the CIA of the nation’s political life, featuring stage-managed elections with extensive disinformation campaigns, heavy financing of candidates, writing their speeches, drugging the drinks of one of the opponents of the CIA-supported candidate so he would appear incoherent; plotting the assassination of another candidate. The oblivious New York Times declared that “It is not without reason that the Philippines has been called “democracy’s showcase in Asia”.

Italy, 1948-1970s:

Multifarious campaigns to repeatedly sabotage the electoral chances of the Communist Party and ensure the election of the Christian Democrats, long-favored by Washington.

Lebanon, 1950s:

The CIA provided funds to support the campaigns of President Camille Chamoun and selected parliamentary candidates; other funds were targeted against candidates who had shown less than total enchantment with US interference in Lebanese politics.

Indonesia, 1955:

A million dollars were dispensed by the CIA to a centrist coalition’s electoral campaign in a bid to cut into the support for President Sukarno’s party and the Indonesian Communist Party.

Vietnam, 1955:

The US was instrumental in South Vietnam canceling the elections scheduled to unify North and South because of the certainty that the North Vietnamese communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would easily win.

British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:

For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to prevent Cheddi Jagan – three times the democratically elected leader – from occupying his office. Using a wide variety of tactics – from general strikes and disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms – the US and Britain forced Jagan out of office twice during this period.

Japan, 1958-1970s:

The CIA emptied the US treasury of millions to finance the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections, “on a seat-by-seat basis”, while doing what it could to weaken and undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party. The 1961-63 edition of the State Department’s annual Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1996, includes an unprecedented disclaimer that, because of material left out, a committee of distinguished historians thinks “this published compilation does not constitute a ‘thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’” as required by law. The deleted material involved US actions from 1958-1960 in Japan, according to the State Department’s historian.

Nepal, 1959:

By the CIA’s own admission, it carried out an unspecified “covert action” on behalf of B.P. Koirala to help his Nepali Congress Party win the national parliamentary election. It was Nepal’s first national election ever, and the CIA was there to initiate them into the wonderful workings of democracy.

Laos, 1960:

CIA agents stuffed ballot boxes to help a hand-picked strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, set up a pro-American government.

Brazil, 1962:

The CIA and the Agency for International Development expended millions of dollars in federal and state elections in support of candidates opposed to leftist President João Goulart, who won anyway.

Dominican Republic, 1962:

In October 1962, two months before election day, US Ambassador John Bartlow Martin got together with the candidates of the two major parties and handed them a written notice, in Spanish and English, which he had prepared. It read in part: “The loser in the forthcoming election will, as soon as the election result is known, publicly congratulate the winner, publicly recognize him as the President of all the Dominican people, and publicly call upon his own supporters to so recognize him. … Before taking office, the winner will offer Cabinet seats to members of the loser’s party. (They may decline).”

As matters turned out, the winner, Juan Bosch, was ousted in a military coup seven months later, a slap in the face of democracy which neither Martin nor any other American official did anything about.

Guatemala, 1963:

The US overthrew the regime of General Miguel Ydigoras because he was planning to step down in 1964, leaving the door open to an election; an election that Washington feared would be won by the former president, liberal reformer and critic of US foreign policy, Juan José Arévalo. Ydigoras’s replacement made no mention of elections.

Bolivia, 1966:

The CIA bestowed $600,000 upon President René Barrientos and lesser sums to several right-wing parties in a successful effort to influence the outcome of national elections. Gulf Oil contributed two hundred thousand more to Barrientos.

Chile, 1964-70:

Major US interventions into national elections in 1964 and 1970, and congressional elections in the intervening years. Socialist Salvador Allende fell victim in 1964, but won in 1970 despite a multimillion-dollar CIA operation against him. The Agency then orchestrated his downfall in a 1973 military coup.

Portugal, 1974-5:

In the years following the coup in 1974 by military officers who talked like socialists, the CIA revved up its propaganda machine while funneling many millions of dollars to support “moderate” candidates, in particular Mario Soares and his (so-called) Socialist Party. At the same time, the Agency enlisted social-democratic parties of Western Europe to provide further funds and support to Soares. It worked. The Socialist Party became the dominant power.

Australia, 1974-75:

Despite providing considerable support for the opposition, the United States failed to defeat the Labor Party, which was strongly against the US war in Vietnam and CIA meddling in Australia. The CIA then used “legal” methods to unseat the man who won the election, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Jamaica, 1976:

A CIA campaign to defeat social democrat Michael Manley’s bid for reelection, featuring disinformation, arms shipments, labor unrest, economic destabilization, financial support for the opposition, and attempts upon Manley’s life. Despite it all, he was victorious.

Panama, 1984, 1989:

In 1984, the CIA helped finance a highly questionable presidential electoral victory for one of Manuel Noriega’s men. The opposition cried “fraud”, but the new president was welcomed at the White House. By 1989, Noriega was no longer a Washington favorite, so the CIA provided more than $10 million dollars to his electoral opponents.

Nicaragua, 1984, 1990:

In 1984, the United States, trying to discredit the legitimacy of the Sandinista government’s scheduled election, covertly persuaded the leading opposition coalition to not take part. A few days before election day, some other rightist parties on the ballot revealed that US diplomats had been pressing them to drop out of the race as well. The CIA also tried to split the Sandinista leadership by placing phoney full-page ads in neighboring countries. But the Sandinistas won handily in a very fair election monitored by hundreds of international observers.

Six years later, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s specially created stand-in for the CIA, poured in millions of dollars to defeat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the February elections. NED helped organize the Nicaraguan opposition, UNO, building up the parties and organizations that formed and supported this coalition.

Perhaps most telling of all, the Nicaraguan people were made painfully aware that a victory by the Sandinistas would mean a continuation of the relentlessly devastating war being waged against them by Washington through their proxy army, the Contras.

Haiti, 1987-1988:

After the Duvalier dictatorship came to an end in 1986, the country prepared for its first free elections ever. However, Haiti’s main trade union leader declared that Washington was working to undermine the left. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”. Meanwhile, the CIA was involved in a range of support for selected candidates until the US Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the Agency to cease its covert electoral action.

Bulgaria, 1990-1991 and Albania, 1991-1992:

With no regard for the fragility of these nascent democracies, the US interfered broadly in their elections and orchestrated the ousting of their elected socialist governments.

Russia, 1996:

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the goal line. The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing, etc., and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. Before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favored by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent.

Mongolia, 1996:

The National Endowment for Democracy worked for several years with the opposition to the governing Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRR, the former Communists) who had won the 1992 election to achieve a very surprising electoral victory. In the six-year period leading up to the 1996 elections, NED spent close to a million dollars in a country with a population of some 2.5 million, the most significant result of which was to unite the opposition into a new coalition, the National Democratic Union. Borrowing from Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the NED drafted a “Contract With the Mongolian Voter”, which called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment. The MPRR had already instituted Western-style economic reforms, which had led to widespread poverty and wiped out much of the communist social safety net. But the new government promised to accelerate the reforms, including the privatization of housing. By 1998 it was reported that the US National Security Agency had set up electronic listening posts in Outer Mongolia to intercept Chinese army communications, and the Mongolian intelligence service was using nomads to gather intelligence in China itself.

Bosnia, 1998:

Effectively an American protectorate, with Carlos Westendorp – the Spanish diplomat appointed to enforce Washington’s offspring: the 1995 Dayton peace accords – as the colonial Governor-General. Before the September elections for a host of offices, Westendorp removed 14 Croatian candidates from the ballot because of alleged biased coverage aired in Bosnia by neighboring Croatia’s state television and politicking by ethnic Croat army soldiers. After the election, Westendorp fired the elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, accusing him of creating instability. In this scenario those who appeared to support what the US and other Western powers wished were called “moderates”, and allowed to run for and remain in office. Those who had other thoughts were labeled “hard-liners”, and ran the risk of a different fate. When Westendorp was chosen to assume this position of “high representative” in Bosnia in May 1997, The Guardian of London wrote that “The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, praised the choice. But some critics already fear that Mr. Westendorp will prove too lightweight and end up as a cipher in American hands.”

Nicaragua, 2001

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was once again a marked man. US State Department officials tried their best to publicly associate him with terrorism, including just after September 11 had taken place, and to shamelessly accuse Sandinista leaders of all manner of violations of human rights, civil rights, and democracy. The US ambassador literally campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolaños. A senior analyst in Nicaragua for Gallup, the international pollsters, was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.”

At the close of the campaign, Bolaños announced: “If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I’m not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism.”

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

Bolivia, 2002

The American bête noire here was Evo Morales, Amerindian, former member of Congress, socialist, running on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign. The US Ambassador declared: “The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism.” Following September 11, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then the ambassador and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia’s main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Morales’s opponent, Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

Slovakia, 2002

To defeat Vladimir Meciar, former prime minister, a man who did not share Washington’s weltanschauung about globalization, the US ambassador explicitly warned the Slovakian people that electing him would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. The US ambassador to NATO then arrived and issued his own warning. The National Endowment for Democracy was also on hand to influence the election. Meciar lost.

El Salvador, 2004

Washington’s target in this election was Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group. He said he would withdraw El Salvador’s 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

During a February visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, “it could mean a radical change” in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington’s attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, who mounted a scare campaign, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador declared that Washington’s policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN.

Afghanistan, 2004

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, went around putting great pressure on one candidate after another to withdraw from the presidential race so as to insure the victory for Washington’s man, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai in the October election. There was nothing particularly subtle about it. Khalilzad told each one what he wanted and then asked them what they needed. Karzai, a long-time resident in the United States, was described by the Washington Post as “a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill.”

“Our hearts have been broken because we thought we could have beaten Mr. Karzai if this had been a true election,” said Sayed Mustafa Sadat Ophyani, campaign manager for Younis Qanooni, Karzai’s leading rival. “But it is not. Mr. Khalilzad is putting a lot of pressure on us and does not allow us to fight a good election campaign.”.

None of the major candidates actually withdrew from the election, which Karzai won with about 56 percent of the votes.

The Cold War Forever

On March 7 British police said that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a city southwest of London. The police said that Skripal had been “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals, but rather by states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB Operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents in 2006, becoming the first victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Before he died, he spoke about the misdeeds of the Russian secret service and delivered public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady.

Because of this the Skripal poisoning looks like an open-and-shut case.

But hold on. Skripal was sent to Britain by the Russian government eight years ago in an exchange of spies. Why would they want to kill him now, and with Putin’s election coming up? And with the quadrennial football (soccer) World Cup coming up soon to be played in Russia. Moscow is very proud of this, publicizing it every day on their international television stations (RT in the US). A murder like this could surely put a serious damper on the Moscow festivities. Boris Johnson has already dropped a threat: “Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”3 It was totally predictable.

Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain by an assassination of an opposition figure?

So if Russia is not responsible for Skripal’s poisoning, who is? Well, I have an idea. I can’t give you the full name of the guilty party, but its initials are CIA. US-Russian Cold Wars produce unmitigated animosity. As but one example, the United States boycotted the Olympics that were held in the Soviet Union in 1980, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union then boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Ideology and Evolution

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently declared: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The New York Times is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”4 The man is correct as far as he goes. But there are two historical factors that enter into this discussion that he fails to consider:

    1. Socialism may well have surpassed capitalism as an anti-poverty program and engine of progress if the United States and other capitalist powers had not subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening capital imperialists.
    2. Evolution: Social and economic systems have evolved along with human beings. Humankind has roughly gone from slavery to feudalism to capitalism. There’s no reason to assume that this evolution has come to a grinding halt, particularly given the deep-seated needs of the world in the face of one overwhelming problem after another, most caused by putting profit before people.
  1. New York Times, February 16, 2018.
  2. Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme,” Moon of Alabama, February 17, 2018.
  3. The Independent (London), March 6, 2018.
  4. Huffington Post, February 27, 2018.

Ecuador Endangered

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants. Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories. These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance. However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption. However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

Ecuador Cloud Forest

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history. This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests. This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID. Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros! We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned. For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers,  mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies. Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

Ecuador Rainforest

Long-tailed Slyph

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.  Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration. On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work. Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

Ecuador Rainforest Stream

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS.

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining. Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports. These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner. Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check. And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification. A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Civil society needs an open conversation with the state. Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s. Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape. For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador.’

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul. Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet. The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

  • The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.
  • The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.
  • The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects. They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company. Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018. We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis. There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates. Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers. To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here.

• Photos by Murray Cooper

• See maps here and here

Regime Change Fails: Is A Military Coup Or Invasion Of Venezuela Next?

Speaking at his alma mater, the University of Texas, on February 1, Secretary of State Tillerson suggested a potential military coup in Venezuela.  Tillerson then visited allied Latin American countries urging regime change and more economic sanctions on Venezuela. Tillerson is considering banning the processing or sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States and is discouraging other countries from buying Venezuelan oil. Further, the US is laying the groundwork for war against Venezuela.

In a series of tweets, Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican from Florida, where many Venezuelan oligarchs live, called for a military coup in Venezueala.

How absurd — remove an elected president with a military coup to restore democracy? Does that pass the straight face test? This refrain of Rubio and Tillerson seems to be the nonsensical public position of US policy.

The US has been seeking regime change in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998. Trump joined Presidents Obama and Bush before him in continuing efforts to change the government and put in place a US-friendly oligarch government.

They came closest in 2002 when a military coup removed Chavez.  The Commander-in-Chief of the Venezuelan military announced Chavez had resigned and Pedro Carmona, of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, became interim president. Carmona dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court and declared the Constitution void. The people surrounded the presidential palace and seized television stations, Carmona resigned and fled to Colombia. Within 47 hours, civilians and the military restored Chavez to the presidency. The coup was a turning point that strengthened the Bolivarian Revolution, showed people could defeat a coup and exposed the US and oligarchs.

US Regime Change Tactics Have Failed In Venezuela

The US and oligarchs continue their efforts to reverse the Bolivarian Revolution. The US has a long history of regime change around the world and has tried all of its regime change tools in Venezuela. So far they have failed.

(a) Economic War

Destroying the Venezuelan economy has been an ongoing campaign by the US and oligarchs. It is reminiscent of the US coup in Chile which ended the presidency of Salvador Allende. To create the environment for the Chilean coup, President Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream.”

Henry Kissinger devised the coup noting a billion dollars of investment were at stake. He also feared the “the insidious model effect” of the example of Chile leading to other countries breaking from the United States and capitalism. Kissinger’s top deputy at the National Security Council, Viron Vaky, opposed the coup saying, “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat . . . our survival.”

These objections hold true regarding recent US coups, including in Venezuela and Honduras, Ukraine and Brazil, among others. Allende died in the coup and wrote his last words to the people of Chile, especially the workers, “Long live the people! Long live the workers!” He was replaced by Augusto Pinochet, a brutal and violent dictator.

For decades the US has been fighting an economic war, “making the economy scream,” in Venezuela. Wealthy Venezuelans have been conducting economic sabotage aided by the US with sanctions and other tactics. This includes hoarding food, supplies and other necessities in warehouses or in Colombia while Venezuelan markets are bare. The scarcity is used to fuel protests; e.g., “The March of the Empty Pots,” a carbon copy of marches in Chile before the September 11, 1973 coup. Economic warfare has escalated through Obama and under Trump, with Tillerson now urging economic sanctions on oil.

President Maduro recognized the economic hardship but also said sanctions open up the opportunity for a new era of independence and “begins the stage of post-domination by the United States, with Venezuela again at the center of this struggle for dignity and liberation.” The second-in-command of the Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said: “[if they] apply sanctions, we will apply elections.”

(b) Opposition Protestsion

Another common US regime change tool is supporting opposition protests. The Trump Administration renewed regime change operations in Venezuela and the anti-Maduro protests, which began under Obama, grew more violent. The opposition protests included barricades, snipers and murders as well as widespread injuries. When police arrested those using violence, the US claimed Venezuela opposed free speech and protests.

The opposition tried to use the crack down against violence to achieve the US tactic of dividing the military. The US and western media ignored opposition violence and blamed the Venezuelan government instead. Violence became so extreme it looked like the opposition was pushing Venezuela into a Syrian-type civil [DV Ed. “Syrian-type civil” (sic)] war.  Instead, opposition violence backfired on them.

Violent protests are part of US regime change repertoire. This was demonstrated in the US coup in Ukraine, where the US spent $5 billion to organize government opposition including US and EU funding violent protesters. This tactic was used in early US coups like the 1953 Iran coup of Prime Minister Mossadegh. The US has admitted organizing this coup that ended Iran’s brief experience with democracy. Like Venezuela, a key reason for the Iran coup was control of the nation’s oil.

(c) Funding Opposition

There has been massive US investment in creating opposition to the Venezuelan government. Tens of millions of dollars have been openly spent through USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy and other related US regime change agencies. It is unknown how much the CIA has spent from its secret budget, but the CIA has also been involved in Venezuela. Current CIA director, Mike Pompeo,  said he is “hopeful there can be a transition in Venezuela.”

The United States has also educated leaders of opposition movements; e.g., Leopoldo López was educated at private schools in the US, including the CIA-associated Kenyon College. He was groomed at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and made repeated visits to the regime change agency, the National Republican Institute.

(d) Elections

While the US calls Venezuela a dictatorship, it is, in fact, a strong democracy with an excellent voting system. Election observers monitor every election.

In 2016, the economic crisis led to the opposition winning a majority in the National Assembly. One of their first acts was to pass an amnesty law. The law described 17 years of crimes including violent felonies and terrorism committed by the opposition. It was an admission of crimes back to the 2002 coup and through 2016. The law demonstrated violent treason against Venezuela. One month later, the Supreme Court of Venezuela ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. US media, regime change advocates and anti-Venezuela human rights groups attacked the Supreme Court decision, showing their alliance with the admitted criminals.

Years of violent protests and regime change attempts, and then admitting their crimes in an amnesty bill, have caused those opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution to lose power and become unpopular.  In three recent elections Maduro’s party won regional, local and the Constituent Assembly elections.

The electoral commission announced the presidential election will be held on April 22. Maduro will run for re-election with the United Socialist Party. Opposition leaders such as Henry Ramos and Henri Falcon have expressed interest in running, but the opposition has not decided whether to participate. Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the last election, was banned from running for office because of irregularities in his campaign, including taking foreign donations. Capriles has been a leader of the violent protests. When his ban was announced he called for protests to remove Maduro from office. Also banned was Leopoldo Lopez, another leader of the violent protests, who is under house arrest serving a thirteen year sentence for inciting violence.

Now, the United States says it will not recognize the presidential election and urges a military coup. For two years, the opposition demanded presidential elections, but now it is unclear whether they will participate. They know they are unpopular and Maduro is likely to be re-elected.

Is War Against Venezuela Coming?

A military coup faces challenges in Venezuela as the people, including the military, are well educated about US imperialism. Tillerson openly urging a military coup makes it more difficult.

The government and opposition recently negotiated a peace settlement entitled “Democratic Coexistence Agreement for Venezuela.” They agreed on all of the issues including ending economic sanctions, scheduling elections and more. They agreed on the date of the next presidential election. It was originally planned for March, but in a concession to the opposition, it was rescheduled for the end of April. Maduro signed the agreement even though the opposition did not attend the signing ceremony. They backed out after Colombian President Santos, who was meeting with Secretary Tillerson, called and told them not to sign. Maduro will now make the agreement a public issue by allowing the people of Venezuela to sign it.

Not recognizing elections and urging a military coup are bad enough, but more disconcerting is that Admiral Kurt Todd, head of Southcom, held a closed door meeting in Columbia after Tillerson’s visit. The topic was “regional destabilization” and Venezuela was a focus.

A military attack on Venezuela from its Colombian and Brazilian borders is not far fetched. In January, the New York Times asked, “Should the US military invade Venezuela?” President Trump said the US is considering military force against Venezuela. His chief of staff, John Kelly, was formerly the general in charge of Southcom. Todd has claimed the crisis, created in large part by the economic war against Venezuela, requires military action for humanitarian reasons.

War preparations are already underway in Colombia, which plays the role of Israel for the US in Latin America. The coup government in Brazil, increased its military budget 36 percent, and participated in Operation: America United, the largest joint military exercise in Latin American history. It was one of four military exercises by the US with Brazil, Colombia and Peru in Latin America in 2017. The US Congress ordered the Pentagon to develop military contingencies for Venezuela in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

While there is opposition to US military bases, James Patrick Jordan explains on our radio show the US has military bases in Colombia and the Caribbean and military agreements with countries in the region; and therefore, Venezuela is already surrounded.

The United States is targeting Venezuela because the Bolivarian Revolution provides an example against US imperialism. An invasion of Venezuela will become another war-quagmire that kills innocent Venezuelans, US soldiers and others over control of oil. People in the United States who support the self-determination of countries should show solidarity with Venezuelans, expose the US agenda and publicly denounce regime change. We need to educate people about what is really happening in Venezuela to overcome the false media coverage.

Share this article and the interview we did on Clearing The FOG about Venezuela and the US role in Latin America.  The fate of Venezuela is critical for millions of Latin Americans struggling under the domination of US Empire.

The Life of Fidel Castro: A Marxist Appreciation


Marxism taught me what society was. I was like a blindfolded man in a forest, who doesn’t know where north or south is. If you don’t eventually come to truly understand the history of the class struggle, or at least have a clear idea that society is divided between the rich and the poor, and that some people subjugate and exploit other people, you’re lost in a forest, not knowing anything.

— Fidel Castro

[Humans] make [their] own history, but [they] do not make it out of the whole cloth; [they] do not make it out of conditions chosen by [themselves], but out of such as [they] find close at hand.

Karl Marx

The Epoch of Fidel

Fidel Castro was one of the outstanding revolutionary leaders over the entire course of recorded world history. His astonishing and heroic life experiences are intertwined with the accomplishments, example, and practice of the Cuban Revolution that he was the central leader of.

The political and personal integrity of Fidel Castro stood rock-solid in the face of decades of tremendous, unremitting pressures directed by the US government to destroy the Cuban Revolution (and him personally through murder).

The skilled resistance Fidel personified at the head of the politically conscious, organized, and mobilized Cuban masses gave him the moral high ground over decades in the treacherous waters of world politics in the “Cold War” era and beyond.

As I wrote in my October 9, 2017 essay “Our Che: 50 Years After His Execution“:

… During the Fidel hate-fest produced by the US media oligopolies after his death, there were small demonstrations, in the hundreds at most, of “die-hard” longtime opponents of the Cuban Revolution – a clear minority today even among Cuban-Americans. The antecedents of these now fast-fading counter-revolutionary forces in 1962 filled the Orange Bowl football stadium in Miami to welcome the return to the United States of the captured mercenary invaders who were defeated at the so-called Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron in Cuba). That occurred after the Cuban revolutionary government exchanged them, well fed and in one piece – that is, never tortured – in exchange for medicines, after negotiations.

The relatively tiny and politically insignificant anti-Fidel protests in 2017 Miami were endlessly repeated in incessant, loop coverage by the cable oligopolies, in a crude manipulation aimed at creating the impression that Fidel was a hated ‘dictator.’ Meanwhile, in Cuba, millions upon millions of Cubans, across every generation, lined the cities and countryside throughout the nation to pay respect and love for ‘the undefeated’ Fidel to his final resting place in Santiago de Cuba.

The ashes of Fidel Castro on the way to Santiago de Cuba

Fidel and the enduring example of the Cuban Revolution consumed the US ruling class with an unrelenting scorn and hatred. They seethed at the sheer effrontery of the Cuban revolutionaries carrying out a socialist revolution in the interests of the working class, the peasantry, and the oppressed, that is, in the interests of the vast majority of the Cuban people.

This is the case, notwithstanding the mass migrations encouraged – and uniquely expedited legally to the United States – by Washington for decades. This reached 7-10% of the Cuban population, resulting in a kind of Cuban diaspora. This self-exiling was centered initially on the Batista-era police, army, and gangster personnel, followed by the Cuban ex-bourgeoisie and owners of expropriated latifundia, and, finally, as the political confrontation between revolutionary Cuba and the United States government intensely sharpened, quickly came to include broad layers (but by no means all) in the Cuban professional and middle classes, a relatively affluent small minority. For example, some 3,000 out of the 6,000 doctors in Cuba before the Revolution emigrated from Cuba to the United States in this period. Most Cuban workers and peasants rarely, if ever, saw a doctor their entire lives in “the good old days” when median life expectancy in Cuba was 52 (it’s now 78). For many years now, the island has produced some 10,000 Cuban doctors a year and, at the Latin American School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the world, has trained, free of charge, tens of thousands of doctors from all over the world who are now practicing in working-class and impoverished communities in their countries. Similar comparisons can be made for all other contemporary Cuban professions.

The special venom and hatred preserved for Fidel Castro by Washington and Wall Street, by all the representatives and spokespeople of world capitalism and imperialism, was, of course, a badge of honor for the Cuban revolutionary. Certainly, the once powerful virtual industry of anti-Castro misinformation and propaganda has been politically defeated worldwide. But it has resources and lingers on in the continued, weakened US anti-Cuba policy of economic war and political hostility, and in the renewed efforts by the Donald Trump White House to pressure and threaten socialist Cuba, following the establishment of formal Washington-Havana diplomatic relations in 2015.

Of course, genuine social and people’s revolutions, such as the Cuban Revolution, inevitably generate bitter hatreds and resentments from the overthrown and vanquished ruling classes. The special hatred of the overturned Cuban ruling classes, allied with Washington and defeated in the course of the Cuban Revolution, toward Fidel, the personification of their social and political vanquishers, is of a piece with how the representatives and beneficiaries of the Confederate slavocracy in their era – and their dwindling band of political heirs, to this day – felt about Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and others, not to speak of revolutionary abolitionists like John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Harriet Tubman.1

Fidel after laying a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC in 1959.

The fact is that Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution successfully and heroically, under the banner of revolutionary socialism, defied the US government diktat. At the time, this was unique in US-Latin American relations. This in an era of full-spectrum US economic, financial, military, and political dominance across the Americas. This was seen by successive US White Houses and Congresses as an utter and unacceptable affront. Rampant CIA (always under the direction of the Executive Branch of the US government) disinformation and misinformation campaigns – perhaps the classic “fake news” model – began in the 1960s in response to the Cuban Revolution and its successful development and world resonance. This is factually unassailable and has long been part of the public record from released, once “classified” documents.

Two books that document covert US anti-Cuban subversive campaigns.

Washington’s Factories of Fabrication

There were, in fact, (now known in detail from then-secret government documents released under the US Freedom of Information Act), major US government operations, with significant assigned personnel and large budgets, employed specifically to disseminate disinformation and misinformation, that is false information with the deliberate intention to deceive, about the actual reality and facts of the Cuban Revolution and its leadership. This was a classic “fake news” model.

Many millions of dollars, employing no doubt hundreds of personnel directly and indirectly – were spent on so-called “psychological-warfare operations” (psy-ops) to spread lies – about revolutionary Cuba in the form of gossip, innuendo, and rumors made up out of whole cloth, on the theory, I suppose, that if you throw enough bullshit against a wall, some is bound to stick.

The modus operandi in the CIA’s factories of falsification were the spreading of conspiracy theories, fabricated to cause confusion and, hopefully, cause divisions and splits in the revolutionary leadership. Among the most notorious lies spread far and wide concerned two of the Cuban Revolution’s most revered revolutionary heroes and martyrs, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Che Guevara.

Camilo Cienfuegos and Fidel Castro

Revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos didn’t really die in a plane crash after a mission to counter anti-revolutionary activity centered around Huber Matos in Camaguey, but was actually killed by Fidel Castro, who was “threatened” and “feared” Camilo’s popularity. (Matos, an icon of counter-revolutionary exiles for years, was sentenced and incarcerated for 20 years for sedition and treason, that is, collaboration with US government agencies in the period leading up to the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion. Camilo Cienfuegos was dispatched to relieve Matos of his military command and arrest him and his top adjutants. Matos was one of a relative handful of revolutionary combatants in M-26-J who opposed the radicalization of the Revolution in a socialist direction, politically split from the Movement, and went over to the side of US subversion and intervention.)

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

Another particularly notorious example of such CIA “psychological operations” was the worldwide effort to plant false stories in big-business and other media outlets, about a supposed falling out and political rupture between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Che Guevara did not really go out of public view to organize anti-imperialist struggles in Africa and Latin America, but was actually imprisoned and even killed by Fidel Castro. (When that Big Lie was no longer operative, a new mendacity was promoted that Fidel refused to “rescue” Che in Bolivia and “allowed” him to die, still peddled to this day.)

This was during a period in 1965-66 where Che, with the full moral and political support of Fidel and the central Cuban communist leadership, had disappeared from public view and was preparing and organizing revolutionary armed struggles in first the Congo, and then Bolivia.

Such efforts by US intelligence agencies over the years were, of course, accompanied, and complemented by, more direct, material attempts – hundreds of times in documented fact – to assassinate Fidel Castro and other popular leaders of the Revolution and the Cuban government and other repeated acts of terrorism and economic sabotage.

The ”Dictator”

Commitment to overturning the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro in Cuba was never, for over five decades, a source of serious division between the Democratic and Republican parties ruling in Washington. The Fidel Castro government was caricatured and slurred as a personal dictatorship in Cold War propaganda, as well as a puppet and client of the Soviet Union.

The most common presentation and image of Fidel Castro in these circles was that of a “bellicose” and “unaccountable” dictator. The more “moderate” version, which, more or less, acknowledges the big social and human advances of the Cuban Revolution and its record, unmatched in this world, of international solidarity, presents a “benevolent” dictator (whose absence would surely be the end of Cuban socialism).

Contrary to this boilerplate of anti-Castro propaganda, perhaps Fidel Castro’s most distinct leadership quality was how he continually, in the most difficult and challenging circumstances, before, during, and for decades after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, was his skill, ability, and political perspective to forge teams of outstanding individuals, the opposite of “yes-men,” toadies, and sycophants. There has never been anything in Cuba remotely resembling a state-fostered Stalin- or Mao-like “cult of personality” around Fidel. Just the opposite, laws were enforced keeping his name, and any other living leader, off public sites such as statues and streets. Raul Castro, in his moving tribute to Fidel on December 3, 2016, said, “Fidel was always against the cult of personality until his dying days. He was consistent with that attitude, insisting that after his death his name and figure never be used to name plazas, avenues, streets, and other public places, as well as the building of statues.” The Cuban National Assembly has passed a law implementing Fidel’s wish.

The reality was that Fidel Castro was never any kind of personal dictator with the inclination, desire, or power to rule arbitrarily. Undoubtedly Fidel Castro had great political authority and personal popularity. Nevertheless, one of Fidel Castro’s greatest strengths and characteristics as a revolutionary and a leader was his ability to foster and develop united team leadership based on ideas, program, and revolutionary ethics. To forge inclusive and collaborative teams of revolutionary fighters, men and women, of Spanish, African, and other national origins, and from different social and class backgrounds.

This was the case not only during the revolutionary struggle for power, but over decades in the face of all the enormous challenges and threats from a resentful imperial ex-overlord ninety miles away during the Cold War. These disciplined and revolutionary teams navigating the treacherous waters of that tumultuous era in world politics. Revolutionary fighters such as Ricardo Alarcon, Juan Almeida, Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos, Victor Dreke, Vilma Espin, Ernesto Che Guevara, Armando Hart, Melba Hernandez, Jose Ramon Machado, Frank Pais, Manuel Pinero, Jorge Risquet, Raul Roa, Celia Sanchez, Haydee Santamaria, Ramiro Valdes, Harry Villegos, and countless others who were the remarkable individual products of the struggle for the Cuban Revolution, its defense, and its revolutionary internationalism around the world. Such individual human material, capable of organizing, leading, and sustaining a mass revolutionary struggle for power, has to have within themselves the discipline, sacrifice, creative thinking, tactical savvy, culture, and humanity that are the opposite of sycophants and toadies.

At any rate it is ludicrous beyond even the most primitive logic to think that “one-man rule” (as Hillary Clinton once described the Cuban government led by Fidel) could have survived the unremitting onslaught of US imperialism – the most powerful economic and military counter-revolutionary machine in world history – for nearly 60 years. Actually, all of the truly bloody right-wing military and family dictatorships that Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean endured throughout the 20th Century – from Batista’s Cuba to Somoza’s Nicaragua to Pinochet’s Chile, from Guatemala to Haiti to Uruguay to Argentina — were sustained, supported, and armed by Washington.

This era of US domination peaked during the era of “Operation Condor,” from the mid-1970s, where Washington and its ultrarightist military partners in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay ran death squads and other terrorist operations against working-class, peasant, democratic, and revolutionary forces across the Americas. In those terrible years, “totalitarian” “Communist” Cuba was perhaps the major force in the Hemisphere that was actively promoting grass-roots struggle to restore democratic rights and space in Latin America and fight for social justice. This goes a long way to explaining the broad contempt and derision held for US anti-Cuba policy across the Americas.2

Under the leadership of this popular revolutionary team, with the indefatigable Fidel as the central spokesperson and holding great political authority, Cuba forged an infant revolutionary government stamped by the interests, social dominance, and political authority of workers and farmers.

This translated socially and politically to concrete measures and progressive policies, backed by mass mobilizations and assemblies of Cuban working people and the clear, large majority of the Cuban population. These policies included: radical land reform; massive youth-led drives that succeeded in eradicating illiteracy; the legal obliteration of race discrimination and historic advances for Afro-Cubans; the self-organization of Cuban women into the Federation of Cuban Women and truly remarkable in policies and practices promoting women’s rights and equality; the massive expansion of trade unions and workers control and management of industry; and the establishment of free, high-quality health care and education for all Cubans.

All of this was in the interests of, and with the participation of, the large majority of Cuban society. Counter-revolutionary organizations grew up that became aligned to the US government and acted under its general political direction. Like all great revolutionary transformations and overturns in history, the Cuban Revolution became marked by profound social and class – and thereby political – polarization. There never has been, and never will be a genuine people’s revolution – overturning the existing social and political order – that does not, by definition, impose its authority on the defeated classes.3

The Main Source of Fidel’s Legacies

Fidel Castro was a great humanitarian, one of the world’s great promoters of universal health care and universal access to quality education. He inspired and led the organization of an amazing legacy of Cuban medical internationalism and relief and aid for peoples devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, and other so-called “natural disasters.” All of this has gained near-universal recognition and love.

Fidel Castro led some of the greatest advances in the fight against racism and white supremacy and the oppression of women for any nation-state in world history.

Fidel Castro had a mastery of the strategy and tactics, the art, of revolutionary politics. But this was never not some abstract Machiavellian skill-set in intrigue, as portrayed in literature and drama from time immemorial.

Fidel Castro was a world-historic military figure and commander. This aspect of his legacy is often ignored or downplayed in the “democratic West.” But the truth is that Fidel was at the center of two distinct, major, world-impacting military campaigns: the 1956-1958 Cuban revolutionary war and the war with apartheid South Africa from 1976-1990 in Angola and southern Africa. In both cases Fidel stands out as a practitioner of military science and the logistics, organization, strategy, and tactics that were tested and led to clear victory. In both cases Fidel was fighting forces backed clearly, albeit covertly, by the United States government. These were two world-changing events with a decisive military component. Both unfolded under the military command of Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro also became, as head of state, a skilled and savvy “statesman” and negotiator who advanced and expanded Cuba’s diplomatic ties and relations on a world scale in the face of the US blockade, as well as in Cuba’s highly complex relations with both enemies, allies, and friends. Picking up steam in the 1980s and 1990s Cuban diplomacy eventually established diplomatic relations with every country in the western Hemisphere, Washington being the last holdout until 2015 under the Barack Obama administration. Fidel had an important political part in breaking open negotiations that led to cease-fires and an eventual end to decades of armed conflicts and war in Colombia.

Fidel Castro had great oratorical and literary skills. He communicated largely through speeches. These may have been famous, generally, for their length, and were thus easily and cheaply caricatured by his opponents as a way to avoid dealing with their content. I have had the personal privilege and excitement of witnessing a dozen or so speeches by Fidel Castro, short, long, and very long (up to six hours), in both massive and much smaller settings. While sometimes exhausted and straining to concentrate, I was never bored.

Fidel’s speeches, especially addresses to the Cuban people, registered the candor and transparency of familiarity, taking up the social, economic, international, and other challenges facing Cuba. Fidel’s speeches were full of statistics and empirical data, quotes from studies, news accounts, books, political opponents word-for-word, and international press agencies. But they were also filled with big ideas, razor-sharp analysis, political acuity, and philosophical depth.

Fidel sometimes found it hard to resist imparting any and every important fact, document, or statistic to his audience. How his clearly “photographic memory” could even retain ten percent of them all (as he generally spoke with few notes, and, of course, without a teleprompter) was beyond my wildest ability to understand. All of this without a trace of the racist, “populist,” megalomaniacal bombast associated with the most effective fascist demagogues like Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler.

Fidel often said his style was not to impose his ideas but to convince.  In the early years of the Revolution Fidel’s speeches explaining to Cubans the historic roots of racist discrimination and the oppression of women and the revolutionary government’s policies are master classes in this method.4

In his speeches to mass rallies, workplaces, large and very small communities, revolutionary international gatherings, and in historic speeches to the United Nations General Assembly, Fidel retained an unsurpassed ability to break down and communicate big ideas and history. This rational and fact-based mastery of the spoken word undoubtedly places Fidel Castro in the pantheon of great orators in contemporary history. (See a comprehensive archive of Fidel’s speeches here.)

Fidel’s Marxism

Any of these specific accomplishments stand out on their own.  Any one by itself would mark an exceptional life. Taken together, looking at Fidel’s life and practice as a whole, they all flowed from Fidel’s embrace of socialism and Marxism as a coherent world outlook and guide to revolutionary action, as he understood it and further developed it, in the course of the Cuban revolutionary struggle. Fidel fought his entire conscious political life under that banner.  Moreover, Fidel’s works – written and spoken – made a great contribution to the development of Marxism and socialism, in theory and practice. Fidel’s life underlines the truth of Lenin’s political and organizational perspective that ‘’without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.”

Influenced by revolutionary democratic, socialist, and Marxist ideas and theories as a young, rebellious man, already familiar with the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, he embraced, assimilated, and developed the dialectical and materialist world outlook and methodology.

Fidel defended the Marxist method and the integrated philosophical world outlook of dialectical and historical materialism. And yet Fidel Castro, the staunch communist and materialist-atheist, inspired and was embraced by countless Christians, Muslims, Jews and believers of every denomination and creed. Of course, as with everything else about the “polarizing” Fidel this was usually – but not mechanically or uniformly – expressed along class lines. (See the brilliant dialogue between Fidel and the Christian Liberation Theologist Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo, known as Frei Betto, in the best-selling, widely translated Fidel and Religion (Ocean Press, 2006).5

Proletarian Internationalism

All of us are products of the space and times we live in, but Fidel, to an extraordinary degree, also shaped his times, the times of an entire epoch. Fidel’s impact was not in the interests of the oppressors and exploiters, the colonial masters and white supremacists; the imperialist warmongers out for markets and loot; and the ruling-class beneficiaries of grotesque inequality, racism, and misogyny. His life, and the historical impact of his life, was dedicated to the interests of toiling humanity, of workers and peasants, of oppressed nations and nationalities, of women ground down by unspeakable subjugation and “tradition.” Fidel Castro was the ally and champion of all who fought for social justice, for human progress and a better world, and for the revolutionary transformation of the capitalist world order and its inhuman social relations. Fidel practiced international solidarity decade after decade, under always changing objective circumstances in the world, and often under conditions of great difficulty and danger for revolutionary Cuba.  He embodied what the Marxist movement had once termed proletarian internationalism. Fidel and the Cuban Revolution’s legacy of international solidarity remains the anchor of Cuba’s foreign policy to this day.

For Fidel and the young Cuban revolutionaries he was part of and led, this was not a hollow, ritual phrase, something to give lip service to only to contradict in practice, but a genuine belief and a genuine practice. In 1976 Cuba sent volunteer revolutionary combatants to the front-line of newly independent Angola to beat back the invading behemoth of the South African apartheid state (covertly backed by Washington). In 2014 Cuba rushed doctors and medical personnel to West Africa in what became the decisive turning point in containing and overcoming the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic.

Marx and Engels

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of scientific socialism, gave, as theoreticians, activists, and political leaders, a tremendous impulse and dynamic to the modern workers movement in the late 19th Century and beyond to this day. But, of course, neither revolutionary wielded governmental or state power, although they both, as leaders of the International Working Men’s Association, keenly observed and drew the lessons from the 1871 Paris Commune – following the unfolding Franco-Prussian War which exploded in the heart of Europe – the first seizure of governmental power by a mass working-class and popular movement.

Marx and Engels

Furthermore, both Marx and Engels died at the dawn of the qualitative leaps in the development of 19th Century capitalism. Their prescient writing on the development of British imperialism in their lifetimes anticipated, but did not directly experience, the qualitative, epochal transformation of world capitalism into 20th Century nationally-based, monopolized, and oligarchic finance capitalism. And the concurrent revival of direct imperialist expansion out of the rapidly industrializing capitalist centers and a massive overproduction of capital searching for raw materials, cheap labor, new markets to conquer and subordinate, and super-profits.

Colonial Empires were spawned in the United Kingdom, France, and much of the rest of Western Europe; e.g., Belgium in the Congo, the Netherlands in Indonesia, and so on. German colonialism was late to the European enterprise and the United States entered the “Age of Empire” signaled and accelerated by the 1898 Spanish-American War. This directly impacted on the burning question of Cuban independence and sovereignty, as the colonial rule in Cuba of the pre-capitalist fraying and hollowed-out Spanish Empire disintegrated, and was displaced by US neo-colonialism and decades of yanqui economic and political domination.

The 20th Century Latin American political arena which was characterized by a state of, more or less, permanent political turmoil and intensifying class struggle under conditions of massive poverty and social inequality, that was interlocked with foreign, mainly US, economic and political domination. Since the 1898 Spanish-American War, which marked the origins of the modern American Empire, Washington engaged in frequent overt and covert violent invasions, interventions, and subversion across the Americas, over the subsequent decades. (For a comprehensive list of US interventions in the Americas since 1898 click here.)

Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

V.I. Lenin, the central leader of the November 7, 1917 Russian Revolution, and the Communist International founded in 1919, died in January 1924, at the age of 55, as the Soviet workers state he led, was beginning to recover from the utter devastation of the 1918-22 Civil War. This was an exceedingly brutal war, coming directly on top of the carnage of World War I, starting in 1914 on the Eastern-Russian front. Millions upon millions of dead and brutalized.

The Civil War pitted conservative and reactionary forces from the overthrown ruling classes – with liberal and “moderate socialist” forces forming at the end of the anti-Bolshevik line – aiming to crush the new revolutionary power.  These fragmented forces, without any agreed social or military policies between them, gained strength as they were soon backed up, armed, and otherwise supported by the allied major powers; e.g., Great Britain, France, and the United States, who were still, but not for much longer, furiously engaging in the World War I bloodbath.

These forces were beyond livid that Lenin’s government had withdrawn Russia from the war and called for the immediate end, on all sides, to what they accurately termed an imperialist war. The Bolshevik-led government dispatched People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Leon Trotsky to negotiate with the German imperialists in the name of the Russian state they now headed, and which was still formally at war with Germany and its allies (and losing badly to).

Adding insult to injury, in what was a huge political blow and embarrassment, Trotsky was authorized to publicly release the secret protocols between the overthrown Tsarist Monarchy (and the “Provisional Government” which followed it) and the European military powers. These released documents were politically explosive as they exposed the expansionist, aggrandizing, and colonial aims of the warring imperialist powers.

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution accelerated and deepened the growth of global mass anti-war sentiment and action, including among soldiers. With the – totally intertwined politically with the Bolshevik Revolution – outbreak of anti-war and revolutionary struggle inside Germany in 1918, and the political collapse of its war effort, the political imperative to end the inter-imperialist slaughterhouse became inevitable, and an armistice was signed in November 1918.

The thus victorious – if exhausted and facing political turmoil and instability at home – British, French, and US “Allied Powers” hardly lost a beat and stepped up military attacks and intervention against the Bolshevik government. Eventually well over a dozen other major or lesser powers directly intervened on Russian territory, joining in the cause to overthrow Lenin’s government, fighting in conjunction with the so-called “White Army.” This greatly added to the length and ferocity of the Civil War.6

Lenin’s revolutionary government was under siege from practically the moment it took power through the mass organizations of elected workers, soldiers, and poor peasant councils (soviets) in November 1917. There was hardly any period of time while Lenin was alive that his revolutionary government could lose its focus on defeating the imperialist-backed counterrevolution.

When Lenin died in January, 1924, his actual political legacy became practically buried inside the Soviet Union by the massive impoverishment and military bleeding of Russian society over the entire period. The subsequent political developments in the battered Soviet Union after Lenin’s death, and the consolidation of governmental power under Joseph Stalin in the late 1920s and early 1930s, led to the eventual physical elimination of the entire generation of revolutionaries, including virtually the entire Red Army leadership, identified with Lenin, from 1936-1938. Conservative figures for the Stalinist purges start with over 100,000 Communists executed. And yet another false, endlessly repeated, assertion and narrative is that Stalinism was the continuation of Leninism when the two were actually antithetical. As I will return to below, opponents and propagandists against the Cuban Revolution, including those positioning themselves on the left, have generally tried to smear Fidel Castro and the Revolution itself as “Stalinist.” (For Fidel’s actual views on Stalin and Stalinism, see the last sections of this essay.)

The Longevity of Fidel

In Fidel’s political lifetime, peers such as Malcolm X, Maurice Bishop, and Thomas Sankara also emerged as outstanding revolutionary leaders. Malcolm X was a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution. More and more consciously in the last two years of his life, following his split from Elijah Muhammed’s Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had started to embrace anti-capitalist and socialist views when he was murdered in February 1965. (See my essay “To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination.)

Maurice Bishop led the 1979 Grenadian Revolution and Thomas Sankara led a revolutionary popular government from 1983-87 in Burkina Faso. Both were conscious revolutionary Marxists who briefly wielded central governmental and state power. Maurice Bishop was overthrown and murdered in a coup by counter-revolutionary secret factions in the government and state led by Bernard Coard. Thomas Sankara  was overthrown and assassinated in a coup led by Minister of State Blaise Compaore, with covert support from the French state, in October 1987.

The brutality, terror, and chaos from Coard’s counter-revolutionary coup became the pretext for the Ronald Reagan Administration to invade and occupy Grenada and dispatch Coard’s hated regime. Cuban construction workers, who were working on the unfinished, renamed in 2009 Maurice Bishop International Airport, resisted the US invasion. Fidel Castro was furious at the anti-Bishop coup and Maurice Bishop’s murder along with seven of his leading comrades from the New Jewel Movement-led revolutionary government that lay destroyed.

Compaore managed to consolidate a repressive and regressive regime, under the cover of a series of rigged elections, that lasted 27 years. He was forced to resign in October 2014 after a sustained mass uprising, fleeing to the Ivory Coast. Maurice Bishop was 39 and Thomas Sankara was 37 when they were executed.

Fidel and Malcolm X

Fidel and Maurice Bishop

Fidel and Thomas Sankara

Ernest Che Guevara, born in Argentina and of Irish heritage, was recruited to Fidel Castro’s July 26 Movement as the guerrilla army’s doctor in Mexico in 1956. In the Cuban revolutionary war, Che became a top military commander and led the decisive Battle of Santa Clara that opened the road to the collapse of the Batista regime and the triumphant march of Fidel into Havana.  Che left Cuba in 1965 to organize revolutionary internationalist missions in the Congo and then Bolivia, fully backed by Fidel and the Cuban government. Che was executed after his capture in Bolivia in October 1967 at the age of 39. (See my essay Our Che: Fifty Years After His Execution.)

Che Guevara

Fidel survived and carried on. His example is bound to be a permanent, weighty, and material political force for future generations and time immemorial. Fidel’s example is certain to be continually renewed and embraced again and again by new generations of social-justice fighters and revolutionaries.

Without exaggeration or illusion, this is politically true also in the United States, where accurate information about Cuba is available and disseminated, and where there is clear and large majority opposition to continuing US economic and travel sanctions. There is also a growing layer of Americans who are politically sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution and its social and internationalist policies, as they hear even some of the truth.

Many hundreds of thousands of US citizens and legal residents have visited the island over the decades and especially in recent years, and seen its reality with all its strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and contradictions, which the Cuban people and government disdain to ignore or sweep under the rug.7

Unintended Consequences of World War II

An entire epoch of anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggle was ushered in by the titanic consequences and dynamics of World War II and the post-war era. A new world relationship of forces was consolidated “geopolitically” in the post-war “Cold War” period. There was a shift in the gravitational forces of revolutionary struggles towards colonial independence struggles which became intertwined with class struggles in the advanced capitalist-imperialist states.

Coming seemingly out of the blue, less than fifteen years after the end of World War II, the Cuban Revolution entered the world as the dust was starting to settle from the consequences of the post-World War II.

These consequences, intended and unintended, included:

1) The decline and displacement of the British, French, and other European colonial Empires. These had been, more or less, maintained up until World War II but were now completely upturned by the actual unfolding of events during and after the war.

2) The rise of US imperialism, which displaced the European powers militarily, economically, financially, and politically in world capitalist economic and military structures. This registered the relative dominance of US capital in the post-war capitalist order. US capitalism boomed during the war, which was not fought on continental US soil. In heavy and industry, manufacturing, finance, and living standards, US capitalism dwarfed its capitalist rivals.

3) The rise of the Soviet Union – its survival and geographic and political expansion – followed its utterly heroic victory over Nazi Germany at an exceeding bloody price in the largest bloodbath in human history on the World War II Eastern Front. The Soviet government and Red Army went from the cusp of annihilation in the opening five months of Hitler’s invasion with the Nazi war machine advancing on Moscow in late 1941 to the conquering of Berlin in April 1945.  This gave a new lease on life and great political prestige to the Stalin-led Soviet Union and the “world Communist movement,” despite gross political errors and crimes (a point I will return to). In Europe, Communist Parties in a number of countries such as Yugoslavia, Italy, France, and Greece became mass parties leading broad military formations and where they were leading forces in largely working class and popular anti-Nazi resistance movements. A people’s revolution became a socialist revolution in Yugoslavia. Communist Parties in France and Italy for many years after got up to 40% of the vote in national parliamentary elections.

Revolution in Asia

Japan was the most advanced, industrialized capitalist economy in all of Asia and had secured its colonial rule in a territorially united Korea from 1905-10. A brutal, militarized Japanese imperialism struggled mightily to displace European colonial rule with its own in the World War II period.  That war era in the entire Asian Continental and Pacific Rim, South Asia, and southeastern Asia began militarily years sooner than the September 1, 1939 German-Nazi invasion of Poland. Imperial Japan’s 1931 invasion and occupation of Chinese Manchuria deepened in 1937 into full-scale Japanese anti-China aggression. This was ineffectively countered by the Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-chek. After the Japanese government decided to bomb the US territory and major naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941 the so-called “Pacific Theater” became a bloody back-and-forth war between the established colonial powers and the ambitious Empire-building and consolidating (or so they hoped) Japanese imperialist aggressors, who became allied with Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and other Axis forces.

The main unintended consequence of World War II in Asia was that the violent and bloody conflict between imperialist powers created space for independence and national liberation struggles. Invariably the most consistent and courageous independent fighters were influenced by, and many embraced, left-wing, socialist, and communist world outlooks, looking to the oppressed masses, workers and peasants, as the primary force to deliver national salvation. The war and the erosion of the colonial empires accelerated an unstoppable dynamic toward national sovereignty and independence. In particular, the Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions, led by liberation forces and leaderships identifying themselves as Communist, such as Mao Zedong and Zhu De in China and Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap in Vietnam, had a worldwide political impact and influence.

This was certainly the case with Fidel Castro’s generation of revolutionary-minded patriotic youth in Cuba and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, including Ernesto Guevara in Argentina, all living under the dominance of the US behemoth in the Western Hemisphere. This domination of US capital and US power in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America generally took different forms than direct colonial rule on the European model.

Fidel Castro devoured these world events as he came of age in exactly this mid-20th Century vortex of history growing up as a teenager, student, and young adult on the island of Cuba in the center of the Caribbean. Fidel developed a political consciousness and identity that was forged, in its essential core, out of the global colonial independence and national liberation struggles.

Fidel and the Historical Moment

The Cuban Revolution took place in a Western Hemisphere firmly in the “sphere of influence” of Washington and US capital. Cuba found itself at the center of the Cold War. The Cuban Revolution ushered out the 1950s period: from the Korean War and its stalemated end; the 1953 death of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khruschev’s “de-Stalinization; the 1954 Vietnamese victory over French imperialism at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords imposed on the Vietnamese; the 1956 British-French-Israel Suez War with Egypt; the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary; and the late-Eisenhower era abortive thaw and détente of US-Soviet relations.

In any case, immediately upon the seizure of power, the Cuban revolutionaries began to establish fraternal, internationalist links with anti-imperialist fighters worldwide. But Fidel and the other young revolutionary fighters around the July 26 Movement also looked to and had an independent political (and sympathetic) stance toward the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, augmented by their total embrace of the 1949 Chinese Revolution and the Ho Chi Minh-led national liberation movement in Vietnam. Cuba was the first Latin American nation to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1960.

Volatility and Permanent Crisis in Today’s Capitalist World Order

Today’s volatile political world – over 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact-allied governments – is increasingly marked by an accelerating unraveling of that great post-World War II capitalist world order, politically dominated by US military and economic power and a so-called “socialist camp” centered on the Soviet Union, that was also a world military power. Nevertheless, the old, fraying world structures still stamps the framework of world economics, finance, politics, and social relations towards the end of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century.

What has been developing, with accumulating force again today, ten years after the financial crash and near-meltdown of the so-called “Great Recession” of 2007-08, is the relative erosion and decline of US economic, financial, and political power, and Washington’s overall weight in world politics and “global affairs” today. This has been unfolding objectively over a number of years, in this still-young 21st Century.

This political reality has been much lamented by Democratic and Republican party establishments, and has deepened political divergences and factionalism within, across, and between both big-business parties. This has been deepening in the opening period of the Donald Trump White House. (As the US rulers wring their hands over whether Trump is accelerating this erosion and decline with his impulsive methods and demagogy in the US and internationally, I cannot recall, in my lifetime, such a joint crisis within both capitalist parties, and the lesser-evil, two-party oligarchy.)

In this context, revolutionary Cuba today – and this is the living legacy of Fidel – has become, in word and deed, the leading voice for working people and oppressed nations and peoples in every tribune at hand in today’s world.  In the worldwide Battle of Ideas that Fidel stressed continually in his last years, the Cuban Revolution is the living, resonant, politically attractive socialist alternative to today’s capitalist world disorder with its grotesque inequality and permanent fueling of war. Understanding this is the opposite of any residual 1960s or ancient Cold War-era nostalgia.

Before the Revolution: Fidel the Activist and Organizer

Fidel Castro, the offspring of a Spanish-immigrant who became a prosperous landowner, entered political life as a student activist at the University of Havana. He set up a law practice under permanent financial stress insofar as his clients were invariably poor and destitute working people facing the daily blows and rigged social relations of the Cuban neo-colonial state. And he could never bring himself to charge them.8

Fidel remained true to his rebel student youth in this period. He deepened his youthful convictions and principles through theoretical and political study, with and was active in, the multi-class Orthodox People’s Party founded and led by Eduardo Chibas in 1947. That party put the fight against the corruption that enveloped Cuban politics and economics at its center and projected what could be termed a left-wing “populist” program for the promotion of a Cuban identity, economic independence, and social reforms. (See Ramonet p. 83-88 for Fidel’s assessment of the Ortodoxos and the other middle-class political tendencies.)

The late-1940s and early 1950s was a rich period in Cuban politics in general, and student and youth politics in particular. Revolutionary ideas were in the air, transmitted through such figures as the revolutionary socialist martyrs Julio Antonio Mella and Antonio Guiteras. This was a period of mounting social and political crisis in Cuba leading up to the 1952 military coup that installed Fulgencio Batista in power. Fidel entered into this with all his heart and soul and brain. “I began to acquire a more radical political awareness, and I was learning more and more about Marx and Lenin. I was reading Engels and other authors and works on economics and philosophy, but mainly political works – the political ideas, the political theories of Marx.” (See Ramonet, p. 89-90.)

The seizure of power by military forces led by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 abrogated the 1940 Cuban Constitution, a relatively progressive document that incorporated land reform, health care, public education, and a minimum wage. The 1940 Constitution was itself inspired by the 1933-34 mass struggles of workers and youth and the political upheavals that followed the collapse of the repressive regime of Gerardo Machado. Batista, a prominent military figure, had emerged from the turmoil and political instability of the “1933 Revolution” as the dominant figure in the Cuban state across a series of “elected” weak and corrupt regimes.

Batista managed to get himself directly elected President during World War II from 1940-44, posing as a progressive in the “anti-fascist world camp.” Cuban Communists, renamed the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) in 1944, actually joined the Batista Cabinet, taking two ministerial posts in those years. This became an important factor in the development of the July 26 Movement as an independent revolutionary formation in the period that opened up after the Batista coup.9

During this time Batista accumulated a tidy fortune, living it up in south Florida after his single term allowed under the Constitution ended. Facing certain defeat in the 1952 election he was contesting, Batista orchestrated the military coup which was backed by Washington, the real power in the Cuban neo-colony.

Batista’s coup accelerated the political and social crisis in Cuba, as he moved to consolidate an exceedingly venal and repressive regime. Batista’s government allied itself with top US organized-crime mafias, promoting a tourism based on promoting Cuba’s island beauty and beaches with casino gambling and prostitution on a grand scale. The period is captured with great artistry and verisimilitude in the classic Francis Coppola film The Godfather Part II. The dictatorship allied with the most reactionary sectors of Cuban society, and with the US organized crime families and gangster enterprises that had become a key component of Havana and Cuba’s economic and commercial activity. Even as the Batista government became more unpopular and more hated by the year, it necessarily became even more dependent on, subservient to, and propped up by Washington, then under the Republican Dwight Eisenhower Administration, with Democratic Party control of both the US House of Representatives and Senate. The support for Batista was solid and bipartisan, if increasingly anxious, in Washington right up to the collapse of the regime.10

Under the conditions of Batista’s deeply unpopular regime, there sprung up a plethora of competing factions, student and left-wing radicals, the Popular Socialist Party, small groups calling themselves “Trotskyist,” militant workers in the divided Cuban labor movement working clandestinely, and among the bourgeois liberal and conservative opposition political forces. All contested for political influence and a mass base amidst the general opposition and revulsion to the Batista coup and its attempts to consolidate a stable government.

Fidel exploded into the center of Cuban politics on July 26, 1953 with a highly organized armed attack by 160 young, largely working-class, fighters on the Moncada and Bayamo Barracks of the Batista dictatorship. These were highly disciplined and trained combatants motivated by patriotic and revolutionary purpose.

Along with Fidel, the other central leaders of the preparation and organization of the July 26, 1953 attacks were Abel Santamaria and Jesus Montane. The plan and political perspective of the Moncadista insurrectionists was to seize the two Barracks, disarm the government troops, seize broadcast and other means of communication, and call for a mass uprising.

The outcome of the assault can be said to be a classic example of military defeat becoming political victory. In this case a military defeat transformed into a dynamic political advance and the ultimate victory of the Cuban Revolution within less than five years. (See Ramonet pages 104-134 for a fascinating account of the Moncada assault, the unanticipated difficulties and errors, and the necessary retreat and aftermath.)

Abel Santamaria was tortured to death by Batista’s troops following his surrender and capture. Fidel, Jesus Montane, Raul Castro, Juan Almeida and other rebels survived with some luck, but the post-attack scene was mark by extraordinary bestial conduct, which quickly became public, on the part of Batista’s henchmen, with unspeakable torture and murder of disarmed youth being the fate of most. Cuban public opinion was horrified, and this became a factor in preserving the lives of the survivors.

Public revulsion also began to overlap with growing sympathy for the July 26 youth. Growing anti-Batista mass demonstrations and protests mounted against the increasingly isolated and repressive regime. Fidel’s stirring speech in his defense before the kangaroo court – “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” – presented the program and political orientation of the insurrectionists. It was reproduced and widely circulated by the growing cadre of organized supporters who became the July 26 Movement (M-26-J). The pamphlet History Will Absolve Me became a key recruiting tool for the Movement and its major programmatic document.

Political pressure on the Batista government became focused on a mass campaign for amnesty for the Moncada fighters, which also built the Movement. All the fighters were released after barely two years of incarceration. Batista and his goons evidently believed their death squads would be more likely to get away with murder outside the prison walls than within. The July 26 Movement emerged as the most, dynamic, creative, and attractive political force in the unfolding pre-revolutionary situation developing inside Cuba in the mid-1950s.

Raul Castro, Juan Almeida, Fidel Castro and other Moncadistas released in May 1955

Fidel, Raul, Juan Almeida, and other Moncadistas were eventually able to get to Mexico where colonies of Latin American freedom fighters were to be found, and who worked and played in overlapping social and political circles.

In Mexico, Fidel and his team began recruiting cadre who received military training (from a veteran Republican fighter in the 1930s Spanish Revolution and Civil War) for a planned landing in the Cuban countryside, the launching of a rural guerrilla war, and the concurrent launching of a nationwide revolutionary movement politically connected to the armed struggle in every corner of Cuba. What became a vibrant, clandestine urban movement led by figures like Armando Hart, Enrique Oltuski, Frank Pais, Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria whose responsibilities included funneling arms and trained cadre to the guerrilla army.

Among the first recruits to the expeditionary army was Dr. Ernesto Guevara, an Argentine and the only non-Cuban among the guerrilla army in formation. Guevara had organized a clinic for impoverished workers and peasants in Guatemala before escaping, and also ending up in Mexico, one step ahead of the death squads of the CIA-installed murderous military regime that overthrew the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz government. Soon he had befriended a number of July 26 Movement cadre, including Raul Castro. Ernesto became Che, the affectionate moniker affixed to him by his Cuban pals soon to become his comrades.

It was the July 26 Movement that emerged at the head of a genuinely mass, revolutionary movement to overthrow Batista and his regime. M-26-J seized state power under a clear and definite social and political program that it began to implement. Fidel became the central leader of a revolutionary government directing and organizing a new type of state power and social relations in the 20th Century and reaching out politically everywhere across the Americas and worldwide.

The July 26 Movement was, in practice, a centralized combat organization, the expression, in a political-military form, of a political vanguard. In the military defeat of Batista’s US-backed Cuban army, what became, from the twelve or so (out of 82) ambushed survivors of the Granma expedition, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) that defeated the far more numerous – and strongly equipped and armed by Washington –  Cuban army under Batista’s command.11

Leading a Socialist Revolution

In the definition given by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution, “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events…the forcible entry of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.” In that sense, the Cuban Revolution was a genuine people’s revolution.

Its radicalization and transformation into a socialist revolution was based on mass mobilizations and mass participation. All flowing out of a new mass consciousness. But this collective united action of the popular majority was the concentrated political expression of the transformation of millions of individual human beings who, in the words of Karl Marx, describing the insurgent workers of the Paris Commune, decided to “storm the heavens.” This dialectical interplay between individual and mass is the dynamic human spring in any genuine people’s revolution.

The working teams of outstanding cadre forged and trained under Fidel’s central leadership had boundless faith in the ability of working people and the oppressed to enter the realm, on a truly mass scale, of struggle and organization. These were professional revolutionaries, volunteers for a cause, motivated by patriotic and, for many, socialist convictions. Individuals prepared to embrace the discipline required for effective action, if, and it was a big “if,” there was a leadership that was honest, self-sacrificing, politically savvy, courageous, and prepared to go all the way. In a 1987 interview with Italian television journalist Gianni Mina, Fidel said, “You can’t be a revolutionary without a large dose of idealism and a tremendous confidence in human beings. A sceptic can’t be a revolutionary. A revolutionary is an optimist, someone who believes in human beings.”

What the Cuban Revolution conquered socially, in the interests of the large majority in its opening years, is all the more remarkable when we realize it was done in the teeth of violent, unscrupulous, permanent aggression by the United States government. This aggression included the April 1961 mercenary invasion by counter-revolutionary exiles organized by the CIA that was smashed at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron to Cubans).12

President John Kennedy’s “Operation Mongoose,” a program of unbridled terrorism, economic sabotage, death squads and assassination teams (some 600 assassination plans and programs were put into play against Fidel Castro alone by the spooks of Washington in these years) was now intensely in play after the Bay of Pigs debacle. Concrete preparations and projections were well underway for a direct US invasion, which “Mongoose” aimed to soften the ground for.

These were the conditions, with Cuba facing the total devastation of a full-scale US assault by air, land, and sea, that led the Soviet government led by Nikita Khrushchev to propose to the Cuban government placing nuclear weapons in Cuba as a deterrence to the coming US invasion. Decisive in the Cuban government’s reluctant acceptance, was the Soviet presentation of the necessity of the missile placement, in order to, as Castro put it in the Ramonet interviews, ”to improve the balance of strategic forces.” Specifically, Khrushchev hoped to acquire, with a fait accompli, the leverage to eliminate operational US nukes near Soviet borders in Turkey. (See my essay55 Years After: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis” for more on Operation Mongoose and the unfolding of events leading to the nuclear missile crisis.

Revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s became the political and organizing center across the Americas for revolutionary struggle against US domination and the rule of the oligarchies – two things that were hand in glove.

In the early years after the triumph of the Revolution, the CIA set up in South Florida the largest base operation at that point, in its history. Daily operations were spun and run into Cuba involving plans for sabotage, terrorism, assassination, and so on. Organized, trained, funded, and directed from Washington, the operatives – by and large – were Cuban exiles. Thousands of Cuban citizens lost their lives as a result of such actions over the years.

The Agrarian Reform

With all this as a daily backdrop, Fidel and the Cuban revolutionaries carried out their program and policies, with mass support and mobilizations, utterly transforming Cuba.

The centerpiece for implementing, through popular mobilization and governmental power, the July 26 Movement’s program of radical social reforms was the transformation of the Cuban countryside by the Agrarian Reform Law. Agrarian reform was the fulcrum for the social and economic transformations heralded by the Revolution. Deliberations to codify in law, and implement in practice, a comprehensive agrarian reform began within the central July 26th Movement leadership almost immediately after the military victory, and the establishment of a provisional government. The most profound direction and input came from the collaboration between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. The agrarian reform was seen as the necessary foundation and catalyst for Cuba’s industrial development.13

The National Institute of Agrarian Reform was organized to implement the Law, with Fidel Castro as President and Che Guevara appointed head of the Department of Industrialization on October 8, 1959. Che held the central political and administrative responsibility within INRA.

Che organized and trained an INRA militia of 100,000. Their responsibilities included seizing control of expropriated land, supervising distribution, and helping to establish viable farm cooperatives. Some 500,000 acres of confiscated land was owned by US corporations. INRA, under Che’s direction, financed highway construction, built housing for peasants and farming cooperatives, and other industrial projects, including resorts for tourists.

All these economic measures dynamically interacted with the implemented radical social policies and laws that fundamentally altered and transformed social relations on the island to the clear benefit of the oppressed and exploited large majority of the Cuban population. These included a massive, successful campaign to wipe out illiteracy, and, what was particularly annoying to foreign and domestic big-business owners, progressive labor laws that greatly expanded trade-union membership and facilitated struggles for higher wages and better working conditions. Revolutionary laws and policies abolished racist Jim Crow-style segregation and discrimination policies, leading to huge advances for Cubans of African origins. The Revolution dealt big blows against the oppression of women including: legalizing the right to abortion (the first country in the Western Hemisphere to do so); the establishment of day-care facilities; equality in pay; greater access to education and professional training; and the eradication of organized prostitution with job training for ex-prostitutes. (It is estimated that one out of three women in Havana were super-exploited in the gangster-run commercial “sex industry.”)

These measures were not yet explicitly socialist; banking, manufacturing, and large-scale wholesale and retail distribution remained in private hands. However, the anti-capitalist tendency was clear and the encroachments on the prerogatives of domestic and foreign capital were intolerable to the ruling classes. With the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law it was clear to all that social relations in Cuban society were being fundamentally transformed and that working people in the city and countryside were becoming politically and socially dominant.

Moreover, the evaporation of the old neo-colonial state and its repressive apparatus – the Cuban “deep state” so to speak — left a vacuum in political and social relations, into which stepped the highly radicalized, organized, and mobilized Cuban working people and youth led by the team around Fidel Castro. This was a leadership team of exceptional political and personal audacity and courage, who knew where they wanted to go and were not afraid of the dangers and consequences. The neo-colonial Army, police, courts, prisons, and the entire “criminal justice system” evaporated and were dismantled, with the new bodies and institutions stamped with a different class character.

The unfolding of the Cuban Revolution recalls the poetry of Bob Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A-Changin’:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Fidel and the Liberation of Southern Africa

April 1974 saw a coup by left-wing military officers in Portugal against the semi-fascist Salazarist regime there and its unsustainable colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and the Cape Verde Islands where Portugal held colonies, more or less, for centuries. The coup unleashed pent-up mass struggles inside Portugal for democratic and workers’ rights. First and foremost, it expedited the collapse of Portugal’s colonial holdings. Negotiations with the new Portuguese government led to the target date of November 11, 1975 for the establishment of formal Angolan independence.

The broadest-based and predominant Angolan independence organization was the Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) which was poised to take governmental power out of the political situation left with the disintegration of Portuguese rule and the withdrawal of Portuguese troops.

The South African apartheid regime sensed the danger to it in these developments. Prior to the formal, scheduled Angolan Declaration of Independence, South African forces forged alliances, which they clearly dominated, with reactionary forces of the more narrow and insular, ethnic-tribal-based Angolan FNLA and UNITA organizations. These organizations were also aligned with the United States as well as the pro-imperialist and exceedingly venal Mobutu dictatorship in “Zaire.” (Joseph Mobutu’s regime had changed the name of the Congo to “Zaire,”) The apartheid South African regime, with covert US support, had begun incursions into Angola, which led to a full invasion on October 1975, weeks before the formal establishment of Angolan Independence.

With Mobutu’s troops directly supporting the FNLA from Zaire to the west, and apartheid South Africa’s troops accompanying UNITA from bases in the South African colony of Namibia (an illegal occupation under rulings by the United Nations), the South African apartheid army and its pro-imperialist allies were on the verge of seizing the Angolan capital of Luanda when, in one of the most selfless acts of revolutionary internationalism in history, the Cuban government dispatched the first contingents of what became tens of thousands of combat troops. Within months the Cuban forces had routed the South African-Zairean invasion.

Cuban leader Jorge Risquet, the African director of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, who was centrally involved in the policymaking and execution of policy within the Cuban government in those historic days, pointed out in an interview from the excellent French documentary “Cuba: An African Odyssey,” that “Angola needed soldiers and weapons at that time. The South Africans were advancing, so they couldn’t wait until the 11th because the South Africans and Mobutu would reach Luanda. There’d be no independence. [Angolan President Augustino] Neto sent a message to the Soviet government, but they said they weren’t prepared to do anything inside Angola before November 11. We, however, were ready.”

Fidel Castro said, in the same film, “When on October 23, Angola was invaded by regular South African forces, we couldn’t just sit and watch. And when the MPLA asked for our help, we offered the aid necessary to prevent apartheid from being installed in Angola.”14

The Cubans assembled every available, and then some, air transport carrier to transport heavy-weapons specialists and Special Forces on the first flights, making 70 transatlantic crossing round trip to Luanda between November 7 and December 9, 1976. The bulk of Cuban troops, which initially reached 35,000 infantry by the end of 1976, and equipment were transported by ship, boats, and other waterborne vessels commandeered from all available ships in the Cuban Merchant Marine. The volunteer troops were conscious of the political and military imperative of the mission at the gates of Luando.

The Cuban leadership carried this out without even informing the Soviet government beforehand, which they knew would have opposed the Cuban intervention as an obstacle and irritant to their pursuit of post-Vietnam possibilities of détente with Washington. What Cuba did was done for nothing material in return, out of pure revolutionary duty, and human solidarity.

Cuban troops routed the South African-led invasion and repelled the otherwise inevitable South African seizure of the Angolan capital of Luanda. Cuban troops remained in Angola for over a decade to check South African military aggression. During this extraordinary period the clear victories of the largely Afro-Cuban military forces and their African allies defeated the mighty apartheid army. The political impact of South African military reversals inspired the entire continent, not least of all the militant, revolutionary-minded youth of South Africa’s townships and the South African Black working class.

The South African racists were bitter that the covert support and encouragement given to them by the Ford-Kissinger government could not be publicly expressed. As word of the South African aggression became public, Washington was paralyzed politically, unable to identify openly with the apartheid regime it was allied with covertly. South African Defense Minister and future South African President P.W. Botha, said in 1978, “[W]e crossed a border …in the case of Angola [and] we did so with the approval and knowledge of the Americans. But they left us in the lurch. [We] …went in there and operated in Angola with their knowledge…they encouraged us to act and, when we had nearly reached the climax, we were ruthlessly left in the lurch.”

The stunning “fact-on-the-ground” was that the mighty white supremacist army (which included puppet African troops) had been stopped and pushed back on the road to Luanda by largely dark-skinned Cuban and Angolan forces, with Cuban combat fighters the decisive factor.

Months after the victory over the apartheid army by the Cuban armed forces – made up of internationalist volunteers – came the June 1976 mass upsurge inside apartheid South Africa. The urban townships exploded following the historic high-school student uprising in the impoverished Johannesburg ghetto of Soweto (South West Township). There is no question of the interconnection. Oppressed South Africans, especially industrial workers and youth in the Townships and “Bantustans,” connected to the mass African National Congress underground resistance, knew about, and were emboldened by, the defeat of the racist army in Angola by the revolutionary Cuban combatants. Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu certainly knew about it in the prisons of Robben Island, apartheid’s Alcatraz, off Cape Town.

Despite bloody repression that murdered 600-700 in the streets of Soweto, the South African regime began to weaken and politically disintegrate. The Soweto Uprising, in fact, signaled the beginning of the end for the apartheid regime and that hated imperialist bastion.

At each political and military turning point of the 1976-1999 war between Cuba and its allies and apartheid South Africa and its allies, covertly backed by Washington, Fidel’s clear Marxist revolutionary perspective was that a military victory of apartheid South Africa in Angola would inevitably be a decisive victory that would prolong the life of the white-supremacist regime for an entire, and not inconsiderable period. It would be akin in its political impact to Hitler’s destruction of the German worker’s movement, Franco’s defeat of the Spanish Republic, and Pinochet’s coup in Chile. It takes a long time for the working class and oppressed nations to recover and revive after an historic defeat or major setback. This is a law of the class struggle and politics.

The ability to clearly see the price, first of all for the African masses of every country in southern Africa, of an apartheid state victory, is what led to the bold (and exceedingly risky for the Cuban state) measures undertaken in 1976 and again in the decisive 1988 crisis and emergency. The latter events involved initially an on-the-ground and in-the-air debacle and disaster, under the direction of Soviet military advisors, that went forward against the strong, razor-sharp opposition of Fidel and all the top Cuban leadership on-the-ground in Angola. What Fidel and the Cubans did was to turn a disaster into a decisive military victory at the small town of Cuito Cuanavale on the banks of the Lomba River in Angola.15

After the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the apartheid army was forced into a headlong retreat back to South Africa where the African townships were now in open, permanent, mass rebellion. It was Endgame for the apartheid regime. The South African rulers, and eventually their covert allies in the Ronald Reagan Administration, were forced to negotiate massive concessions in formal talks with revolutionary Cuba, the ANC, and other southern African liberations forces. In 1990, Namibia won its independence; Nelson Mandela and all the anti-apartheid political prisoners were freed; and the ANC and all the banned anti-apartheid organizations were legalized.

Over 300,000 Cubans – doctors, teachers, and engineers alongside combatants – served in Angola in the over ten-year period. Over 2,000 died.

Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela

These giant, world-historic, world-changing accomplishments – defending the sovereignty and independence of Angola, winning the independence and sovereignty of Namibia, and the unraveling and defeat of the apartheid state – unfolded with Fidel’s political and military leadership the decisive factor. These events without question laid the historic foundation for the new, relative rise of Africa in the world. This alone would be enough to secure Fidel’s role at the top summits of history’s liberators.

Preventing “Another Cuba” in the “Cold War” Years

Cuba did become allied to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact-states during the “Cold War” decades. This was probably decisive in preventing the Cuban Revolution from being overwhelmed by the economic and military power of the United States in the first years of the Revolution. The fate and survival of the Cuban Revolution – at the Bay of Pigs and during the Cuban Missile Crisis – became a major “flashpoint” of that “Cold War” period.

From its beginning, the Cuban Revolution and its leadership found a great resonance worldwide, and especially across Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Both big-business parties in the US were determined to use the apparatus of US power in the Hemisphere to counter that sympathy and prevent the emulation of the Cuban Revolution, and its extension in a period of intensifying national liberation and class struggles in the Americas. This included inside the United States with the rising Black liberation struggle and the growing mass movement against US aggression in Vietnam and Indochina. There was a growing layer, particularly among African-Americans, Latinos, and student youth, but also many others, who were attracted to and sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution.

Washington’s policy was to overturn the revolutionary Cuban government and stamp it out as a dangerous, but short-lived, revolutionary meteor that would crash back down to earth. But, Washington failed to defeat the Cuban Revolution. Nevertheless, US imperialism did manage, at a huge cost to the working people and for democratic rights in the Hemisphere, to defeat revolutionary struggles and popular upsurges in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, and again in Central America in the 1980s.

It was the liberal Democratic Administration of Lyndon Johnson, continuing the policy of his assassinated predecessor, that orchestrated and provided key material and political support to the 1964 military coup in Brazil that deposed the reformist government of Joao Goulart in Brazil. The brutal military regime there lasted until 1985. Among the greatest of Goulart’s sins in the eyes of Washington was his government’s refusal to break diplomatic relations with Cuba. The Johnson Administration invaded the Dominican Republic with nearly 25,000 troops in 1965 to “restore stability” after a military coup against the elected, progressive government of Juan Bosch, and to prevent an unfolding revolutionary dynamic there. Johnson demagogically presented this gross violation of Dominican sovereignty as the need to prevent “another Cuba.”

Additionally, the Johnson White House, as it was escalating the US war against Vietnam, also oversaw the defeat of continental guerrillas, under the leadership of Ernesto Che Guevara, that were battling US-backed military and oligarchic regimes across the Americas from bases in Bolivia. The Johnson “National Security team” expedited the murder by summary execution of Che – captured in combat and unarmed – by US-backed Bolivian military forces in October 1967. The subsequent Republican White House of Richard Nixon, at the same time it was exerting itself to prevent a political-military collapse and defeat in Vietnam and Indochina, closely collaborated with the Chilean military and bourgeoisie to overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in September, 1973.

Chile

On September 4, 1970 Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile with a plurality of the vote, 36.6 percent, against two divided liberal and conservative bourgeois parties. Allende was a leader of the Chilean Socialist Party (SP), a mass working class party. The SP-led government and coalition, Unidad Popular, included the Chilean Communist Party, another large working-class party, and liberal middle-class parties and groups.

Allende’s government coalition in its first year carried out a number of far-reaching and popular reforms, including nationalizing foreign holdings in the copper, nitrate, iron, and coal industries. Land reform legislation passed under previous capitalist Christian Democratic-party led government began to be implemented, in a political dynamic where landless peasants were already seizing land and working it. Space was conquered for increased trade union organization and workers won and received under Unidad Popular significant wages increases. A law was passed guaranteeing a daily quart of milk for children. Thousands of political prisoners were released. Allende’s government re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1971 and quickly developed warm relations with the revolutionary Cuban government. It spoke out strongly against US aggression in Vietnam, infuriating the Richard Nixon Administration.

In subsequent municipal and national legislative elections Unidad Popular increased its vote to up to nearly 50%, some 44 per cent in the 1973 parliamentary elections. Class, social, and therefore political polarization sharply increased. The Allende-led governmental coalition faced tremendous pressures from big-business and financial class forces, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and broad middle-class layers in Chile. These forces, in turn, were backed by, and actively collaborated with, United States government agencies and spooks. Washington carried out destabilization projects and plots, under the Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger White House and State Department. These were widely known at the time, but, many years later, have been officially documented in great detail from records and archives released under the Freedom of Information Act.

(Pathfinder Press has published Fidel Castro on Chile, New York, 1982 with an introduction by Elizabeth Stone, a comprehensive compilation of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and interactions with Chilean workers and trade unionists, peasants, and students from November 10 to December 4, 1971. In speech after speech, Castro foresees – in a cumulative master class in the Marxist method – the gathering, impossible-to-be-avoided political, social, and class showdown. He did everything in his power to prevent a historic defeat and slaughter of working people in Chile similar to what Che Guevara had witnessed in 1954 Guatemala. The classic documentary The Battle of Chile, shot during the Allende years, smuggled out of Chile, and finished in Cuba, shows how workers and peasants, ready to defend their gains, arms in hand, waited in vain to be mobilized, organized, and armed as the defense of democratic space and constitutional legality that was being abandoned by the Chilean ruling classes and was, in fact, collapsing.)

A wave of brutal, bloody US-backed military regimes ruled across the South American continent during this period. Washington’s policies were largely motivated by a hatred and fear of the consequences of any potential extension of the Cuban Revolution. That is, revolutionary Cuba’s appeal to the oppressed and exploited peoples of the Hemisphere to rise up and conquer their national and social liberation. During these dark days of brutal rule by the US-backed militaries and oligarchies it was, in fact, the Cuban “dictatorship” that aided in every way it could – in a non-sectarian manner – the progressive and revolutionary forces defending democratic freedoms, political space, trade union legality, farmers rights, and so on. Is it any wonder that Washington’s shameless lectures to Cuba on “human rights” and “democracy” are met with such derision and contempt and have been unable to gain significant political traction in this Hemisphere.

Fidel speaking to a mass rally in Chile, November 1971

Certainly Washington’s problem with Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution is that, to his everlasting credit, the revolutionaries he led did not turn the other cheek, and give in, in the face of imperialist subversion and aggression. Revolutionary Cuba did not turn into 1954 Guatemala or 1973 Chile. They defended themselves and continue to defend themselves. Washington, the European Union “statesmen,” and the big-business media and house pundits call this “violations of human rights.”

Central America Revolutionary Upsurge in the 1980s

A decade of revolutionary upsurge, fierce counter-revolutionary response, in the finest traditions of the Latin American oligarchies and ruling classes, and US covert and increasingly open intervention and threats, was ushered in with the 1979 triumphs of the Nicaraguan Revolution, led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and the Grenadian Revolution, led by Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement. Revolutionary armed struggles against military tyrannies in El Salvador and Guatemala unfolded in the early-1980s.

The response of Washington, under the new Ronald Reagan White House, and Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress, was the not-secret-for-long covert campaign to arm, train, finance, and organize logistics for the terrorist contra army. The contras naturally drew heavy on remnants of the overthrown Somoza-family dictatorship and oligarchy. Washington fostered a large base in Honduras to stage bloody terrorist raids into Nicaragua.

In El Salvador, Reagan’s team worked hard to put a “democratic’ face on the “moderate” “center” Jose Napoleon Duarte regime, but the operative, dynamic force, over this entire period, umbilically tied to the growing US military presence and intervention, were the rightist death squads slaughtered some 70,000, in a country of around 4.5 million at the time. (That would be the equivalent of 3.5 million people in the US at the time or 1,167 separate 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center at around 3,000 an attack.)16

Fully in line with its proletarian internationalist traditions, Cuba did everything its could to promote and defend the Sandinista Revolution, the Grenadian Revolution, and the liberation forces in El Salvador and Guatemala. In Nicaragua and Grenada, the revolutionary workers and farmers governments and mobilized working people and youth in both countries were carrying out powerful economic policies and social programs in the interests of workers and peasants, with immediate results in massive growth is popular access to health care, education, and the arts.

The Reagan Administration counter-revolutionary drive also targeted Cuba, which, in the words of then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig, was the “source of the problem.”

In Nicaragua, despite the military defeat of the contra army, the war-battered, exhausted, and devastated country saw an erosion of mass participation and support for the Revolution by the late-1980s. In that context and pressure, there were also important political shifts in Sandinista policies, in particular delays in the implementation of land reform, that contributed to the electoral defeat and collapse of the Sandinista-led government in 1990. In this same period, by the late 1980s, military and political stalemates led to negotiated settlements in El Salvador and Guatemala. All of this meant that the revolutionary wave from 1979 had definitively ended without further victories, and with two historic losses in Nicaragua and Grenada.

The shock, and accompanying positive material effect for the capitalist class, of the political and economic stabilization of neo-colonial capitalist rule, after the great expectations and inspiration 1979 ushered in, could only lead to a widespread political demoralization and a trend toward the rejection of Marxist and socialist ideas for so-called “neo-liberalism” exemplified by the rightist trajectory of some prominent ex-leftist intellectuals such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Teodoro Petkoff, and Jorge Castenada. Suddenly, the “Washington Consensus” and “neoliberalism” were ascendant. Neo-liberal governments were elected from Argentina to Peru to Brazil carrying out the Pinochet “Chicago School” economic program under a veil of capitalist “democracy.” A decade of “neo-liberal globalization” carried out a program of attacking workers and unions, driving down the value of labor, driving farmers off the land, and promoting anti-labor austerity and cutting already minimal social programs while promoting financial speculation, borrowing, and massive debt.

Moreover, by 1991, the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp” had politically collapsed. Triumphalist propaganda exalted the supposed “triumph of liberal capitalist democracy,” “the end of socialism,” and even “the end of history” altogether. The capitalist ideological and political offensive, full of righteous arrogance and full of itself, was on full throttle.

Nevertheless, in the “neo-liberal decade” of the 1990s, it was Cuba, and popular organizations like the Confederation of Cuban Workers CTC) or the Cuban Institute for Friendship With the People’s (ICAP) that called and organized trade unionists and solidarity activists across the Western Hemisphere and around the world to Conferences dedicated to struggle against “neo-liberal globalization.”

The “Special Period”

The collapse of the USSR and the “socialist camp” devastated the Cuban economy, threatening the gains of the Revolution and the Revolution itself, more than it had ever been, before or since, even when Washington nuclear missiles were aimed at it, when US invasion forces were gathering, and when the US Navy was sealing Cuba off from the world.

Cuba’s economy had become tied to the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp” to the point where 85% of its economic exchange was with it. Fidel had attempted to shift the Cuban economy, through the mid-1980s “Rectification” campaign, a politically-led attempt to revive Che’s economic policies and orientation, among other important social and political changes. But this was aborted under the rapid unfolding of events in the USSR and Eastern Europe from 1989-1992.

Almost overnight economic exchanges and ties to the “socialist camp” evaporated. Cuba’s economic output fell 35%. Factories shut down for lack of parts. Produce rotted in fields as farm equipment could not move. Oxen replaced tractors. Surgeries were performed in the open sun for lack of electricity. Blackouts were the norm. Those dog days across the 1990s became known as the “Special Period.”

It was precisely at this time that US economic and travel sanctions were deepened and intensified. Bipartisan Washington, under both the first George Bush and William Clinton White Houses hoped that, once and for all, it could be rid of the “pestilence” of the Cuban Revolution, its example and outsized political resonance and influence in the Americas and the world. It was inconceivable to the US government that the “Castro” Revolution could survive these blows. Washington passed legislation, the Torricelli and Helms-Burton “Acts,” that tightened the US economic, commercial, and financial embargo and attempted to “internationalize” it into a de facto military blockade. This was to be done by pressuring and threatening with penalties other countries or enterprises that independently traded with Cuba.17

The Cuban Five meet Fidel and his wife Dalia Soto del Valle

It can be said that Fidel’s last great triumph as a revolutionary leader was the struggle, with the Cuban people, to successfully lead the nation through, and beginning to fight its way out of, the “Special Period.”

Cuba began to climb out from the “Special Period” at the turn of the 20th Century. Fidel’s government deployed teams of economists, diplomats, and negotiators around the world seeking investment capital, negotiating trade deals and financing, figuring out ways of getting around the US blockade, and so on, and making important progress. Cuban working people stepped up to the plate to build high-rise and other new hotels and food markets to rebuild the tourism industry. Tourism, which quickly expanded, brought in urgently needed foreign exchange to maintain the basic conquests of the Revolution in free and high-quality medical care and education. A key to Cuban economic advances was new economic and political relations with Venezuela, Brazil, and other Latin American countries that were prepared to stand up to Washington’s pressure, as well as increased economic ties with China and Vietnam.

At this time Latin America was undergoing major political shifts with mass resistance growing to the so-called “neo-liberal Washington Consensus” policies of austerity and assaults on working people. In particular, the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, elected President in 1998 after a mass uprising against austerity measures was met with murderous repression, forged a close alliance with revolutionary Cuba, that included providing oil and energy needs to the island, while Cuba provided 30,000 thousand doctors and teachers that greatly boosted the access to 10 million Venezuelan working people to quality medical care and education. Over time, in this period, all Latin American governments united to oppose Washington’s attempts to isolate and overturn the Cuban government and Revolution. It was Fidel Castro’s government that mobilized world public opinion against the US-backed attempted coup of April 2002 in Venezuela.

Fidel, the “world Communist movement” and Socialism

Fidel politically defeated his enemies in his lifetime and in history. The Cuban Revolution not only survived the decades-long US government onslaught, but implemented and consolidated historic social and cultural advances. To this day, Cuba’s example and its deeds of international solidarity resonate in today’s political world and with new generations of socialist and revolutionary-minded fighters in every corner of the globe.

It is clear that Cuba punches “way above its weight” in world politics. Fidel’s enemies for all their efforts have not been able to manufacture a false narrative – and have it stick – on the great Cuban revolutionary.

Fidel was an opponent of dogma and often expressed a striking critique of the stultification of Marxism in the Soviet bloc. In a January 12, 1968 speech at the closing session of the Cultural Congress of Havana at the Charles Chaplin Theater, Castro said:

[N]othing could be more anti-Marxist than dogma, nothing could be more anti-Marxist than the petrification of ideas. And there are even ideas propounded in the name of Marxism which seem to be truly fossils. Marxism has had thinkers of genius: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Lenin, to mention the outstanding founders. But Marxism needs to develop, break away from a certain rigidity, interpret today’s reality from an objective, scientific viewpoint, conduct itself as a revolutionary force and not as a pseudo-revolutionary church. These are the paradoxes of history. How, seeing sectors of the clergy becoming revolutionary forces, can we resign ourselves to seeing revolutionary forces become ecclesiastical forces.

The emergence of the independent Cuban communist leadership was a political and ideological challenge to the bastions of “official” Marxism in the Soviet Union of the post-Stalin and Khrushchev era from 1953-1964 and also to the variant coming out of the political, economic, and human turmoil in China during the era of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where intense political-factional warfare broke out within the Chinese Communist Party and government.

There may seem to be little immediate residual relevance to these decades-ago polemics and divisions within what was once called the “world Communist movement.” But for a revolutionary Marxist and the working-class movement, understanding the lessons and history of the past are indispensable in developing a consciousness, methodology, and program for today and tomorrow.

Today, all “traditional” political tendencies in the workers movement and the “left” are being shaken up by the ascent of so-called populist movements and parties, “right” and “left.” Longstanding social-democratic parties and organizations have been thrown into turmoil and crisis in country after country in Europe and attempts to forge a similar “progressive,” “mixed economy” perspective in in Latin America and elsewhere in the so-called “emerging markets.” (What I would call a “Left Keynesian” outlook and perspective.)

Today, the permanent crisis of building effective, international working-class leadership and organizations, based on fraternal collaboration and solidarity in common struggle, remains weak and unresolved. But it is increasingly on the table as social and class polarization, and inevitable political volatility and instability, mounts everywhere, from the richest to the most destitute countries on Earth, and everywhere in between.

Today, the permanent crisis of building effective, international working-class leadership based on fraternal collaboration and solidarity in common struggle, remains weak and unresolved. But it is increasingly on the table as social and class polarization, and inevitable political volatility and instability, mounts everywhere.

Yet, this is also an era where the fact and example of the Cuban Revolution survives and leads. It is this anti-imperialist, socialist, and Marxist legacy of Fidel Castro needs to be studied by young people turning to anti-capitalism and socialism, and to revolutionary struggle around the world, including in the United States, Europe, and other industrialized capitalist countries. Many will perhaps be surprised at the fruits of their study.

Fidel and Stalinism

Political and ideological attacks on Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionary government from the propaganda machinery of the capitalist world have generally attempted and continue to attempt to identify the Cuban Revolution with “Stalinism,” no matter how little serious understanding of that actual historical phenomenon there is on the part of anti-Cuban propagandists. Of course, defenders and apologists for capitalism and imperialism love to equate “Communism” and Marxism with Stalinism, and to collapse the latter into the former.

Historically, the terms “socialism” and “communism” were more or less interchangeable. After the Russian Revolution, a sharp polarization in the workers movement developed between supporters and opponents of the Bolsheviks in the radicalizing workers movement, with Lenin and the Bolsheviks identifying as “Communists.” This political division was reflected and registered in the different labels. This deepened with the consolidation of Stalin’s regime which retained the label “Communist” as did the large majority of Communist Parties in the world that allied with the Soviet government and Stalin’s Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The objective and subjective circumstances facing the Cuban Revolution, and the responsibilities upon Fidel as the central spokesperson of the revolutionary leadership, made a certain circumspection a necessary political quality and characteristic. The art of revolutionary politics – a test that every sectarian fails – is not always saying everything you may think you know, but saying what is necessary, always speaking the concrete truth, and backing up your words with deeds, and with action.

At the same time, the alliance – including the military component – with the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp,” was decisive in the very material survival of the Cuban Revolution, at least in the crucial early years when Washington’s open commitment, backed by furious actions and deeds, was to utterly eradicate the revolutionary government. Moreover, Fidel and the Cuban leadership were genuinely grateful for the solidarity and material aid they received from the Soviet Union and its allies.

The Fidelistas were drawn into, whether they liked it or not, the raging political battles within the “world Communist movement.” This was a period where the schisms between the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties and governments were becoming toxic even as US aggression against Vietnam began to escalate and eventually dominate world politics throughout the decade of the 1960s and early 1970s. The contemporary questions roiling the “world communist movement” essentially dealt with the long decades of the rule of Joseph Stalin’s government in the Soviet Union from its consolidation of power by the late-1920s, following the January 1924 death of Lenin, and the failure of Lenin’s death-bed attempts to remove Stalin as the General Secretary and a central leader of the Soviet Communist Party.

The Cuban leaders thought deeply about all these questions. Che Guevara, in particular, grappled with these questions very concretely as he prepared to depart from Cuba to provide central revolutionary political-military leadership for revolutionary armed struggle first in the Congo and then Bolivia and the Latin America Continent. Even before that in the period prior to 1965, when Che was a primary spokesperson and emissary of the Cuban Revolution in world politics, making numerous political and diplomatic travels, establishing relations with many countries, and visiting the “socialist camp.” The experience led him to think out, develop, and write down serious criticisms of the economic, social, and political practices of the Soviet and Eastern European governments and parties.

Cuban practices, despite pressures to conform to and assimilate the economic and social policies of their Soviet bloc allies, tended to diverge in many concrete arenas: land reform, the approach to family farmers and the peasantry as a class, culture and art, criminal justice and legal norms, hostility to torture, electoral procedures, women’s rights, and foreign policy. But, and this was central to the “Rectification” campaign, and, later, the lessons drawn from the “Special Period,” there was a tendency to copy, especially in economic practices, the experience and mechanisms of the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp.”

Under these circumstances, Fidel and the Cuban revolutionary leadership could not say everything they thought publicly, although if we look at the actual historical record, it is quite remarkable how much was said and how the independent revolutionary perspectives of the Cuban leadership was projected internationally. Vietnam was the sharpest expression of this, in the public speeches and statements of Fidel and Che.18

Fidel’s 1973 visit to Quang Tri in southern Vietnam raising the Khe Sahn Battalion Flag

The Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia

As I note in the essay, “55 Years Later: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis“:

Soviet-Cuban tensions escalated in this mid-1960s period, although never to the point of a public break. Nevertheless, sharp, concrete political and theoretical differences were registered between the Soviet and Cuban leaderships in this period over the US escalation in Vietnam and serious political divergence in Latin America. In several speeches in 1966 and 1967 Fidel Castro publicly excoriated the Soviet government for its economic and political relations with Latin American repressive and reactionary regimes.

The betrayal and execution of Che in 1967 sharpened the existing tensions and was followed by the [Anibal] Escalante intrigue and covert plotting against the revolutionary government. In terms of the economic relations and exchange between Cuba and the Soviet Union during these clashes, there was limited but noticeable Soviet measures affecting the struggling Cuban economy which was being whipped by the US economic blockade, particularly in the Americas. In this period, the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba struggled with diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere under US pressure, with only Canada and Mexico maintaining formal diplomatic ties.

While all of this was impacting on the Cuban leadership and Cuban-Soviet relation –  and while, at the same time, the United States government, on the cusp of the Vietnamese “Tet Offensive,” had 500,000 troops and personnel in Vietnam, employing massive, destructive, and murderous firepower – in August 1968, the Soviet Union, with the participation of troops from four other of its allied Warsaw Pact states, invaded Czechoslovakia with some 200,000 troops, and overthrew the “reform” and popular government of Alexander Dubcek, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

Fidel Castro gave very critical, even bitter, support to the invasion in a highly anticipated public speech. The speech was so critical that the Soviet press maintained a censorious public silence on its content, despite the bottom-line support. Aside from the inevitable denouncement from Washington and the European capitalist powers who had been handed by Moscow a propaganda bonanza and opportunities for political advantage in the “Cold War” chessboard, the Soviet invasion caused huge divisions and opposition from large Communist Parties in Europe and elsewhere, and near-universal opposition among left-wing forces and revolutionary-minded tendencies worldwide.

Fidel’s position as elaborately, and even passionately, presented in an August 23, 1968 highly anticipated speech, was internally consistent. He said the invasion “unquestionably entailed a violation of legal principles and international norms” and “it cannot be denied that the sovereignty of the Czechoslovak State was violated. That would be a fiction [and] an untruth. And the violation was, in fact, of a flagrant nature…From a legal point of view, this cannot be justified…Not the slightest trace of legality exists. Frankly, none whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, Fidel accepted the premise and assertion that Czechoslovakia was heading toward a restoration of capitalism which meant it would fall into the arms of world imperialism, weaken the “socialist camp,” and thereby greatly weaken anti-imperialist struggles around the world, particularly in Vietnam, but also the Cuban Revolution at that conjuncture. Leaving aside whether Fidel Castro was accurately assessing the dynamics of the so-called “Prague Spring” of Dubcek reforms and government, it is clear that Fidel’s position was shaped by anti-imperialist “camp” theories that was a seemingly intractable political framework at that height of the Cold War.

The Cuban Revolution paid a high price politically for a number of years for their position, despite the harsh criticisms and nuances in Fidel’s speech. It reinforced the views of those who identified the Castro leadership with “Stalinism,” and won over even more liberals, progressives, and leftists to that subjective, shallow viewpoint.

Nevertheless, Fidel never reversed his initial judgment and position of critical support for the Soviet invasion. (In the Ramonet interviews, Fidel said “[F]urthermore, we said we thought that the first issues raised in Czechoslovakia were unobjectionable, because they tended to improve Socialism. The denunciation of the methods of governance, the bureaucratic policies, the divorce [from] the masses, all those denunciations were unquestionably correct. But from fair slogans there had been a move towards an openly reactionary policy.  And we – bitterly, sadly – had to approve that military intervention. The preservation of the unity and strength of Socialism in the face of imperialism was for us vital, of first priority.” For his full nuanced position in Ramonet see pages 579-580. (In 1979 Fidel opposed the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan on grounds of international law.)

Fidel on Stalin

On a number of occasions Fidel Castro spoke clearly and forthrightly, with great reflection and insight, on the figure of Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s impact on history and world politics, including the politics of the “world Communist movement.” In the Ramonet interviews Fidel said,

I, deep inside, was more critical of Stalin, because of some of his mistakes. He was to blame, in my view, for the invasion of the USSR in 1941 by Hitler’s powerful war machine, without the Soviet army ever hearing a call to arms. Stalin also committed serious errors – everyone knows about his abuse of force, the repression, and his personal characteristics, the cult of personality. But yet he showed tremendous merit in industrializing the country, in moving the military industry to Siberia – those were decisive factors in the world’s fight against Nazism. So, when I analyse it, I weigh his merits and also his great errors, and one of those was when he purged the Red Army due to Nazi misinformation – that weakened the USSR militarily on the eve of the Fascist attack…He disarmed himself, he weakened himself, and he signed that terrible German-Soviet pact, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and other things.

In a 1992 interview with Sandinista leader Tomas Borge, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro went into more detail:

We should keep in mind, first of all, that the Soviet Union had the misfortune of Lenin dying relatively young. It needed him to live a further 10, 15 or 20 years…Lenin would have been able to rectify many of the negative trends that arose within the soviet revolutionary process after his death. Thus, Lenin’s absence – the vacuum his death left in the theoretical sphere as well as the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union – is a factor that had a great influence on what happened next.

Castro then focused on “first of all, for his infringements on legality. Stalin committed enormous abuses of power,” as well as “Stalin’s character, his terrible distrust of everything, [which] made him commit several other mistakes: one of them was falling in the trap of German intrigue and conducting a terrible, bloody purge of the armed forces and practically beheading the Soviet Army on the eve of war.”

Going into detail Fidel contrasts the practice of revolutionary Cuba to Stalin’s “worst mistakes” in agricultural policy and “forced collectivization” of farms.

It seems to me that the process of socialization of the land should have been started earlier and developed progressively…It seems to me that the attempt to socialize the land in an extremely short period of time historically, by means of violence, was very costly, both economically and in terms of human suffering. That was a serious mistake under Stalin’s leadership…What I don’t believe is that anything forced them to have then carried out an accelerated process of compulsory collectivization…We’ve always understood that small plots of land have limited production possibilities, but we never engaged in any compulsory collectivization.

Estimates of the number who died in the mass famines in Soviet Ukraine in this period are in the millions.

Castro credits Stalin’s organizational and administrative talents, and his eye for detail, for the relatively rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and for the, by any measure, heroic accomplishment of Soviet workers of dismantling and transporting whole war industries and factories east of the Ural Mountains, and out of the range of the Nazi Luftwaffe, as the Nazi onslaught advanced, a process Stalin evidently directly oversaw and supervised. By this point, Stalin had given considerable ground in military decision making to the rebuilt Red Army officer corps.

Castro’s stated views on Stalin are particularly animated and sharp on the period leading up to and during World War II, particularly on the political morality of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact. These give important insights into the primacy that Fidel gives, in revolutionary politics, to internationalist Marxist principles, and not giving up the moral high ground. He contrasts and compares – within the limits of any analogy – the practice of the Cuban Revolution to Stalin and Stalinism. The Borge interview takes place in the real-time period where the Soviet Union had just collapsed as a nation-state. As he recalled to Borge:

I was 13 when World War II began, and I read all the newspapers. I had been avidly reading all of the newspapers, all the international news, ever since the Spanish Civil War…I read the newspapers in the years proceeding World War II, and I read the news every day during the war years. This is without mentioning the books I read about the military events of the time and about political events after the war.

Stalin [did] something that I will always criticize, because I think it was a flagrant violation of principle: his seeking peace with Hitler at all costs, to gain time. In our long revolutionary life and in the already relatively long life of the Cuban Revolution, we have never negotiated even one principle to gain time or obtain any other kind of practical advantage…all my life, ever since I developed a political and revolutionary awareness, I have considered that pact to have been a terrible mistake in Soviet foreign policy, a mistake that Stalin made in those years leading up to the war…Moreover, I think that, far from providing more time, that nonaggression pact reduced the time available…I think it was a terrible mistake from the point of view of principles and of international opinion…all my life, I’ve thought that the little war against Finland was another terrible mistake, both from the viewpoint of principles, and from that of international law. That’s what I have always thought.

He drives home this crucial point, which was also made in the November 2005 speech at the University of Havana:

[Stalin] went on making one mistake after another that brought the Soviet Union into disrepute among large sectors of world public opinion and placed Communists around the world…in an extremely difficult position, having to defend all those things in their own countries. Communists all over the world…had to engage in a kind of hari-kari to defend the Soviet Union…they found themselves forced to defend such unpopular things as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the occupation of a part of Polish territory, and the war with Finland.

At this point he tells Borge:

Now that we’re talking about this, I should take the opportunity to tell you that I’ve never spoken about these things this way with any journalist before.

Castro continues:

I think they were terrible political mistakes – and mistakes of principle as well – that we would never have made. The history of the Cuban revolution bears this out, because the Revolution never abandoned its principles. Never, for national convenience or any other reason, did the Revolution abandon any legitimate cause in the world, nor did it abandon any revolutionary movements, even though our adversary was the powerful US government….The things I mentioned go contrary to…doctrine…[and] political wisdom. Even though it is true that the Soviet Union had a year and nine months between September 1939 and June 1941 in which to rearm, the one who made himself much stronger – ten times as strong – was Hitler. If Hitler had gone to war against the Soviet Union in 1939, he would have done it less damage than in June 1941…He made another extremely serious mistake in June 1941 when the German had concentrated millions of soldiers, thousands of planes, tens of thousands of tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of divisions…along the border. Faced with such clearly aggressive intentions – it was impossible to disguise them – Stalin clung to the theory that it was an act of provocation…and acted like an ostrich, sticking his head in the sand. He didn’t mobilize the troops…So what happened?…Hitler launched a “surprise” attack on the Soviet Union…How do you launch a “surprise” attack with millions of soldiers? Well, it was done, and Hitler’s troops attacked a country that wasn’t mobilized.

Fidel on Stalinism – Brazil 1990

In March 1990 Fidel traveled to Brazil to attend the Inauguration of Fernando Collor de Mello, the first directly elected president since the Brazilian military regime gave up formal political power in 1985. Collor de Mello defeated the left-wing Workers Party candidate Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva by 6%, in what was widely considered a manipulated outcome. Collor de Mello was the scion of one of the top ruling-class families of Brazil with vast media holdings. His was one of the first governments identified with the “Washington Consensus” and “neoliberal austerity” policies, registering pro-imperialist advances under conditions of inflationary spirals and massive state debt, to take office in the wake of the end of the revolutionary upsurge in Central America and the Caribbean and the collapse of the USSR and the governments of its Warsaw Pact allies. Within two years Collor de Mello was impeached for numerous “gross corrupt acts.”

In that period, the political dynamic in Latin American, where mass struggles for democratic rights were growing, was also prying open democratic and political space in a number of countries and, at the same time, registering a relative political slippage and retreat in Washington after the brutal “Condor” years. Politically, Fidel’s visit was part of the successful initiatives of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy in this period. The Cuban government saw, and seized on, the new, and highly contradictory, political conditions in Latin America in that period, to break out of Washington’s imposed diplomatic isolation for socialist Cuba in the Americas. This was a very successful campaign over a number of years, occurring at the same time Cuba was reeling from, coping with, and struggling mightily to ameliorate and get out of the “Special Period.”

Fidel’s expansive trip to Brazil was six days full of speeches and encounters up and down Brazilian society.

In 1990 Brazil, in this period when the “socialist camp” was disintegrating in real time and the Cuban government had begun preparing the Cuban people for the economic tsunami that they knew was about to smash into Cuba, Fidel spoke expansively on Stalinism and the Cuban Revolution. The political importance represented by Fidel’s remarks was underlined by the publication in Cuba of the small book Back in Brazil in 1990, under the copyright of both Fidel and the Jose Marti Publishing House.

In a meeting with a Christian “base community” at the Anhembi Convention Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 17, 1990 Fidel gave an extensive back-and-forth in the mass meeting attended by 1300 activists and chaired by prominent Catholic theologian Leonardo Boff, Methodist Minister Taria Marra, and Lutheran Minister Milton Schwantes.

Asked about Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika in the USSR (in what turned out to be the last year-and-a-half of the Soviet state) and if Cuba would have such an “opening” and “democratic process,” Castro answered:

[We] had already begun our process of rectification of errors and negative tendencies. Naturally, our process couldn’t be the same as that of the USSR, because we didn’t make the same mistakes they made.  We made other mistakes of a different kind and we had to rectify them, because doing the things they did over there would have been like removing a corn with a remedy prescribed for a toothache…We didn’t have phenomena like those stemming from Stalinism in our country – that never occurred and neither did abuse of authority, for at certain historical moments highly negative violent processes against peoples took place in the Soviet Union.

We’ve never used violence against even a single one of our citizens; we’d never stoop to doing that, because the day we did such a thing, using torture, committing crimes, we’d be outraged ourselves. There’s never been a case of political crime in our country; we had revolutionary laws, revolutionary courts, revolutionary trials, and even spies, terrorists who were executed with due process, but we’ve never laid a finger on anybody to make him speak or tell anything…That hasn’t stopped people from spreading the most atrocious and infamous lies about our country…but, obviously, great abuse of authority took place at certain times in the USSR, and there were phenomena which did not exist in Cuba.

…Other things happened in Cuba and one of them was that, in spite of the originality our Revolution always had, there were some things we copied from them and in our process of rectification this is one of the things we’ve rectified so far. I mean methods we copied from them with bad results in our country…We are distancing ourselves from mistakes; we don’t think much of using capitalist categories in constructing socialism while they, on the other hand, are moving in the direction of introducing capitalist categories more and more…We respect what they’re doing, because I really think [what] a country does must be respected. I’m simply answering your question…We’ve been careful to avoid as much as possible privileges for our leaders, officials, cadres; we struggle against that but, above all, we’ve made a big effort to uphold the unity between our Party and the people, between the Revolution and the people. Because what has happened in several of these countries is that there was a gap between the Party and the people, between the government and the people. If we commit those mistakes we won’t last two minutes next to the United States, a powerful country that blockades us, pressures us, harasses us, wants to destroy us. Without a united, organized, and armed people to defend the Revolution, we couldn’t exist next to the United States, and so reality shows that we haven’t made those types of errors.

Driving home the point, Fidel indicates the steely political resolve that led Cuba successfully through the “Special Period” and into the new horizons, and challenges, for Cuban socialism today:

Does it seem like the easiest thing in the world to make a revolution 90 miles away from the United States and resist for over 30 years the imperialist blockade, the hostility, the slander, the war against us, the permanent threats, which have forced us to invest so many resources and so much energy, and make so many sacrifices. Who was going to save socialism in Cuba, the Soviet tanks? The Soviets were over there, far away from us, they couldn’t have arrived in Cuba in time. The tanks that can come rapidly to Cuba are the US tanks, do you understand? That actually helped us a lot.

Instead of saying, what a misfortune it is living so close to the United States, I can say, what a good fortune to have lived so far away from the borders of the Soviet Union. It never occurred to us to trust that the Soviets would come to save our Revolution, had we divorced ourselves from the masses and the people and started to make all sorts of mistakes. And, in addition, what good fortune that was, because any revolution that is unable to defend itself is a revolution not worth saving. What good is any revolution that must depend on others to save it?

Fidel Castro and the Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership in the World

History will record that the team of revolutionary fighters gathered around Fidel Castro made a giant effort to move forward the struggle for revolutionary leadership in the world. Cuban revolutionary theory and practice was animated by a strong anti-bureaucratism articulated in the speeches and writings of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, that was bound together by a profound internationalist spirit of solidarity. This entire perspective and outlook was a return to – and spurred the revival of in a new generation of revolutionary-minded youth – a creative, and human-being centered, Marxism after decades of stultification and dogma in theory, as well as horrible crimes and betrayals in its name in practice, by the government led by Joseph Stalin and his acolytes in the Soviet Union and the so-called “socialist camp.” (See especially Socialism and Man in Cuba by Che Guevara, Pathfinder Press edition and Fidel Castro’s 1962 speech on sectarianism and bureaucracy.)

The consolidation of the socialist Cuban Revolution meant that for the first time since the opening years of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, revolutionary internationalists were in the leadership of a workers’ state. They not only held domestic power but, in their foreign policy, had the political perspective of extending the Revolution and using the political authority and material resources of the workers state – within the limits of the possible – to collaborate with and aid fellow revolutionists.

Taken as a whole, Fidel’s accomplishments stand unique in the history of the revolutionary workers’ movement and the national independence and liberation struggles that unfolded fiercely in the blood-soaked 20th Century.

In the following year after the 2005 University of Havana speech, Fidel underwent emergency intestinal surgery with a long recovery period. In February 2008 Fidel announced that he would not take up his government positions and on February 24, 2008 Raul Castro became President of the Cuban Council of State. On April 19, 2011 Fidel resigned from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. At each step of Fidel’s illness and his physical inability to continue in his positions, his class enemies and anti-Cuba propagandists, who were tied to the line of “the dictator” and the “one-man show” smugly prophesized the quick collapse and implosion of the Cuban Revolution. Some are reverting to the same nonsense as President Raul Castro prepares to step down in April 2018 at the end of his term.

When Fidel Castro delivered the famous October 18, 1967 memorial speech for Ernesto Che Guevara in the Plaza de la Revolucion before over one million Cubans, he said about Che that, “An example such as this can never be eliminated by anything or anyone.” No more profound truth can be said about Fidel. It was Fidel’s fate, to the great benefit of oppressed and exploited humanity, to survive as a revolutionary fighter, head of state, dominant figure in international politics, and so much more until the age of 90. His ideas, ethical revolutionary practice, moral stature, and identification with revolutionary Marxism and the struggle for a socialist world and a classless society are immortal and imperishable and will never be erased.

As Frederick Engels said at the graveside of Karl Marx:

Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat…Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival… His work [including]… a host of militant pamphlets, work in organizations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men’s Association — this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else. And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers — from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America…His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.

Let the oppressors, the warmongers, the racists, the oppressors of women, the oligarchies, and the capitalist ruling classes rage and tremble at the memory of Fidel Castro, and rejoice at his passing. His towering physical presence is now ashes buried in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of the Cuban Revolution. But they are not finished, they will never be finished, with Fidel Castro. And he is not through with them.

• Author’s Note: This essay is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Febe Velasquez

  1. Lincoln’s great merit was sanctioning and implementing, in the crucial 1863-64 period culminating in his 1864 re-election, truly revolutionary measures to actually abolish slavery on the ground (and later constitutionally with the Congressional passage of the Thirteen Amendment), and thereby implementing the radical abolitionist program. These measures included the recruitment and training of free Black and ex-slaves into the Union Army, which became a decisive factor in the defeat of the Confederate Army, as the Union forces became a vehicle for the escape, migration to Union Army lines, and liberation of millions of slaves (although large numbers died of disease, malnutrition, and poverty in the process). In my judgement, this fact transcends and overcomes the bulk of Lincoln’s pre-Civil War political and legislative career, with its fine distinctions, measured gradualism, adaptations to white-supremacist ideology, and his overweening pragmatism on the “slavery question.” Fidel was a lifelong admirer of Lincoln, laid a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1959, and always kept a bust of Lincoln in his office. Also see Karl Marx and Frederick Engels profound and essential writings and correspondence on the US Civil War and Lincoln.
  2. See Isaac Saney’s “Cuba, Human Rights, and Self Determination: A Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission” for an objective, fact-based, and compelling presentation of Cuban election procedures and participatory democratic norms, constitutional, and political space. Fidel once commented on the development of Cuban political institutions, “You strangle us for forty years and then criticize us for the way we breathe.”
  3. See Frederick Engels seminal essay and polemic “On Authority”.
  4. On March 29, 1959, for example, Fidel took up, without pandering one milligram to residual popular prejudice or social backwardness, the question of racism at a mass rally of Cuban workers: “I believe it is my duty to tell the people about the things on my mind and how they must collaborate with their revolutionary government and how it is helping them…But not everybody’s mentality has developed enough in the revolutionary way; a revolutionary consciousness is lagging behind the people’s feelings.  The people’s feelings are all revolutionary, but their mentality is still not wholly so.  The people’s mentality is conditioned by many inherited prejudices, many vestiges of the past, and many old customs.  If the people want to overcome this evil they must begin by recognizing it…Battles must be won by us…the battle against unemployment; the battle to raise the standards of the lowest paid workers; the battle to bring down the cost of living; and one of the most just battles that must be fought, a battle that must be emphasized more and more, which I might call the fourth battle — the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. I repeat:  the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers.  Of all forms of racial discrimination, the worst is the one that limits the colored Cuban’s access to jobs.  It is true that there is in our country in some sectors the shameful procedure of barring Negroes from jobs. Everybody knows I am not a demagogue. Everybody knows I hate demagogy…[The first form] of racial discrimination we must combat is racial discrimination at work centers…

    [This]…limits access to places where a living can be earned.  It limits the Negro’s chances of satisfying his needs, and so we commit the crime of denying the chance to work to the poorest group particularly. While the colonial society made the Negro work as a slave, made the Negro work more than anybody else, and without pay, we commit the crime in our current society, which some have wanted to call a democratic society, of doing just the opposite and trying to prevent him from working to earn a living.  And so, while the colony worked him to death and beat him to death, we want to starve our colored brothers to death. It ought to be necessary to issue a law to establish a right that is earned by the mere fact of being a human being and a member of society.  It ought not to be necessary to issue a law against an absurd prejudice.

    What should be proclaimed is anathema and public condemnation against those men, full of leftover prejudices, and who are unscrupulous enough to discriminate against a Cuban, to mistreat a Cuban, over a matter of lighter or darker skin, because, after all, we all have a lighter or darker skin…But nobody can consider himself of a pure race, least of all the whites. The same way that we are going to organize and wage a campaign for buying domestic products, without a law or legal penalties being needed, we are going to put an end to racial discrimination at work centers by waging a campaign to end this shame, to end this hateful, repugnant system with a new slogan:  work opportunities for every Cuban, without discrimination for race or sex.  Let there be an end to racial discrimination at work centers; let whites and blacks all get together to end hateful racial discrimination at work centers.  In this way we will gradually build the new fatherland. We must mingle at recreation centers…At school black and white learn to live together like brothers. And if they mingle in the public schools they mingle afterwards at recreation centers and they mingle everywhere. But when they are educated separately, and the aristocrats educate their children apart from the Negroes, it is logical that later whites and blacks cannot mingle at cultural or recreation spots. [We will build] playing fields at public schools where blacks and whites can play together, and also establish clubs — or let us change the name and call them recreation centers — as we are going to do at all beaches; we are going to provide recreation centers for public school children, where they can have fun, play, and enjoy the bounties of nature, and know the joy to which every child has a right, the white child and the black together, as in the schools…”

  5. There has never been, in the practice of the Cuban Revolution, any laws or campaigns against religious belief or believers, although religious cover was often used by CIA-trained counter-revolutionary enemies of the Cuban Revolution in their violent struggle against the revolutionary Cuban government, leading to tensions and pressures, including with church hierarchies. A sectarian rule barring religious believers from being members of the Cuban Communist Party was not overturned until 1991. In 1992 the Cuban Constitution was amended to deem Cuba a secular state, as opposed to the previous characterization as “atheist.”
  6. The caricature that has become the mainstream narrative of the Russian Revolution in “Western” academic and journalistic circles paints it as a minority coup against a “democratic” government. This will be repeated ad nauseum in this centenary year of the Bolshevik triumph. In actual fact, the overthrown Provisional Government was never elected to anything by anyone and continually postponed having universal parliamentary elections. Such elections were actually held after the November 7 Revolution, under Lenin’s government, from previously drawn up candidate lists, that no longer accurately registered the fundamental changes on the ground, most importantly the major split of the peasant-based Socialist Revolutionary (SR) party, with the reconstituted Left SR’s now allied with the new Bolshevik government, that was carrying out land reform and ratifying land seizures taking place on a mass scale by landless peasants, including soldiers from the broken ex-Tsarist Army.

    The election results were majorities or large pluralities for the Bolsheviks in the cities and majorities for the former Socialist Revolutionary (SR) party in the countryside, and the collapse of electoral support for the liberal capitalist and “moderate” socialist parties. The Bolsheviks were the overwhelming choice of soldiers who voted at the various war fronts. (See John Reed’s 10 Days That Shook the World for the actual numbers of the Constituent Assembly elections). After foreign subversion and intervention began and the bloody Russian Civil War broke out and deepened, and the Bolshevik government dissolved the, by then, incoherent “Constituent Assembly.” The Bolshevik idea was to transcend and replace the bourgeois parliamentary system that had developed out of early British class struggles, the 1776 US and 1789 French Revolutions, 19th Century Latin American independence struggles, and the 1848 bourgeois-democratic revolutionary upsurge in Europe, with the soviet system of mass workers, peasants, and soldiers elected councils. This political program and perspective came under overwhelming pressure during the Civil War and its aftermath and Lenin’s death in January 1924. The soviet system eventually became, under Stalin’s rule, a formal construct with little political content or genuine working-class or popular participation. The closest approximation to the forms and norms the Bolsheviks tried to develop is in Cuba today.

  7. Every year since 1992 the United Nations General Assembly has voted to condemn Washington’s “Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo” against Cuba.  As I wrote in a 2013 article, “Isolation: Another Vote on Washington’s Anti-Cuba Policy at the United Nations“:

    Washington’s formal political isolation over its anti-Cuba policy can hardly be more complete. Is it possible to imagine any significant political issue in world politics uniting so many disparate entities often in significant conflict with each other — from the semi-feudal ultra-reactionary ‘Sunni’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the ‘Shi’ite’ Islamic Republic of Iran, from India to Pakistan and Syria to Turkey; ‘North’ Korea and ‘South’ Korea; Russia and Georgia, and so on across the spectrum from the most industrialized capitalist ex-colonial powers in Europe and Japan to their most ‘underdeveloped’ ex-subjects in the so-called Third World?

    And, it has to be underlined, that this vote was in defense of Cuba — a revolutionary socialist government ruling over a state where capitalist property relations have been overturned since the early 1960s and which has renounced nothing of its revolutionary legacy, heritage, and program even as it maneuvers and navigates in the reality of a disintegrating capitalist world order?

    On November 1, 2017 the UN General Assembly voted by the margin of 191-2 (with the United States and Israel voting no) registering the posture of the Donald Trump White House which has escalated bellicose rhetoric against Cuba and moved to further restrict travel back and forth between Cuba and the United States. In 2016, in the last period of the Barack Obama Administration, which had seen through the establishment of US-Cuban formal diplomatic relations in 2015, Washington and Tel Aviv had abstained. US bilateral and extraterritorial economic, commercial, and financial sanctions against Cuba continued under the Obama Administration. Despite its deferential vote with Washington at the UN, Israel and Cuba have significant economic exchanges with no sanctions and freedom of travel between the two nations.

  8. In Fidel Castro: My Life, A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet, Scribner 2008, Fidel describes how “[In] July 1947, at the age of twenty-one I joined the Cay Confites expedition to fight against the dictatorship of Trujillo, since in my first year [at the University of Havana] I’d been designated chairman of the [Federation of University Student’s] Committee for Dominican Democracy. I’d also been named Chairman of the Committee for Puerto Rican Independence.” While the expedition was a debacle, Castro called it “an experience of great political importance,” which he describes on p. 97-98.
  9. In one of his last addresses to the Cuban people on November 17, 2005, Fidel gave a major speech at the University of Havana before becoming ill and undergoing major surgery less than one year later.  The wide-ranging speech is a remarkable and noteworthy document for many reasons. In it Fidel zeroed in on questions of economic waste, bureaucracy, and corruption as Cuba was beginning to emerge from the economic crisis and “Special Period” starting in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    In the speech Castro spoke candidly about how the PSP was politically discredited among the revolutionary-minded youth of his generation, when it allied with Batista and joined his government. Referring to “the erroneous direction that was imposed by Stalin on the international movement,” pushing the PSP alliance with Batista. “By then, Batista had suppressed the famous strike of April 1934 that followed his coup against the provisional government in 1933 which was unquestionably revolutionary in nature and to a large degree, the result of the historical fight of the workers’ movement and the Cuban communists. Before that anti-fascist alliance, Batista had assassinated countless numbers of people and robbed incredible sums of money, and had become a flunky of Yankee imperialism.  The order came from Moscow: organize the anti-fascist front.  It was a pact with the devil.  Here the pact was with the fascist ABC and Batista, a fascist of a different color, who was both a criminal and robber of the public coffer. And further in the speech, “[T]hat alliance with Batista…who had repressed students and the public in general. The young people resented [Batista’s] power very much; the workers who had always seen their interests continuously defended by the communist leaders were firmly loyal to the Party, but it was amongst the youth and wide popular sectors of society that there was the most justified rejection of Batista.”

  10. See Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution by Thomas Patterson, Oxford University Press, 1994 on the Dwight Eisenhower White House’s endeavors to make contact with anti-Batista forces, including the July 26 Movement. This, of course, was conditioned by the growing political turmoil and crisis in Cuba as the Batista regime grew more hated and isolated, and as the armed struggle – politically led by Fidel Castro – was advancing.
  11. Ernesto Che Guevara’s Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War 1956-58, (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1996), remains the classic, first-hand account of the course of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. It is a literary and historical gem.
  12. A panel at The Cuban Playa Giron Museum commemorates the defeat of the counter-revolutionaries. One of its panels reads: “The social composition of the mercenary brigade revealed the interests that they hoped to re-establish. An analysis of prisoners demonstrated that 800 of them, or their families, had owned 370,628 hectares of land [around 916,000 acres], 9,666 houses or buildings, 70 factories, 10 sugar refineries, five mines and two banks. They also included 135 soldiers of the tyrant Batista, and 65 criminals, among whom were three known murderers and torturers.” Fidel Castro personally interviewed and interrogated each prisoner and reported these figures and more at a massive May Day 1961 rally in Havana, eight days after the Cuban victory.
  13. Accurate statistics for pre-revolutionary Cuba regarding social and class composition and demographics are often incomplete, unreliable, and easy to manipulate. Slightly less than half of the Cuban population lived in the countryside according to the 1953 Cuban Census. Categories of landless peasants, family farmers (also mostly impoverished), and agricultural workers overlapped. Land ownership was dominated by giant monopolies or latifundia. The overriding factor to understand the pre-revolutionary social and class structures and system in Cuba was the domination of US capital in the overall Cuban economy. In his first-hand 1968 account, The Economic Transformation of Cuba (Monthly Review Press, New York), Edward Boorstein writes, “Sugar dominated the economy. Together with its byproducts, alcohol and molasses, sugar made up about 80 percent of the exports and paid for the bulk of the imports. The sugar companies controlled 70 to 75 percent of the arable land; they owned two-thirds of the railroad trackage; most of the ports and many of the roads were simply adjuncts of the sugar mills. The sugar industry employed about 25 percent of the labor force. The export of sugar and its byproducts constituted 20 to 30 percent of the gross domestic product. But this last percentage does not give sugar its true importance: most of the rest of the gross product depended on sugar.

    “The sugar industry was seasonal, unstable, and stagnant, and it imparted these characteristics to the whole economy. It employed about four to five hundred thousand workers to cut, load, and transport the cane during the three or four months of the harvest season, and then left them to starve during the rest of the year. The price and demand for sugar rode up and down with war and peace and business cycles, taking the whole Cuban economy with them. Since export outlets for Cuban sugar were growing only slowly, the whole Cuban economy stagnated.

    “Even apart from sugar, there was great concentration in Cuban exports. When tobacco, minerals, and coffee are added, 94 to 98 percent of total exports is accounted for. Tobacco exports, next in importance after sugar, also stagnated. They were about as high in 1957-1958 as in 1920-1921. The earnings from minerals and coffee were small and uncertain.

    “With exports stagnating, the only way the Cuban economy could have advanced was by increasing production for domestic use…[But] diversification and growth of agricultural output was blocked by the landholding system…Some new manufacturing industries producing for the Cuban market were being established, but they were foreign enclaves, appendages of the American or some other foreign economy…

    “Most of the land in Cuba was monopolized by huge latifundia – sugar plantations and cattle ranches – that sprawled across the countryside. Both sugar grower and rancher practiced extensive agriculture which wasted land, limited employment opportunities, and kept agricultural output down.”

  14. For a dramatic, beautifully rendered account, by the Nobel Prize in Literature-recipient Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of the Cuban mission, named “Operation Carlota,” in honor of an African slave in Cuba who, in 1843, was killed leading an uprising of women slaves in the city of Matanzas, against the Spanish slave masters and colonizers, click here.
  15. For the full, documented, and riveting account of all of this, see Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa 1976-1991 by Piero Gleijeses, University of North Carolina Press, 2013. This volume, along with the previous Conflicting Missions University of North Carolina Press 2003 are classic works where Gleijeses weaves together in meticulous detail and documentation, the amazing history of Cuban internationalism in Africa, telling the full story of the defeat and unraveling of the South African apartheid state. Gleijeses, a noted scholar at Johns Hopkins University, was able to gain unprecedented access to US, Soviet-bloc, apartheid South African, and Cuban previously secret archives and documents.
  16. I visited El Salvador in November 1988 as part of an international labor delegation, representing the Washington Area Labor Committee on Central America and the Caribbean. We went there to attend the 20th Congress of the National Federation of Salvadoran Worker’s Unions (FENASTRAS). FENASTRAS organized, at the time, some 20,000 workers in many industries, including textile, garment, transport, and fishing. FENASTRAS wanted to test the waters and political space to hold a public Congress. Having an international trade-union delegation, with representatives from the US, UK, and other European countries (including, as I remember, a top Norwegian union leader) to physically attend the Congress was not only an act of solidarity but would hopefully be a protection for the gathered Salvadoran workers. The US folks flying into San Salvador were met furtively by two FENASTRAS leaders. Both were targeted by death squads. We learned details of the astonishing 800 FENASTRAS members and leaders who had been murdered by right-wing death squads tied to Washington. When we arrived to the FENASTRAS headquarters sandbags were stacked ten-feet high. I remember five minutes before the Congress was to start there were only the international delegation and a handful of Salvadorans. As I was thinking to myself, “well, this is a bust,” within the next five minutes hundreds of workers poured in using routes and means planned out for enhanced security. The Congress was a big success, but one year later, two of our hosts, including the dynamic and courageous General Secretary Elizabeth Velasquez, affectionately called Febe by workers, a textile worker and mother of three who organized a large plant making Levis and Calvin Klein jeans in San Salvador, and another FENASTRAS leader, Jose Daniel Melendez were among the ten people murdered when a powerful bomb devastated the FENASTRAS headquarters.
  17. At this time, anti-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, with histories of violence and terrorism against Cuba, illegally organized from US territory, stepped up subversive provocations against Cuba, targeting in particular the rapidly expanding Cuban tourism industry. A terrorist bomb killed an Italian tourist. After repeated attempts to get the US government to act against this, a team of Cuban revolutionaries were dispatched to South Florida to infiltrate and monitor these groups clandestinely. Until they were arrested in 1998, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – preempted a number of planned attacks. A major international campaign organized over many years demanding freedom for the Cuban Five. The last three incarcerated Cuban heroes were released in December 2014, as part of the agreement between Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations. Fidel had promised the Cuban people they would return, and he lived to see it.
  18. Che’s “Message to the Tricontinental,” was published by the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Ospaal) in April 1967, while Che was fighting in Bolivia. It included a direct, stinging rebuke to the Soviet and Chinese governments: “US imperialism is guilty of aggression — its crimes are enormous and cover the whole world. We already know all that, gentlemen! But this guilt also applies to those who, when the time came for a definition, hesitated to make Vietnam an inviolable part of the socialist world; running, of course, the risks of a war on a global scale-but also forcing a decision upon imperialism. And the guilt also applies to those who maintain a war of abuse and snares — started quite some time ago by the representatives of the two greatest powers of the socialist camp.

55 Years After: Political Legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The last two weeks of October 1962, 55 years ago, was the closest the world has come so far to a widespread nuclear exchange in what has become known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” 

The First Use of Nuclear Weapons

In August 1945, the United States government, having, at that moment, a monopoly on the “atom bomb,” unilaterally dropped nuclear explosives, successively, on the civilian inhabitants of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time of this clear war crime, Japanese imperialism’s conquests and vast expansion in China, the Pacific Rim, and Southeast Asia, that began in the 1930s, had shrunk sharply. The Japanese rulers were utterly alone and isolated politically; their German Nazi ally was defeated, smashed, and under occupation. Japanese imperialism was in headlong retreat under intense attack from, on the one hand, rival colonial powers and imperialists fighting to get their colonial territories back, and indigenous independence forces in the remaining lands they occupied on the other. The latter was a mass upsurge for national independence and included resistance to Japanese aggression in parts of Manchuria in China, as well as Korea, Vietnam, and the “Dutch East Indies,” now Indonesia.

At the time the decision to explode the nukes on Japanese cities was made, the Japanese navy was incapable of any operations and the Japanese merchant fleet was destroyed. The Japanese government had begun to send out “peace feelers,” fully aware of its hopeless situation. Washington’s utterly ruthless action – rationalized as necessary to prevent mass casualties for US soldiers in a ground invasion of Japan – finalized the defeat and prostration of the Japanese Empire in the Asian-Pacific “theater” of World War II…and sent an unmistakable shock and signal to the world for all time.

Cuba In the Eye of the Storm

The young leaders of the Cuban Revolution, now holding governmental power, were in the very eye of the storm during those last two October weeks of 1962. In the end the diffusing and resolution of the Missile Crisis – in the sense of reversing and ending the momentum toward imminent nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union – came when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave way to US President John Kennedy’s demands and agreed to halt further naval shipments of nuclear missiles to Cuba and withdraw those already in Cuban territory. Khrushchev further agreed to the removal of Soviet medium-range conventional bombers, very useful to the Cubans for defending their coastlines, and a near-complete withdrawal of Soviet combat brigades.

For his part, Kennedy made a semi-public conditional formulation that the US government would not invade Cuba (this was not legally binding or attached to any signed legal or written document). Kennedy also agreed, in a secret protocol, to withdraw US nuclear missiles from Turkey that bordered the Soviet Union.

The Cuban government, which had, at great political risk, acceded to the Soviet proposal to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles on the island, was not consulted, or even informed, by the Soviet government, at any stage of the unfolding crisis, of the unfolding US-Soviet negotiations. With Cuban representatives completely excluded, the five points Cuba wanted to see addressed and included in any overall agreement coming out of the crisis were ignored altogether under US insistence and Soviet acquiescence. The entire experience was both politically shocking and eye-opening for the Cuban revolutionaries. They came out of it acutely conscious of their vulnerability and angered over their exclusion.1

Washington Plans Direct Invasion

By April 20, 1961, the revolutionary Cuban armed forces, led by Fidel Castro, was victoriously mopping up on the coastal battlefields and detaining survivors from the routed counter-revolutionary Cuban exile “army.” An army was organized by the US government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron to the Cubans). This major operation to overthrow the “Castro” government and destroy the Cuban Revolution had been devised by the Dwight Eisenhower White House and carried out by the new Kennedy Administration in its third month after taking office.

At the time of their April 1961 victory at the Bay of Pigs over the counter-revolutionary exiles, Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution was a socialist revolution and that he was a “Marxist-Leninist.” Castro’s declaration corresponded to the social and economic deeds and policies being implemented by the revolutionary government (and to the profound internationalism of the Cuban leadership team). By 1962 the major domestic and foreign privately-owned major means of production in utilities, transportation, heavy and light industry, manufacturing, mining, and oil refining had been nationalized (mostly with fair compensation) by the workers and farmers government.2

Concurrent with this, the revolutionary government established a state monopoly of foreign trade and the first shoots of central economic planning began which would supersede the old neo-colonial capitalist market. With all its flaws and contradictions, pressures and counter-pressures, a qualitative class transformation of the Cuban state had been realized in a dynamic way. Certainly, bipartisan Washington and the entire bourgeois political spectrum in the US from left to right had no illusions in this regard. The hostility of the US Democratic and Republican parties to “Castro’s Revolution” was monolithic and poised for aggression at that time.

Playa Giron was as humiliating and unacceptable for Washington as it had built confidence and was invigorating for the Cuban revolutionaries. It was certainly no secret to anyone paying the slightest attention that not even a nanosecond passed between Washington’s debacle at the Bay of Pigs and the planning for a new invasion. But this time it would be directly by US forces without the proxy agency of the mercenary “troops” of the former ruling classes of Cuba, who were by then ensconced in southern Florida. Since October 1961 the Pentagon officers assigned to prepare for the US invasion of Cuba had been revising, updating, and “polishing” the concrete details. These “operational plans” were continually reviewed with President Kennedy.

Cuba faced an imminent, violent one-two punch: intensive aerial bombardment followed by large-scale invasion on multiple fronts. It was less than ten years since the last major US war in Korea, a former Japanese colony artificially divided in the aftermath of World War II. The impact of US bombing on the northern Korean state and its capital of Pyongyang, could not have been encouraging to the Cuban leadership. Virtually the entire city was flattened by US carpet bombings. According to the Australian journalist and eyewitness to the carnage Wilfred Burchett, “There were only two buildings left standing in Pyongyang.”

Pyongyang, Korea in 1953. US saturation bombing flattened 18 of North Korea’s 22 cities, an unequaled level of destruction in modern wars.

All in all Washington dropped some 635,000 tons of bombs (plus over 30,000 tons of napalm) on northern Korea. This compares to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific Theater during World War II by all sides.

While the numbers of civilian deaths from the US bombing assaults in Korea are inexact, well over 1 million Koreans in the north died, some 12-15% of the total population by conservative estimates. If you add injuries and missing the figure reaches 3 million. (For a comprehensive, classic account of the origins and development of the Korean War see The Hidden History of the Korean War by legendary US journalist I.F. Stone first published by Monthly Review Press in 1952. It can also be downloaded at the Amazon Kindle Store.)

The 2017 Kennedy Assassination Files

At the end of October 2017, amid some hoopla, the Donald Trump White House allowed the release of nearly 2900 previously “classified” US government files and documents pertinent to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy. Other files and documents were held back for now.

A number of these documents reference US violent plots against Cuba, including assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other revolutionary leaders by the Kennedy Administration. These reconfirm what has long been known on the massive military force Washington was planning to employ to invade and occupy Cuba and crush the revolutionary government after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

One document, a memo from August 8, 1962 – over two months before the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban territory – states, “In order to seize control of key strategic areas in Cuba within 10-15 days with minimum casualties to both sides [an absurd throwaway line regarding what could only have been horrific slaughter and massive dead and wounded] about 261,000 US military personnel would participate in the operation.” The memo was addressed to a “Special Group” within the Kennedy White House that was coordinating intensifying US efforts to eliminate the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro. The October 30, 2017 USA Today writes:

While this and other documents had nothing to do with the actual assassination, it was included in the files because of the connection between Kennedy’s desire to remove Castro from power, his support of Cuban exiles to help him, and the affinity of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald for the Castro government.

The “operational plans” for the US invasion of Cuba were to involve the initial dispatching of 90,000 troops and was projected to reach the 261,000 figure. This for a country of six million people. (For comparison, the population of Vietnam was around 40 million during the years of the US war in the 1960s and early 1970s. US troop levels reached over 500,000. Massive US military operations, in the air and on the ground, killed millions of Vietnamese, perhaps 10% of the Vietnamese population).

There is no question that once “the dogs of war” were unleashed against Cuba, with the accompanying propaganda onslaught, Washington would wage a war of annihilation under the rote cover of “democratic” and even “humanitarian” verbiage. Cuban resistance would be fierce. Mounting US casualties would, in the initial period, feed war fever and US aggression. In short: Cuba faced unheard of death and destruction…and the clock was ticking.

Operation Mongoose

By this time President Kennedy’s “Operation Mongoose” was in effect. “Mongoose” was essentially a large-scale terrorist campaign and US intervention inside Cuba employing sabotage, bombings, murder, and so-called “psychological warfare.” Kennedy’s cynical purpose was to undertake and carry out any means deemed necessary to disrupt and demoralize Cuban society through constant, incessant violent attacks and economic sabotage to the point where the social and political conditions would be created for a full-scale US invasion.

But Kennedy and his civilian and military “advisors” continued to underestimate both the caliber of the revolutionary leadership and the capacities of the Cuban working people and youth they were terrorizing, as well as the Revolution’s determination and competence to organize their defenses.

Above all, the US rulers were not used to facing such a politically savvy enemy. The young Cuban revolutionary government, with the indefatigable Fidel Castro as its main spokesperson, was adept and quick on its feet in effectively exposing to world public opinion Washington’s anti-Cuba campaign through a vigorous, public, and factually accurate counter-offensive based on telling the truth about what the Revolution was actually doing and what the US government was actually doing.

The logic behind “Operation Mongoose” was bluntly laid out in an internal memorandum of April 6, 1960 by L.D. Mallory, a US State Department senior official:

The majority of Cubans support Castro … the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.

Mallory proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

On July 26, 1961 – the national holiday declared by the revolutionary government commemorating the July 26, 1953 attack led by Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaria on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba – the CIA attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara during the celebrations. The CIA plan was, if the murders were “successful,” to stage a provocation against the US base at Guantanamo and make it appear to be Cuban revenge for the murder of their top leaders. This would then be the pretext for a full-scale US invasion. Here on full display is the cynical mendacity operating at the top of the US government in the drive to bring back the power of the landowners, rich playboys, segregationists, gangsters, and pimps – the full flower of “democracy” to the benighted Cuban masses suffering under literacy drives, free medical care, desegregated public facilities, and the crushing of the US Mafia.

Raul Castro and Che Guevara

During the next month of August 1961, the CIA organized one of its most pernicious campaigns against the revolutionary government. Its agents spread lies through a built-up rumor bill that there was a Cuban government policy to take all children away from their parents by force and raise them in “state institutions.” Some 15,000 Cuban families, overwhelmingly from middle- and upper classes full of prejudice and hostility to the Revolution, panicked and sent their children mostly to the US in response to a Big Lie, under the CIA’s infamous “Operation Peter Pan.”

CIA-hatched “Operation Peter Pan.”

The Revolution Advances Its Social Program

So, while all this criminal activity was going on, the Cuban Revolution advanced its program of social justice and human liberation for the oppressed and exploited majority as the most effective counter-force to the Yanqui aggression. On February 26, 1962 Cuba’s now fully legal and rejuvenated labor unions provided the people power for the campaign of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Health to carry out a nationwide drive for vaccination against polio. By the end of the year the disease was completely wiped out on the island. It took the United Nation’s World Health Organization, then far more subject to pressure from Washington than now, 43 years to finally recognize that Cuba was the first nation in the Americas to accomplish this.

Things like this, and the full array of revolutionary advances taking place in the face of Washington’s mounting terrorist campaign, convinced General Maxwell Taylor, who oversaw Operation Mongoose with Attorney General Robert Kennedy at the White House, that the terrorist operation “mak[ing] maximum use of indigenous resources,” could not and would not do the job of overthrowing the revolutionary government. “Final success,” Taylor explained in a March 1962 report to President Kennedy, “will require decisive US military intervention.” US spies inside Cuba, at most, could help “prepare and justify this intervention and thereafter facilitate and support it.” With the Bay of Pigs debacle still fresh in his mind, and without some of the blinders of more gung-ho invasion advocates, Kennedy hesitated to give a green light to the invasion plans he himself had ordered up. It remained yellow-lighted, however, and Kennedy directed that Mongoose terrorism continue and step up.

The terrorist anti-Cuba campaign was not limited to Cuban territory. On April 28, 1962 the New York offices of the Cuban Press Agency Prensa Latina was attacked in New York, injuring three staff members.

More seriously, from May 8-18, 1962 a “practice run” for the US invasion of Cuba took place. The full-scale “military exercise” was code named “Operation Whip Lash” and sent an unmistakable signal of intimidation from the US military colossus to the six million people of Cuba.

All this mounting imperialist intervention had only one possible ending point – short of a Cuban surrender, which would never come. Events were coming to a head in Washington, Moscow, and Havana. Events that ineluctably posed and placed the nuclear question in the equation.

While the Cuban government and overwhelming popular majority were mobilized, armed to the teeth, and prepared to fight to the death, they wanted to live in peace and to enjoy the fruits of building a new society after a hard-fought revolutionary triumph. The Cuban leadership fully understood that a US invasion would kill many hundreds of thousands and destroy the Cuban infrastructure and economy. How to stop the coming US invasion was the burning question for the revolutionary government.

Khrushchev Rolls the Dice

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, the Soviet leadership was facing a decidedly negative nuclear relationship of forces vis-à-vis Washington. This position of inequality (in the framework of the aptly acronymed Mutually Assured Destruction – aka MAD – nuclear doctrine) was perceived in Moscow as an impediment to carrying out political negotiations and maneuvering with Washington and the NATO powers, and defending Soviet interests in the “geopolitical” Cold War arena.

By April 1962 fifteen US Jupiter nuclear missiles had been installed and were “operational” in Turkey on the border of the Soviet Union. “Operational” meant ready to launch at any moment. Each missile was armed with a 1.45 megaton warhead, with ninety-seven times the firepower of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The official estimate of the “fatality projection” for each missile was one million Soviet civilians.

The Jupiter deployment in Turkey added to the overwhelming US superiority in quantity and quality in the “nuclear arms race” between Washington and Moscow. According to Anatoly Gribkov of the Red Army General Staff (cited in the television program DEFCON-2 shown on the US Military Channel), “The United States had about 5000 [nuclear] warheads, the Soviet Union 300. And of those [300] only two or three dozen that could hit the United States.” Khrushchev decided to alleviate this “imbalance” by placing missiles on the Cuban island if he succeeded in selling the idea to the Cuban leadership.3

Sometime in the spring (April-May) of 1962 the Khrushchev government of the Soviet Union proposed to the Cuban government that Cuba receive nuclear-tipped missiles on Cuban territory.  In no other country (including none of its “Warsaw Pact” allies, who were all politically subordinate to the Soviet government) had the Soviet government located nuclear missiles outside of Soviet territory.

Washington, by contrast, had openly placed nuclear missiles in numerous western European countries as well as Turkey and secretly in Okinawa, Japan, aimed at China. (The United Kingdom and France, both US allies, also had nuclear arsenals by that time. China detonated its first nuclear bomb in an October 1964 “test.”) Additionally, US “strategic” nuclear armed aircraft were in the air ready for attack orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. US nuclear submarines were in similar mode, and even more difficult to detect.

While Soviet capabilities undoubtedly lagged behind the US, it was not so much so as to preclude inevitable reciprocal attack in response to any US “first strike.” Soviet missiles in Cuba would theoretically be a further deterrent to any US “first strike” threat. Placing the missiles in Cuba was clearly seen by the Soviet government as a bargaining piece to advance Soviet strategic interests in the nuclear chessboard that animated US-Soviet “diplomatic” maneuvers and intrigue and political objectives on both sides.

Khrushchev evidently presumed that, faced with a fait accompli, Washington would redress the imbalance to the benefit of the Soviet Union. The Soviet missiles, upon being fully operational, would be able to strike major population centers and whole geographic regions of the US, roughly equivalent to the potential death-dealing capacity Washington had through its missiles in Europe surrounding and targeted on the Soviet Union. Of course, the big “if” in all of this reasoning was getting to the accompli. Given US technical proficiency this was a fantasy.

Cuba Accepts the Soviet Proposal

At the end of May 1962 the first direct presentation of the Soviet proposal was delivered to Fidel Castro and Raul Castro in Cuba by a Soviet delegation led by an alternate member of the Soviet Presidium (an executive decision-making body). The Soviet officials revealed to the Cuban leaders that their “intelligence” told them conclusively that a US invasion was being seriously prepared, to be implemented at any time over the next months. Of course, the Soviets were not telling the Cubans anything they did not already know in general, but there were new specific facts and details. The now-concrete proposal that measures to fortify Cuban defenses would include the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on the island naturally led to intense consultations within the top Cuban leadership. The chief government ministers involved were Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Osvaldo Dorticos, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, and Blas Roca. The day after the proposal was received the Cuban leadership told the Soviet delegation that the nuclear deployment was acceptable in principle.

In extensive discussions with European journalist Ignacio Ramonet (which became the book My Life: A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro, published in 2006 by Scribner) Fidel Castro referred to the discussions within the Cuban central leadership. He said that besides Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership’s “sincere desire to prevent an attack against Cuba…they were hoping to improve the balance of strategic forces…I added that it would be inconsistent of us to expect the maximum support from the USSR and the rest of the Socialist camp should we be attacked by the United States and yet refuse to face the political risks and the possible damage to our reputation when they needed us. That ethical and revolutionary point of view was accepted unanimously.”

In a speech many years earlier in 1992 Fidel Castro had said:

We really didn’t like the missiles. If it had been a matter only of our own defense, we would not have accepted the deployment of the missiles. But not because we were afraid of the dangers that might follow the deployment of the missiles here; rather, it was because this would damage the image of the revolution, and we were very zealous in protecting the image of the revolution in the rest of Latin America. The presence of the missiles would in fact turn us into a Soviet military base, and that entailed a high political cost for the image of our country, an image we so highly valued.4

Legality, Secrecy, and Lies: Losing the Moral High Ground

Having agreed in principle, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara, repeatedly argued with the Soviet leadership that the deployment should be open and public. The fact was that there was nothing in the Soviet-Cuban agreement to deploy the missiles that contravened any existing international law. In any case, the Cuban leaders were certain that it would be virtually impossible for the shipment, site construction, and land deployment to remain concealed from the highly sophisticated US surveillance technology. Furthermore, that, on the face of it, given the US missiles in Turkey and Italy surrounding the Soviet Union, and with practically open US plans to invade Cuba, open and transparent was the way to go politically and morally. All of this was rejected out of hand by the Khrushchev leadership. The Cuban leaders chose not to push the point and deferred.

In the book with Ramonet, Fidel Castro speaks of the “strange, Byzantine discussion” over whether Soviet arms shipments to Cuba were offensive or defensive.

Khrushchev, in fact, insisted they were defensive, not on any technical grounds, but rather because of the defensive purposes for which they’d been installed in Cuba… [We felt there was] no need to go into those explanations. What Cuba and the USSR were doing was perfectly legal and in strict conformity with international law.

Castro continued:

We didn’t like the course the public debate was taking. I sent Che…to explain my view of the situation to Khrushchev, including the need to immediately publish the military agreement [on deploying the nuclear missiles in Cuba] the USSR and Cuba had signed. But I couldn’t manage to persuade him…For us, for the Cuban leaders, the USSR was a powerful, experienced government. We had no other arguments to use to persuade them that their strategy for managing the situation should be changed, so we had no alternative but to trust them.

For the Cuban revolutionaries, the economic, military, and political ties forged with the Soviet Union had been a decisive, irreplaceable factor in their survival from the period after the January 1959 triumph of the Revolution through the April 1961 Playa Giron defeat of the US-organized mercenary invasion. Nevertheless, the unfolding of the Missile Crisis, and its ultimate resolution, left the Cuban leadership feeling vulnerable, bypassed, and insulted by the perceived highhanded behavior of the Soviet government led by Nikita Khrushchev.

Fidel Castro’s Secret Speech

In a major speech over two days to a closed meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) on January 25-26, 1968 Fidel Castro reviewed the entire Missile Crisis.5  Combining great emotion with sharp, cool logic Castro detailed how the “Missile Crisis” unfolded and how Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union emerged out of the crisis different from what they had been before.

Castro stated that Cuba’s revolutionary leadership looked to the Soviet Union for, “…measures that would guarantee the country’s safety. In that period, we had tremendous faith in the Soviet Union. I think perhaps too much.” Furthermore, “I am sincerely convinced that the Soviet Party bears great responsibility in what happened and acted in a totally disloyal manner in its relations with us.” Referring to the continuing terrorist attacks against Cuba that never stopped after Soviet missiles, planes, and combat troops were removed from Cuba at the “end” of the October Crisis, Castro stated:

Together with the pirate attacks and the U-2 flights, incidents began to flare up at the Guantanamo base. [The US military base on Guantanamo Bay was ceded to the US government in the notorious neo-colonial Platt Amendment of 1901 passed by the US Congress and has been maintained to this day against the demands for its return to Cuban sovereignty.] The same Guantanamo base which, we are certain, would have been dismantled had there been a modicum of serenity and firmness during the October crisis. Had they had the presence of mind to have posed and demand correctly from a principled standpoint, had they said that they would withdraw the missiles if satisfactory guarantees were given to Cuba, had they let Cuba negotiate, the crisis might even have turned into a political victory…All the rest are euphemisms of different kinds: Cuba was saved, Cuba lives. But Cuba had been alive and Cuba had been living, and Cuba did not want to live at the expense of humiliation or surrender; for that you do not have to be a revolutionary. Revolutionaries are not just concerned with living, but how one lives, living most of all with dignity, living with a cause, living for a cause…Cuba did not agree with the way the issue was handled; it stated the need to approach the problem from different, more drastic, more revolutionary and even more legal positions; and it totally disagreed with the way in which the situation was terminated.

“[Around July] we saw that the United States was creating an atmosphere of hysteria and aggression,” Castro bluntly spoke, “and it was a campaign that was being carried out with all impunity. In the light of this we thought the correct thing to do was to adopt a different position, not to get into that policy of lies: ‘we are sending Cuba defensive weapons.’ And in response to the imperialist’s position, the second weakness (or the first weakness) was not to stand up and respond that Cuba had every right to own whatever weapons it saw fit…but rather to adopt a policy of concessions, claiming that the weapons were defensive. In other words, to lie, to resort to lies which in effect meant to wave a basic right and principle.”

Decades later, in the Ramonet book, Castro returned to this crucial political approach, which is much more powerful than the usual technical cast of events when things had reached the stage of the actual nuclear standoff:

There was nothing illegal about our agreement with the Soviets, given that the Americans had missiles in Turkey and in Italy, too, and no one ever threatened to bomb or invade those countries. The problem wasn’t the legality of the agreement – everything was absolutely legal – but rather Khrushchev’s mistaken political handling of the situation, when even though both Cuba and the USSR had the legitimate right, he started spinning theories about offensive and non-offensive weapons. In a political battle, you can’t afford to lose the high moral ground by employing ruses and lies and half-truths.

The missile transport was the largest sea-borne operation in Soviet history. By the time of the detection of the missiles, and Khrushchev’s decision to remove them under US pressure, there were already 134 nuclear warheads in place and on the ground in Cuba. All three of the SS-4 missile regiments were operational even as Soviet ships stopped moving towards Cuba.

The January 25-26, 1968 speech went into scathing detail on how shocking, given the Soviet insistence on secrecy, the lack of discretion on the Soviet side was in the actual deployment of the missiles, crossing into outright recklessness.

“Uncontrolled Forces”

At the height of the crisis, the central Cuban leadership was certain that a full-scale invasion of the island was imminent. As the latest batch of 2017 declassified Kennedy assassination-related documents reconfirm, preparations – “contingency plans” – for such an invasion had been in place for many months prior to the secret installation of the Soviet missiles. This was the only conceivable basis for Khrushchev to make the missile proposal to the Cuban leaders and expect their agreement. In fact, a US invasion of Cuba was on the hair-trigger of being ordered at several concrete conjunctures in the course of the crisis.

The decision to actually carry out a direct, large-scale US military assault was being furiously debated within the Kennedy Administration and the narrow circle of bipartisan Congressional leadership that was privy to the deliberations at the top. As President and Commander-in-Chief, Kennedy had to choose whether to give the order to invade – again, everything was already in place for the execution of an invasion – the island where many nuclear warheads were already in place, targeting US territory and where Cuban armed resistance to the invading troops was certain to be massive, highly motivated, well-led, and creative.  For the immense majority of the Cuban population, having just experienced a profound social revolution, drawing millions into revolutionary struggle and consciousness, Cuba would be fighting from their own territory against a foreign invasion force and massive bombing assaults. Thousands of Cuban civilians would have been instantly killed in these air strikes.

The political consequences of this carnage – against a sovereign people with the gall to make a Revolution, throw out a venal dictator, institute land reform, literacy campaigns, rent reduction, abolishing Jim Crow-segregation, etc. etc. – would certainly have been devastating for Washington even if nuclear warheads were never launched on either side, a dubious prospect at best. Washington would lose the “moral high ground,” so crucial in concrete questions of world politics. Cuba would regain what had been eroded by the secretive, clumsy adventurism of Khrushchev’s “initiative” and its incompetent implementation.

The question of the nuclear weapons that were already on the island and the more that were en route would likely have been rendered secondary and the question of Cuba’s right to self-determination would have again risen to the fore. Kennedy was politically savvy enough to realize all of this and finally rebuffed the advocates of launching an invasion.

Uppermost in Kennedy’s considerations were the physical presence of thousands of Soviet combat troops and military personnel (there were some 40,000 Soviet mechanized combat divisions in Cuba, although the Kennedy Administration seems to have counted less than half the actual number). This fact posed the question that Soviet casualties would be inevitable, further sharply posing the question of questions…would the US invasion inexorably lead to nuclear exchanges? Who actually would – in a hair-trigger political atmosphere – fire first becomes almost a moot, secondary question in the framework of such a political confrontation.

US “intelligence” estimates were that 18,500 US casualties would take place in the first period after a US invasion, according to declassified material obtained by the National Security Archive. The presence of Soviet nuclear warheads and large numbers of Soviet military personnel, fighter jets, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, and so on, was another major factor leading Kennedy to repeatedly postpone the invasion plans and opt for a naval blockade (labeled a “quarantine” for legalistic purposes) surrounding Cuba, and the drama of a relatively slow showdown unfolding over days in the Atlantic while negotiations between Washington and Moscow intensified, negotiations that excluded the Cuban government…as if Cuba had nothing to do with what was happening.

As is always the case when war and combat is actually joined, the “law of unintended consequences” comes into dynamic play. Or, as the historic revolutionary leader of the working-class movement, Frederick Engels, put it, “Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.”

The Letters

On October 26, 1962 Fidel Castro – at the most intense, dangerous point of the entire crisis – wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, which stated:

Given the analysis of the situation and the reports which have reached us, [I] consider an attack to be almost imminent–within the next 24 to 72 hours. There are two possible variants: the first and most probable one is an air attack against certain objectives with the limited aim of destroying them; the second, and though less probable, still possible, is a full invasion. This would require a large force and is the most repugnant form of aggression, which might restrain them.

You can be sure that we will resist with determination, whatever the case. The Cuban people’s morale is extremely high and the people will confront aggression heroically.

I would like to briefly express my own personal opinion. If the second variant takes place and the imperialists invade Cuba with the aim of occupying it, the dangers of their aggressive policy are so great that after such an invasion the Soviet Union must never allow circumstances in which the imperialists could carry out a nuclear first strike against it.

I tell you this because I believe that the imperialists’ aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba–a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law–then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.

Khrushchev responded, in a second round of letters with Castro that:

In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemy’s territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike, but the start of a thermonuclear world war.

Dear Comrade Fidel Castro, I find your proposal to be wrong, even though I understand your reasons.

… As far as Cuba is concerned, it would be difficult to say even in general terms what this would have meant for them. In the first place, Cuba would have been burned in the fire of war….

Now, as a result of the measures taken, we reached the goal sought when we agreed with you to send the missiles to Cuba. We have wrested from the United States the commitment not to invade Cuba and not to permit their Latin American allies to do so. We have we wrested all this from them without a nuclear strike.

We consider that we must take advantage of all the possibilities to defend Cuba, strengthen its independence and sovereignty, defeat military aggression and prevent a nuclear world war in our time. And we have accomplished that.

Of course, we made concessions, accepted a commitment, action according to the principle that a concession on one side is answered by a concession on the other side. The United States also made a concession. It made the commitment before all the world not to attack Cuba.

That’s why when we compare aggression on the part of the United States and thermonuclear war with the commitment of a concession in exchange for concession, the upholding of the inviolability of the Republic of Cuba and the prevention of a world war, I think that the total outcome of this reckoning, of this comparison, is perfectly clear.

Castro then responded:

I realized when I wrote them that the words contained in my letter could be misinterpreted by you and that was what happened, perhaps because you didn’t read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines. However, I didn’t hesitate to do it…

We knew, and do not presume that we ignored it, that we would have been annihilated, as you insinuate in your letter, in the event of nuclear war. However, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to withdraw the missiles, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to yield. Do you believe that we wanted that war? But how could we prevent it if the invasion finally took place? The fact is that this event was possible, that imperialism was obstructing every solution and that its demands were, from our point of view, impossible for the USSR and Cuba to accept.

And if war had broken out, what could we do with the insane people who unleashed the war? You yourself have said that under current conditions such a war would inevitably have escalated quickly into a nuclear war. I understand that once aggression is unleashed, one shouldn’t concede to the aggressor the privilege of deciding, moreover, when to use nuclear weapons. The destructive power of this weaponry is so great and the speed of its delivery so great that the aggressor would have a considerable initial advantage.

And I did not suggest to you, Comrade Khrushchev, that the USSR should be the aggressor, because that would be more than incorrect, it would be immoral and contemptible on my part. But from the instant the imperialists attack Cuba and while there are Soviet armed forces stationed in Cuba to help in our defense in case of an attack from abroad, the imperialists would by this act become aggressors against Cuba and against the USSR, and we would respond with a strike that would annihilate them.

Everyone has his own opinions and I maintain mine about the dangerousness of the aggressive circles in the Pentagon and their preference for a preventive strike. I did not suggest, Comrade Khrushchev, that in the midst of this crisis the Soviet Union should attack, which is what your letter seems to say; rather, that following an imperialist attack, the USSR should act without vacillation and should never make the mistake of allowing circumstances to develop in which the enemy makes the first nuclear strike against the USSR. And in this sense, Comrade Khrushchev, I maintain my point of view, because I understand it to be a true and just evaluation of a specific situation. You may be able to convince me that I am wrong, but you can’t tell me that I am wrong without convincing me.

Fidel Castro’s exchange of letters with Khrushchev assumes that given the forces in play and in motion – 300,000 Cuban combatants with 40,000 Soviet military personnel, the bulk in mechanized combat brigades, on the ground in Cuba on one side, confronting a US invasion force projected to quickly reach hundreds of thousands, all coming head-to-head while massive US air strikes and countering Cuban-Soviet anti-aircraft fire are unleashed, with enormous naval forces, many armed with nuclear weapons, including torpedoes in combat action – that the US invasion, which he considered inevitable and imminent, would inexorably go nuclear. Following this undoubtedly correct assumption, Fidel Castro’s logic and formulations in his initial letters became necessarily more abstract and algebraic. He presents, in the rush and incredible heat and speed of events, a post-invasion scenario where Soviet forces could strike, in a limited “tactical” use (although those terms are not specifically used), the US forces before the US could strike the Soviet forces. The same technical, military logic of “pre-emption” would, of course, dominate the US side which had a clear superiority in both quantity and quality of nuclear weapons deliverance at that point, the full extent of which the Cuban leadership was not likely aware of the extent of.

The M.A.D. doctrine was based on each side’s nuclear arsenal countermanding the others. The seemingly absurd stockpiling of nuclear warheads and delivery system locations had the “rational” kernel of logic that after a “first strike” or pre-emptive launch of warheads the “other side” would still have enough of an atomic arsenal left to deliver a crushing response. The idea, developed by “Dr. Strangelove” US theorists like Herman Kahn, and accepted by their Soviet equivalents, was to build up and protect a “second strike” capacity in order to obviate a “first strike.” Of course, Washington continued – and continues to this day – to develop a “decisive” first-strike capability, largely through anti-ballistic and “Star Wars” systems to intercept and eliminate the other sides “second strike” (or first, or any strike) giving the US a credible “first strike.”

The fact of a US invasion – that is, its actual occurrence – of Cuba would have set in motion a dynamic that would have rendered moot, useless, and even ridiculous the question of who would “fire” the “first” nuclear weapon, if that could even be determined after the event (if indeed the word after would have any content). Dozens and dozens of ships, planes, and launch sites on the ground, under the control of dozens and dozens of military officers subject to “orders” in what would have been  unimaginable chaos and breakdown inevitable in the first nuclear exchange in world history. Would anyone have even known who struck first? The key point – the only determinant fact – in whether nuclear holocaust would be unleashed to an unknown degree was whether the US would invade Cuba.

New Facts

What is now known about the Missile Crisis is that a situation existed where, at the height of the confrontation, from October 25-28, literally dozens and dozens of military officers well below the executive political “decision makers” in a theoretical chain of command, on both the Soviet and US side, had the capacity and even the authority to push the nuclear button and pull the nuclear trigger.

We certainly know this to be true in the first-hand accounts by Soviet and US military officers and personnel on the ground, on the oceans, and in the air that have become public and from “classified” government documents on both sides.6

The author Michael Dobbs in an October 18, 2012 New York Times op-ed piece (“The Price of a 50-Year Old Myth”) wrote:

While the risk of war in October 1962 was very high (Kennedy estimated it variously at between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2), it was not caused by a clash of wills. The real dangers arose from “the fog of war.” As the two superpowers geared up for a nuclear war, the chances of something going terribly wrong increased exponentially…By Saturday, October 27, the two leaders were no longer in full control of their gigantic military machines, which were moving forward under their own momentum. Soviet troops on Cuba targeted Guantánamo with tactical nuclear weapons and shot down an American U-2 spy plane. Another U-2, on a “routine” air sampling mission to the North Pole, got lost over the Soviet Union. The Soviets sent MiG fighters into the air to try to shoot down the American intruder, and in response, Alaska Air Defense Command scrambled F-102 interceptors armed with tactical nuclear missiles. In the Caribbean, a frazzled Soviet submarine commander was dissuaded by his subordinates from using his nuclear torpedo against American destroyers that were trying to force him to the surface.

In his Guardian piece cited above Noam Chomsky, referring to the October 26, 1962 letter of Fidel Castro, writes:

As this was happening and Washington was debating and Kennedy was poised to decide on a US invasion, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev which has been interpreted, over Castro’s sharp objection, as advocating a Soviet nuclear attack – a so-called ‘first strike’ against US territory if the US invasion were to actually occur. Khrushchev himself took the necessarily and purposely algebraic and highly cautious words of Castro as such a call, and used Castro’s wording as practically a cover to carry out the retreat and concessions to Kennedy that diffused the crisis and reverse the momentum towards purposeful or accidental nuclear exchanges.

An Extraordinary Gathering

The special January 24-26, 1968 meeting of the PCC Central Committee meeting where Fidel Castro gave his extraordinary speech was in no way fortuitous. It took place at what was perhaps the nadir of the downward spiral of Cuban-Soviet relations set in motion by the October Crisis of 1962. It was held just 107 days after the death of Ernesto Che Guevara and the defeat of his guerrilla forces based in Bolivia.

This on-the-ground fact was a real blow to the Cuban revolutionaries and the perspective of building a continental revolutionary army to take on and overturn the military regimes backed by the ruling oligarchies. These regimes of the Latin American ruling classes were themselves allied with, dependent on, and conjoined with the dominant US power in the Hemisphere. This new objective reality necessarily raised many challenges in the development and direction of Cuba’s revolutionary foreign policy.

Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership placed an important part of the responsibility for the defeat of Che’s guerrilla on the top leadership of the Bolivian Communist Party which supported the program and perspective of the Soviet leadership in Latin America and opposed the armed-struggle campaign under Che Guevara’s leadership in Bolivia (which was seen as the initial base for a multi-front continental revolutionary movement against the military dictatorships and oligarchies) reneging on previously given commitments. The Cuban revolutionary line in Latin America was opposed – with varying degrees of vehemence – by virtually all of the Latin American Communist Parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and orientation. What the Cuban revolutionary leadership considered betrayal in Bolivia, disrupted and undermined the formation and development of urban resistance forces crucial to supplement the rural-based guerrilla struggle under Che’s command, leaving the guerrillas exposed, vulnerable, and politically isolated.7

The Escalante Affair

Prior to Fidel Castro’s speech, the Central Committee gathering had heard an extensive presentation by Raul Castro, then Chairman of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the President of the Cuban Council of State since 2006. The report was a damning indictment of a secret faction inside the PCC led by Anibal Escalante. Escalante’s faction, which was composed of former leaders, like himself, and cadres of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP).((In 1968 the Cuban publisher Instituto Del Libro, Ediciones Politicas, printed a 160-page book, “Information from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on Microfaction Activities,”which includes Raul Castro’s report and other important documents. It is an exceedingly important document, which illuminates that historical and political period and gives great insight into the caliber and character of the Cuban revolutionary leadership.)) Before the Revolution the PSP, which had a base in the industrial working class and trade unions, was connected to the dominant currents in the “world Communist movement” and Latin American Communist Parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and program.8

The PSP initially opposed the July 26th Movement (M-26-J) led by Fidel Castro, but by early 1958 they had endorsed the anti-Batista struggle and M-26-J leadership. Joint political and military collaboration was carried out in the last period before the revolutionary triumph. Over the next few years the majority of PSP cadres were successfully integrated into what became the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1965. In 1962 Escalante, who had been the top functionary of the Integrated Revolutionary Organization, an initial formation bringing together the currents supporting the Revolution, had come under fierce public criticism by Fidel Castro for “sectarianism” and “bureaucratism” in March 1962.

Soviet-Cuban tensions escalated in this mid-1960s period, although never to the point of a public break. Nevertheless, sharp, concrete political and theoretical differences were registered between the Soviet and Cuban leaderships in this period over the US escalation in Vietnam and serious political divergence in Latin America. In several speeches in 1966 and 1967 Fidel Castro publicly excoriated the Soviet government for its economic and political relations with Latin American repressive and reactionary regimes.

The betrayal and execution of Che in 1967 sharpened the existing tensions and was followed by the Escalante intrigue and covert plotting against the revolutionary government. In terms of the economic relations and exchange between Cuba and the Soviet Union during these clashes, there was limited but noticeable Soviet measures affecting the struggling Cuban economy which was being whipped by the US economic blockade, particularly in the Americas. In this period, the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba struggled with diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere under US pressure, with only Canada and Mexico maintaining formal diplomatic ties.

In the decade following Che’s defeat in Bolivia, all other allied Latin American guerrilla movements into the early 1970s had been crushed, most notably Argentina and Uruguay. At the same time there was a revival of mass urban and rural working-class and popular struggles in a number of Latin American countries, including Bolivia, which pushed open some democratic and political space, including for revolutionaries. In Chile, in 1970, in a byproduct of mounting class and popular struggles, the Popular Unity electoral coalition by two mass workers parties, the Socialist Party and Communist Party, won a plurality of the vote and Salvador Allende, head of the Socialist Party became President. Diplomatic relations were soon reestablished between Chile and Cuba.

The September 11, 1973 US-backed bloody military coup against the Popular Unity government pulverized all democratic rights and political space for many years and was extended by the mid-1970s as military rule was consolidated in Argentina (1976) and in Uruguay after 1973.

Aftermath

The Cuban Missile Crisis was hugely traumatic in world public opinion. Its resolution led to increased propaganda for “peace” and “reconciliation” in both Moscow and Washington, with accompanying worldwide diplomatic maneuvering. This culminated in the actual signing by the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (formally the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, which was strongly welcomed in world public opinion when it went into effect in October 1963, one year to the month from the political drama and trauma of the Missile Crisis. (The treaty did not ban “underground” nuclear tests which could also lead to radioactive releases into the atmosphere as well ground water.  The treaty put no limits on the production of nuclear warheads and their fitting onto missiles.) All of this took place as Washington steadily and sharply escalated its military intervention and aggression in Vietnam.

John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership in the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet state came to an ignominious end in October 1964 as he was pensioned off and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexi Kosygin. The new Lyndon Johnson White House abided by Kennedy’s verbal “pledge” and invasion plans were put in mothballs, although covert action, terrorism, and containment continued. Primary focus and attention shifted to Indochina where Johnson maintained continuity with Kennedy’s intervention and deepened it.

Formal and definite improvements in Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union began after 1968 (despite tensions over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and other questions), particularly in economic exchange, through the 1970s and 1980s until the soviet government collapsed in 1991, setting off a huge economic depression and crisis in Cuba. In this period fundamental contradictions and sharp policy differences emerged over Soviet policies in Africa, military tactics in Angola, and the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which Cuba opposed.

The immediate threat of US-Soviet nuclear exchange and war receded on October 28, 1962 with the announcement that Soviet ships had stopped advancing and that Soviet missiles would be withdrawn. But for Cuba the crisis and the pressure intensified.

Not even two weeks after the supposed resolution of the crisis the world’s “sigh of relief, 400 Cuban workers were killed when a Cuban exile counter-revolutionary sabotage team, dispatched from the US, blew up a Cuban industrial facility. Right up until his assassination Kennedy was approving terrorist attacks against Cuba. US intervention by proxy never stopped and became systematic. US armed and trained counter-revolutionaries were finally defeated in the Escambray mountains in central Cuba in a campaign from 1963-65.

After a pause and renewal in the late 1960s, Cuba’s revolutionary internationalist foreign policy – in the spirit of Che – reached glorious new internationalist achievements in southern Africa after the great acceleration of events ushered in after the overturn of the hollowed-out Salazarist dictatorship in Portugal in 1974 and the final collapse of the Portuguese Empire in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, and the Cape Verde Islands. Cuban troops stopped the apartheid South African invasion at the gates of the capital Luanda in November 1975 aiming to topple the newly independent Angolan government. Cuba’s revolutionary action and solidarity over the next nearly two decades was decisive in defending the independence of Angola, winning the independence of Namibia, and in the retreat and unraveling of the South African apartheid state.9

Fidel’s Last Thoughts

On October 22, 2012 Fidel Castro addressed the Missile Crisis on its 50th Anniversary:

A few days ago, very close to the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, news agencies pointed to three guilty parties: Kennedy, having recently become the leader of the empire, Khrushchev and Castro. Cuba did not have anything to do with nuclear weapons, nor with the unnecessary slaughter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki perpetrated by the president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, thus establishing the tyranny of nuclear weapons. Cuba was defending its right to independence and social justice.

When we accepted Soviet aid in weapons, oil, foodstuffs and other resources, it was to defend ourselves from yanqui plans to invade our homeland, subjected to a dirty and bloody war which that capitalist country imposed on us from the very first months, which left thousands of Cubans dead and maimed.

When Khrushchev proposed the installation here of medium range missiles similar to those the United States had in Turkey – far closer to the USSR than Cuba to the United States – as a solidarity necessity, Cuba did not hesitate to agree to such a risk. Our conduct was ethically irreproachable. We will never apologize to anyone for what we did. The fact is that half a century has gone by, and here we still are with our heads held high.

  1. In a public statement on October 28, presenting the five points, Fidel Castro said, “With relation to the pronouncement made by the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in a letter sent to the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, to the effect that the United States would agree, after the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to eliminate the measures of blockade in existence and give guarantees against any invasion of Cuba, and in relation to the decision announced by Premier Khrushchev of withdrawing the installation of arms of strategic defense from Cuba territory, the revolutionary government of Cuba declares that the guarantees of which President Kennedy speaks–that there will be no aggression against Cuba–will not exist unless, in addition to the elimination of the naval blockade he promises, the following measures among others are to be adopted: 1) Cessation of the economic blockade and all the measures of commercial and economic pressure which the United States exercises in all parts of the world against our country; 2) Cessation of all subversive activities, launching and landing of arms and explosives by air and sea, the organization of mercenary invasions, infiltration of spies and saboteurs, all of which actions are carried out from the territory of the United States and some other accomplice countries; 3) Cessation of the pirate attacks which are being carried out from bases existing in the United States and Puerto Rico; 4) Cessation of all the violations of our air and naval space by North American war planes and ships; and 5) Withdrawal of naval base of Guantanamo and the return of the Cuban territory by the United States.”.
  2. The private owners of nationalized foreign enterprises in Cuba, with their governments, negotiated satisfactory compensation with the revolutionary Cuban government, in accordance with international law. The US government, at the time, was already planning and organizing for the overthrow of the “Castro” government and was therefore in contemptuous rejection of any negotiations for compensation to US owners of Cuban assets being nationalized. This was a large swath of the Cuban economy, which was dominated by US capital.
  3. In the 1960 Presidential election, the liberal Democrat John Kennedy shamelessly promoted as an important campaign issue a supposed “missile gap” – in the Soviet Union’s favor – between Washington and Moscow, a conscious fabrication. Kennedy also postured to the right of his Republican opponent, Eisenhower’s Vice-President Richard Nixon, on “getting tough with Castro.” On this, Nixon had the disadvantage, as Kennedy was no doubt aware, of being unable to publicly tout the Eisenhower White House’s already advanced plans for the mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs, which Kennedy carried out three months after his Inauguration.
  4. Cited in October 1962 The ‘Missile’ Crisis As Seen From Cuba by Tomas Diez Acosta, Pathfinder Press.
  5. The entire speech, previously unpublished in any public medium, was printed in 2002 with an official Cuban Council of State English translation, in the book Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis by James Blight and Philip Brenner published by Bowman and Littlefield Publishers.
  6. See Noam Chomsky’s “Cuban Missile Crisis: How the US Played Russian Roulette with Nuclear War” in the October 15 Guardian newspaper, which cites several harrowing moments of near disaster.
  7. See Fidel Castro’s “A Necessary Introduction” in Bolivian Diary by Ernesto Che Guevara, Pathfinder Press, 1994 for Fidel’s description of the factor of betrayal in the defeat of Che’s guerrilla forces.
  8. Some thirty-five members of the so-called “microfaction” were expelled from the PCC and received prison sentences from two to fifteen years. The most serious charges involved secret activity aimed at forging ties between the “microfaction” and government officials and Communist Party leaders in the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Czechoslovakia in their common opposition to the revolutionary line of the PCC, and the large majority of PCC members, in Latin America and on Cuba’s domestic and foreign policies in general. This went as far as to urge Soviet economic pressure on Cuba, for which they were charged with treason. Escalante’s grouping never argued for their political positions openly within the structures and procedures of the PCC, which was their right. In their secret functioning inside Cuba and intrigues with Soviet and Eastern European officials and diplomats, the portrayed Che Guevara as a “Trotskyite adventurer” and the Castro leadership as “petty bourgeois elements” that seized control of the Revolution and who held the working class in contempt. Moreover, the Cuban revolutionary leadership was “anti-Soviet”and did not support Soviet “hegemony.”
  9. See the amazing history of Cuba’s internationalist foreign policies in Africa and southern Africa in the two volumes of the great scholar Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom, University of North Carolina Press.

Chrystia Freeland: Canada doesn’t engage in “regime change”

It may walk and quack like a regime-change-promoting duck, but Ottawa’s unilateral sanctions and support for Venezuela’s opposition is actually just a cuddly Canadian beaver, says Chrystia Freeland.

Canada has never been an imperialist power. It’s even almost funny to say that phrase: we’ve been the colony,” said the journalist turned politician after a Toronto meeting of foreign ministers opposed to the Venezuelan government.

The above declaration was part of the Canadian foreign minister’s response to a question about Chavismo’s continued popularity, which was prefaced by a mention of protesters denouncing Ottawa’s interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Freeland added that “one of the strengths Canada brings to its international affairs” is that it doesn’t engage in “regime change”.

Notwithstanding her government’s violation of the UN and Organization of American States charters’ in Venezuela, Freeland’s claim that Ottawa doesn’t engage in “regime change” is laughable. Is she unaware that a Canadian General commanded the NATO force, which included Canadian fighter jets, naval vessels and special forces, that killed Muammar Gaddafi in Libya six years ago?

Sticking to contexts more directly applicable to the situation in Venezuela, Ottawa has repeatedly endorsed US-backed military coups against progressive elected leaders. Canada passively supported the ouster of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953, Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, Ugandan President Milton Obote (by Idi Amin) in 1971 and Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973.

In a more substantial contribution to undermining electoral democracy, Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya. Before his 2009 ouster Canadian officials criticized Zelaya and afterwards condemned his attempts to return to the country. Failing to suspend its military training program, Canada was also the only major donor to Honduras — the largest recipient of Canadian assistance in Central America — that failed to sever any aid to the military government. Six months after the coup Ottawa endorsed an electoral farce and immediately recognized the new right-wing government.

In the 1960s Ottawa played a more substantial role in the ouster of pan-Africanist independence leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba. In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Nkrumah. In an internal memo to External Affairs just after Nkrumah was ousted, Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey wrote “a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part.” Soon after the coup, Ottawa informed the military junta that Canada intended to carry on normal relations and Canada sent $1.82 million ($15 million today) worth of flour to Ghana.

Ottawa had a strong hand in Patrice Lumumba’s demise. Canadian signals officers oversaw intelligence positions in the UN mission supposed to protect the territorial integrity of the newly independent Congo, but which Washington used to undermine the progressive independence leader. Canadian Colonel Jean Berthiaume assisted Lumumba’s political enemies by helping recapture him. The UN chief of staff, who was kept in place by Ottawa despite being labelled an “imperialist tool” by Lumumba’s advisers, tracked the deposed prime minister and informed army head Joseph Mobutu of Lumumba’s whereabouts. Soon after Lumumba was killed and Canadian officials celebrated the demise of an individual Prime Minister John Diefenbaker privately called a “major threat to Western interests”.

It’s in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation where Canada was most aggressive in opposing a progressive government. On January 31 and February 1, 2003, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized an international gathering to discuss overthrowing Haiti’s elected government. No Haitian officials were invited to the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that president Jean-Bertrand Aristide “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a Kosovo-like UN trusteeship.

Thirteen months after the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian National Police was also heavily militarized.

Canadian special forces “secured” the airport from which Aristide was bundled (“kidnapped” in his words) onto a plane by US Marines and deposited in the Central African Republic. Five hundred Canadian troops occupied Haiti for the next six months.

After cutting off aid to Haiti’s elected government, Ottawa provided tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the installed government, publicly supported coup officials and employed numerous officials within coup government ministries. Haiti’s deputy justice minister for the first 15 months of the foreign-installed government, Philippe Vixamar, was on the Canadian International Development Agency’s payroll and was later replaced by another CIDA employee (the minister was a USAID employee). Paul Martin made the first ever trip by a Canadian prime minister to Haiti to support the violent post-coup dictatorship.

Dismissing criticism of Ottawa’s regime change efforts in Venezuela by claiming Canada has been a benevolent international actor is wholly unconvincing. In fact, a serious look at this country’s foreign policy past gives every reason to believe that Ottawa is seeking to unseat an elected government that has angered many among the corporate set.

Anyone with their eyes open can tell the difference between a beaver and a duck.

On “Independence”: Catalonia, Kurdistan, North Korea and Latin America

Alessandro Biancchi:  Self-determination of peoples and respect for the borders and sovereignty of a country. This is of the most complicated issue for international law. How can it be articulated for the case of Catalonia?

Andre Vltchek: Personally, I’m not very enthusiastic about smaller nations forming their own states, particularly those in the West, where they would, after gaining ‘independence’, remain in the alliances that are oppressing and plundering the entire world: like NATO or the European Union.

Clearly, the breaking of the great country of Yugoslavia into small pieces was a hostile, evil design by the West, and particularly of Germany and Austria. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the so-called “Velvet Revolution” was a total idiocy.

But Catalonia (or Basque Country), if it became independent, would become one of the richest parts of Europe. I don’t think it would have any great positive or negative impact on the rest of the world. As an internationalist, I don’t really care if they are separate from Spain or not, or whether they are even richer than they already are, as I care much more about what is happening in places such as Afghanistan, Venezuela or North Korea.

On the other hand, the way Spain has now behaved in Catalonia, after the referendum, is a total disgrace. They decided to treat the Catalan people in the same way as Indonesians have been treating Papuans for decades. If this continues, it will all reach the point of no return: reconciliation will become impossible. You cannot start sexually harassing women and then break their fingers, one by one, just because they want to have their own state. You cannot injure hundreds of innocent people, who simply don’t want to be governed from Madrid. That’s absurd and thoroughly sick! Of course, Spain used to commit holocausts all over what is now called Latin America, so it is ‘in their blood’. But I don’t think Catalans will allow this to be done to them.

What about the constitution of Spain? Look, there should be nothing sacred about constitutions. In the West, they were written to protect the interests of the ruling classes. When they get outdated, they should be moderated, or totally rewritten. If Catalans or Basques want their independence, if they really want it, if it is so important for them, then why not – they should have it. Spain is not a ‘people’s country’. It is an oppressive Western bully. I would have a totally different position if some part of Bolivia or China were to try to secede.

AB: Different situation and different reality. Another issue of fundamental international concern in this period is the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is likely to become the new fuse ready to explode in that area. Would it be the new Israel in the Middle East as someone has affirmed?

AV: Well, that is really a very serious issue. I have worked in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq already twice, even on the ‘border’ with Mosul, and what I saw there I did not like at all!

It is clearly a ‘client’ state of the West, of Turkey and to some extent, Israel. It is shamelessly capitalist, taking land from its own people, cheating them, just in order to pump and refine huge quantities of oil. It treats Syrian refugees like animals, forcing them to make anti-Assad statements. It is turning ancient Erbil into some bizarre shopping mall with nothing public in sight. Its military top brass is mainly US/UK-trained and indoctrinated. And it provokes Baghdad, day and night.

I really strongly disliked what I saw there. If Iraqi Kurds were allowed to have their ‘independence’, the impact on the region would be huge and certainly negative. Baghdad should not allow it, even at the cost of an armed confrontation.

AB: Coming to the question of the moment: the nuclear escalation in North Korea and a possible escalation of war on the Korean peninsula. What is your opinion about Kim’s strategy and what are the real risks?

AV: There is only one real ‘risk’ and danger: that the world is quickly accepting as inevitable the fact that the Western thuggish regimes can get away with absolutely anything. I see no other serious problem that the world today is facing.

What is Kim’s strategy? To defend his people by all means, against the brutal force that has already murdered millions of men, women and children of Korea. That brutal force is the West and its allies. It is all very simple, but only if one is willing to turn off the BBC and to use his or her own brain, it becomes ‘obvious’.

AB: According to many, for Pyongyang the nuclear bomb is becoming more and more vital because it is increasingly feared that the country will end up like Iraq and Libya. Do you not believe that the sanctions of the United Nations are therefore totally ineffective and counterproductive because they fuel this escalation?

AV: Of course, but they [sanctions] are still imposed on the victim! It is because almost no one dares to laugh straight in the faces of Western demagogues and dictators. The world resembles the areas occupied by the Nazi Germany and Italy and Japan during the WWII. There, nobody would dare to vote independently, defending victims of fascism.

AB: The US Federation of Science (FAS) estimates that in 2017 North Korea has “fissile material to potentially produce 10 to 20 nuclear warheads” even if it is strongly suspected that none can be considered ready for launch. The US possesses 6,800 nuclear heads. The French and British (respectively 300 and 215 respectively) included, NATO’s nuclear forces have 7,315 nuclear warheads, of which 2,200 are ready to launch, compared to 7,000 held by the Russians, of which 1,950 are ready to launch. With Chinese (270), Pakistani (120-130), Indian (110-120) and Israeli (80), the total number of nuclear warheads is estimated to be around 15,000 by default. The West is a nuclear oligopoly that can only create an escalation with those who feel threatened, and so the threatened search to procure them. Is North Korea the only source of nuclear threat to the world, as it seems in the mainstream media?

AV: Of course, North Korea is no threat at all. I have already spoken about it during countless televised interviews. I visited North Korea and mingled with its people. There, nobody wants war. The North Korean people paid a terrible price for their independence. Its civilians were murdered mercilessly in tunnels by Western forces; its women were brutally raped, entire villages and towns leveled to the ground, or burned to ashes. All this is never discussed in the West, but is remembered in North Korea.

Now, absolutely shameless British propaganda is ‘preparing’ the world public for the ‘inevitability’ of the war. You know, if someone in this day and age still believes that the United States is the only culprit, he or she is perhaps living in some deep isolated trench or a cave. Indoctrination and brainwashing is mainly designed, ‘Made in Europe’, most evidently in the UK, where most of the people have already lost all their ability to think rationally. The British colonialist propaganda apparatus is terribly sinister, but strategically it is simply brilliant! It was utilized for centuries, and it even succeeded in ‘programming’ the brains of the victims in the sub-Continent, Africa and elsewhere.

Of course, your numbers are correct and all that is happening is thoroughly absurd! But day and night people are told that North Korea represents a true danger to the world. The same was said about the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. Most of these countries have already been destroyed.

North Korea’s sin is that it refuses to surrender, to fall on its knees, to sacrifice its people. It refuses to become a slave. For centuries, European and later US colonialism punished such defiance in the most brutal ways. Western culture is, after all, based and built on slavery. It demands absolute compliance, unconditional submission.

If North Korea is attacked, it should fight back! And it will.

AB: The United Nations adopted the important Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July. The United Nations is often used (in alternate ways and countries): this Treaty is ignored by all nuclear powers, including by members of NATO with US nuclear weapons (including Italy). NATO has banned member states from ratifying it. Can the West have a moralist attitude to those who pursue a deterrent in order not to not end up like Saddam and Gaddafi?

AV: The West is like an army of brigands that has managed to overrun some city, to rape everything that moves, burn the center, loot houses and shops and then execute all leading thinkers and defenders. A few days later they see someone stealing a bunch of bananas from a fruit stall. And they catch him, and judge him, and feel totally morally righteous. It is all so comical! But that is not how you are supposed to see it!

AB: Russia and China (with Iran, Venezuela and many other countries) are intensifying de-dollarization in their mutual exchanges. Does it envisage a gradual weakening of the dollar capable of affecting international finance and what geopolitical repercussions?

AV: Yes, definitely! And you should talk about it to my friend, Peter Koenig, a true dissident, a former economist at the World Bank, who is now actually advising many countries on de-dollarization.

US dollars should not be used anymore. Western institutions should be ignored. Totally new structures should be, and are being erected. China and Russia are, of course, in the lead. All this is extremely important and can change the world, in the near future.

AB: Venezuela, with the convening of the Constituent Assembly, turned off the coup attempts of the opposition. In Brazil Lula is favored in polls, while in Argentina the former President Cristina Fernandez is back in the Senate with strong popular support. So it was not the end of the progressive cycle, as the mainstream has for years stated?

AV: Of course, it was not the end! The desire of Latin Americans to live in just and egalitarian societies is too strong; it cannot be destroyed overnight.

There were some serious setbacks – in Argentina and Brazil. And Venezuela is suffering immensely, battered by its own shameless elites sponsored from abroad. But the country is still standing.

In Brazil, Temer is immensely unpopular. His ‘constitutional coup’ will soon backfire. PT will be back, in its old form or in a new one. And it will be much stronger than before. The same goes for Argentina. You see, despite all the media manipulation, propaganda and shameless lies, people are already realizing that they were fooled. They want some decency back, they want socialism and pride and hope! They want true independence.

In two weeks from now I’m going back to South America. My book of essays is being published by LOM, soon, and LOM is a very important left-wing publishing house in Chile. These days I go back to South America often. It is one of the frontlines, battlegrounds, where people struggle against Western imperialism and its lackeys!

These are very important, fascinating times! I have just published my latest book, about The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, in Russia. Its legacy is now relevant, more than ever before in history. It gave birth to internationalism, and internationalism is the only movement, which can still save the world, and which can defeat Western nihilism and its barefaced, cynical pillage of the planet!

The Merchant of Menace

About fifteen years ago I was a normal person. I had an average job, to help pay my average mortgage and average living costs. I was of average intelligence and had received an average education. I thought I pretty much understood how the world worked, because I followed the news every day on the BBC and frequently read The Times newspaper which, as everyone knew, was the best newspaper in the whole world. If anyone had suggested otherwise I would have been slightly offended, as if I’d been called stupid. But the fact was, like most normal people I knew next to nothing about how the world really works.

I was perhaps slightly more cynical than the average person, because many years previously I read an excellent book called Bodyguard of Lies, by Anthony Cave Brown. It suggested a darker side to the business of government than the average person might suspect. Although Brown’s book was about World War Two, and suggested that the lies to which the title referred were justified because of the extreme circumstances of war, it probably made me just a little more suspicious of governments than the average person.

So when the Bush/Blair partnership frogmarched their countries into an illegal war in Iraq in 2003, I was possibly a lot more suspicious of their claims than the average person.

I actually resigned my comfortable job in protest against Blair’s terrible decision. I wanted to write a book. I had an idea for a political novel, but first I needed to do some research. I knew a bit about government, but not enough.

I’ve always been an avid reader, seldom without a book on the go since I was at school. But mostly I had read fiction. Reading fiction is sometimes better than not reading at all, but it’s actually a huge distraction, diverting attention away from the stuff we should be reading. Fifteen years ago I started reading non-fiction.

My first forays into the research I wanted to do was history. I wanted the background story. I had a vague inkling that somewhere there was a different type of history to the type I learnt at school – the history of great kings and queens, emperors and presidents, admirals and generals. Somewhere, surely, there would be histories of ordinary people. There are, of course, and what they reveal began to pour fuel on a slowly-burning fire.

Next I started reading politics, but like history, I suspected there might be two types of politics – one type that’s taught in schools and universities and which fills countless pages in newspapers and occupies countless hours of TV and radio time, the sort people can obtain university degrees in; and another type of politics which somehow remains just below the radar: mostly unseen and undiscussed, and definitely not taught in university courses. My early guides were the well-known greats – Pilger, Chomsky, Blum, Monbiot… As my range stretched slightly further afield, to include writers like Klein and Palast, and as I started trying to comprehend the world that the likes of Max Keiser and Matt Taibbi were describing, from their remote platforms of Russia Today and Rolling Stone, I realised that I needed to teach myself economics. At the heart of it all, somewhere, was money.

I first read a bit into economics many years ago. At school I’d done maths, physics and chemistry, so I was partially trained in empirical evidence-gathering and the importance of peer-reviewed research. My earliest impression of economics was that it was the purest bunkum I’d ever seen – a series of unproven, unprovable assertions dressed up with mathematical symbols to try to give it some sort of mystical credibility. Perhaps I was missing something, I thought back then. Perhaps it was me. But at the time I wasn’t interested enough to pursue the thing, so I kicked economics into the long grass – where it remained until about ten years ago, and I tried once more.

I spent a bit more time with the school textbooks, but my early impressions of the subject remained unchanged. When I read the Australian economist Steve Keen’s excellent Debunking Economics I almost jumped for joy: here was confirmation from an expert in the field that all my early suspicions about economics were well-founded – a view later reinforced when I read Balogh’s brilliant The Irrelevance of Conventional Economics – a book that preceded Keen’s by a couple of decades. Economics was indeed pure bunkum.

So I dug a bit deeper, tried the original sources. How could something that’s so important be based on so little? I read Adam Smith and Keynes. About that time I picked up a little book that I thought might be interesting: Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. Jaw-dropping is perhaps the best way to describe my reaction to it. I couldn’t believe it was serious. I thought it was some kind of spoof. Although Perkins described a shadow-world I suspected existed, I didn’t know if I could take him seriously. After all, it was just his story, there was no other verifiable evidence. But it made me start digging even deeper.

Since then I’ve read quite a lot of economics-related books, by well-respected economists such as Galbraith and Stiglitz, but also less well-known specialists such as Prins, Rickards, Das, Baker, and Henry. About this time I also read Joel Bakan’s superb The Corporation, and another chink of light helped illuminate the darkness even more: big business was closely connected to the heart of the problem. Then I found Thom Hartmann’s superb Unequal Protection and a bit of the history of how corporations began to achieve their control of our political system was revealed.

But still the nagging question remained: how exactly did such an obviously flawed belief system come to exert so much real power over our supposedly fool-proof democracy, with its much-vaunted system of “checks and balances”?

Nancy MacLean’s recent publication Democracy in Chains pretty much answers that question. It’s a superbly researched account of how one man, the economist James Buchanan, helped the super-rich to seize control of our system of government. As I was reading her book, I was continually reminded of Bakan’s work, in The Corporation, where he showed that the “personality” of corporations is almost indistinguishable from that of psychopaths. Much of Buchanan’s work, too, could be seen as psychopathic – in my view.

The basic reasons for this, I think, are two-fold. Firstly he appeared to not only have no concern about the effects of his theories on the vast majority of ordinary human beings or the planet in general, but he appears to have shown contempt and disdain for anyone other than the super-rich or those he deemed his intellectual equals. Secondly, right from the very beginning of his rise to power and influence, he was obsessed with secrecy. He clearly knew that his work would be rejected by the wider world if it became known; he knew that it wouldn’t withstand the challenge of peer-reviewed debate. So he insisted on secrecy, living and working behind closed doors in a world of shadows.

The Beginning

This particular story really begins in the first years following the end of World War Two. Given that most of the planet was in post-apocalyptic chaos, something of an intellectual vacuum existed in planning how the new world economy would shape up. There were two powerful competing forces. On the one hand, the old order of super-rich tyrants were anxious to resume their control of the new world; but on the other hand, a brash new force, previously unknown, was strongly asserting itself. Socialism, with its new and powerful champion in the Soviet Union, was presenting a major challenge to the old world order. Its promises of social justice and economic equality were strong attractions to hundreds of millions of people who had never known either, and all around the world new socialist movements were sprouting up everywhere. The most important of these were the fledgling socialists in the powerful western nations, because those countries would determine the future course of the world.

In Britain, home of the recently-demised global empire, Clement Attlee’s Labour Party won the first general election after the war, trouncing Winston Churchill, the iconic hero of wartime Britain. Such a result was truly seismic. Attlee had promised total social reform of the decrepit and corrupt regime, and the people listened; so his new government proceeded to deliver. Massive public investment would follow, producing tens of thousands of new homes, nationalised industries, free university education, decent state pensions and the incredible National Health Service.

The United States, not yet familiar with its new role of global emperor, recognised the shift in wind direction. Its social reforms were nothing like as extensive as in Britain – mostly because it had emerged unscathed from the war and was about the only country capable of supplying the manufactured goods necessary to rebuild the world. Its economy boomed. Nevertheless, significant public spending flowed into new infrastructure, not least of which was public education, and affordable university education suddenly became accessible to countless young Americans from modest family backgrounds. It was seen as perfectly normal, by the mid-1950s, for the state to be active in the economy, and for trade unions to be active in the workplace. As MacLean puts it,

Almost all professional economists then accepted the pump-priming doctrines of Keynes to ensure demand to keep the economy growing…

[T]his refutation of the late-nineteenth century ideology of the sanctity of private property rights and the concomitant embrace of an affirmative role for organized citizens and their government as the counterbalance to corporate power, had become the new stance of virtually every western democracy.1

As an aside, it’s interesting to ponder the opinion of Bruce Cumings, a Korea specialist, who observes that a significant element of this “pump-priming” was down to the creation of what Eisenhower would call the “military-industrial complex” — something which had never really existed prior to the Korean War:

The military was never a significant factor in peacetime American national life before NSC68 announced the answer to how much “preparedness” the country needed, thus closing a long American debate: and in mainstream Washington, it has never returned. [NSC68 was passed through Congress in 1950, allowing a quadrupling of American “defence” spending] By 1951 the United States was spending $650 billion on defense in current dollars, and finally reached that maximum point again in the early part of this new century – a sum greater than the combined defense budgets of the next eighteen ranking military powers in 2009.2

So given the fact that “pump-priming” of the economy by the state was widely accepted in the 1950s and 1960s as essential, what happened after that to reverse that thinking, and produce today’s dogma of economic austerity in almost every field of government activity — barring the military and so-called “security” services?

A major contributory factor was a gradual coming-together of what at the time was a small minority of academic opinion – those on the far right of the political spectrum. In the early 1950s James Buchanan was a young economics graduate from Chicago University. He’d been tutored by Frank Knight, the only American-born economist invited to establish the Mount Pelerin Society, along with the likes of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. The society is an organisation of right-wing economists and other academics funded by the super-rich.

In 1956 Buchanan approached Colgate Whitehead Darden Jr., president of the University of Virginia, with a proposal to create a brand new school of economics. The two men clearly had similar views of how the Keynesian world was evolving, and they didn’t like it. Buchanan’s plan was warmly welcomed. They would establish the Thomas Jefferson Center for Studies in Political Economy and Social Philosophy. Buchanan’s naturally conspiratorial nature was revealed in that name for his new school: he noted privately in his précis to the president that the venture “needed an innocuous name that would not draw attention to its members’ ‘extreme views… no matter how relevant they might be to the real purpose of the program”.3

He would later write that in such an era: “Our purpose was indeed subversive.4

Buchanan appears to have applied one particularly constant principle to the way his school operated: secrecy; for MacLean records several instances of him saying so.

Years after he had established himself inside the inner circle of powerful conspirators who had started to transform the very way academics working in politics and economics actually thought, he hosted his own clandestine retreats with specially invited guests. At one such gathering he recorded that: The key thing moving forward”, he stressed, was that ‘conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential‘.” ((Ibid, p. 117.))

MacLean explains Buchanan’s basic strategy:

[K]ey to his plan was the creation of a small Founders Group of about ten; these men would generate what he called the Blue Book to reach another two hundred people through their own personal contacts. The centerpiece of the operation would be a Society of Fellows that would include political leaders and possible donors, along with scholars…. Remaining were such strategic questions as ‘How is respectability to be established and maintained? How much hypocrisy is necessary? How much internal criticism is to be allowed?’ The key thing moving forward was to maintain secrecy, with outsiders kept in the dark.5

Obtaining funding from a variety of wealthy donors, such as the Scaife Foundation and Charles Koch, people who well understood the value of securing academic validation for their enterprises, Buchanan’s schools sent hundreds of right wing economists out into the world for half a century. Buchanan never saw himself as an economic scientist, but rather a social philosopher, someone who was determined to “put right” the perverted thinking that believed the super-rich should pay their way. Buchanan’s economists would find work at major corporations as well as other universities who found that a good way to attract funding from the super-rich was to employ these people to ensure the Buchanan gospel could be spread even further. And so the cancer spread.

Fixing the scales of justice

James Buchanan was clearly a highly effective strategist. He understood the vital institutional changes that needed to happen before his vision of a world directly ruled by the super-rich could be securely established. Simply changing politicians through the electoral process would not be enough, and “he told his allies that no ‘mere changing of the political guard will suffice,’ that ‘the problems of our times require attention to the rules rather than the rulers.’ The project must aim toward the practical ‘removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule’.”6

To this end he formed an alliance with Henry Manne, an academic who held a very similar world-view to that of Buchanan. But Manne was a law professor, and would school his disciples to use the law to help bring about the same changes that Buchanan’s secret army of economists were fighting for. So for decades, aided and abetted by the same billionaires that paid for Buchanan’s schools, Manne produced a steady stream of right wing lawyers to match Buchanan’s output of right-wing economists. Manne’s “summer legal programs had provided intensive training in applying free market economic analyses to legal decision-making for law professors and for federal judges, luring them with luminaries and luxury accommodations. To name just one index of how successful Manne had been: by 1990, more than two of every five sitting federal judges had participated in his program – a stunning 40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.”7

The devastating effect of manipulating the legal system is perhaps best revealed by what happened in Chile. The story of how Chile’s economy was “made to scream” by the “Chicago boys” as a means of overthrowing the progressive government of Salvador Allende is a fairly well-known and very horrific tale. What is less well-understood is the demonic role played by James Buchanan after General Pinochet’s regime seized power.

Seemingly untroubled by the dictator’s murderous policies, Buchanan agreed to help Carlos Francisco Caceres, economic adviser to Pinochet, and who he knew from the Mount Pelerin Society, to draft a new constitution for the long-term management of Chile. This story is so important that I make no apology for quoting MacLean’s telling of it in some length.

Buchanan gave detailed advice:

[O]ver the course of five formal lectures to top representatives of a governing elite that melded the military and corporate world, to say nothing of counsel he provided in private, unrecorded conversations… He defined public choice as a ‘science’ (even though he, of all people, knew that there was no empirical research to back its claims) that ‘should be adopted’ for matters ranging from ‘the power of a constitution over fiscal policy’ to ‘what the optimum number of lawmakers in a legislative body should be’. He said of members of his school of thought, ‘We are formulating constitutional ways in which we can limit government intervention in the economy and make sure it keeps its hands out of the pockets of productive contributors’…

The net impact of the new constitution’s intricate rules changes was to give the president unprecedented powers, hobble the congress, and enable unelected military officials to serve as a power brake on the elected members of the congress. A cunning new electoral system, not in use anywhere else in the world and clearly the fruits of Buchanan’s counsel, would permanently overrepresent the right-wing minority party to ensure ‘a system frozen by elite interests’….

Pinochet personally reviewed the penultimate document… then announced that citizens would have to vote a simple yes or no on whether to adopt the new constitution, in its entirety, in a plebiscite to be held within a month of its release. The balloting would take place during the prolonged ‘state of emergency’ in which all political parties were outlawed, no voter rolls existed to prevent fraud (because the junta had had them burned), and no scrutiny or counting by foreign observers was to be allowed…

Chile emerged with a set of rules closer to [Buchanan’s] ideal than any in existence, built to repel future popular pressure for change. It was ‘a virtually unamendable charter,’ in that no constitutional amendment could be added without endorsement by supermajorities in two successive sessions of the National Congress, a body radically skewed by the overrepresentation of the wealthy, the military, and the less popular political parties associated with them. Buchanan had long called for binding rules to protect economic liberty and constrain majority power, and Chile’s 1980 Constitution of Liberty [a title directly lifted from Hayek’s book] guaranteed these as never before.8

Although the inevitable economic turmoil the constitution created resulted eight years later in near revolution, and a rather more representative congress was formed, the legal constraints of the constitution meant that:

[T]he skewed electoral system still remains in place, with its provision effectively granting the one-third minority of right-wing voters the same representation as the typical two-thirds majority attracted by center-left candidates.

It is deeply troubling, then, that Chile is held up today as an exemplary ‘economic miracle’ by the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and others on the US right.”9

Buchanan correctly identified the importance of constitutional reform for ensuring long-term control by the super-rich of government, and hence the economy. His gospel is still being followed today. An article recently published in the New Yorker reported:

Article V [of the US Constitution] allows an alternative method of proposing constitutional amendments, which cuts Congress out entirely: two-thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention. To be in a position to do this, the G.O.P. needs to gain control of just one more statehouse, which could happen as soon as next year. (Last year, the Times reported that twenty-eight states had already adopted resolutions calling for a constitutional convention on a balanced-budget amendment, an effort supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by the Koch brothers, among others.)10

MacLean’s book is a fine, well-researched overview of just how the far right bribed and manipulated the academic world to provide the philosophical justification for changes to a planet which, at the dawn of the 1950s had started to make some real progressive socio-economic advances, transforming it into today’s world of Permanent War and global economic austerity. Underpinning it all was, and is to this day, a devious secretive conspiracy – acknowledged as such by the evil genius behind it – which was utterly devoid of any intellectual substance. Buchanan’s lifelong conviction that the super-rich should have absolute control of the economy – a view that’s widely held today – was (and is) unburdened by any evidence whatsoever to support it.

Indeed, even a sympathetic economist soon cited as ‘the major deficiency’ of [Buchanan’s] Virginia School ‘the failure to search for empirical tests of the new theories’.11

Similarly lacking in any of Buchanan’s work, as it’s still lacking today in the work of his disciples, was any sense of morality or responsibility for the wider welfare of our planet generally and for the majority of humanity in particular.

The scholars were conducting, in effect, thought experiments, or hypothetical scenarios with no true research – no facts – to support them, while the very terms of their analysis denied such motives as compassion, fairness, solidarity, generosity, justice, and sustainability.12

A constitution for the people

Most people are normal people, in the same way as I was a normal person fifteen years ago. They have no idea about the depth of cynicism and downright evil to which their trusted leaders will sink in order to further enrich themselves (for they are invariably rich already), and/or seize more power. Most normal people like to sneer at their politicians and say they do not trust them, but the fact is that mostly they do – that’s why they keep on voting in a basically rigged electoral system. For all their bluster and affected contempt, they have no real inkling of just how depraved our political system is, nor how monstrous the people who control it.

James Buchanan was beneath contempt, as are all of those who share his views today. He was clearly not a nice person:

(Even among his comrades, Buchanan’s red-faced rages were the stuff of legend.) His insistence on having his own way, other colleagues also reported, wrecked the give-and-take on which communal life depended… [E]ven administrators who appreciated Buchanan’s contributions lost patience with his bullying.13

So it was possibly fitting that,

When he died in 2013, neither Koch nor Fink, nor Cowen nor Meese [whom Buchanan supported and possibly considered friends], bothered to attend his memorial service. Why should they? His days of usefulness to them had passed.14

If there’s one useful lesson to be learnt from Buchanan’s story (apart from the obvious evidence it provides of the evil geniuses who influence those who rule our lives), it’s the example of the effectiveness of constitutional reform. Buchanan understood quite early on the importance to his mission of laws generally, and constitutional laws in particular: The problems of our times require attention to the rules rather than the rulers.”

Just as he helped to write a constitution for the super-rich to control the 99%, so too could we have a constitution for the 99% to control the super-rich.

  1. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, pp. 46 and 47.
  2. The Korean War: A History, by Bruce Cumings, p. 217.
  3. MacLean, p. 48.
  4. Ibid, p. 46.
  5. Ibid, p. 120.
  6. Ibid, p. 184.
  7. Ibid, p. 195.
  8. Ibid, p. 158 – 161.
  9. Ibid. p. 166.
  10. Jelani Cobb, Republicans and the Constitution, The New Yorker, March 13, 2017.
  11. MacLean, p. 79.
  12. Ibid, p. 97.
  13. Ibid, p. 171.
  14. Ibid, p. 204.