Category Archives: Che Guevara

Communist League: On Terrorism

REPRINT FROM COMBAT – Journal of the Communist League – March 1975.

TERRORISM OR REVOLUTION?

The last decade has witnessed the emergence of a number of terrorist groups in various countries, together with the adoption of terrorist tactics by a number of national liberation groups. Britain for example, has experienced the bombing campaigns of the “Angry Brigade,” purporting to be a protest against corporatist and racist legislation and of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, purporting to form part of the Irish struggle for national liberation. In some countries, such as India, even groups claiming to be “Marxist-Leninist” pursue terrorist tactics.

IT IS THEREFORE IMPORTANT THAT WE SHOULD BE CLEAR ON THE MARXIST-LENINIST ATTITUDE TOWARDS TERRORISM.

A “Punishment for Opportunism”

The victory of revisionism in the international communist movement has transformed the Communist Parties of most countries into parties which objectively serve the interests of monopoly capital by preaching the illusion of “peaceful, parliamentary transition to socialism.” These parties are seen ever more clearly by those who have become rebels against the evils of modern capitalist society to have become “left-wing” opportunist parties, drawn more and more into the political machinery of the capitalist state as instruments of deception of the working people.

In the absence of scientific parties of socialist revolution, it is inevitable that rebelliousness should manifest itself to a certain extent in the form of unscientific “leftist” activity such as terrorism.

In speaking of anarchism of which terrorism is one of the two fundamental concepts (the other being repudiation of the state in all its forms), Lenin made precisely this point when he described it as “a sort of punishment for opportunism” in the working class movement:

“Anarchism was often a sort of punishment for the opportunist sins of the working class movement. Both monstrosities mutually supplemented each other.”

(V. I. Lenin: “’Left-wing Communism’, An Infantile Disorder”, in: “Selected Works”, Volume 10; London; 1946; p. 71).

Petty-bourgeois Rebelliousness

The rebelliousness which manifests itself in the form of terrorism is essentially that of persons drawn from, or with the outlook of, the petty-bourgeoisie:

“Petty-bourgeois revolutionariness, which smacks of, or borrows something from anarchism . . in all essentials falls short of the conditions and requirements of sustained proletarian class struggle. . . The small proprietor, the small master, (a social type that is represented in many European countries on a wide mass scale) . . easily becomes extremely revolutionary, but is incapable of displaying perseverance, discipline and staunchness. The petty bourgeois in a ‘frenzy’ over the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristics of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionariness, its barrenness, its liability to become swiftly transformed into submission, apathy, something fantastic, and even into a ‘mad’ infatuation with one or another bourgeois ‘fad’ — all this is a matter of common knowledge.”

(V. I. Lenin: ibid; p. 70-71).

The petty bourgeoisie is a class which is in process of rapid destruction by monopoly capital – so that, anarchism must be seen as a political reflection of the desperate and futile striving of the petty bourgeois to retain his individual freedom:

“The philosophy of the anarchists is bourgeois philosophy turned inside out. Their individualistic theories and their individualistic ideal are the very opposite of socialism. Their views express, not the future of bourgeois society, which is striding with irresistible force towards the socialisation of labour, but the present and even the past of that society, the domination of blind chance over the scattered and isolated small producer.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Socialism and Anarchism”, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 10; Moscow; 1962; p. 73).

“The point is that Marxism and anarchism are built up on entirely different principles in spite of the fact that both come into the arena of struggle under the flag of socialism. The cornerstone of anarchism is the individual, whose emancipation, according to its tenets, is the principal condition for the emancipation of the masses, the collective body. According to the tenets of anarchism, the emancipation of the masses is impossible until the individual is emancipated. Accordingly, its slogan is: ‘Everything for the individual’. The cornerstone of Marxism, however, is the masses, whose emancipation, according to its tenets, is the principal condition for the emancipation of the individual. That is to say, according to the tenets of Marxism, the emancipation of the individual is impossible until the masses are emancipated. Accordingly, its slogan is: “Everything for the masses!”

(J. V. Stalin: “Anarchism or Socialism?”, in: “Works”,’ Volume 1; Moscow; 1952; p. 299).

Terrorism and economism (the theory that the working class can be expected to engage only in economic, and not political, struggles) have common, roots in the “theory of spontaneity” — which rejects the possibility of elevating the working class to socialist consciousness through the propaganda and day-to-day leadership of a vanguard party:

“The Economists and the modern terrorists spring from a common root, namely, subservience to spontaneity… At first sight, our assertion may appear paradoxical, for the difference between these two appears to be so enormous: one stresses the ‘drab everyday struggle’ and the other calls for the most self-sacrificing struggle of individuals. But this is not a paradox. The Economists and terrorists merely bow to different poles of spontaneity: the Economists bow to the spontaneity of the ‘pure and simple’ labour movements while the terrorists bow to the spontaneity of the passionate indignation of the intellectuals, who are either incapable of linking up the revolutionary struggle with the labour movement, or lack the opportunity to do so. It is very difficult indeed for those who have lost their belief, or who have never believed that this is possible, to find some other outlet for their indignation and revolutionary energy than terror.”

(V. I. Lenin: “What Is to be Done?”, in: “Selected Works”, Volume 2; London; 1944; p. 94).

“The present-day terrorists are really ‘economists’ turned inside out, going to the equally foolish but opposite extreme.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Revolutionary Adventurism in Collected Works”, Volume 6 Moscow; 1961; p. 192.

Thus terrorism — like economism — reflects the lack of faith of the petty bourgeoisie in the masses of the working people. Reviewing a leaflet issued by the Socialist-Revolutionaries in 1902, Lenin remarks:

“The April 3 leaflet follows the pattern of the terrorists’ latest arguments with remarkable accuracy. The first thing that strike’s the eye is the words: ‘we advocate terrorism, not in place of work among the masses, but precisely for and simultaneously with that work’. They strike the eye particularly because these words are printed in letters three times as large as the rest of the text. But just read the whole leaflet and you will see that the protestation in bold type takes the name of the masses in vain. The day “when the working people will emerge from the shadows’ and ‘the mighty popular wave will shatter the iron gates to smithereens’ ‘alas’ (literally, ‘alas!’) ‘is still a long way off, and it is frightful to think of the future toll of victims!’ Do not these words ‘alas, still a long way off’ – reflect an utter failure to understand the mass movement and a lack of faith in it?”

(V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p.190-91).

“Individual” Terrorism

In repudiating terrorism, Marxist-Leninists are speaking, of course, of what is generally termed “individual terrorism”, such acts as the assassination of a reactionary judge or the planting of a car-bomb outside the office of a government department.

In the sense of “attempting to strike terror into an enemy” Marxist-Leninists by no means reject the use of terrorism.

The socialist revolution can be brought about only against the armed men who form the core of the machinery of force of the capitalist state, and one of the aims of armed struggle is to strike terror into the enemy and so facilitate his defeat.

Again, one of the functions of a state is to strike terror into those who might attempt to overthrow it. Thus, the dictatorship of the working class which must be installed on the victory of the socialist revolution has as one of its aims to strike terror into the overthrown capitalist class, and its active supporters, so as to restrain their desire to overthrow the power of the working class.

Marxist-Leninists, therefore, repudiate individual terrorism not on the grounds that terrorism — in the sense of striking terror into the enemy – is unethical, but because acts of individual terrorism harm the cause they purport to serve:

“In principle we have never rejected, and cannot reject terror. Terror is one of the forms of military action that may ..be perfectly suitable and even essential at a definite juncture in the battle, given a definite state of the troops and the existence of definite conditions. But the important point is that terror, at the present time, is by no means suggested as an operation for the army in the field, an operation closely connected with and integrated into the entire system of struggle. Without a central body and with weakness of local revolutionary organsations, this in fact, is all that terror can be. We, therefore, declare emphatically that under the present conditions such a means of struggle is inopportune and unsuitable; that it diverts the most active fighters from their real task, the task which is most important from the standpoint of the interests of the. movement as a whole, it disorganises the forces not of the government, but of the revolution.”

(V. I.,Lenin: “Where to Begin”, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 5;
Moscow; 1961; p. 19).

“Of course, we reject individual terrorism only out of considerations of expediency; upon those who ‘on principle’ were capable of condemning the terror of the Great French Revolution, or the terror in general employed by a victorious revolutionary party which is besieged by the bourgeoisie of the whole-world – upon such people even Plekhanov in 1900-0, when he was a Marxist, and a revolutionary, heaped ridicule and scorn.”

(V. I. Lenin: “‘Left-wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder”, in: ‘Selected Works”, Volume 10; London; 1946;.p.72).

While no one individual is generally capable of planning and carrying out a series of terrorist acts, such acts constitute “individual terrorism” in so far as the organisations involved in them are extremely small, composed of a few skilled persons (usually petty bourgeois intellectuals), and secret (to the working class if not to the police).

The Spurious Arguments for Terrorism

The advocates of terrorism argue that terrorist acts weaken the capitalist state machine and so assist the revolutionary process.

But if a judge is assassinated, there are a dozen reactionary barristers waiting to step into his shoes; if a courthouse is destroyed, it can be rebuilt at the cost of the working people. The strength of the state relative to that of a small terrorist group, and the protective measures which the state has the power to take when a threat of terrorist acts becomes apparent, causes terrorism to be directed increasingly against the less well defended — because less important — aspects of the state. Indeed, this process often results in the activity of terrorist groups, in an effort to evade the defences erected by the state degenerating into mere indiscriminate acts of destruction in which working people are killed and maimed.

Reviewing the leaflet of the Socialist-Revolutionaries already mentioned, Lenin poured scorn on the illusion that the state, could be significantly weakened by acts of terrorism:

“Just listen to what follows: ‘every terrorist blow, as it were, takes away part of the strength of the autocracy and transfers (!) all this strength (!) to the side of the fighters for freedom’ . ‘And if terrorism is practised systematically (!) it is obvious that the scales of the balance will finally weigh down on our side’. Yes, indeed, it is obvious to all that we have here in its grossest form one of the greatest prejudices of the terrorists: political assassination of itself ‘transfers strength.”

(V.I.Lenin “Revolutionary Adventurism”, In: “Collected Works”, Volume 6, Moscow; 1961; p. 191).

The advocates of terrorism also argue that terrorist acts “excite” the masses to greater revolutionary enthusiasm.

This theory too was discussed by Lenin:

“It would be interesting to note here the specific arguments that ‘Svoboda’ (a terrorist group– Ed.) advanced in defence of terrorism. It . . . stresses its excitative significance. . . . .It is difficult to imagine an argument that disproves itself more than this one does! Are there not enough outrages committed in Russian life that a special ‘stimulant’ has to be invented? On the other hand, is it not obvious that those who are not, and cannot be aroused to excitement even by Russian tyranny will stand by ‘twiddling their thumbs’ –even while a handful of terrorists are engaged in a single combat with the government? The fact is, however, that that the masses of the workers are roused to a high pitch of excitement by the outrages committed in Russian life, but we are unable to collect, if one may put it that way, and concentrate all these drops and streamlets of popular excitement, which are called forth by the conditions of Russian life to a far larger extent than we imagine, but which it is precisely necessary to combine into a single gigantic-flood.. . Calls for terror . . are merely forms of evading the most pressing duty that now rests upon Russian revolutionaries, namely, to organise all-sided political agitation. ‘Svoboda’ desires to substitute terror for agitation, openly admitting that ‘as soon as intensified and strenuous agitation is commenced among the masses its excitative function will be finished”‘

(V I Lenin: “What Is. to be Done?.”, in: “Selected Works”, Volume 2. London; 1944; p. 96-97).

“Nor does the leaflet eschew the theory of excitative terrorism. ‘Each time a hero engages in single combat, this arouses in us all a spirit of struggle and courage’, we are told. But . . . single combat has the immediate effect of simply creating a short-lived sensation, while indirectly it even leads to apathy and passive waiting for the next bout, We are further assured that ‘every flash of terrorism lights up the mind’ which unfortunately, we have not noticed to be the case with the terrorism preaching party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Revolutionary Adventurism” in: “Collected Works”; Volume 6; Moscow; 1961; p. 193).

A Pretext for Repression

The Marxist-Leninist case against terrorism is not merely that it amounts
to a repudiation of the need for the political mobilisation of the masses
of the working class — the force which alone is capable of smashing the
state machinery of force of monopoly capital:

‘Their tactics (i.e., of the anarchists — Ed.) . . . amount to a repudiation of the political struggle, disunite the proletarians and convert them in fact into passive participators in one bourgeois policy, or another.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Socialism and Anarchism”; “Collected Works”; ‘Volume 10, Moscow; 1963; p. 73).

In fact, far from weakening the state, acts of terrorism provide the pretext for the strengthening of the state machinery of force and for the imposition of repressive measures against the genuine progressive movement — measures which, without that pretext, would arouse much more vigorous opposition from the working people. In this respect, terrorist groups, whatever their intentions, objectively assist monopoly capital.

Thus, the counter-productive hi-jacking of civilian airliners by Arab terrorists was, used by King Hussein of Jordan as the pretext for a war of extermination in September 1970 against the Palestine liberation forces in Jordan, an act necessary to the new policy of US imperialism in the Middle East.

And in Britain terrorist acts have provided the pretext for the strengthening of Special Branch., for police raids on the homes of-anti-fascists and the offices of anti-fascist organisations, for pressure to reduce the rights of defendants in political trials, for the repeated army/police manoeuvres at London Airport, and for the “draconic” powers given to the police by the Labour government.

Agents Provocateurs

An agent of the class enemy who succeeds in entering a revolutionary, or pseudo-revolutionary, organisation is generally an agent of the state intelligence service. His aim, in doing so may simply be to collect information about the members, leaders, strength, etc.; of the organisation for the benefit of the state (that is, to act as a spy), or it may also be to seek to incite the members of the Organisation to commit a terrorist act which would provide a pretext- — a pretext that would seem a reasonable one to wide sections of working people — for some repressive measure or measures on the part of the state (that is, to act as an agent provocateur).

Where it is not possible to incite a terrorist group to commit a terrorist act desired by the state, this may be performed directly by the intelligence service itself. And where one or more terrorist groups exist, it is difficult or impossible for an outsider to know whether a particular act of terrorism has been carried out by such a group or by the intelligence service. In either case, however, the act may provide the pretext for some repressive measure or measures on the part of the state directed at the genuine progressive movement.

The most notorious example of such a terrorist act carried but by the state itself is, of course, the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 to provide the pretext for the repression of the Communist Party of Germany, even though that party was completely opposed to the carrying out of such acts of terrorism.

Within a genuine revolutionary organisation, it, is difficult to distinguish an agent provocateur from an honest, but misguided, exponent of “left” adventurism; indeed this distinction can be made, not on the basis of political analysis, but only by means of counter-intelligence activity which reveals the agent’s connection with the state.

But an agent provocateur is powerless to incite an act of terrorism on the part of a genuine revolutionary organisation unless there is support for such acts on the part of a majority of the members. The cardinal task, therefore, is to expose terrorism politically to its honest, but misguided, supporters, thus isolating the agent provocateur and opening the way to his exposure to the members and supporters of the organisation and his expulsion from it:

“We must get the workers to understand that while the killing of spies, agents provocateurs and traitors may sometimes of course, be absolutely unavoidable, it is highly undesirable and mistaken to make a system of it, and that we must strive to create an organisation which will be able to render spies innocuous by exposing them and tracking them down. It is impossible to do away with all spies, but to create an organisation which will ferret them out and educate the working class masses is both possible and necessary.

(V. I. Lenin. Footnote to: ‘ Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks”, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 6; Moscow; 1961; p. 245).

And, of course, given a partially clandestine organisation with adequate security measures and tight discipline, the harm which agents may do to a Marxist-Leninist Party may be limited, and they can even be compelled to do positive Party work – as Lenin pointed out in the case of the tsarist police agent Roman Malinovsky:

“In 1912 … an agent provacateur, Malinovsy got into the Central Committee, of the Bolsheviks. He betrayed scores and scores of the best and msot loyal comrades, caused them to be sent to penal servitude and hastened the death of many of them. If he did not cause even more harm than he did, it was because we had established proper coordination between our legal and illegal work. As a member of the Central Committee of the Party and a deputy in the Duma, Malinovsky was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to aid us in establishing legal daily paper. While with one hand Malinovsky sent scores and scores of the best Bolsheviks to penal servitude, and to death, with the other he was compelled to assist in the education of scores and scores of thousands of new Bolsheviks through the medium of the legal press.”

(V.I. Lenin: ‘Left-wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder”, in: “Selected Works”, Volume 10; London; 1946; p. 85).

Guerrilla Warfare

Socialist revolution involves armed struggle — that is civil war – between, on the one hand, the machinery of force under the leadership of it’s Marxist-Leninist vanguard party, and on the other hand – the machinery of force of the capitalist state.

Guerrilla warfare is a form of armed struggle waged by relatively small
units of armed men against a considerably stronger armed force – in the
case of revolutionary guerrilla warfare against the armed force of a
reactionary state. The essence of guerrilla military tactics is to make
localised “hit-and-run” attacks on the weakest and most exposed sectors of the enemy’s forces, so nibbling away at his strength without the losses to one’s own forces that would result from a direct confrontation with his main forces.
Thus, revolutionary guerrilla warfare must be seen as a development of the struggle for socialist revolution — when this has reached the stage of armed struggle:

Firstly, before this armed struggle has reached the stage of a country-wide armed uprising, and

Secondly, when it has reached the stage of a country-wide armed uprising in the intervals between major engagements:

“The phenomenon in which we are interested (i.e., guerrilla warfare – Ed.) – is the armed struggle. It is conducted by individuals and by small groups […] Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of` struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly large intervals occur between the ‘big engagements’ in the civil war [….] An uprising cannot assume the old form of individual acts restricted to a very short time and to a very small area. It is absolutely natural and inevitable that the uprising should assume the higher and more complex form of a prolonged civil war embracing the whole country […] Such a war cannot be conceived otherwise than as a series of a few big engagements at comparatively long intervals and a large number of small encounters during these intervals. That being so — and it is undoubtedly so – the Social-Democrats (i.e., Marxist Leninists – Ed.) must absolutely make it their duty to create organisations best adapted to lead, the masses in these big engagements and, as far as possible, in these small encounters as well.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Guerrilla Warfare”, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 11; Moscow; 1962; p. 216, 219, 222-23).

Revolutionary guerrilla warfare has three principal aims:

Firstlyto weaken the military and para-military armed forces of the capitalist state (and of fascist militia) by killing their officers and men:

“The Party must regard the fighting guerrilla operations of the squads affiliated or associated with it as being, in principle, permissible and advisable in the present period; [….] the paramount immediate object of these operations is to destroy the government, police and military machinery, and to wage a relentless struggle against the active Black Hundred Organisations (i.e. rural fascist-type organisations — Ed.) which are using violence against the population and intimidating it.”

(V. I. Lenin: Draft Resolution for Unity Congress of RSDLP, 1906, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 10; Moscow; 1962; p. 154).

“In the first place, this (guerrilla – Ed.) struggle aims at assassinating individuals, chiefs or subordinates, in the army and police.”

(V.I. Lenin: “Guerrilla Warfare”,- in: “Collected Works”, Volume 11; Moscow; 1962; p. 216).

Secondlyto give practical military training to working class leaders:

“The character of these fighting guerrilla operations must be adjusted to the task of training leaders of the masses of the workers at a time of insurrection, and of acquiring experience in conducting offensive and surprise military operations.”

(V. I. Lenin: Draft Resolution for Unity Congress of RSDLP, 1906, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 10; Moscow; 1962; p.154).

Thirdly, to confiscate funds in the possession of the capitalist
class for the use of the revolutionary movement:

“In the second place, it (i.e., guerrilla warfare — Ed.) aims at the confiscation of monetary funds both from the government and from private persons. The confiscated funds go into the treasury of the Party, partly for the special purpose of arming and preparing for an uprising, and partly for the maintenance of the persons engaged in the struggle we are describing.”

(V. I. Lenin: “Guerrilla Warfare”, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 11; Moscow; 1962; p. 216).

“Fighting operations are also permissible for the purpose of seizing funds belonging to the enemies, i.e., the autocratic government, to meet the needs of insurrection, particular care being taken so that the interests of the people are infringed as little as possible.”

(V. I. Lenin: Draft Resolution for Unity Congress of RSDLP, l906, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 10; Moscow; 1962; p.154).

(So deep was the respect for private property inculcated in the minds of a majority of the delegates to the 1906 Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, that the congress approved guerrilla warfare for the purpose of killing soldiers and police, but rejected Lenin’s clause approving it for the purpose of confiscating funds from the ruling class for the financing of the revolutionary movement).

At first glance, the distinction between terrorism (which Marxist-Leninists oppose), and revolutionary guerrilla warfare (which Marxist-Leninists support) seems blurred. In fact, however, the distinction is quite clear.

In the first place, guerrilla warfare becomes a correct revolutionary tactic only when it has the support of the mass of the working people in the locality in which it is carried out:

“Fighting guerrilla organisations must be conducted ….. such a way as . .to ensure that the state of the working class movement and the mood of the broad masses of the given locality are taken into account.”

(V. I.. Lenin: Draft Resolution to Unity Congress of RSDLP 1906, In “Collected Works”; Volume l0; Moscow; 1961; p. 154).

In the second place, and following from the above, guerrilla war becomes a
revolutionary tactic only when the class struggle has been elevated, as a result of correct day-to-day leadership by the Marxist-Leninist Party, to the stage where the mass of the working people have come to see the armed-forces of the capitalist state and the fascist bands as their irreconcilable enemies who must be fought — for only then will this guerrilla warfare have the support of the mass of the working people in the locality in which it is carried out. Terrorist acts, on the other hand, are carried out before this stage has been reached and in isolation from the class struggle of the working people:

“This act (i.e., the assassination of Sipyagin –Ed) was in no way connected with the masses, and moreover could, not have been by reason of the very way in which it was carried out –that the persons who committed this terrorist act neither counted on nor hoped for any definitive action nor support on the part of the masses. In their naivete, the Socialist-Revolutionaries do not realise that their predilection for terrorism is most intimately linked with the fact that, from the very outset, they have always kept, and still keep, aloof from the working class movement, without even attempting to become a party of the revolutionary class which is waging the class struggle.”

(Lenin: “Revolutionary Adventurism”; In “Collected Works” Volume 6; Moscow; 1961; p. 189).

In the third place, guerrilla warfare becomes a correct revolutionary tactic in the special circumstance that it is conducted under the control of the Marxist-Leninist Party:

“Fighting guerrilla organisations must be conducted under the control of the Party.”

(V. I. Lenin: Draft Resolution for the Unity Congress of RSDLP, l906, in: “Collected Works”, Volume 10; Moscow, 1961; p. 154).

The principles of guerrilla warfare advocated by “Che” Guevara are,thus completely opposed to the principles of Marxism-Leninism:

“The revolutionary guerrilla force is clandestine. It is born and develops secretly […] The guerrilla force is independent of the civilian population in action as well as in military organisation; consequently it need not assume the direct defence of the peasant population […] Eventually the future People’s Army will beget the party […] The people’s army will be the nucleus of the party, not vice versa. The guerrilla force is the political vanguard in nuce, and from its development a real party can arise […] That is why, at the present juncture, the principal stress must be laid on the development of guerrilla warfare and not on the strengthening of existing parties or the creation of new parties’,”

(R. Debray: “Revolution in the Revolution?”; London; 1968; p.41, 105, 115).

The castroite principles of guerrilla warfare form part of an anti-Marxist
Leninist revolutionary strategy which serves the interests of the national
bourgeoisie of a colonial-type country with a weak state machinery of
force. (This question is analysed in more detail in “The Theory of the
in: RED VANGUARD,. No. l; p.83f).

Contemporary Lessons

The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an armed force of the Irish national-liberation movement. It is, however, not led by a Marxist-Leninist Party of the working class, which does not at present exist in Ireland, but by representatives of the Irish national bourgeoisie, who wish for independence from Britain in order to develop the country as an independent capitalist state.

As long as the Provisional IRA was seen by the people of the Catholic areas of Northern Ireland as their defence against the armed forces and police of the colonial regime, and the fascist bands which had the “open support of the police, it had their enthusiastic support. To the extent however, that the IRA has turned to tactics of terrorism, often of an indiscriminate character in which working people have been killed and maimed, this support has been whittled away — and this has tended to make terrorism, increasingly the only form of activity which it is physically able to undertake.

In Britain, too, the effect of indiscriminate bombing by the Provisional IRA has been to alienate sympathy from the Irish national-liberation struggle among the British working class, which is, objectively, the ally of the Irish people in the struggle against their common enemy British imperialism.

The use that British imperialism can make of a movement whose activity is predominantly of a terrorist character was pointed out in a recent issue of CLASS AGAINST CLASS on the plan under consideration by the British imperialists for the creation of a united neo-colonial Ireland by creating the pretext for the military intervention in Northern Ireland of the army of the Republic of Ireland:

“The aim is, under the slogan of ‘allowing the people of Northern Ireland to settle their own problems’, to permit the restoration of a fascist-type of state machine in Northern Ireland dominated by the right-wing Protestant leaders. These leaders are already pledging themselves to the pogroms against the ‘Catholic population which will inevitably follow — that, is, they are pledging themselves not to carry out such pogroms unless the Provisional IRA renews its campaign.”

(“Ireland: New Tactics of British Imperialism”; in: CLASS AGAINST CLASS, No. 6; June 1974; p. 8).

The British imperialists calculate that the Provisional IRA, as a result of its turn to tactics of terrorism, has lost too much strength and support to be capable of defending the Catholic population, so that the call for the “protective” intervention of the armed forces of the Republic will come from the Catholic working people of Northern Ireland themselves.

Again, one of the most important tasks facing the British working class is the organisation of an anti-fascist united front, properly organised and with a correct tactical programme. Even at this early stage of the anti-fascist movement, certain maoist groups (such as the “Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) and trotskyite groups (such as the International Marxist Group) have begun to launch assaults upon the police during anti-National Front demonstrations. But an assault upon the armed forces of the state becomes a correct tactic of revolutionary guerrilla warfare in a developed capitalist country only when the class struggle has reached a much higher level of development and when it is directed by a Marxist-Leninist Party, which does not yet exist in Britain.

Such assaults on the police as that which took place in Red Lion Square
in 1974, being completely premature, constitute mere terrorism, which tends to disorganise the embryo anti-fascist movement and provide the pretext for police violence and repressive measures on the part of the state against genuine anti-fascists “Leftist” groups which carry out such actions at the present time are objectively assisting fascism.

Conclusion

Terrorism, whatever the motives of the terrorists, objectively serves the interests of the forces opposed to social and national liberation. It is necessary for Marxist-Leninists, therefore, to expose terrorism for what it is, and to wage a principled and consistent struggle against this ideology, in line with Lenin’s formula:

“Bolshevism grew, took shape and became hardened, in long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionariness, which smacks of, or borrows something from, anarchism, and which in all essentials falls short, of the conditions and, requirements of the sustained proletarian class struggle.”

(V. I. Lenin.: ‘”Left-wing’ Communism”, an Infantile Disorder”, in: “Selected Works Volume .10; London; 1946; p.70).

Source

PCMLE: Fidel Castro Ruz: Comandante of the Cuban Revolution Has Died, We Honor His Memory!

44175-004-1aa92245

Communiqué of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador, PCMLE

On the night of November 25, Fidel Castro Ruz, Comandante of the Cuban Revolution, has died and the Cuban people, the peoples of Latin America and the world mourn his death.

Fidel, throughout his life, was an outstanding revolutionary leader, and along with his comrades such as Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and others, was at the head of the heroic process of the Cuban revolution, which confronted the aggressive designs of US imperialism, defeated the armed incursions, the plots and conspiracies that the world power financed and directed together with the reactionary circles, in an attempt to break the will of the Cuban people and their leaders.

With Fidel at its head, the courageous Cuban people, with arms in hand, were able to overthrow the infamous, criminal and pro-Yankee dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who had handed over the Caribbean island’s resources, sovereignty and independence to the Yankees. This same people, based on their unity, promoting the struggle, has been advancing in their revolutionary process that achieved important and well-known social achievements in various fields such as education, health, social security and, despite the criminal imperialist blockade, managed to rise up and maintain those achievements, which earned them the recognition and solidarity of the peoples of the world.

For the peoples of Latin America, the victories achieved by the Cuban revolution have undoubtedly been an example that has influenced their anti-imperialist struggles and the struggle for social revolution. Cuba has been the example of how a small country, besieged by the major world power that has blocked it since the beginning of the revolution, was able to stand up and maintain its independence with dignity.

The Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador, its members and leaders, pay homage to the memory of Fidel Castro, Comandante of the Cuban Revolution; We express our heartfelt condolences to the people of Cuba and their leaders and we believe that all of Fidel’s courageous legacy in his revolutionary actions will be maintained and developed for the advance of their social achievements and social justice.

Political Bureau of the Central Committee

November 27, 2016

ICMLPO: Communiqué on the Death of Fidel Castro

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On January 1 1959 the Cuban revolution triumphed. Several years of guerrilla struggle waged in the mountains of the Island, courageous fights of the working class, youth and people developed in the cities culminated in victory. Ninety miles from Yankee imperialism, the Cuban revolutionaries broke with the thesis of “geographic fatalism” according to which, because of the proximity of the United States, It was not possible to make the revolution in Latin America.

The achievements of the Revolution, the agrarian reform, the nationalization of all the US enterprises, the eradication of illiteracy, the health care and education involved the working masses and the youth; these awakened the solidarity of the workers and peoples of the world, especially of Latin America. They pointed the way to the armed revolutionary struggle. But they also unleashed the hatred of international reaction, the war-like actions of the United States, the invasion of Playa Giron {Bay of Pigs] and hundreds of terrorist actions, the trade embargo, which failed, over almost sixty years, due to the heroic resistance of the Cuban people and revolutionaries.

The heroic deeds of the workers and peasants, of the Cuban youth was able to develop and led to victory with the defeat of the tyranny and the establishment of people’s power. It succeeded in promoting the achievements, social and economic transformations and resisting and overcoming all sorts of attacks by imperialism and reaction. All this was possible due to the formation and forging of a revolutionary party, the July 26th Movement, which was able to adopt correct and timely guidelines, which was able to lead the social and political forces to struggle and victory. Among the members of the revolutionary command were many political and military leaders, Camilo Cienfuegos, Che, Frank Pais, Raul Castro. Among all of them, Comandante FIDEL CASTRO stood out as the leader, who participated actively and directly from the first combats, playing the role of organizer, strategist, popular leader and head of state.

Social revolutions are the work of the masses, but they could not be possible without the guidance of the revolutionary leaders who arise in the heat of combat but who achieve dimensions that determine the course and development of the processes.

The workers and peasants, youth, revolutionaries, the “July 26” Movement, the revolutionary commanders and Comandante Fidel Castro led a popular revolution that took place in a small country that confronted the strongest power on the planet and was able to resist.

Fidel Castro died fulfilling his duties and responsibilities. His words and deeds throughout his long life as a combatant will endure, they constitute the testimony of the courage and tenacity of a people, they express the convictions and commitment of a revolutionary.

The Marxist Leninist Parties and Organizations integrated in the ICMLPO express their communist sentiments to the working class, the people and the Cuban revolutionaries.

November 2016
Coordinating Committee of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations, ICMLPO

Che Guevara on Anti-Imperialism

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“We said that each time a country is liberated it is a defeat for the world imperialist system. But we must agree that the break is not achieved by the mere act of proclaiming independence or winning an armed victory in a revolution. It is achieved when imperialist economic domination over a people is brought to an end. Therefore, it is a matter of vital interest to the socialist countries for a real break to take place. And it is our international duty, a duty determined by our guiding ideology, to contribute our efforts to make this liberation as rapid and deep-going as possible.”

 – Ernesto “Che” Guevara, “At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria”

Guevaraism: the Theory of the Guerrilla Elite

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An analysis of the theories of Regis Debray as propounded in “Revolution in the Revolution?”, and their relevance to the revolutionary struggle in Latin America.

By Cmde MS on behalf of MLOB.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN Red Vanguard Volume 1, 1968

THE THEORY OF THE GUERRILLA ELITE
Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION
BOURGEOIS OUTLOOK AND SPONTANEITY
CLASS ANALYSIS IN SOUTH AMERICA: THE “THIRD” WAY
THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL – THE MAXIMUM LEADER -FIDELISM
THE “FOCO” AS SUBSTITUTE FOR THE PROLETARIAN PARTY
PEOPLE’S WAR WITHOUT THE PEOPLE
“LEFT” AND RIGHT IN LATIN AMERICA
ASSESSMENT OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION

Introduction

Regis Debray, a “private student of revolutionary theory and practice,” has written a book which purports to offer a “third way” to revolution. It is a “third way” which all Marxist-Leninists have hitherto failed to perceive, a “scientific truth” awaiting its release at the hands of this roving French philosophy student fresh from the cloisters of the “Ecole Normale Superieure.”

In their introduction to this book, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, the American sponsors of Debray, claim that the revolution in Latin America:

“will not and cannot follow one or another of the patterns, traced out by the two great revolutionary upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century. The Latin American revolution is taking a third way, the first stages of which already been revealed in the Cuban experience.”

(“Revolution in the Revolution?” Penguin Books, 1968)

On the basis of this claim for a “third way,” these American liberals with a touch of rouge on their cheeks rush to proclaim the ultimate outcome of this breach in the wall of proletarian hegemony, the anti-Marxist-Leninist content of the loquacious petty-bourgeoisie of our time: that “still other revolutionary patterns may be possible” – ranging from the Yugoslav to the Chinese variants of the new syndicalism.

Debray’s book seeks to lay the basis for such radical revisions by spurning Marxist-Leninist theory in every one of its essential tenets: replacing proletarian hegemony and discipline by petty-bourgeois hegemony and anarchical relations, replacing class by individuals, proletarian parties by “focos” of undisciplined petty bourgeois insurectionists, historical materialism by naïve mechanical materialism, scientific analysis by sweeping presumptiousness.

Like countless other renegade products which attack Marxism-Leninism, this book has been received favourably by the bourgeoisie. In that it offers a way to “make revolution” from scratch, learning by the simple empirical process of trial and error and rejecting the Marxist-Leninist scientific method of the universality of contradiction and the unity of theory and practice, it serves them well. For if the “third way” of Debray were to remain unchallenged and be applied in practice, it would result in the most tragic setbacks and useless losses to the revolutionary cause in Latin America.

Indeed, the Bolivian adventure which cost Debray his liberty and Guevara his life was merely the latest in a long series of defeats and annihilations for which the addicts of spontaneity who exist in the national liberation fronts of many Latin American countries are responsible. It is for this reason that it is essential to deal with Debray’s claims in some detail. On the first page we read:

“One began by identifying the guerrilla struggle (in Cuba – Ed.) with insurrection because the archetype – 1917 – had taken this form, and because Lenin and later Stalin had developed several theoretical formulas (sic) based on it – formulas which have nothing to do with the present situation and which are periodically debated in vain, such as those which refer to conditions for the outbreak of an insurrection, meaning an immediate assault on the central power.”

(Ibid.-p.19)

NOTE: Because Debray’s “theories” have been endorsed by the Cuban leadership and because he uses the term “we” throughout his text, references to Debary and the Cuban leadership are interchangeable, except where otherwise specified.

No doubt we are supposed to be eternally grateful for Mr. Debray’s clarification of Lenin on the “formulas” for an insurrection, i.e, “an immediate assault on the central power.” This statement is to set the tone for disclaiming Leninism by alluding to Lenin as someone who, from 1900 to 1917, contributed nothing to the struggle in Russia but the cry “insurrection” without any of the detailed handiwork which Debray claims as his own discovery.

Unfortunately, of course, Mr Debray has not understood Lenin, or Marxism, on this elementary point. The involved and rich experience, of the tactics and strategy of “making revolution” the Marxist-Leninist way are a closed book to Debray (as a student of bourgeois philosophy still in his early twenties, this is not surprising) who assumes throughout that such wild and unqualified statements, can serve as the starting point for his even wilder flights of innovation around them.

Lenin and Stalin remain (despite the distortions of petty-bourgeois innovators such as Debray who wish not to see that which deflates the balloon of their pretentiousness) the most notable of those few proletarian leaders who have successfully led the working people through to the seizure of state power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is distinct from that seizure of power by the national bourgeoisie in alliance with the peasantry, usurping the leading role of the proletariat, which masquerades as “the dictatorship of the proletariat” in some corners of the globe – and to the building of socialism. Given this historically unique position, we can assume that the definitions and experiences of Lenin and Stalin, hold important lessons for us in establishing further theoretical and practical bases of proletarian dictatorship without which there can be no socialism – in our respective countries.

In every fundamental essential, Debray betrays not only his divergence from these principles, but his total ignorance of them.

BOURGEOIS OUTLOOK AND SPONTANEITY

When he deals in detail with the specific conditions in the countries of the Latin American continent, he refers to the divisions existing between the revisionists and trotskyites in the liberation fronts of these countries. These divisions, which have been responsible for many defeats – notably the failure of the Cuban general strike in 1958 – Debray seeks to solve, by going over to the purely military front and brushing ideological and political questions aside. He ignores the fact that leadership involves the clarification of a line in theory and the consolidation of the forces around that theory in action. Lenin subjected anti-Marxist-Leninist theory and practice to a ruthless critique on every front, this struggle bearing fruit in the undisputed leading role of the Bolsheviks at the crucial turning points in the Russian revolution. Debray seeks to cancel out the role of theory and to advocate some kind of idealised and subjectivised “action” as the unfailing panacea guaranteeing victory. He quotes petty detail after petty detail, generalises them to the level of the universal in order to justify his “revolutionary” theories revising a whole arsenal of genuine revolutionary theory painstakingly accumulated throughout a century or so of arduous struggle by valiant proletarian fighters the world over.

Not once does he justify his claims against Marxist-Leninist theory – we are presented merely with surface details and Debray’s own brand of arrogant ignorance of the harsh facts of the struggle against imperialism. Thus, in justification of the “spontaneous inevitable progress of history”:

“The reverses suffered by the Latin American revolutionary movement are truly minor if one measures them in terms of the short period of time which is the prologue to the great struggles of tomorrow, if we take into account the fact that the few years which have passed correspond to that period of ‘takeoff’ and re-adjustment through which all revolutions must go in their early stages. Indeed, what seems surprising is that guerrilla movements have been able to survive so many false starts and so many errors, some inevitable and others not. According to Fidel, that is the astonishing thing, and it proves the extent to which the movement is impelled by history. In fact, we must speak not, so much of defeat as of a certain explicable stagnation and lack of rapid development, the consequences of, among other things the inevitable blunders and errors at this stage of exploration, of revolutionary conceptions and methods which are new, (our emphasis – Ed.) in spite of their deceptive kinship with other international experiences. . . .Of all these false starts, the Latin American is the most, “innocuous.”

(p.23)

This “innocuous” record has involved the annihilation of “half a hundred revolutionary organisations” on the Latin American continent, since the Fidelista upsurge!

On an even more alarming scale, on page 2 the cry of the petty bourgeois intellectual reveals itself in full swing in its justification of spontaneity, taken to the lengths of advocating the pleasures and benefits of a blissful ignorance of theory. In this assertion, Debray is typical of the worst philistine intellectual who steeps himself in book learning but condescends to the “masses” in their ignorance – in such a way he seeks to preserve the prestige of learning which can only stand up when contrasted with the “low level” of the masses. Anathema to Debray are the forces of the organised proletariat with their developed theory:

“One may well consider it a stroke of good luck that Fidel had not read the military writings of Mao Tse-tung before disembarking on the coast of Oriente; he could thus invent, on the spot and out of his own experience, principles of a military doctrine in conformity with the terrain. … all the theoretical works on people’s war do as much harm as good. (This includes General Giap, Lenin! –Ed). They have been called the grammar books of the war. But a foreign language is learned faster in a country where it must be spoken than at home studying a language manual.”

(p.20-21).

And, when dealing with the dangers of “imitation from past experiences”:

“All the more reason to remain aware of the inversion of which we are victims when we read theoretical works.”

(p.59).

So, we have here the claim that theoretical knowledge is a hindrance and that spontaneous “trial and error” is the only guide to revolutionary action. Likewise, political struggles through programmes, fronts, alliances – the essential and inevitable shifts and deployments of forces in the complex struggle to win the working people for revolution are not necessary. Those who claim they are,

“… believe that revolutionary awareness and organisation must and can in every case precede revolutionary action.”

(p.82)

This is carried to the lengths of noting (we presume with favour – otherwise why point it out?):

“A significant detail: during two years of warfare, Fidel did not hold a single political rally in his zone of operations.”

(p.53).

Thus we are dealing with a defence of spontaneity, (a spontaneity which yet Debray makes a show of criticising in others) where spontaneity takes as its fundamental precept:

“.. the armed struggle of the masses against imperialism is capable of creating by itself, in the long run, a vanguard capable of leading the peoples to socialism.”

(p.126).

CLASS ANALYSIS IN SOUTH AMERICA: THE “THIRD” WAY

In order to justify his anti-Marxist-Leninist theories, Debray has to claim a “unique” class situation in Latin America:

“… the irony of history has willed, by virtue of the social situation of many Latin American countries, the assignment of precisely this vanguard role to students and revolutionary intellectuals, who have had to unleash, or rather to initiate, the highest forms of class struggle.”

(p.21)

No doubt his studies at the Ecole did not include a syllabus on Marxism-Leninism. Debray, is about to proceed upon the unfolding of his “new” theories of revolution, applicable only to Latin America:

Firstly, that the leading instigating role of the intellectuals and students is unique. From this assumption he intends to demonstrate, that a new concept of the vanguard, a “foco” (a small band of guerrillas with allegiance to one “leader”) follows logically, and from this that the normal political channels should be ignored and give place to armed struggle as an end in itself.

However, his claim for uniqueness of situation in Latin America is a red herring raised in order to conceal his anti-proletarian, thoroughly bourgeois thinking. For in Russia the revolutionary students and intellectuals also initiated the struggle against imperialism and capitalism: it was they who formulated the theory of the vanguard party and the strategy of the world’s first proletarian revolution. And it is here that we come to the crux of the difference between those petty-bourgeois forces which, when declassed and pushed into the ranks of the working class, overcome their bourgeois thinking and thoroughly embrace the proletarian world view and its revolutionary struggle; and those who fail to identify themselves with the aims and aspirations of the majority class. These latter merely use their new class position to air their own minority grievances against capitalism, objectively striving to climb back to their former class position, sowing confusion and propagating theories in the process which act against the tide of revolutionary struggle.

There are of course, vast differences between the aims of those intellectuals who led the way in Russia and the aims of those in Latin America who advance Debray to be their spokesman. The intellectuals in Russia worked for the hegemony of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and, as its necessary preliminary, in the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Debray and those he represents, are that section of the petty bourgeoisie which stand for the hegemony of bourgeois ideology and the petty bourgeois forces, not for a socialist revolution and not even for the final victory and, consolidation of the national democratic revolution. For in the epoch of imperialism, this can only be led by the proletariat in alliance with the poor and middle peasantry if it is to be consolidated and is to prepare the around for the transition to the socialist revolution. The petty bourgeois and bourgeois view is for the holding of the revolutionary process at the stage of the national democratic revolution, in order that the groundwork for capitalism may be sown and the path towards the re-incorporation of the nation into the imperialist sphere once again be laid. They seek to prevent that national democratic revolution from being turned into the stream which feeds the proletarian revolution by crying “against dictatorship,” “against bureaucracy,” thus serving the interests of the national bourgeoisie.

And so, Debray’s claims that his “third way” is the new form of worker-peasant revolutionary alliance:

“What gives the guerrilla movement the right to claim this political responsibility as its own and for itself alone? The answer is: that class alliance which it alone can achieve, the alliance that will take and administer power, the alliance whose interests are those of socialism – the alliance between workers and peasants. The guerrilla army is a confirmation in action of this alliance; it is the personification of it alone can guarantee that the people’s power will not be perverted after victory.”

And

“… This progressive petty bourgeoisie must… commit suicide as a class in order to be restored to life as revolutionary workers, totally identified with the deepest aspirations of their people.”

(p.111).

Yet despite these claims, we find that the real picture is very different.

In order to make his thesis workable Debray has to provide the vanguard leadership without which this class alliance cannot be consolidated. He performs this conjuring trick by taking the current “left” revisionist emphasis on the countryside in opposition to the cities, to its most illogical conclusion to date: all who live in cities are bourgeois, all who live in the mountains are proletarian, and hegemony in the struggle belongs to the petty bourgeois rural guerrillas who become the vanguard “proletariat” of Debray’s imagination.

This is one of his more remarkable “additions” to Marxist-Leninist theory:

“….As we know, the mountain proletarianises the bourgeois and peasant elements, and the city can bourgeoisify the proletarians, The tactical conflicts that are bound to arise, the differences in the evaluation and line, conceal a class conflict, in which the interests of the proletariat are not, paradoxically enough, on the side which one would expect. It was possible to resolve these conflicts rapidly in Cuba, and the advance towards socialism was undertaken as quickly as it was after taking power because Fidel, from the first day, demanded, won, and defended hegemony for the rural guerrillas” (our emphasis – Ed; p.75).

He quotes approvingly Guevara’s muddled thesis in the same vein:

“These differences (ie, between the plain (the town) and the sierra (the countryside) – Ed.) go deeper than tactical divergences. The Rebel Army is already ideologically proletarian and, thinks like a dispossessed class; the city remains petty bourgeois, contains future traitors among its leaders, and is very influenced by the milieu in which it develops.”

(Guevara , quoted by Debray on p.77).

In this strange system of Marxism, the city, wherein labour and toil, the wage slaves of capitalism, has thus been conveniently disposed of to make way for leadership by that more revolutionary the petty bourgeoisie!

In further imaginative vein, the “back to nature” aspirations of the dilettante petty-bourgeois fleeing from the terrors of the era of machinofacture and proletarian organisation are eulogised:

“Such are the mental reactions of a bourgeois, and any man, even a comrade, who spends his life in a city is unwittingly bourgeois in comparison with a guerrillero…. Not to have any means of subsistence except what you yourself can produce, with your own hands (? – We read elsewhere in his treatise that equipment and supplies were pilfered in raids on villages – MS-Ed) starting from nature in the raw. … The city dweller lives as a consumer. As, long as he has some cash in his pocket, it suffices for his daily needs.”

(p.68)

“Nothing like getting out to realise to what extent these lukewarm incubators (the cities – Ed.) make one infantile and bourgeois. In the first stages of life in the mountains, in the seclusion of the so-called virgin forest life is simply a daily battle in its smallest detail: especially is it a battle within the guerrillero himself to overcome his old habits, to erase the marks left on his body by the incubator – his weakness.”

(p.69)

Really, Mr Debray – speak for yourself! No doubt it is a delightful element of “free choice” for the coddled petty bourgeois to remove himself temporarily to the more ascetic hardship of the mountains! But even capitalist economists have had to acknowledge that the daily lot of the proletarian is one which requires him to sell his birthright, his freedom, his expectancy of life precisely in order to obtain that little “cash in his pocket” without which he would be too dead to have any “daily needs!”

Also, in magical vein, we are told that:

“Under these conditions (guerrilla experience Ed) class egoism does not long endure.. Petty bourgeois psychology melts like under a summer sun ..”

(p.110).

Would that this were so!

From a reference he makes to Castro on the subject of the inherent qualities of “the people” we can draw only the conclusion that the term refers to the peasantry alone (p.112). And of course this is as it must be, for despite the loud claims, these theories bear absolutely no relation to the proletariat whatsoever.

The fig-leaf cover required to normalise this petty bourgeois leadership and masquerade it under the false cloak of a “worker-peasant alliance” leading to socialism was the verbal trick of claiming that a handful of petty bourgeois guerrillas, through their relationship to their “means of production” in the rural environment – the “dispossessed class” – were the proletariat leading the peasantry.

This makes the formula complete. But no amount of verbal juggling can make these theories any other than what they really are –

Namely, the laying of the foundations of the dictatorship of the national bourgeoisie in Latin America with all the jargon that goes with it:

  • the abstract and classless theory of “armed revolution”;
  • the purely military “foco”;
  • the primacy of spontaneity and,
  • the overall aim of “the happiness of the people” divorced from any concrete class analysis.

A typical petty bourgeois phenomenon is the spurning of class analysis and political theory. The bourgeoisie has its class theory, just as the proletariat has. But the petty bourgeoisie has no independent ideology because it is a transitional class, a virtual hybrid ideologically – part bourgeois and part proletarian in its advocacy of ideology according to the fortunes of which major class appears likely to benefit it most. That is the reason for the sweeping idealist phrases which are utterly classless. It therefore vacillates opportunistically, avoiding the statement of a political position because it does not know at any one stage in the movement of class struggle which side it will need to be on.

Thus the claims of the Debrayists are not new. Always and everywhere they have been part of the arsenal of the petty bourgeoisie in attempting to further their social and class aims – and they are theories which are inimical to the hopes and aspirations of the only truly revolutionary class, the proletariat; theories which at root and beneath the libertarian cover are nothing but a vicious attack on the proletariat and its class mission.

THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL – THE MAXIMUM LEADER – FIDELISM

If the character of the theories we have outlined are correct, it will follow that, in place of proletarian discipline and democratic centralism, petty bourgeois individuality will be enthroned. And this is so. We read:

“The city, Fidel says, ‘is a cemetery of revolutionaries and resources’… A leader cannot go down to the city to attend a political meeting: he has the politicos come up to discuss and make decisions in a safe place up above: otherwise he sends an emissary. Which presupposes, in the first place, recognition of his role as responsible leader, the willingness to give him the resources with which to exercise his leadership – if not, he takes them himself. It implies, above all, the adoption of an open and explicit strategy.”

(p.67).

“This reconstitution (of the “party” Ed.) requires the temporary suspension of ‘internal’ party democracy and the temporary abolition of the principles of democratic centralism which guarantee it.”

(p.101).

Furthermore, the conventional party only brings with it “the plethora of commissions, secretariats, congresses, plenary sessions, meetings etc”. These are the cause of “the vice of excessive deliberation” which “hampers executive, centralised and vertical methods, combined with the large measure of tactical independence of subordinate groups which is demanded in the conduct of military operations (p.101).

In other words, discipline and organisation, which are the main manifestations of proletarian organisation, ‘hamper’ the freedoms of the petty bourgeois leaders, who wish to answer to no strata or section of the population – and indeed, by their very hybrid class position, do not directly represent any. To these military adventurists, the primacy of political struggle which is supplemented by military struggle, is the source of all evils. It brings with it the necessity for disciplined leadership, political discussion of strategy, the difficult work of actually involving the working people in struggle. All these tasks are anathema to the Debrayists and their foolhardy bands of “trial and error” revolutionaries.

But we have only proceeded a little way in our analysis.

We have now to deal with the real reason why Debray has thought it necessary to throw all previous historical experience overboard, to decry and reject any lessons from the revolutions of Russia, China and Vietnam, the theories of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; to throw the leading role of the proletarian party overboard. It is because:

“In Cuba, military (operational) and political leadership have been combined in one man: Fidel Castro.”

(p.96)

It is because of:

“the line of action of which Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, is the incarnation.”

(p.119)

Throughout the text is peppered with glowing references to “Fidel says,” rather like the childrens’ nursery rhyme. Thus, speaking again of “the leader” and his qualities:

“In brief, no detail is too small for a politico-military chief: everything rests on details – on a single detail – and he himself must supervise them all.”

(p.89)

What a staggering piece of nonsense! In contradistinction to even the Blanquists, who claimed that a small elite could liberate the people, we have the ridiculous adolescent hero-worship that one man – one “maximum-leader,” the “incarnation,” is our hope for socialism. Mr. Debray claims with pride that this leader, combining all qualities,” is the startling innovation that has been introduced” into the theory of Marxism-Leninism. We must indeed confess ourselves startled at such a turn of events – when the personal feelings of a twenty-year old whose transference to maturity had been stunted inside the portals of a bourgeois temple of philosophy – are put forward as the basis for a world-view involving the fate of millions!

But it would appear that in the sierras under the sway of “Fidelism,” in place of the proletarian party and its healthy collective discipline, that body representing the best qualities of a class, such inverted and ingrown petty bourgeois acts of hero worship are commonplace. For Guevara himself, on the basis of his experiences with Fidel, stated that “the aim is for all qualities to be united if possible, in one person.” This maximum leader,” as the world knows, has not been slow to bask in the limelight of glory and rise to the heights of demagogy which this mystical cult has presented to him.

Thus we are dealing with an idealisation of the petty bourgeoisie, an idealisation which can only finish up in extremely deep water.

And it does, for such baseless hero-worship and unquestioned allegiance to one “leader” is the very essence of bourgeois class thinking, when confronted with the problem of misleading and subjugating vast social forces for its own ends. It represents a crisis in the leadership of a historically obsolescent class when the normal, logical, although unequal, system of maintaining its power is threatened from below. This initial demagogy of the “maximum leader” often appears too ridiculous to take seriously. But beneath it, lies the sabre of a force which is responsible to no constitution, to no labour laws, no checks by the working people, no power other than to itself. All too often it has finally resulted in bloodbaths not only involving the working class but any other strata which have got in the way of a totally destructive and anarchic force.

The seeds of such theories of an independent armed force, are present in the thinking of the Debrayist petty bourgeoisie:

“It has been proved that for the training of revolutionary cadres the people’s war is more decisive than political activity without guerrilla experience. Leaders of vision in Latin America today are young, lacking in long political experience prior to joining up with the guerrillas. It is ridiculous to continue to oppose ‘political cadres’ to ‘military cadres’, ‘political leadership’ to ‘military leadership’. Pure ‘politicians’ who want to remain pure – cannot lead the armed struggle of the people; pure ‘military men’ can do so, and by the experience acquired in leading a guerrilla group, they become ‘politicians’ as well. The experience of Cuba and, more recently, of Venezuela, Guatemala, and other countries demonstrate that people – even petty bourgeois or peasants – are more quickly and more completely moulded by experience of guerrilla warfare than by an equal amount of time spent in a training school for cadres – a consequence, as far as men are concerned, of the essentially and totally political character of guerrilla warfare.”

(p. 88-89).

This dominant military force will be naturally, young – since the old are, well – they are “alas… old” and worn out:

“In Latin America, wherever armed struggle is the order of the day, there is a close tie between biology and ideology. However absurd or shocking this relationship may seem, it is none the less a decisive one. An elderly man, accustomed to city living, (do workers retire at the age of 40? – MS-Ed) moulded by other circumstances and goals, will not easily adjust himself to the mountain nor – though this is less so – to underground activities. In addition to the moral factor – conviction – physical fitness is the most basic of all skills needed for waging guerrilla war; the two factors go hand in hand. A perfect Marxist education is not, at the outset, an imperative condition. That an elderly man should be proven militant – and possess a revolutionary training – is not, alas, sufficient for coping with guerrilla existence, especially in the early stages. Physical aptitude is the prerequisite for all other aptitudes (?? – MS-Ed); a minor point of limited theoretical appeal, but the armed struggle appears to have a rationale of which theory knows nothing”.

(p. 101)

Thus it is brawn, not the creative brain; political ignorance, not understanding; youth and fitness, not experience which constitutes Debray’s “master race” of revolution.

Such is the demagogy which wears the mask of “Marxism.” It is this monstrous deformation which results from the failure to build a vanguard party based firmly on the alliance between the working class and peasantry in the conditions of a national democratic struggle. For with this party denigrated, with the proletarian role usurped and the peasantry dragged in as fodder to back up and strengthen the inherently vacillating national bourgeoisie, the net result can only be, once foreign imperialist domination is overthrown, the imposition of the dictatorship of this national bourgeoisie fully confirmed in its class role – a national bourgeoisie forced to adopt the fascist-type “maximum leader” principle in order to maintain its hold over the vast masses of the people and obtain its surplus value from an underdeveloped economic system by screwing up the rate of exploitation – free from the bugbear of any organised opposition and defence by the working people of their own interests.

This is precisely the same demagogy which we see today stretching from China to Indonesia and Cuba: with the party of the proletariat destroyed, the national bourgeoisie walks into its repressive role, and the proletariat is denigrated viciously as “a bourgeois force” in order to cover up the real bourgeois nature of these leaders. There is an exact parallel with the Chinese national bourgeoisie and its assumed “leftism”: the “‘cultural revolution,” which aims to destroy the proletarian vanguard party.

THE “FOCO” AS SUBSTITUTE FOR THE PROLETARIAN PARTY

We have already had a pretty rounded introduction to the theories of Debray.

It comes as no surprise therefore, that for Debray the Marxist-Leninist theory of the vanguard party of the proletariat, must give place to yet another unique contribution to “Marxism-Leninism”; that is, the theory of the immaculate conception, or the spontaneous begetting, of the vanguard nucleus.

Thus:

“The vanguard party can exist in the form of the guerrilla foco itself. The guerrilla force is this party in embryo. This is the staggering novelty introduced by the Cuban Revolution.”

(p.105)

“The people’s army will be the nucleus of the party, not vice-versa. The guerrilla force is the political vanguard in nuce, and from its development a real party can arise …. That is why at the present juncture, the principal stress must be laid on the development of guerrilla warfare and not on the strengthening of existing parties or the creation of new parties.”

(p.115).

“Eventually the future People’s Army will beget the party of which it is to be, theoretically the instrument: essentially the party is the army.”

(p.105).

Just as a vanguard party is not necessary in the struggle, one can also dispense with political education of the mass of the-working people:

“(the system of political commissars)… does not appear to correspond to Latin American reality. … The people’s army is its own political authority. The guerrilleros play both roles indivisibly. Its commanders are political instructors for the fighters, its political instructors are its’ commanders.”

(p.114).

For in place of the scientific truths of Marxism-Leninism, we are offered a set of maxims mouthed parrot-like by “revolutionaries” whose proudest claim is their rejection of the historical experience of the revolutionary peoples in struggle and their philistine ability to “invent,” on the spot, ‘the great truths, which are hereinafter valid for all time:

“In many countries of America the guerrilla force has frequently been called the ‘armed fist’ of a liberation front, in order to indicate its dependence on a patriotic front or on a party. This expression, copied from models elaborated elsewhere – principally in Asia – is at bottom, contrary to the maxim of Camilo Cienfuegos: ‘The rebel army is the people in uniform’.”

(p.65)

What duplicity. A handful of petty bourgeois adventurers, who are a law unto themselves, constituting a “foco” which preserves its independence from the people because the mass of the people “contain many potential betrayers of the revolution,” are put up as the true representatives of the workers’ and peasants’ best interests, as the substitute for a party of the working masses. Such are the lengths to which these arrogant petty bourgeois will go in their task of attacking the fundamental and only guide to action of the masses, in whatsoever corner of the globe: the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism.

And, of course, Debray, in addition to his ignorance of Marxism or Leninism, is completely at sea on the facts of the Cuban revolution and its outcome, as we shall see in more detail later. Suffice it here to say that he is under the totally erroneous impression that the “theories” he claims to have unearthed, were actually borne out in practice:

“Around this nucleus, and only because it already had its own politico-military leadership, other political forces have been able to assemble and unite, forming what is today the Communist party of Cuba, of which both the base and the head continue to be made up of comrades from the guerrilla army. The Latin American revolution and its vanguard, the Cuban Revolution, have thus made a decisive contribution to international revolutionary experience and to Marxism-Leninism.”

(p.105)

Obviously no one has told him that so weak, so undisciplined and so politically inept was this guerrilla force when faced with the directly political tasks of managing a “state of the working people” that its first action was to call in the aid of the revisionist Popular Socialist Party, a party which had played a completely traitorous role in the struggle against Batista, to help them man the heights of political power.

Debray devotes a good percentage of his book to attacks on those revisionists (such as of the Popular Socialist Party) – attacks which are justified to a certain extent – but what cannot be justified is his attempt to make of the sell-out which the Cuban revolution was to become a model of “Marxism-Leninism”, every unprincipled turn of which must be copied throughout the Latin American continent.

When the Cuban leadership granted Mr. Debray full facilities to study the Cuban revolution and its history that is, employed him to embroider a myth and bury the facts they chose wisely. They chose a representative of that privileged section of the petty bourgeoisie which devotes all its time and energies to the renegade task of attempting to destroy the only theory and practice which can liberate all the oppressed social classes by a revolution which will end for ever the unequal privilege whereby those who create wealth and culture are robbed by those who make of it a reactionary metaphysical mystique.

PEOPLE’S WAR WITHOUT THE PEOPLE

We begin, as usual, with a claim of uniqueness for the Latin American situation.

The discovery of this “new” path has led to many errors, but these are inevitable “at this stage of exploration, of revolutionary conceptions and methods which are new in spite of their deceptive kinship with other international experiences” (p.23). The aim of the armed foco is to build up “through guerrilla warfare carried out in suitably chosen rural zones a more mobile strategic force, nucleus of a people’s army and future socialist state” (p.25).

Of course this armed spontaneity diverges radically from all other successful experiences to date – and, naturally, has met with innumerable failures. Therefore, we have to have a scapegoat. Upon this scapegoat are blamed residual “imported” errors, that explain the “inevitable” errors on the “new” path. He makes this scapegoat, the dangerous “imported political conceptions” of Vietnam and elsewhere, with such out-of-context claims as the “subjection of the guerrilla force to the party” (p.25) contentions, which are not applicable to the “historical and social conditions peculiar to Latin America.” (p.56)

He notes that:

“… in Vietnam, the Communist Party was the organisational nucleus from which and around which the people’s army developed.”

(p.47).

But:

“Differences between Vietnam and Latin America lead to the following contrast: whereas in Vietnam the military pyramid of the liberation forces is built from the base up, in Latin America on the other hand, it tends to be built from the apex down; the permanent forces first (the foco), then the semi-regular forces in the vicinity of the foco, and lastly or after victory (Cuba) the militia.”

(p.50)

Of course, such a radical turning on its head is not clarified in any way. It is simply taken for granted.

Another “irrelevant” theory to Debray, employed as it has been in all the successful national liberation struggles of our time, is that the guerrilla forces should aim to be so integrally a part of the people that they remain unnoticed “like a fish in water”;

“The occupation and control of rural areas by reaction or directly by imperialism, their vigilance today greatly increase should rid a given group of armed propagandists of all hope remaining unnoticed like a fish in water’.”

(p.51)

And another “unique” point:

“Let us not forget, that the class enemy carries out selective assassination on a large scale in Latin America – kill the leaders and leave the rest alive.”

(p.66)

Really, Mr Debray, one would think from such a statement that imperialist oppression itself is completely unique to Latin America. Yes this elitist militarist theory is nonsense.

It has been put forward in order to cover up the essential heresy which lies beneath the claims to a “people’s army”; by inventing a uniqueness which prevents the application of the theory of people war, as it is understood by all genuine representatives of the working people, it is hoped to cover up the fact that this was the work of a handful of insurgents who bear no relationship whatsoever to the real aspirations and political requirements of the forces in struggle against imperialism.

In a vulgarisation of the role of the guerrilla we read:

“It must have the support of the masses or disappear; before enlisting them directly, it must convince them that there are valid reasons for its existence so that the ‘rebellion’ will truly be – by the manner of its recruitment and the origins, its fighters a ‘war of the people.”‘

(p.46)

and:

“….. the only conceivable line for a guerrilla group to adopt is the mass line; it can live only with their support, in daily contact with them.”

(p.110)

But behind this thin “mass line” lies the real reason why Debray has found it necessary to reject the experience of people’s war in Vietnam, Laos, etc. It is a reason which completely removes the class basis and pins his theory down as a justification of the individualism, instability and shallowness of the petty bourgeoisie. For Debray rejects the concept of a fixed base of support, i.e. a mass-base amongst the people, for individualistic nomadism, without any social base.

“the guerrilla base is, according to an expression of Fidel, the territory within which the guerrilla happens to be moving; it goes where he goes. In the initial stage the base of support is in the guerrilla fighter’s knapsack.”

(p.64)

“During the first stage (of the guerrilla war Ed.), clearly the hardest to surmount and the most exposed to all sorts of accidents, the initial group experiences at the outset a period of absolute nomadism.”

(p.31)

A fine “people’s war,” one of the main aims of its elitist liberating mission being to achieve independence from the people (as opposed to the Marxist-Leninist thesis of the necessity to build the revolutionary independence of the working people from their exploiters):

“The revolutionary guerrilla force is clandestine. It is born and develops secretly. The fighters themselves use pseudonyms. At the beginning they keep out of sight, and when they allow themselves to be seen it is at a time and place chosen by their chief (sic). The guerrilla force is independent of the civilian population in action as well as in military organisation; consequently it need not assume the direct defence of the peasant population.”

(p.41).

With a further display of arrogant elitism and incredible lack of faith in the forces they claim to represent, we read:

“Constant vigiliance, constant mistrust, constant mobility – the three golden rules. All three are concerned with security. Various considerations of common sense necessitate wariness towards the civilian population and the maintenance of a certain aloofness. By their very situation (? MS-Ed) civilians are exposed to repression and the constant presence and pressure of the enemy, who will attempt to buy them, corrupt them, or to extort from them by violence what cannot be bought… . ‘We hid our intentions from the peasants’, Che relates, and if once of them passed near the scene of an ambush, we held him until the operation was completed. This vigilance does not necessarily imply mistrust: a peasant may easily commit an indiscretion and even more easily, be subjected to torture.”

(p.43)

Thus the claim that these theories are a more highly developed form of “people’s war” begins to look slightly ludicrouswhen the guerilla foco is fighting not only the imperialist enemy but completely isolated from and antagonistic to the mass of the working people, and peasants, the only possible base in a people’s war against imperialism.

In this scheme of things the working people and peasantry serve merely as fodder for the adventurist, personally gratifying, military gambles of the unstable, dissatisfied petty bourgeoisie. We begin to see why the solidarity of the Vietnamese people in their genuine people’s war is anathema to the Debrayists, and why they constantly warn of the dangers of “imitating the Vietnamese experience.”

So Debray has disposed of the class base of a genuine revolutionary movement, of its wholehearted dedication to and identification with the exploited and oppressed classes;

Debray has disposed completely of the alliance of the two major oppressed classes, proletariat and peasantry, which when welded together into an invincible alliance, constitute the only force which can resolutely oppose and defeat imperialism by classing the proletarian forces of the cities as “bourgeoisie”;

Debray has cancelled out the role of political struggle by scorning the tasks of building a revolutionary movement around a programme, forging alliances, educating the people for struggle, organising, agitating propagating in the course of building this powerful force of the working masses, and revealed his thoroughly bourgeois content by ignoring the vital and indispensable role of the general staff of a revolution, its vanguard party;

And at the tail end of this rejection of all that constitutes a genuine revolutionary force, his guerrilla focos resemble nothing more than bandit groups, cut off from the oppressed people to such an extent, that at a certain stage of their reckless ill-conceived adventures they are forced to break the cardinal principle of genuine people’s war – never to steal the property of the workers and peasants by advocating raids – on villages for supplies:

“It is less risky and safer for a guerrilla group to make raids on neighbouring villages from its own base in order to obtain foodstuffs and field equipment.”

(p.70).

It is now quite clear why so many Fidelista focos have floundered and been wiped out. For by elevating guerrilla struggle (or their completely militarist inversion of it) to an end in itself, as opposed to a stage in the struggle which it really is, and by advocating that a handful of “dedicated determined men,” maintaining their aloofness from the vast mass of the working people, ignoring political questions” with the same blindness as mediaeval mystics, can overthrow the considerable might of imperialism, they cut the very ground from under their feet and lead those who follow them to almost certain defeat and massacre.

Debray claims that the great misconceptions which exist concerning the Cuban revolution are the reasons for so many failures in recent years on the Latin American continent. He claims his book is the vehicle which distils the true essence of that revolution and lays down its theory for the edification of all like-minded insurgents. It has been pointed out that the essence he has distilled, besides its dangerous implications, bears very little resemblance to the actual course of the Cuban revolution add the lessons which are to be learned from it.

We must therefore now look at that Cuban experience and distil from it our own essence – one which has been processed according to the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism.

“LEFT” AND RIGHT IN LATIN AMERICA

What is the fundamental malaise which is responsible for such anti-Marxist-Leninist rubbish as the Debray theories being purveyed with some seriousness in Latin America? It lies, surely, in the classic division between right and “left” which has – we now borrow Mr. Debray’s phrase – revealed itself in a very obvious form due to certain more heightened conditions in Latin America.

Debray takes as his point of departure the right revisionist betrayal over many decades in Latin America, and seeks to counter-pose his leftist theories as the way forward.

But whereas the right deviation seeks to tie the class forces of the proletariat and its allies to bourgeois ideology and practice in such a way as to transform the party into an instrument of foreign imperialism, the comprador bourgeoisie and the feudal reactionary classes;

Its leftist counterpart, the “left” revisionist deviation, also reflects, the influence of bourgeois ideology and practice within the class forces of the proletariat, but in this case adapted to the class needs of the national bourgeoisie.

The national bourgeoisie has an objective interest, at least for a time, in the victory of the national democratic revolution, but wishes to achieve that victory under its class leadership and not under that of the proletariat and its allies.

It therefore needs to make use of revolutionary phraseology, the best form of which is provided by the petty bourgeois left distortions of Marxism of which Debray’s teachings are typical.

These deviations are able to take an extreme and clear form within the contradictory framework of political institutions in Latin America. The apparently organic and established character of the state frameworks in most Latin American countries has resulted from the early formal independence won against Spanish colonial rule which resulted in an earlier development of semi-colonial forms of domination by USA imperialism. This has seduced the majority of the revisionist parties in those countries into believing that the doctrine of “peaceful transition” could be applied there without the disguise of leftist phraseology and lip service to guerrilla and other violent forms of struggle. As a consequence, right revisionist policies in Latin America have met with the most abject failure of any in the world, driving those parties, in a number of instances – the best known being that of Batista’s Cuba – to degenerate into direct, tools of foreign imperialism and indigenous comprador reaction.

This history of open right-revisionist betrayal and errors is the main factor determining the current swing to the “left” in a diametrically opposed direction. This history counterposes “peaceful legal advance without violence” and the militarist spontaneity of “military struggle without politics.”

It represents a classic manifestation of the spontaneous division between “left” and right. We say spontaneous, because these extremes occur in the vacuum-left, when genuine scientific analysis and the revolutionary leadership which results from it are lacking. A right deviation delivers the working people and peasantry helpless to the massacre of imperialist guns and without any means of defence. Whilst leftism provokes isolated violence and brings down the full force of imperialist violence on an inadequately steeled and prepared nucleus, divorced from the mass of the people but involving these forces in the bloodshed which accompanies their defeat.

These complementary deviations have wreaked havoc within the national liberation fronts of the Latin American continent and make more essential the return to a class analysis as the basis for a scientific theory of revolution.

Certain countries of the Latin American continent have been viewed by right revisionism as possessing sufficient formal trappings of democracy to justify a full programme based on electoral advance to socialism by peaceful means, such as Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica and Brazil.The remaining long-standing open dictatorships have necessitated right revisionist programmes of a more militant type, albeit singularly lacking in any guide to action to overthrow the repressive regimes, but relying on the hope that “democratic rights” would be established under restrained “mass pressure.” It is therefore to the statements of the Communist Parties of the former category that we should turn for the clearest expression of “parliamentarism” on the Latin American continent.

A reference to the Costa Rican Communist Party’s “competition” some years ago makes the right revisionist position very clear.

Here instead of the vanguard party thriving in a situation of heightened class struggle, we are presented with the novelty of a “vanguard party” which finds itself losing ground; when objective class struggle is seen as a nuisance factor which has interfered with the prime task of the ingrown little organism’s race to achieve a per capita paper representation in some imaginary “democratic institution” – whilst all comprehension of the realities of class remains blissfully outside its scope.

It does not require a very detailed knowledge of the situation Costa Rica to understand that the way to salvation of the Costa Rican working People does not lie through such “struggle” as advocated by the “Costa Rican People’s Vanguard”:

“A competition in the sphere of organisation, education, propaganda and finances has been conducted by the Party in five of the seven Provinces of Costa Rica. … Judging by the results it looked as if the target advanced by the Ninth Congress (doubling the membership) would be realised without much difficulty. However, unforeseen circumstances arose which hampered the work of building Party.

The first was the Caribbean Crisis last October and the wave of repressions that came in its wake. Our newspaper was banned and the activity of the Party was restricted in one way or another . . . .

Owing to the repressions in the Pacifico Sur party membership has shown no increase. However, despite these negative factors and the intensified repressions in connection with the talks between the presidents of the Central American countries and President Kennedy in March 1963, the competition conducted by the five provinces was, on the whole, satisfactory.. . . . .

It is clear to us that when international tension increases and the war danger grows, repressions are intensified and democratic liberties curtailed, and the growth of the Party slows down….Hence we are waging a constant struggle for peace, against the restriction of democratic freedoms.

This, of course, does not lead us to the opportunistic conclusion that we can fight and win only in conditions of legality and extensive utilisation of democratic rights. However, the fact remains that in the present conditions the most favourable climate for Party growth is international detente, since this makes it easier to defend the democratic gains of the working people.”

(Oscar Vargas: World Marxist Review: Oct 196,3; p.61-2).

The trite rejection of opportunism offered by Vargas does not invalidate the charge which any honest militant must make against such a grossly renegade strategy as is offered by the Costa Rican “vanguard.” For of course, such a logic is clear. Imperialism, class struggle, brings the threat of repression which hampers the work of building an electoral party in conditions of class peace. Therefore a status quo of peace between labour and capital is vital if this work of conservation, the buffer preventing class confrontation can go on.

The theme was repeated in Chile, the same reformist dreams of “The British Road to Socialism” being applied to a situation where striking workers were murdered, where any substantiation to the claim to a “democratic facade” had been ripped away a decade ago by the brutal dictatorship of Gonzalez Videla which outlawed the Communist Party and subjected it to persecutions all too familiar under the heel of open reaction, and where any democratic facade exists merely as a perfected weapon for ensuring the continuation of bourgeois dictatorship by drawing to its assistance in this conspiracy the renegade “leaders” of the working people.

Thus the Chilean Communist Party leadership hotly denied any revolutionary intentions ascribed to it:

“What is needed … is to secure a turn to the left in national policy. . . .

Through the medium of parliament, municipal councils and public meetings, the Party constantly advances and supports all projects and measures designed to benefit the people. Reactionaries in the ranks of the Christian Democrats accuse the Communists of seeking bring down the government in order to take its place. But the resolute stand taken by the Communists has demonstrated the baselessness of this and has shown that the Communists are prompted by neither opportunist nor narrow tactical considerations.”

(World Marxist Review: November 1965; p.47)

The whimpering denial of opportunism appears like a Judas mark in the programmes of these guilty men who commit every anti-proletarian crime it is possible to imagine given that they propose and preach class peace in a continent whose peoples subsist in indescribable conditions of brutalising poverty and misery. Yet with every increase in reactionary terror, the subservience of these handmaidens of the bourgeoisie increases in proportion. Each decisive parliamentary defeat, such as occurred in Chile in 1964, is followed by an ever more eager act of grovelling to an ever more contemptuous, corrupt, and confident bourgeoisie.

The Brazilian Communist Party, the leading mouthpiece of right revisionism in Latin America had a carefully mapped out plan for “utilising democratic rights and liberties.” In 1964 it was striving by means of a system of “structural reforms” to win power by:

“. . . establishing a national and democratic government and laying the groundwork for far-reaching changes that would ensure complete political and economic liberation and pave the way for socialism,”

believing that:

“the basic task of the vanguard forces in the struggle for structural reforms now is to build up the national and democratic movements. It is along these lines that we envisage the possibility of a peaceful revolution.”

(World Marxist Review: Jan 1964; p.22)

However, these hopes were not to be realised. The coup which overthrew Goulart in 1964 and installed the rule of the generals smashed the “democratic” illusions of these men of peace, and the naive veneer given to the theoretical estimation of the Party’s errors, attempts to draw attention from the fact that the leaders of the Brazilian Party, especially Prestes, are well versed enough in political manoeuvring not to suffer the lack of experience they claim. Thus, analysing the errors of the Communist Party:

“We ourselves had not been prepared politically and ideologically and had not prepared the masses to repulse the violence of reaction. As a result of a not altogether correct formulation of the Fifth Congress which took as its guidelines the thesis of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, we inaccurately assessed the possibilities of the ‘peaceful path’, seeing revolution as an idyllic process, free of clashes and conflicts.

Due to this incorrect assessment the leadership failed to see the danger signals. Instead of calling on the masses to fight the danger of a rightist coup, it continued to demand the holding of plebiscite.”

(C Prestes: World Marxist Review; June 1968; p-17).

“Although we sensed a certain tension (! Ed) we failed to act accordingly”.

(World Marxist Review, February 1965; p.28)

Despite the “self-criticism” of the above – conducted purely in the realm of the senses though it is – the conclusion of the right revisionists is a remarkable piece of un-dialectical nonsense. For the failure to prepare for violent struggle, to see through the bluff, of parliamentary ‘legality’, were mistakes of a “leftist” character!

“The Sixth Congress rejected the view that the main mistakes made by the Party were the consequence of a right deviation and noted that they were, on the contrary, mistakes of a leftist, putschist and petty bourgeois character.”

(C Prestes: World Marxist Review; June 1968; p.17)

This massacre of the truth is necessary because, despite their “self-criticism,” despite the objective failure of their line, despite the setbacks to which their opportunism has led, they still intend to pursue their “peaceful” cause. The coup which installed a “semi-fascist political regime” will be destroyed through:

“Active opposition and vigorous mass actions (which) will reduce the regime’s socio-political basis and could lead to its defeat by non-violent means. Democratic action can compel the reactionary and defeatist minority to retreat and restore democratic rights.”

(Ibid.; p.18)

Of course, “it may turn out too, that the Party and the people will be compelled to resort to other, more elementary and particular forms of armed struggle.” But we can rest assured that the right revisionist leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party will do everything in its power to be true to the spirit and the letter of the passive “may” and place it far behind in its list of priorities.

Such is the face of right revisionism in Latin America.

It has been against this background of betrayal that the working people and peasant masses have been compelled to resort to spontaneous armed struggle – struggle which was, and largely remains, outside the framework of control of the revisionist parties of the right. In those countries where such armed struggle has already taken root and the masses of the working people are beginning to be drawn into the struggle against semi-colonial dictatorship and foreign imperialist oppression, the further result of this has been that those, communist parties subservient to Soviet right revisionism have been forced to pay lip service to armed struggle and modify their more blatant parliamentary transition formulas in a bid to regain the influence within the armed liberation fronts which previously they were threatened with losing completely.

In its wider context, this pragmatic and opportunist response to the spontaneous growth of armed struggle reflects the shift in policy on the part of the Soviet revisionist leadership which has taken place since Khrushchev’s overthrow – a shift away from “all-round cooperation with US imperialism” to one of striving for the establishment of independent spheres of influence in areas hitherto comprising sectors of the US sphere. Within the overall task of developing this policy, a certain independent sphere of operations in relation to the national liberation movements of the underdeveloped colonial and semi-colonial sectors of the world has been allotted to the so-called “centrist” bloc of revisionist communist parties and “socialist” states, of which Cuba is one, and has given rise to the need for lip-service to armed national liberation struggle to be admitted to the platforms of some, though by no means all, of the Latin American communist parties under the influence of Soviet revisionism.

An example of this is offered by the criticism of the 20th Congress formulations on peaceful transition and peaceful coexistence made by the Brazilian right revisionist leader, Prestes. The alternative to the long discredited right revisionist formulations put forward is the flexibly leftist slogan of “armed struggle as a tactic, democratic constitutional advance as a strategy”. With its perceptible overtones of Kautsky and Bernstein, this formulation neatly solves the dilemma of how to maintain the long-cherished peaceful transitional shibboleths of right revisionism, now becoming so tarnished, simply by reversing Marxist-Leninist theoretical principles and relegating to armed struggle a subordinate tactical role serving the main strategy of seeking to secure minor palliatives to the increasingly oppressive life of the working people through reforms and the ballot box.

The outcome of these opportunist policy manoeuvres has been that, utilising the dominant hold which they exercise over the apostle of “violent struggle” in Latin America, Fidel Castro and the Soviet revisionist leadership has been able to control the transition to support for “centrist” revisionist policies on the part of certain Latin American Communist Parties without loosening in any way their traditional control over the leaderships of those parties – and even in some cases to increase it through the prestige added by the accession of Castroite “centrist” revisionism to the overall force available to Soviet policy needs.

As for “left” revisionism and Trotskyism, these take many forms in Latin America. The case of Guevara and Debray, who take an “ultra-leftist” position themselves, while condemning the trotskyites as revisionists, has already been analysed. The lessons of their position, i.e. of an armed struggle divorced from any political and class organisation of the working people, have been borne home most clearly following the collapse of Guevara’s mission in Bolivia. So much so, that Arguedas, a firm sympathiser of the guerrillas, wrote as his epitaph to Guevara:

“… he failed because he did not have the support of the peasants and because the Bolivian people did not know the action programme of the guerillas.”

A lesson so elementary that it should hardly have required the sacrifice of so many aspiring national liberation fighters to make it known. And indeed, the lessons of this, collapse of “ultra-leftist” method and morale accompanying Guevara’s experiment were not lost on those forces which represent the national bourgeoisie with more perception than Guevara. They can have acted as yet one more forceful argument for Castro strengthening his “centrist”‘ position.

Trotskyism in Latin America – as represented particularly in Guatemala and Peru is “left” opportunism which claims a “theory” of socialist revolution. This “theory” completely denies the national democratic stage of the revolution in a colonial-type country and insists that “socialist revolution”‘ is at any given moment on the order of the day.

Its effect is to isolate the genuine revolutionary forces from class allies who stand objectively for the national democratic revolution, and without whose added weight imperialism cannot be defeated and the national democratic tasks achieved. In practice, however, they resort to all manner of semi-anarchist, syndicalist and outright irridentist ideologies in order to win bases amongst the peasantry and urban poor, purveying such illusions as the direct growth of the village peasant-commune into socialism, the romanticism of the primitive subsistence economy and so on.

In strategy and tactics, their aim is to sow the usual kind of confusion associated with their name, advocating peaceful legal advance in the manner of the right revisionists whenever and wherever an actual revolutionary situation is close at hand, and pressing for ultra-revolutionary forms of struggle whenever and wherever the revolutionary tide is temporarily on the ebb turn. Thus they contribute directly to rendering the more militant vanguard forces an easy and isolated target for imperialist guns. Within these overall perspectives of betrayal, however, the “socialist revolution” for which they aim is, as with the right revisionist communist parties, in essence a peaceful one.

Thus all of these trends, “left” or right, spell defeat and betrayal for the revolutionary aspirations of the working people of Latin America and the decimation of their actual or potential organisations, of struggle.

At the helm of all this confusion and betrayal, seeking to unite the political manifestations of bourgeois and petty bourgeois thinking within the forces of the developing national democratic and socialist revolutions of Latin America under the one “super revolutionary” centre, has stood the Cuban revisionist leadership. They have encouraged every kind of anti-proletarian and anti-Marxist-Leninist theory and practice, inspiring the most infantile forms of petty bourgeois leftism, and nationalist euphoria; and finally, they have resolved the failure of both “left” and right revisionism into the doctrine of a “centrist” revisionism, a position which has emerged as a specific heritage of the Cuban-revolution.

It is to an analysis of the Cuban development itself, therefore, that we must now turn.

ASSESSMENT OF THE CUBAN REVOLUTION

The Cuban Revolution represented a phenomenon with two contradictory sides.

One was the fundamentally positive fact that US imperialist domination over Latin America had been breached for the first time, and a nation free of US imperialist oppression and ranged in struggle against it now stood as a symbol of anti-imperialist liberation struggle for the peoples of the continent.

The second and negative side was that, from its inception, the Cuban Revolution was carried through not under the leadership of the working class in alliance with the poor peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie but under that of forces representing the national bourgeoisie. This epoch is characterised by the onset of a world pre-revolutionary situation and the beginning of the disintegration of the imperialist world system. Therefore, this class basis can only serve its fundamental class interest and achieve, the construction of a form of capitalist society in the newly emerged nations, in as much as it succeeds in manoeuvring with the offer of its neo-colonial and comprador services between the various competing imperialist groups. This is a strategy which leads sooner or later to the incorporation of the newly-independent nation, willy-nilly, into the sphere of influence of another imperialist group, most likely one which is hostile to the imperialist power from which independence had originally been won.

The economic in-viability of Cuba – a fundamental feature inherited from the one-sided development imposed by US imperialist domination in the past – together with its geographically isolated position and economically unbalanced character, placed Cuba in a precarious position which rendered its newly-won independence highly vulnerable.

Debray seeks in his book to paint a glowing and utopian picture of the Castro leadership which completely ignores the historical facts and sets out to enshrine every trite phrase and thought of this leadership as valid “scientific truths.” It remains a quite obvious fact however, that Castro and those who fought with him to overthrow Batista were not Marxist-Leninists. Castro claims that the “Marxism-Leninism” of the Cuban leadership was learned during the course of the struggle. The absence of scientific revolutionary principle guiding a clear strategic perspective – fundamental necessities in any revolutionary process, whether national democratic or socialist in character, in which the working class fulfils the leading role and which is guided by a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard party – and the opportunist manoeuvring to which that absence inevitably leads.

These are all explained away by Debray, with the claim that the revolutionary process was undergoing a justifiable period of “trial and error” – not, be it understood, trial and error in the application of Marxist-Leninist science to the revolution but quite abstractly in the search for a “Cuban form of Marxism.”

Castro and the inceptive forces of the guerrilla movement which he led were urban petty bourgeois revolutionists acting objectively as the leading representatives of the Cuban national bourgeoisie. The rebellion based on the Sierra Maestra drew to the ranks of the rebel army recruits from the peasantry, the mass base of the petty bourgeoisie and, in the absence of a leading role fulfilled by the working class, formed the social arsenal of the national bourgeoisie.

The movement claimed to be a liberal alternative to the tyranny of Batista, the stench of whose corruption was believed by Castro to be a constant source of embarrassment to the United States – the diaries of Guevara in his Bolivian campaign imply that, in begging aid from US monopoly interests under the threat that US holdings would be confiscated in the event of victory in Bolivia if support for the insurgents were not forthcoming. In this he was merely repeating methods prominent in the early stage of the Cuban revolution itself. The “left” revisionists of the Castro/Guevara stamp, attempt to explain these away as “tactical” covers for their real “Marxist” aims.

Throughout the course of the struggle Castro increasingly won the support of the urban petty bourgeoisie and middle classes – the involvement of the working class taking place considerably later. The tone of the Castro leadership on the role of the working class, was that the working class should be thankful for its liberation at the hands of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and peasantry. However, support for the rebels against the tyranny of Batista was sufficiently overwhelming in its scope to cause the United States, refrain from any serious attempt to maintain Batista in power by overt force, and to give only that amount of aid to Batista which would preserve US face with lesser tyrants of the Batista stamp throughout Latin America. Although a covert attempt using Cuban exiles to restore a US colonial-type puppet regime was launched later, with the abortive Bay of Pigs landing. These were the factors which assisted the seizure of power by the Castro leadership in 1959.

The victory of 1959 brought Castro his first lessons in the attempt to carry through reforms of a national and democratic character in the epoch of imperialism.

Whilst at the comparatively early stage of establishing his bases in the Sierras, Castro had approached the lawyer, Urrutia, with an offer that he should form a government when victory was won – an offer which was accepted and implemented in 1959. Urrutia was a representative of the nascent Cuban national bourgeoisie, but nevertheless one of the first acts of his government was to approach US imperialism with assurances that his government intended to continue the semi-colonial status of Cuba, and to maintain the traditional agrarian structure of the economy and economic dependence on the US. It was only the rejection of these assurances by the US and the latter’s refusal to recognise the Castro regime which compelled the subsequent alignment with the Soviet Union.

As for Castro himself, it was a typical and in view of the later developments, an ironic expression of the spirit of the expediently opportunist freebooter that he was ready and willing to place his services at the disposal of the highest bidder, that he did not conceive of taking any initiative in the political and state affairs, of the new government.

All the evidence shows that Castro did not wish to govern on behalf of any defined class. He saw his role as that of a latter-day Garibaldi effecting a purely military liberation on behalf of abstract “liberty, equality and fraternity” and then handing over power to a vague and undefined “liberal intelligentsia”, i.e., to elements of the national bourgeoisie which, at that stage, had no conception of the revolution winning for them full national independence from US imperialism, and who merely wished to extend somewhat the scope of their economic holdings and the degree of their participation in and control over the state and administration.

According to the terms of the Urrutia government’s approach to the US, agrarian landlordism, the security of US holdings in both agriculture and such service industries as existed and the corresponding structure of feudal and comprador relations, were to remain essentially untouched and only subjected to a degree of mild reform. Only the short-sighted rejection by the US of these proposals for the reform of the semi-colonial structure of Cuba as it had existed under the corrupt and brutal reign of Batista finally compelled Castro and his followers both to take up themselves the reigns of state and to implement measures designed to secure independence from the USan independence the only available economic foundation for which was, ultimately alignment with the Soviet neo-imperialist bloc.

Amongst the first measures enacted was the land reform – a step which was essential if the base of peasant support was to be maintained. The confiscation of large holdings, particularly those owned by foreign capital, brought down the wrath of US imperialism.

For Castro the second dilemma and the second lesson had begun.

Despite numerous manoeuvres to outwit the Imperialists and to prevent their hostility and inevitable embargos on trade, the US in traditionally short-sighted fashion, declared its hostility and began to threaten Cuba with economic reprisals. Castro, countering this blackmail as best he could, entered into trade agreements with the Soviet Union, intending to walk the tightrope of a balance between the two blocs which would ensure Cuba’s economic future without drastic political shifts.

However, the breach was forced by US imperialism with the cutting of the quota for the import of Cuban sugar, forcing Castro to look elsewhere for cheaper supplies consequent upon the loss of US dollars. There followed a train of reprisals and counter-reprisals culminating in the Soviet offer to buy Cuban sugar (at an unspecified price) and to meet the Cuban demand for oil. The refusal of the US to refine Soviet oil, was met by Castro’s nationalisation of the key US interests in Cuba as a final and irrevocable reprisal. The course of Castro’s future was now set – a future which had originally never been intended or planned; but which had developed piecemeal out of the course of events. By 1963, according to Castro, the trade balance with the Soviet Union had risen to over one hundred million dollars.

This nationalisation, as we are now informed by the Cuban “Marxist- Leninists”, represented the “socialist revolution.”

However, in reality it represented an inevitable move which Castro, representing the national bourgeoisie, was forced to make given that he was fighting for his economic life and needed to trade with whomsoever would offer these services. But dependence on trade with the Union and being totally at the mercy of the defence protection, of the “nuclear umbrella” brought with it the expected penalty. Castro, the man who had hitherto publicly denounced Marxism-Leninism and denied any affinity with “communists” now began to air his brains in public and to take the first carefully rehearsed steps towards embracing Marxism-Leninism as avidly as he was later to embrace Khruchshev.

The previous emphasis on the role of the intellectuals as the leading force in the revolution, and as the “liberators of the working class” was now dressed up in a more conventional “Marxist-Leninist” disguise to accord with the announcement of the “socialist revolution” albeit a multifarious class definition typical of national bourgeois “socialism”:

“the labouring masses, the farmers, the student masses, the masses of the poor, the underprivileged mass of our nation, significant portions of the middle class, sections of the petty bourgeoisie, intellectual workers, made Marxism-Leninism their own, made the struggle for the Socialist Revolution their own.”

(F Castro: “Castro Denounces Sectarianism”, March 1962, p.13)

One of the penalties for the alignment with the Soviet Union was the loss of middle class support – a section which had supported Castro whole-heartedly during the struggle for power. These now filed in large numbers to Miami, plotting counterrevolution, and thereby weakening considerably the already overstrained technical and administrative cadre force and heightening social tensions. It was, at this point that the other long arm of revisionism, that from within Cuba itself, came into its own.

The history of the Cuban Communist Party offers an appalling record: of opportunism and class betrayal.

Based mainly on the urban working-class and aimed at building a mass social-democratic party, engaged in negotiations for economic improvements to the exclusion of almost all other forms of struggle and bound up with unprincipled agreements and alliances with whatsoever dictator happened to be in power, it was only to be expected that it could play no role in the struggle to overthrow Batista. Denouncing Castro as a mere adventurer, in the early days of the guerrilla struggle, and effectively assisting the sabotage of all attempts by the guerrillas to mobilise urban strikes,it only changed its tactics in the later stages, when the victory of Castro was already clearly inevitable. At this stage, certain leading revisionists were sent to join the guerrillas, with the aim of establishing the first bridgehead within the revolutionary forces in preparation for the later penetration of the right-revisionist party into the anti-imperialist front and the newly-founded national democratic state.

In the period immediately following the seizure of power, the clear anti-communist content of the half-hearted national democratic revolution which was “spontaneously developing,” effectively blocked the entrance of careerist-minded revisionist party members into positions of influence in the state. But this situation changed radically when apathy began to strike the middle class and comprador-orientated bourgeoisie after the confiscation of their property and the establishment of the open alliance with the Soviet Union, and especially after significant numbers of these strata had begun to desert to the Florida mainland. In the chaos of Castro’s “spontaneously developing” revolution the tried and tested organisation men of the revisionist party were drafted in large numbers in an effort to stem the growing confusion and pull together the basis of a workable economic and political system – matters which Castro had formerly considered could be left to merge spontaneously with the passage of time.

Thus arose the third of Castro’s dilemmas.

He had given up the political initiative almost completely. The revisionists, “always intent on mere political questions,” as Debray spurningly pointed, out, had after all played one better than the child of spontaneity, Castro. The price Castro had to pay for a viable political and, administrative apparatus was the achievement by the right-revisionists of an increasingly dominant role in party and state, despite their history of betrayal during the struggles leading to the overthrow of Batista.

Through a combination of external pressure from the Soviet Union, including economic blackmail, and internal penetration by the agents of Soviet revisionism, the indigenous revisionist leaders, Castro and his old guard of insurrectionists were gradually out-manoeuvred and sewn up in a web of inexorable dependence and commitment. No doubt, this was to the horror of the existentialist coterie of sun-seekers of the Sartre ilk who had seen in the Cuban development, the embodiment of their ideas about a liberal spontaneous revolution giving birth to an anarchistic utopia around which they could spin the subject matter for countless bestsellers.

The merciless straitjacket of unequal colonial-type economic relations, together with the necessity for a heavy defence programme in the face of the increasingly aggressive posture of US imperialism in the period prior to the 1962 crisis, represented further pressures inexorably pushing Cuba into dependence on the Soviet Union. The ominous features of the limited crop economy, had once again begun to dominate economic development.

The political counterpart of this situation of dependence, expressed the reciprocal need of the Soviet revisionist world centre to “explain” the obvious contradiction of a successful armed revolution taking place in an epoch the main feature of which was allegedly “the peaceful co-existence of states with differing social systems.” This was reflected in the corresponding determination of the Cuban right-revisionist party leadership to build and maintain the myth of Cuba as an example of “peaceful transition” in line with the precepts of the Khrushchevite international programme as laid down by the infamous 20th Congress Report:

“It was precisely in conditions of peaceful coexistence between states with different social systems that the socialist revolution triumphed in Cuba.”

(Letter of CC of CPSU to CC of CCP, March 30th, 1963. Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965. p. 507).

From the crisis of 1962, the starting duplicity of Castro in adopting his new subservient position was revealed.

Castro, who was later to announce demagogically:

“We will never make ideological concessions, and we will maintain an unyielding Marxist-Leninist position.”

(F. Castro: “This is our Line Havana 1963; p.79)

Then begins Castro’s remarkable history –

of bear hugs with the chief spokesmen of modern revisionism followed by denunciations of those same spokesmen;

of his statements supporting “peaceful struggle” followed by statements supporting armed struggle;

and his steadily increasing subservient role assisting the propaganda line of the Soviet revisionists in the Great Debate, with the deceptively “principled”, contention that “Division in the face of the enemy was never a revolutionary or intelligent strategy”;

all culminating in the carefully timed attacks on the Chinese government over alleged “cut-backs” in the promised rice quota.

This latter ‘news’ on the rice quotas, was leaked on the eve of the Three Continents Conference in Havana in order to cause the maximum damage to the prestige of the Chinese party and state throughout the national liberation movements. It was intended to act as an ameliorative gesture,  to off-set the criticisms of those aspects of Soviet policy which reflected the residual influence of Khrushchevite doctrine, now inimical to Castro’s new role. It was intended to demonstrate to the Soviet neo-capitalist class in unequivocal terms just where the support and sympathy of the Cuban national bourgeoisie and its “centrist” revisionist representatives lay in regard to the growing struggle between the Soviet and Chinese leadership.

Castro, however, in his attempts to reconcile service to the interests of his indigenous class, the Cuban national bourgeoisie, with the fulfillment of a comprador role on behalf of Soviet neo-imperialism, has often proved a difficult and demanding pawn.

Castro has sought to retain as an essential ingredient of his “centrist” revisionist position, the right to criticism of Soviet policies wherever these tended to conflict with the long-term aims of the Cuban national bourgeoisie.

The Guevara adventure in Bolivia thus represented an attempt to raise the bargaining counter of the Cuban national bourgeoisie with Soviet right revisionism, and its failure merely confirming the inadequacy of “leftist” methods of struggle and the superiority of the “centrist” revisionist disguise. In almost all cases, the crux of these Castroite and Gueverist criticisms has been those aspects of Soviet policy reflecting the continuation of a Khrushchevite stance towards US imperialism or its comprador puppets in Latin America. However the necessity which the Castro leadership feels for the military and economic protection which the Soviet Union alone can provide against US threats of aggression compels them to lend their support to every fundamental policy statement and action of the Soviet leadership, and to place Cuba at its disposal as the base of operations for right revisionism on the Latin American continent.

It was under Castro’s auspices that the OLAS and Tricontinental Conferences were able to serve the policy aims of Soviet neo-imperialism, which envisage not only the building of “anti-imperialist” and, where necessary, armed national liberation movements under “centrist” revisionist leadership, but also the incorporation of existing national bourgeois or even comprador-bourgeois states and governments into its sphere of influence. This has already been effected, for example, with a certain measure of success in Peru. Thereby effecting the reciprocal utilisation of both rightist and “centrist” revisionist policy methods. In this way, the former implements the classical techniques of international diplomacy and “power politics” through the direct agency of the Soviet Union on behalf of its neo-imperialist aims;whilst the latter seeks to mobilise the working people and their movements of struggle in the same neo-imperialist cause by presenting the necessary “left” demagogic appeal.

Thus it is that, under the overall condition of a former semi-colony newly emerged from imperialist domination, with an urban and rural proletariat, labouring peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie amongst which revolutionary feeling is at a high level, any national capitalist class attempting to build a viable system of state capitalism can only hold out for itself any prospect of success provided that it can utilise to some degree the ideological strength and power for conviction and mobilisation of proletarian ideology and organisation of Marxism-Leninism.

This type of social development may be characterised in general terms as the demagogic abuse of the international working class and communist movement, of its world view, Marxism-Leninism, and of its organised strength and influence in order to bend them to the service of the enemies of the working class and socialism, amongst which the national capitalist classes of colonial-type countries emerging from imperialist domination must ultimately be placed, whatever class alliances may appertain in the period of the national democratic revolution.

In this light, the case of Cuba illustrates with convincing clarity an example of the harnessing of the potential or actual forces of the socialist revolution, the exploited and oppressed proletariat, poor peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie, to the task of establishing not the socialist system under the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, but a system of centralised state capitalism of a bureaucratic and comprador type under the dictatorship, albeit concealed by demagogic “left” phraseology, of the national bourgeoisie, and under the conditions of intensified class struggle and heightened inter-imperialist competition typical of the contemporary advanced stage the disintegration of the imperialist world system.

CONCLUSION

The collaboration between “centrist” and right revisionism which forms the predominant basis of policy amongst a majority of Communist Parties of Latin America, with the “Communist Party” of Cuba acting as a comprador-type overseer on behalf of the Soviet Union, reflects the unsuitability of  a purer “left” revisionism as an ideological mask enabling the national bourgeoisie to gain control of the national democratic revolutions and to determine their development and the class composition of their forces in their own class interest, in at least the majority of states concerned and under the objective conditions as they have shaped themselves up till the present time.

Left revisionism tends to find the appropriate objective conditions for its application and a fertile subjective ground for its dissemination and growth primarily in national and political terrains in which not only the objective conditions for the onset of the national democratic revolution are present – this in itself is also a feature of the situation in many American states – but also where a militant and politically conscious working class and a more or less powerful Marxist-Leninist vanguard are, or at the least have been in the past, to some degree in control of the revolutionary process of at least participants in it.

In view of the progressive undermining and final liquidation of the world communist movement through modern revisionism since approximately 1943-45, the presence of such features in a national democratic revolutionary movement in a colonial or semi-colonial country since World War Two, in spite of a majority of the leadership having long since fallen into the hands of “left” revisionists, must be attributed to the persisting influence of the Communist International and the continuing presence in the leadership of the leading cadres trained by it during the period prior to World War Two.

These features are, of course, typical of the development of the Chinese revolution and of the Communist Party of China. They are almost totally absent from the histories of the national liberation and working class movements of the Latin American states and their communist parties.

Where, however, such a Marxist-Leninist leadership, or at least a Marxist-Leninist contingent within a “left” revisionist led party and movement, is present, its defeat and dismemberment is clearly an absolutely prime necessity if the national bourgeoisie is to succeed in its aim of wresting the leadership out of the hands of the Marxist-Leninists and of consolidating it in the sole hands of their revisionist representatives.

The fact that, in Cuba itself, no Marxist-Leninist party, or even a Marxist-Leninist contingent within the leadership of the party, was present requiring ideological penetration, dismemberment and capture, in order to transform that party as a whole into a tool of national bourgeois aims and aspirations, rendered it easier for the petty bourgeois representatives of the national bourgeoisie to control the direction.

It rendered it possible for the petty bourgeois representatives of the national bourgeoisie to win victory in the national democratic revolution by purely military means, without’ the fusion of political and military forms of struggle and without a political party and an organisational centre for the mobilization of the masses, through the sole agency of a small elitist guerrilla force of predominantly petty bourgeois composition, is also symptomatic of the objective conditions and subjective characteristics of the movements of the oppressed in at least the smaller and weaker states of the Latin American continental mainland.

In spite of the many features specific and peculiar to it, the Cuban revolution, however, was not an isolated, once for all time phenomenon. Still less does it represent an example of “specific national roads to socialism” beloved of Khrushchevian revisionist “theory.” It took place and won victory, on the contrary, precisely within the general context of:

“a world pre-revolutionary situation. As in all pre-revolutionary situations, the primary aim of the class struggles, including national liberation struggles, now beginning to unfold on a world-wide front between the world proletarian forces and the imperialist bourgeoisie is a struggle to determine which of these two fundamentally opposed world class forces shall win the allegiance of the intermediate exploited and oppressed classes and strata, of which the most significant are the peasant masses of the colonial periphery of imperialism and the petty bourgeois and professional middle strata in the developed imperialist countries which are undergoing a process of intensified proletarianisation, and so to achieve on behalf of its class interest the decisive strategic advantage in the coming final stages of the world proletarian socialist revolution.”

(Programmatic Manifesto of the Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain; p.22)

The upsurge of national liberation struggles and national democratic revolutions in the colonial and semi-colonial lands, including those of Latin America, forms one of the most prominent features in the process of disintegration of the world imperialist system at the present stage in the development of the general crisis of capitalism.

It is they which are contributing directly to the process of disintegration of the established imperialist power groups and to the break-up of the existing inter-imperialist balance of power, and which are effectively assisting in the formation of new imperialist-type power groups and a new inter-imperialist balance of power centred around the entry of the new neo-imperialist or state capitalist nations – primarily the Soviet Union, but including, at a lower stage of capitalist development, China and India, the total population resources of which alone amount to some 1,400 millions – into the already saturated capitalist world market.

As far as the future development of the world proletarian socialist revolution is concerned, the crucial issue confronting the national liberation movements at the present time is, however, the issue of which class shall lead the revolution, the national bourgeoisie or the working class.

On the outcome of this issue depends the solution to the question, of absolutely fundamental significance, as to:

“Whether or not the working people of the developing nations at present fighting for their liberation from imperialist colonial enslavement, for national independence and democratic rights and liberties, will succeed in bypassing the perspective of a more or less protracted period of capitalist development and will succeed in establishing new socialist states under the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat?”

Such a victory for the world proletarian socialist revolution  would so weaken the already intolerably unstable and crisis-ridden world capitalist system as to render its continued operation virtually impossible.

Alternatively, on the other hand, the victory of the national democratic revolution in the colonial-type lands would merely  lead to the establishment of new independent capitalist states which will thus provide a sorely needed extension to the total area and resources of the world capitalist system and so give it a new lease of life. This latter has already taken place in a whole number of formerly colonial or semi-colonial lands since the end of world war two, including People’s China, India, Egypt and, of course, Cuba.

The entire evidence provided by the experience of the new features in the development of the world proletarian socialist revolution since World War Two indicates strongly that

Only when the working class movements in the developed countries join with the working peoples of the colonial-type lands to form a common world-wide anti-imperialist front,

Only when powerful and influential Marxist-Leninist parties, capable of securing leadership over the entire revolutionary process in both types of countries have been built and are able to wield that decisive ideological and political initiative and influence which can ensure the leading role being fulfilled by the working class in both strategic world sectors, and so laying the basis for the uninterrupted transition of the national democratic to the socialist revolution in the colonial-type lands and for the victory of the latter in both; and, finally,

Only when the world Marxist-Leninist leadership of the world proletarian socialist revolution has developed to a point where a mighty Marxist-Leninist international is forged capable of uniting, integrating and directing the revolutionary struggles in both world sectors against the common imperialist class enemy, of elaborating a world strategic and tactical programme of general offensive on all fronts and in all sectors based on advanced scientific theory –

Then, and only then, will it be possible for the working people of any one sector, in the developed or the under-developed lands, to advance to the victory of the socialist revolution and so to bring the epoch of capitalism to its close and to commence anew, and on an infinitely higher level than previously, the epoch of world-wide socialist construction.

For the present; therefore, and until such time as the revolutionary proletariat in both the developed and the colonial-type lands, realise the primary and indispensable tasks of revolutionary leadership and organisation, particularly as regards the building of the Marxist-Leninist vanguard, the predominant influence in the national democratic movements in the underdeveloped colonial world sector is likely to remain in the hands of the national bourgeoisie and its petty bourgeois revisionist representatives.

But each and every such instance of a national arena of capitalist development being opened up, under the conditions of a congested and saturated capitalist world market, merely serves, in the longer or perhaps the shorter run, to add new components of mounting contradiction to the already unstable situation in the world capitalist system. The monopoly capitalists of the developed imperialist countries, faced with the shrinking of the relative size and resources of the colonial sector relative to the developed sector, are attempting to obtain a significant intensification of the rate of exploitation in both the colonial areas that remain and, in an effort to offset the inevitable decline in super-profits, in the developed countries themselves.

Only provided that Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties are built in both the developed and the colonially subjugated sectors of the world will this intensification of exploitation and oppression result in a qualitative raising of the level of class militancy and capacity for struggle of the working masses, to their revolutionisation.

In other circumstances, including those at present appertaining in which the leading influence is fulfilled by social democratic and right revisionist representatives of monopoly capital in the developed countries and by a combination of right, “centrist” and “left” revisionist representatives of the national or the comprador bourgeoisie in the colonial-type countries, the outcome of the world reactionary offensive now in preparation could equally well be a series of bloody defeats for the working people and their organisations of struggle and the descent of the blackest night of fascist repression that the world has yet seen.

The law of uneven development will undergo and is undergoing an equally profound and far reaching intensification of its mode of operation, thus accelerating the process of break-up of the existing imperialist and capitalist power groups and the formation of new ones anxious to secure a re-division of the total area and resources of maximum exploitation available to the capitalist world system, which are continually shrinking relative to the rapidly increasing rate at which capital tends to be amassed, and which are indispensable for securing that maximum rate of profit so essential if the inherent tendency under state monopoly capitalism for the rate of profit to fall is to be offset. These fundamental contradictions in their turn prepare the conditions for the outbreak of yet another imperialist world war more devastating both in its scope and its revolutionary effect than any previously known, and so also preparing for the transformation of that war, in area after area, country after country, into, socialist revolutions.

These are the profound and climactic contradictions which are even now accumulating under the surface of the world capitalist system, and it is against this background that the teachings of Guevara and Debray relative to the struggle in Latin America must be critically evaluated.

Marxism-Leninism teaches, and all experience of the world’s working class, and oppressed peoples in struggle confirms that only through the unity of the working class of all lands, forged through the exercise of leadership and an overall guiding function on the part of powerful Marxist-Leninist parties, and through the unity of all non-proletarian classes and, strata behind that Marxist-Leninist proletarian vanguard in a mighty world anti-imperialist united front, can victory in the national-democratic revolution in the colonial-type lands be secured in such a way as to ensure that that victory leads:

Not to the development and consolidation, on however temporary or unstable a basis, of new, independent neo-capitalist states (which will merely substitute exploitation by the established imperialist oppressor nations for exploitation by the indigenous national bourgeoisie and so assist in increasing, again on however temporary or unstable a basis, the total arena and resources of the world capitalist system and to lengthen by a span of a few years or decades its bloodthirsty, profit hungry life);

But that that victory will lead instead to the weakening and restricting of its arena, resources and span of life, to the choking of the arteries feeding it with the super profits which are its very life blood, to the formation of a mighty and growing chain of national democratic and socialist revolutions encircling it with a steel ring of proletarian power which steadily suffocates and finally annihilates it.

In the developed countries, it is bureaucratic social democracy, reformism, revisionism of the right and trotskyism which constitute the chief weapons of the monopoly capitalist class in frustrating and diverting the potential or actual revolutionary energies of the working class and working people.

In the colonial-type lands, it is “left” and, where appropriate, “centrist” revisionism, likewise assisted by trotskyite disruption, which fulfill this function. Within this international apparatus of counter-revolutionary disruption, a certain clearly definable division of labour can be discerned.

It is the function of social democracy and reformism in the developed countries, and of liberal-anarchist ideas of spontaneous revolution in the colonial type areas of maximum exploitation, to act respectively as the instruments for undermining the unity of the class forces themselves, of the mass base, potential or actual, of the developing class struggle and/or revolutionary movements.

On the other hand, it is the function of revisionist teaching – in developed countries mainly of the right, and in colonial-type lands mainly of either “left” or “centrist” varieties – to weaken the struggle waged by the most advanced and class conscious proletarian elements to forge powerful, steeled and united Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties without which the socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat remain mere empty dreams, vistas of mechanical scheming or the subjective projection of idle wishes.

In the relationship between mass base and vanguard, it is the vanguard which must first be establish even if only in embryo, if the whole revolutionary process in a given country is to develop into the structure of proletarian power capable of incepting and carrying through the socialist revolution directly in the case of the developed countries, through the intermediate stage of the national democratic revolution in the case of the colonial-type lands.

In both these types of revolution, a clear kinship exists between the older variants of bourgeois ideology typical of a capitalist class in the period of its youth, represented by liberal spontaneity and anarchistic insurrectionism of the Garibaldist or Blanquist type, and the more sophisticated right, “left” and “centrist”‘ variants of revisionism which form typical anti-proletarian ideological weapons of an aspiring capitalist class in an underdeveloped country which is struggling for ascendancy and independence within a world environment and under the conditions of an epoch in which capitalism is lying mortally sick upon its deathbed.

Both deny the revolutionary historical mission of the proletariat;

Both deny the need for the violent, forcible overthrow of the rule of the capitalist class – “left” revisionism advocating the use of armed force solely against the comprador, imperialist-orientated section of the capitalist class in a colonial-type country;

Both deny the need for the independent revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat armed with scientific Marxist-Leninist theory.

The petty bourgeois insurrectionist theories of Guevara and Debray form the logical inheritance and continuation of the classical ideas of spontaneous revolt first developed by the European bourgeoisie in the 19th century. The characterisation of the bourgeois ideological basis and antecedents of “left” revisionism contained in the Report of the CC of the MLOB, “Proletarian Internationalism: The Key to Victory in Anti-Imperialist Struggle and Socialist Revolution”, is as applicable to the unsuccessful, misapplied and naive variant of “left” revisionism concocted Guevara and Debray out of the historically superceded lees of liberal anarchist theories of spontaneous “uprisings of the freedom loving people” as ever it was to the more astute variant of “left” revisionism devised by Mao Tse-tung:

“When we consider the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, we find that the petty bourgeoisie , played a generally analogous role to the one it later came to play in the colonial national democratic revolutions of the epoch of imperialism. . .the prime need (of the capitalist class – Ed.) was to hold in check the independent revolutionary class aspirations of the proletariat, and to harness its energies to the task of the bourgeois democratic revolution whilst simultaneously preventing them from leading to the fulfillment of the revolutionary aim of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In all the developing capitalist nations of Europe to which the bourgeois democratic revolution spread in 1848-9, therefore, the leading role was played by bourgeois or petty bourgeois leaders..

‘Leftist’ phraseology and the rabble-rousing slogans of anarchism are always and everywhere the essential disguise of rightism, of policies designed to assist and strengthen the class position and forces of the capitalist class in the face of the growing or potential offensive of the proletariat. . . . Just as the counterpart in practice of the utopian theories of Proudhon were the state sweatshops for the unemployed workers of Paris established by Louis Blanc, similarly Mao Tse-tung’s leftist battle-cries directed at the emerging and developing, but as yet immature, proletarian classes and their potential petty bourgeois allies in the colonial lands have their essential counterpart in the so-called- “Three-way Revolutionary Committees”, in which the long-discredited.utopia of the “union of capital and labour”, is dragged from the oblivion to which Marx condemned it…”

(Proletarian Internationalism: Report of the CC of the MLOB in “Red Front”, March/April 1968; p.vii)

With the defeat of this peculiarly Latin American revisionist hybrid, the same demagogic mantle of revisionist deception has fallen upon the shoulders of the “centrist” revisionists headed by the Castro clique, acting as a semi-independent “left”-wing of the Soviet neo-imperialism. If this new and perhaps even more, insidious ideological and political weapon of the national bourgeoisies of the Latin American states is to be exposed and defeated and the hegemony of the working class and of scientific Marxist-Leninist theory in the Latin American revolutionary movement secured, a persistent-and wide-ranging struggle must be waged by the Marxist-Leninists of all lands against it.

There are no short cuts to the socialist revolution. The struggle to develop and change man’s social practice, and the thought processes which consciously guide that practice, is a protracted and arduous one. In the course of this struggle, the development of conscious revolutionary thought and practice on the part of the most advanced and consistently revolutionary class produced by history, the proletariat, is characterised at all stages by the close interaction of theory and practice, culminating in the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism and of its fundamental theoretical guide to action, dialectical-materialism, and their embodiment in the vanguard class party of the new type.

This final embodiment of the science of socialist revolution and of socialist revolution as a science, when theory and practice become so united as to be indivisibly fused together, is precisely what the “social scientists” of the bourgeoisie are most concerned to frustrate and disrupt by whatever means they find to hand inherited from the theories and practice of pre-scientific utopian or reformist schools – and amongst these modern “mystical schoolmen” of piecemeal reform or spontaneous revolt must be included not only such representatives of the right as Khruschev, Togliatti or Gollan, but also such leftist figures as Debray, Guevara and Castro.

The struggle to build the vanguard Leninist party of the proletariat involves such tasks as the inner-movement struggle within the revisionist and reformist parties and organisations, work amongst all sectors of the working population to win them for a common front of struggle, actions at the most basic level to build militant, class-orientated organisations where previously none existed, the achievement of a correct balance between legal and illegal, armed and political, forms of struggle, and so on. At every level, the process is an extremely complex and many-sided one. It is a test which only those who genuinely uphold, the cause of the working class and working people are prepared to stand.

That is why Guevara, Debray and others present such a disillusioned picture to the world once they enter from the realm of their subjective fantasies into the world of class reality. In their “theory” the peasantry existed as an idealised force which could do no wrong; the grim reality of the Bolivian adventure revealed besides Debray’s dilettantism, the fundamental scorn for the peasantry into which Guevara’s earlier idealism was transformed as a consequence of his inability to change that reality. The diaries, with their self-pitying descriptions of ignorant and suspicious peasants threatening to betray the self-styled advance guard of the revolution constitute an elitist petty bourgeois testament which marks a disgaceful end for those who had claimed to aspire so high. And it is perhaps from this last fact that the final lesson of the Guevara-Debray affair can be most clearly drawn: that the subjective desires of any aspiring revolutionary are less than nothing in value to the revolutionary cause and will be cast aside as such if they are not based on Marxist-Leninist scientific theory.

By Cmde M.S. For the MLOB;

Dated 1968

Source

Enver Hoxha: The Fist of the Marxist-Leninist Communists Must Also Smash Left Adventurism, the Offspring of Modern Revisionism

enver_hoxha_1974_oil-painting

From a conversation with two leaders of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Ecuador
October 21, 1968

We are very glad to meet you comrades from Ecuador. Of course, we would like to have more frequent and longer talks with you, because the struggle of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Ecuador, as well as the Marxist-Leninist parties of Latin America, has great importance for the revolution. We consider your struggle as a great assistance to the world revolution and to our Party which always feels the need to learn and profit from the experience of fraternal parties.

Marxism-Leninism, our universal doctrine, applied in the conditions of every country, is enriched with the new experience of all revolutionary parties. The experience of each Marxist-Leninist party gained in the course of its work and struggle against the common enemies, imperialism and revisionism, helps the other parties at the same time. Without this experience we would be limping along.

You comrades, with your revolutionary activity and struggle on the continent of Latin America, with a large population and with wonderful ardent people, are in permanent insurrection, in revolution, in the full meaning of the term. At the head of the people of this continent today there are fraternal Marxist-Leninist parties. Their realistic Marxist-Leninist understanding of the situation of your continent fills the true Marxist-Leninist parties of Europe, Asia and Africa with boundless enthusiasm and inspiration and helps all of us to carry the revolutionary actions of every country through the end on a national, continental or international scale against our common enemies: the imperialists, with the U.S. Imperialists at the head, the modern revisionists, with the Soviet revisionists at the head, and reactionaries of every hue.

The Party of Labour of Albania, the Albanian communists feel very greatly the need for contacts in order to exchange experience with all the fraternal parties, because close co-operations strengthens us reciprocally. Although we are very far apart geographically, in our minds and our hearts we are very close to each other, and the “distance” factor does not constitute an insurmountable difficulty today.

As you may have seen for yourselves during our visits, many changes have been made in our country since the triumph of the revolution. This is due to the correct Marxist-Leninist line of the party and the revolutionary spirit of our people. In order to form a more precise idea of Albania’s state in the past, as the Marxist-Leninists you are, you must compare it with one of the most poverty-stricken, most backward and oppressed regions of present-day Ecuador. Just like your country today, before Liberation Albania suffered greatly under savage feudal oppression. We had no schools. The people were in want of food, clothing, and every vital necessity. Most of the plains you have seen were swamps and marshes before Liberation. Malaria, tuberculosis and many other diseases took a heavy toll of the population, especially of children. But as a result of the peoples’ revolution which our party led, transformations have been carried out on such a vast scale and so rapidly that without boasting we can describe them as colossal by our Albanian standards.

However, as Marxists, taking a realistic view of the situation, we are fully aware that, along with the very great successes that have been achieved, we also have weaknesses and a great deal more remains to be done in the future, in the first place, to raise the level of the working masses still higher, especially their political and ideological level, as well as their economic level; we must work hard to make our country even stronger militarily, to raise the educational and cultural level of our people still higher, and all this only on the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist road.

Our Party is working in these directions. We can say that now we have created a sounder, more powerful base, but the main thing is that everything we have done, everything we have created, we have achieved in unrelenting struggle against the difficulties of growth, encircled by rapid enemies, in such conditions the independence, freedom and sovereignty of our Homeland and socialism were in danger at every moment. We have created these things through struggle to defend and strengthen the Marxist-Leninist unity of the Party and the people, which is a special target for enemy attacks. We have worked ceaselessly to temper this unity. Our strength lies in the ever greater steeling of the party-people unity. This is of vital importance, because the dangers of intervention by means of armed force and every other possible means against our country have been and remain great and unrelenting, both from the imperialists and from the Titoite renegades and the Soviet revisionist militarists who, as the occupation of Czechoslovakia showed, excuse any action of theirs with the interest they allegedly have in the consolidation of “fraternal” states.

In the present revolutionary situations, the Marxist-Leninist parties throughout the world must fight continuously to strengthen their ranks and their Marxist-Leninist unity, to link themselves closely with the masses of people and with one another, because the communist and workers’ movement throughout the world is one of the fundamental factors frustrating the plans concocted against the people by both the Soviet revisionists and the U.S. imperialists, who from day to day are strengthening their fascist dictatorships in order to dominate the world. These Marxist-Leninist parties must increase their vigilance, too.

At all times, but especially in the situations we are living through, our country consistently has enhanced and will enhance its unity and vigilance. To this end, as always, we have taken ideological, political, economic and military measures. All our people are armed in the full meaning of the word. Every Albanian city-dweller or villager, has his weapon at home. Our army itself, the army of a soldier people, is ready at any moment to strike at any enemy or coalition of enemies. The youth, too, have risen to their feet. Combat readiness does not in any way interfere with our work of socialist construction. On the contrary, it has given a greater boost to the development of the economy and culture in our country.

At these moments the Soviet and Yugoslav revisionists, the Greek and Italian fascists know full well that if they dare embark on any adventure against Albania, they will never succeed, but will be dealt mortal blows instead. This we have made clear to everybody at all times. Thus, in general, the situation in our country is sound, secure and with brilliant prospects. However, we must not rest on our laurels on this account, but must work more and more every day.

It is clear to all that a militarist fascist dictatorship exists in the Soviet Union today. But, as is known, where there is oppression there is also movement, therefore, both in the Soviet Union and in the satellite countries, there is revolutionary movement that is steadily mounting. Great pressure is being exerted on the Soviet Union today by imperialism, too. On the one hand, imperialism aims to defeat it as a rival imperialist power, and on the other hand to prevent the emergence of revolutionary movements at all costs, or to put them down immediately if they do emerge, not only in the Soviet Union but also in its satellite countries.

For its part, the Soviet Union is trying to attain two objectives: first, to crush any revolutionary movement which might arise, and second, unable as it is to defeat the United States as a rival imperialist power, it is striving to retain its positions and to ensure that together with U.S. imperialism each of them will rule in the areas which fall within its sphere of influence.

We are very glad to learn that the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Ecuador is making progress. The comrades whom you have met immediately informed me about the talks you held and the experience you exchanged. We hold special meetings to keep the Political Bureau of the C.C. continually informed about the very useful and fruitful exchanges between our Party and other fraternal parties. We are very happy that your Party is ceaselessly tempering itself and advancing on the Marxist-Leninist road. Likewise, we are in complete agreement with the views of your Party and are convinced that the road you are following is the right one. There is no doubt that you know better than anybody else the problems that concern you and the most correct way to solve them, always basing yourselves on our ideology, Marxism-Leninism.

Only your Party is in a position to work out your tactics properly, based, of course, on the Marxist-Leninist strategy, because, as the heart of the proletariat and people of Ecuador, it knows better than anyone else the situation in the country and the legitimate aspirations of your people. For this reason, as long as your Party has a correct strategy based on Marxist-Leninist theory and the real practice of the country, the tactics it works out will be correct and revolutionary, too. During our National Liberation War we, too, employed varied tactics, just as you are doing.

Our parties should try to learn and profit from one another. But every party must bear in mind that some things from the experience of other parties are suitable only in the conditions of their respective countries, and many of them may not be suitable in the conditions of other countries. They must elaborate and adopt the experience of other parties when they find they need it and it suits their concrete conditions, otherwise they fall into stereotypism. As for our experience, we cannot tell you whether or not many of our tactics are appropriate for you. It is up to you to study it and choose what you want from it, but we think that you should bear in mind that Marxism-Leninism, the general laws of the proletarian revolution provide the compass which prevents us from erring on this question. Only these laws guard a genuine Marxist-Leninist party against mistakes.

We are clear about these laws and try to acquaint ourselves with them more and more each day, and that is why we have never slid into revisionism, or into Trotskyism, left adventurism, or other anti-Marxist trends.

With these theories, with the dangers and damage they cause, you are better acquainted than we. For instance, Che Guevara was killed. Such a thing is liable to happen, because a revolutionary may get killed. Che Guevara, however, was a victim of his own non-Marxist-Leninist views.

Who was Che Guevara? When we speak of Che Guevara, we also mean somebody else who poses as a Marxist, in comparison to whom, in our opinion, Che Guevara was a man of fewer words. He was a rebel, a revolutionary, but not a Marxist-Leninist as they try to present him. I may be mistaken—you Latin-Americans are better acquainted with Che Guevara, but I think that he was a leftist fighter. His is a bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leftism, combined with some ideas that were progressive, but also anarchist which, in the final analysis, lead to adventurism.

The views of Che Guevara and anyone else who poses as a Marxist and claims “paternity” of these ideas have never been or had anything to do with Marxism-Leninism. Che Guevara also had some “exclairicies” in his adoption of certain Marxist-Leninist principles, but they still did not become a full philosophical world-outlook which could impel him to genuinely revolutionary actions.

We cannot say that Che Guevara and his comrades were cowards. No, by no means! On the contrary, they were brave people. There are also bourgeois who are brave men. But the only truly great heroes and really brave proletarian revolutionaries are those who proceed from the Marxist-Leninist philosophical principles and put all their physical and mental energies at the service of the world proletariat for the liberation of the peoples from the yolk of the imperialists, feudal lords and others.

We have defended the Cuban revolution because it was against US imperialism. As Marxist-Leninists let us study it a bit and the ideas which guided it in this struggle. The Cuban revolution did not begin on the basis of Marxism-Leninism and was not carried out on the basis of the laws of the proletarian revolution of a Marxist-Leninist party. After the liberation of the country, Castro did not set out on the Marxist-Leninist course, either, but on the contrary, continued on the course of his liberal ideas. It is a fact, which nobody can deny, that the participants in this revolution took up arms and went to the mountains, but it is an undeniable fact also that they did not fight as Marxist-Leninists. They were liberation fighters against the Battista clique and triumphed over it precisely because that clique was a weak link of capitalism. Battista was an obedient flunky of imperialism, who rode roughshod over the Cuban people. The Cuban people, however, fought and triumphed over this clique and over American imperialism at the same time…

In our opinion, the theory that the revolution is carried out by a few “heroes” constitutes a danger to Marxism-Leninism, especially in the Latin-American countries. Your South-American continent has great revolutionary traditions, but, as we said above, it also has some other traditions which may seem revolutionary but which, in fact, are not genuinely on the road of the revolution. Any putsch carried out there is called a revolution! But a putsch can never be a revolution, because one overthrown clique is replaced by another, in a word, things remain as they were. In addition to all the nuclei of anti-Marxist trends which still exist in the ranks of the old parties that have placed themselves in the service of the counterrevolution, there is now another trend which we call left adventurism.

This trend, and that other offspring of the bourgeoisie, modern revisionism, constitute great dangers to the people, including those of the Latin-American countries. Carefully disguised, modern revisionism is a great deceiver of the peoples and revolutionaries. In different countries it puts on different disguises. In Latin America, Castroism, disguised as Marxism-Leninism, is leading people, even revolutionaries, into left adventurism. This trend appears to be in contradiction with modern revisionism. Those who are ideologically immature think thus, but it is not so. The Castroites are not opposed to the modern revisionists. On the contrary, they are in their service. The separate courses each of them follows lead them to the same point.

The question whenever the Soviet revisionists fail to prevent the masses of the working class and the people from carrying out the revolution, this trend steps in and, by means of a putsch, destroys what the revisionists are unable to destroy by means of evolution. The Soviet revisionists and all the traitor cliques which led the revisionist parties preach evolution, coexistence and all those other anti-Marxist theories we know. From the terms it employs, left adventurism seems more revolutionary, because it advocates armed struggle! But what does it mean by armed struggle? Clearly—putsches. Marxism-Leninism teaches us that only by proceeding with prudent and sure steps, only by basing ourselves firmly on the principles of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, only by making the masses conscious can victory be ensured in the preparation and launching of the armed uprising, and only in this way will we never fall into adventurism.

The authors of the theory that the “starter motor” sets the “big motor” in motion pose as if they are for the armed struggle, but in fact they are opposed to it and work to discredit it. The example and tragic end of Che Guevara, the following and prorogation of this theory also by other self-styled Marxists, who are opposed to the great struggles by the masses of people, are publicly known facts which refute their claims: We must guard against the people lest they betray us, lest they hand us over to the police; we must set up “wild” isolated detachments, so that the enemy does not get wind of them and does not retaliate with terror against the population! They publicize these and many other confusing theories, which you know only too well. What sort of Marxism-Leninism is this which advocates attacking the enemy, fighting it with these “wild” detachments, etc. without having a Marxist-Leninist party to lead the fight? There is nothing Marxist-Leninist about it. Such anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist theories can bring nothing but defeat for Marxism-Leninism and the revolution, as Che Guevara’s undertaking in Bolivia did.

This trend brings the theses of the armed uprising into disrepute. What great damage it causes the revolution! With the killing of Guevara, the masses of common people, contaminated by the influences of these anarchist views, will think: “Now there is no one else to lead us, to liberate us!” Or perhaps a group of people with another Guevara will be set up again to take to the mountains to make the “revolution,” and the masses, who expect a great deal from these individuals and are burning to fight the bourgeoisie, may be deceived into following them. And what will happen? Something that is clear to us. Since these people are not the vanguard of the working class, since they are not guided by the enlightening principles of Marxism-Leninism, they will encounter misunderstanding among the broad masses and sooner or later they will fail, but at the same time the genuine struggle will be discredited, because the masses will regard armed struggle with distrust. We must prepare the masses politically and ideologically, and convince them through their own practical experience. That is why we say that this inhibiting, reactionary theory about the revolution that is being spread in Latin America is the offspring of modern revisionism and must be unmasked by the Marxist-Leninists.

Certain leaders of some Latin-American state put in the odd word in a veiled “opposition” to the Soviet Union, but we cannot infer from this that they are really opposed to it. Those words are only pressure and blackmail for the purpose of gaining some advantage, on the one hand, of deceiving the naive, on the other. If the advocates of these theories were to stop serving the Soviets in their imperialist-revisionist expansion, the latter would cut off all aid to them. We know the Soviets only too well. However, this will not occur, because they serve the Soviets admirably. This is why the Soviet revisionists continue to give them aid and keep them alive.

It is the duty of all the Marxist-Leninists to expose this anti-Marxist trend, the advocates of which style themselves Marxist-Leninists and use Marxist terminology only as a disguise without which they would be lost. We must tear this disguise from them and this can be done only through organized struggle on the Marxist-Leninist course, as you comrades from Ecuador and others are doing.

We were very pleased over the way you have gone about strengthening the Party and the correct views you hold on armed struggle. If we Marxists do not thoroughly understand that the party must be strong as steel and this can be brought about only on the Marxist-Leninist road, we can achieve no victory. Our people fought in the past, too, just like your people, but did not win. Very good and able individuals have emerged from the bosom of our people, persons with clear illuminist views and great revolutionary determination, who fought with rifle and pen against the Turks, and later, against other invaders. But they shed their blood and toiled in vain. The bourgeoisie and the feudal lords exploited the victories of the people and these outstanding individuals to foster their own interests, while the people remained as oppressed as before. They came about because there was not even a progressive party, let along a Marxist-Leninist party, to lead our people forward. Only after the founding of the Communist Party were the Albanian people able to realize their age-old aspirations; it was only under its leadership that their sweat and blood were not shed in vain. Hence, it is the leadership by the Marxist-Leninist party which ensures the victory of the people, and not the actions of a guerrilla “centre,” as some people preach.

We rejoice that you comrades of the Communist Party of Ecuador have purged your Party of elements alien to a genuine Marxist-Leninist party. We are very pleased to see that you are clear about how the party should be strengthened and expanded, with what class elements its ranks should be filled, how it should be extended to the countryside, and in the first place, how it should implant itself more deeply in the ranks of the working class. People are not born communists, but they are born pure, and during their life and in the course of the daily struggle they learn, are educated and become communists who will sacrifice even their lives for their ideals. It is very good that you have opened courses and schools for Marxist-Leninist education. This is what we did, too, during the National Liberation War. The learning and assimilation of Marxism-Leninism are essential for and the salvation of every communist and every Marxist-Leninist party.

Even today, this is the course we follow. We have put lessons, work in production, and physical and military training for the defense of the Homeland in the centre of our activity for the education of the youth…

We assure you, dear comrades, that our Party, closely united with the people, has striven and will strive with might and main and with the greatest loyal to defend the purity of Marxism-Leninism, and will work tirelessly to strengthen proletarian internationalism. The Party will do everything to ensure that its efforts and the efforts of the people are understood and t create conditions, not only for the consolidation of our socialist Homeland, but also for the strengthening of the bonds of friendship with all the fraternal Marxist-Leninist parties, so that our Party, too, makes its modest contribution, devoting all its energies, to our common cause, the triumph of the proletarian revolution.

We are very moved by the high appraisal you make of the modest work of our Party. As Marxism-Leninists, we understand very well everything you, dear comrades, said about our Party and its experience. We thank you for all these things and tell you that they are a great encouragement to us, because we know they come from the clear and realistic judgment of Marxist-Leninist comrades. Of course, as Marxist-Leninists, we assure you that this does not make us conceited. On the contrary, it increases our sense of responsibility to make ourselves worthy of at least one per cent of what you say. Therefore, we must fight even harder, must perform our duty even more honourably, to ensure that every action of ours not only does not harm the great cause of socialism in the world, the cause of world revolution, or even that of an individual Marxist-Leninist party or group, but, on the contrary, serves as an encouragement and example for everybody, so that Marxist-Leninist parties grow in number and strength, because, as a saying of the Albanian people goes, just one or two flowers do not mean summer. For the socialist revolution to triumph everywhere more flowers are and will be needed. This is how we understand our internationalist duty.

For us, too, this meeting with you will remain unforgettable, because you told us about the situation in Latin America. We feel ourselves a hundred times stronger when we see that yours is a true Marxist-Leninist Party, with a clear line and perspective. There is no doubt that such a party will certainly triumph. You say that when our Party was founded it had about 200 members. But this did not prevent us in the slightest from winning the masses, leading them, fighting and, together with them, defeating the internal and external enemies, triumphing and setting up the dictatorship of the proletariat.

What great strength we gain to step up our struggle, when we see that your Party in Ecuador is a party with a brilliant future, since it upholds the banner of Marxism-Leninism!

You say you have made mistakes, that you have not seen some things as you ought to. What party has not made mistakes? Our Party, too, had made mistakes in the course of its revolutionary activity, but not in its general line. The important thing is that we have corrected our mistakes immediately, as soon as we have detected them.

What you say about strengthening the work of the party with the organization of the youth and the women is extremely important to the revolution. I have noticed, and you have said this yourselves in your talks with our comrades, that you are very interested in the question of students. This is very good, but you must keep in mind that students are part of the youth, not the whole of it. Likewise, you attach importance to the problems of the countryside and problems of the working class. If you attach importance to the countryside and the working class, you cannot fail to be interested in the problems of youth and women in the countryside, as well. The question now is that you must concretize these issues better. We shall be very happy if our modest experience is of any help to you.

I want to add this, too: our Party was small, our working class at the time when the Party was founded was exceptionally small. Nevertheless, thanks to the great work carried out by the Party, the youth, in the first place, embraced its ideology, Marxism-Leninism. The Party was quick to organize them, and they threw themselves into the war and played an extremely great role in it; they fought as they did, enlightened by the ideology of the working class.

As for the women, right from the start the slogan of the Party was that the armed struggle could not be waged and carried through to victory without them. The Party stressed that, in the first place, the women themselves must understand that, while fighting for the liberation of the Homeland, they would be fighting for the emancipation of women, too. At that time the Party said: If the women do not understand the great idea of the Party about their participation in the war, there will be no genuine liberation war. We attached major importance to this question, for without its solution the women would have become a hindrance to the war, because they had only to say to their husbands or sons, “where are you going?”, “why are you leaving us?”, “they will kill us!”, “don’t go to war!”, “let us mind our own business!”, “what good is the war to us?” etc., and things would have taken another direction.

The Party did its work so thoroughly that the women became ardent propagandist of the line of the Party within their families. “Take the rifle,” they would urge their husbands and sons, “and throw yourselves into the fight for the liberation of the Homeland!” You understand, comrades, what courage this stand on the part of the woman gave the husband or son who seized the rifle and joined the partisans.

Whenever we entered the homes of our people, in city or village, the women gave us every possible help, they linked themselves closely with our war, with the line of the Party. Many of their husbands or sons were fighting in the mountains, and, when we went to their homes for shelter and food, they treated us as their sons, as their closest relatives. See the importance of women and their activity! It was in these conditions that the womens’ organization was set up in our country. Of course, the same process will develop in your country, too. In the beginning we came up against many difficulties, everything was not achieved at once, as you see it today. We know what difficulties there are in the capitalist countries, but they can all be overcome when the line is correct and the party determined.

You, my dear comrades, have helped us greatly in another direction too, in further enhancing our confidence in the future victories of the common struggle. We assure you that we will honourably accomplish our tasks as soldiers of the revolution, as loyal soldiers of Marxism-Leninism. We would like you, dear comrades of Communist Party (M-L) of Ecuador, to consider our Party as yours in everything. Weare ready to give you whatever assistance you consider useful, because as internationalists we are duty bound to do so. If we do not do this, we cannot call ourselves internationalists, cannot be Marxists. We have spared and will spare nothing to give you every possible assistance, as our comrades and brothers, because your internationalist assistance to us is also great.

You also help us with your experience, and if you notice that we may be going wrong in some direction, please criticize us, shake us up with your open criticism, and rest assured that we consider and treat your comrades’ criticism as the most sacred thing. Our people say that he that criticizes loves you, he that does not love you pats you on the back so that you may continue on the wrong road.

Our Marxist-Leninist dialectics teaches us that not everything goes straight, that people’s heads are not all cut into one pattern, that the energies of each individual are not equal, some go straight, others do not. In these conditions, the implementation of the norms of the Party, Bolshevik criticism and self-criticism set people right, keeps the party pure and carries the revolution forward.

These are the relations we want, this is the sincere proletarian love we want to have for one another, and the more we do for one another, for the revolution, the more modest we must be. Therefore, the modesty of communists must be exemplary, like that of proletarians; the efforts and thoughts of communists must be like those of proletarians, the feelings of their souls and hearts must be like those of proletarians. Only thus can our revolution march forward.

We are sorry, dear comrades, that you will be leaving, but rest assured that our hearts are united with yours.

We know that you are very busy. Even greater and more difficult tasks await you in the future, nevertheless, we would be be very happy if you could come more frequently ans stay longer in our country, regardless of the fact that this cannot be done in every instance according to our wishes.

May your great wish be fulfilled, may the day come when we can visit you in your country.

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A Few Comments on ‘Critical Notes on Political Economy’ by Che Guevara

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Rafael Martinez

On the 40th Anniversary of the Assassination of Che Guevara by US Imperialism

Here we present a brief review of the book ‘Apuntes criticos a la Economia Politica’ (Critical Notes on Political Economy), consisting of various materials written by Ernesto Che Guevara, published by Ocean Press, Melbourne, Australia 2006 (in Spanish). This was published in conjunction with the ‘Centro de Estudios Che Guevara’ in Cuba, where the original documents are located. This book presents a collection of materials, most of which were unpublished and, therefore, represent a very important reference point for further scrutiny of Guevara’s economic thought.

It is convenient to warn the reader about our point of view with regard to the completeness of the materials selected by the editors. It is our firm belief that the published materials offer an incomplete reference point to Guevara’s overall view of political economy and that, if taken in isolation, these texts can help obliterate the essence of his economic thought and his contribution to the early stages of the economic reforms in Cuba. We hold the opinion that this publication does not contain all the available unpublished materials/notes on economic and philosophic topics that Guevara left us before taking off to Bolivia. Last, but not least, we call on the reader to see Guevara’s bare and sketchy language in the concrete historical context and circumstances in which Guevara was forced to scribble his thoughts. We find that a number of statements, especially those written by Guevara as comments to his readings, are not necessarily as clear as one would have hoped, leaving room for misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Guevara’s true intentions.

The book offers the following unpublished materials, which constitute, according to the editors, all the written materials left by Guevara with regard to his unfinished work for the publication of a manual of political economy. This manual of political economy would have been a response to the Soviet textbook of political economy with which he had already polemicised in public discussions:

  • Tentative plan
  • Prologue: the need of this book
  • Biographical sketch of Marx and Engels
  • 10 questions on the teachings of a famous book (referring to the Soviet textbook of Political Economy, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Spanish edition 1963)

These are followed by a lengthy appendix, some materials of which were also unpublished. The appendix starts with a selection of critical notes (unpublished) on economic-philosophic Marxist works, which we believe is a rather incomplete set of notes, given the fact that Guevara presented himself as a rather methodical and critical person who, as we see in the book, loved to scribble his thoughts as he read. We are eager to see the rest of Guevara’s annotations, particularly those related to Lenin’s works on the New Economic Policy, Stalin’s work, ‘Economic Problems…’ and Mao’s ‘On the Correct Handling of Contradiction’ among others. We believe that these materials would be crucial to reconstruct a more cohesive picture of the later stage of Guevara’s economic thought.

In our view, in these unpublished works Guevara does not contradict any of the principles of his economic thoughts formulated earlier in his published articles that have been available to the public for over 40 years. While consistent with the most relevant tenets of ‘Guevarism’ in political economy, this text is a most valuable document that reveals some remaining obscure aspects of Guevara’s economic thought and evolution. This document is particularly revealing and assists us in gaining further insight into the heart of Guevarism and its distinct idiosyncrasy. It most definitely assists us in further refuting the theses of neo-Trotskyism with regard to Guevara’s economic thinking and philosophy, which try to reconcile his criticism of the post-Stalin Soviet economic model with their anti-Stalinism. On the other hand, this new document further corroborates and sheds additional light on the negative aspects of Guevara’s economic thought. As a matter of fact, as will be seen below, these documents help us gain additional insight on Guevara’s interpretation of the dialectical method and how this leads him to commit serious mistakes of principle. In conclusion, this new set of documents sheds very important light on crucial aspects of Guevara’s writings and it will be instrumental in building a more comprehensive picture of the revolutionary’s economic thought, both in its glory and its misery, in its apogee and its defeat. This document is a mandatory source for those who wish to comprehend the intricacies of Guevara’s thought and its implications on questions of political economy of the transitional society in the conditions of Latin America.

In the foreword written as an introduction to the political economy textbook he planned to write he synthesises his point of view with regard to the progress made in the political economy of the transitional society. The essential points put forward in the foreword are consistent with the spirit behind his critical notes, indicating that he had already arrived at the basic tenets of this economic thinking. This paragraph bears witness to Guevara’s overall viewpoint on the state of Marxism-Leninism:

‘The immense amount of writings that he [Lenin – our note] would leave after his death constituted an indispensable complement to the works of the founders [Marx and Engels – our note]. Then the source became weaker and only some isolated works of Stalin and some writings from Mao Tse Tung managed to stand out as a witness to the immense creative power of Marxism. In his last years Stalin sensed the results of this backwardness in theory and ordered the publication of a manual accessible to the masses that would deal with issues of political economy up to our days’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

Guevara worked on the manual of political economy in the period 1965-1966 during his stays in Tanzania and Prague, after stepping down from office in Cuba. These materials bear excellent testimony to one of the most complex periods of the thinker in which he finally rejected the model of economic development pursued by the socialist camp at the time and had reached the stage at which he formulated his own interpretation of the theoretical sources of that economic practice. Guevara had reached a point at which he felt ready to formulate a list of theoretical and practical problems that he believed had not been addressed by Marxists at the time, as he had the firm belief that the state of theoretical development was not appropriate to the objective conditions imposed by the revolutionary process. To understand his state of mind it is most relevant to emphasise Guevara’s disillusionment with the economic reforms in Eastern Europe (and the Soviet Union for that matter), which he criticised most of all:

‘The solution that people want to give in Poland is the free development of the law of value, i.e. the return to capitalism. This solution had already been applied in the Polish countryside, where agriculture was de-collectivised; this year, due to drought and other natural adversities, Polish agriculture is in worse shape than before, has had more serious problems, in other words, the place where the economic calculus leads to … is solving the problems using the same system, by enhancing the material stimulus, the dedication of people to their material interest, leading, in a way, to the resurrection of categories that are strictly capitalist. This is something that has been happening for a while, which Poland is now trying and I think it is also being tried in other socialist countries’ (in ‘Annexes’, pp. 321-322).

In addition, Guevara was of the opinion that the reforms in Eastern Europe were of similar quality to those implemented in Yugoslavia, which Guevara refers to as aberrations due to mistakes of principles:

‘Poland is going along the Yugoslav path, of course; collectivisation is reverted, private property inland is reinstated, a new system of exchange is established and contacts are maintained with the United States. In Czechoslovakia and Germany the Yugoslav system is under study in order to apply it’ (in ‘Annexes’, pp. 404-405).

On the other hand, we are inclined to believe that Guevara would have disagreed with the assertion that there was capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in the sense implied by Marxist-Leninists. On pages 380-381 of the present volume he seems to agree with Sweezy’s rebuttal of the Chinese thesis about the capitalist character of Yugoslavia, indicating that he would rather agree with the statement that ‘Yugoslavia is moving towards capitalism’.

By openly objecting to the essence of the economic reform in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Guevara alienates himself from the mainstream economic thought at the time. In doing so he becomes critical not only of the present but also of the past and as it becomes clearer to us now, he arrived at the belief that at the source of these economic deviations stands Lenin’s attitude towards the economics of the transitional society and the first steps of the construction of socialism:

‘In the course of our practical and theoretical investigation we have a clear suspect, with name and surnames: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’ (in the ‘Prologue’, p. 31).

Guevara is most likely a victim of the ideological confusion of the time in Cuba, which, in conjunction with the lack of materials in Spanish translation, may have created the pre-conditions for arriving at some dreadful conclusions. One of the most shocking pieces revealed by this document is Guevara’s rebuttal of some of Lenin’s theses on the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. In particular, Guevara does not understand Lenin’s call for the New Economic Policy and its role in the prospective of socialist transformations in a predominantly petty-bourgeois country. To blame Lenin for the restoration, or to be more exact according to Guevara’s reasoning, for the process of restoration of capitalism at the time in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe is a reflection, among other things, of Guevara’s failure to grasp Lenin’s dialectical approach to the solution of contradictions in the transitional society:

‘It is a real fact that all the juridical superstructure of the current Soviet society comes from the New Economic Policy; in this the old capitalist relations are preserved, the old categories of capitalism, i.e., commodities exist, to a certain extent, profit and the interest that the banks appropriate exist and, of course, there exists the direct material interest of the workers’ (ibid., in ‘Some thoughts about the socialist transition’, p. 11).

To blame the New Economic Policy for the right-wing character of the economic reforms of the post-Stalin period shows how little Guevara understood of the essence of the transformation of the economic categories inherited from capitalism that occurred in the Soviet Union during the periods of transition to socialism and communism. This major mistake in Guevara’s economic thought is due to a number of circumstances. We believe that his idealist mistakes are to blame for this blunder. We should also take into account the fact that he was not acquainted with the Soviet materials on political economy and philosophy of the Stalin period. We emphasise this fact also because he was certainly not the only one affected by this shortcoming. As a matter of fact it affects many of those who take Stalin’s Economic Problems in isolation from the economic practice of socialist construction that this crucial work is a generalisation of. Without access to this documentation it is extremely hard to make a case in favour of the qualitative change of the character of the economic categories in the practice of the Soviet Union in the Stalin period. Unfortunately, so far the wealth of economic and philosophical materials published in major Soviet journals of the revolutionary period still remains in Russian only. At the time when the economic discussions under Guevara’s leadership had reached their apogee, a number of various ideological trends were tolerated and even published in the official Cuban press. Needless to say, these trends had institutionalised the fact that their analysis of the economic history of the Soviet Union was based on pseudo-bourgeois if not utterly bourgeois sources and that for them questions of dialectics and the Marxist method are as much abstract notions as they are alien to a bourgeois thinker. With this we do not mean to exonerate or excuse Guevara’s fundamental mistakes; however, we believe that this circumstance, together with preconceptions and ideological prejudices that became overwhelming and ubiquitous in ideological discussions at the time in Cuba, may have played a role in the formation of Guevara’s views on political economy.

What seemed at the time to be a relative obvious statement to many in Cuba, including Guevara himself, that the existence of commodity-money relations in the Soviet Union was inherited from the period of the New Economic Policy, is no more than a reflection of sheer ignorance of the complexity of the economic reality of the transitional society.

Guevara went further when he stated that the New Economic Policy was a requirement particular to the social and economic reality of post-revolutionary Russia and that Cuba, or any other country facing the tasks of revolutionary transformations, does not necessarily need to implement these policies. This statement is in principle correct. However, we think that Guevara may have wanted to make the issue of the disappearance of commodity-money relations a question of socialist education, rather than a question of the maturity of the relations of production and the development of the productive forces. We have certain evidence that Guevara does not necessarily agree with the fundamental principle of the objective character of the economic laws of the transitional society. Guevara’s seemingly correct statement against the absolutisation of the New Economic Policy as an intermediate and necessary step to the transition to socialism, as advocated by modern revisionism, seems to be considered by him from idealist positions. Here lies the core of Guevara’s deviation from the principles of Marxist-Leninist political economy. This does not necessarily deny the value of his fight against the tenets of modern revisionism, but it places severe restrictions on the value of his economic thinking.

It is extremely interesting to note that Guevara is aware of the evolution of the Soviet manual after the death of Stalin. He recognised that the manual changed both in its structure and its orientation as the Soviet economic structure evolved.

‘This manual has been translated into many languages and several editions have been published, undergoing pronounced changes in its structure and orientation as changes took place in the Soviet Union’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

Unfortunately, we lack further detail on this reasoning, which would be crucial in evaluating Guevara’s understanding of the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union. We believe we have a fair idea of Guevara’s point of view with regard to the change of orientation (at least along general lines, i.e. Stalin’s line for the suppression of commodity-money relations as opposed to their expansion under the revisionist economic model). But we are not particularly clear about what particular aspects of the economic policies in the 1950s he would refer to as a change in orientation, since the economic reforms of September 1953 onwards affected many aspects of the Soviet economic structure. As discussed above, we believe that Guevara does not necessarily understand the qualitative changes of the economic relations in Stalin’s period and the economic discussions that led to the first draft of the political economy textbook.

Nevertheless, to acknowledge an evolution in Soviet economic thinking at the time is very important in analysing the intricacies of Guevara’s own evolution and for the significance of his economic thought. It certainly reinforces the progressive aspect of his economic thinking with respect to what was widely accepted as a dogma by Trotskyite and neo-Trotskyite ideologists. Guevara does not subscribe to the dogma advocated by those who attacked and still attack the Soviet Union from ‘left’-wing revisionist positions, that allegedly Khrushchevism-Brezhnevism represents a continuation of what is usually referred to as Stalinism. According to this reasoning a rift is established between Leninism and ‘Stalinism’ and the latter is understood as a deviation or even its antithesis, and was perpetuated after Stalin’s death. They do not recognise a qualitative change in the economic policies in the 1960s compared to the political economy embodied in the policies of Stalin’s period. On the contrary, they view the economic evils of Soviet modern revisionism as a result of ‘Stalinist’ thinking. Nothing can be more absurd from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism, and Guevara is not afraid to polemicise with those who imply a rift between Lenin and Stalin, whether explicitly or implicitly, by rebutting the Soviet revisionists’ claims of Stalin’s mistakes:

‘In the alleged mistakes of Stalin lies the difference between a revolutionary attitude and a revisionist one. He sees the danger enclosed in market relations and tries to break with it, while the new leadership is curved by the pressure of the superstructure and promotes the action of market relations by theorising that the use of these economic mechanisms may lead to communism’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 214).

It is well known that Guevara had an overall supportive attitude towards Stalin’s Economic Problems. However, the present text bears witness to the fact that he disagrees with some of the points raised by Stalin in this work. We will not elaborate more on this point since we would not be adding much of substance to what has already been said about the idiosyncrasy of Guevara’s economic thought. Nevertheless, it would probably be helpful to give a quote in which Guevara clearly states his position with regard to Trotsky and Trotskyism:

‘I think that the fundamental stuff that Trotsky was based upon was erroneous and that his ulterior behaviour was wrong and his last years were even dark. The Trotskyites have not contributed anything whatsoever to the revolutionary movement; where they did most was in Peru, but they finally failed there because their methods are bad’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 402).

We do not want to mislead the reader into believing that ‘Guevarism’ is a form of vindication of ‘Stalinism’. While appreciating the revolutionary character of Stalin’s contribution to political economy and demonising the tenets of modern revisionism, he also appears quite critical of Stalin’s deeds. Guevara concludes the above paragraph by bluntly making a terrible accusation:

‘Few voices oppose him publicly, showing this way the huge historical crime of Stalin: to have despised communist education and to have established a stiff cult of personality’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 214). 

Here Guevara manifests a lack of erudition and originality in perpetuating one of the most common criticisms of Stalin’s legacy. To talk about Stalin’s alleged contempt for communist education reflects a profound lack of knowledge of the history of the Soviet Union. It is factually incorrect and most likely reflects again the lack of translated materials and a general ignorance of everyday life in the Soviet Union. In essence Guevara echoes a rather superficial interpretation of the history of the Soviet Union, which is essentially divorced from the point of view and methodology of historical materialism. Revisionist ideologists, just like bourgeois historians, try to explain the essence of historical periods based on the personality of leaders and ascribe whatever prominent aspect of social life to them. Unfortunately, Guevara mechanically propagates subjective thinking into his economic analysis and discredits his image unnecessarily. It is unlikely that Guevara made a conscious effort to seriously evaluate the essence of such statements and to make a more objective analysis of Stalin’s period. Here, Guevara propagates anti-Marxist reasoning to substantiate one of the central tenets of his economic theory: the inclusion of consciousness into economic relations and therefore to consider consciousness as part of the object of political economy.

This aspect of Guevara’s economic thinking is well known and is repeated in these new materials on numerous occasions. In a letter to Fidel Castro, Guevara explicitly states something that we already expected as a result of the analysis of his published works. We were aware of strong similarities between Guevara’s striving for communist education and the Maoist interpretation of the role of consciousness in the relations of production:

‘Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness, one does not reach it by jumping into the vacuum, by a change in the quality of production, or by the simple clash between the productive forces and the relations of production. Communism is a phenomenon of consciousness and the consciousness of man has to be developed…’ (in ‘Some thoughts about the socialist transition’, p. 11).

It is worth noting that Guevara’s denunciation of Stalin’s alleged contempt for education is quite similar to Mao’s argument in his critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems:

‘Stalin’s book from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things, not people. Does the kind of supply system for consumer goods help spur economic development or not? He should have touched on this at the least. Is it better to have commodity production or is it better not to? Everyone has to study this. Stalin’s point of view in his last letter [Reply to comrades A. V. Sanina and V. G. Venzher – editor’s note] is almost altogether wrong. The basic error is mistrust of the peasants’ (Mao Tse Tung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1977, p. 135).

This strongly suggests that this aspect of Guevara’s economic thinking is not original, as some experts of his work insistently argue. It is evident that this aspect of his thinking is the result of the influence of various ideological trends that circulated in Cuba at the time. It is clear to us that Guevara made a serious effort in the course of his investigation to disentangle complex questions of political economy. In doing so the spectrum of literature he was exposed to could not have been as broad as one would have hoped. Unfortunately, Guevara is driven by the prejudice propagated by many different revisionist trends outside the Soviet Union, and within it after Stalin’s death, that allegedly the economic thought at the time was characterised by dogmatism (on the other hand, we are unclear as to what exactly Guevara meant by dogmatism). While being progressive in the main, Guevara uncritically takes for granted what the Bettelheims and Sweezys propagated in Cuba without proof (speaking of dogmatic thinking…).

‘After a long lethargy, characterised by the most outright apologetic, the XXth Congress of the CPSU made a leap, but not forward; constrained by the dead end that the hybrid system led to and pressed by the superstructure, the Soviet leadership took steps backwards that were complemented by the new organisation of industry. The lethargy is followed by repression; both have the same dogmatic character’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 213).

Guevara on Collectivisation

This topic is probably the one in which this document gives us the most additional insight into Guevara’s economic thought. Guevara’s views on collectivisation are not really covered in the published materials available to us. One could only guess that for the sake of internal consistency Guevara would have advocated for a progressive stand with regard to the role of the state and the main relations of production in the countryside and his attitude with regard to modern revisionism on this question. It is fascinating to see confirmed this initial view that Guevara opposed the selling of the machine tractor stations to the collective farms. This policy had become default at the time of the Cuban revolution and was one of the most important aspects of the agrarian program of the revisionists around the world and was very much supported and even imposed by the Soviet revisionists.

It seems probable that Guevara was unaware of the fact that the Chinese leadership also advocated these policies at the time. According to various biographers of Guevara, at some point the contradiction between his economic policies and those instigated by the Soviet revisionists became so acute that the latter started to accuse Guevara of deviationism (Trotskyism, in particular) and that he in turn allegedly rebutted those accusations by arguing that if anything, he was closer to the Chinese with regard to the controversy. We do not want to debate the accuracy of the eyewitness’ accounts on which these authors based their assumptions about Guevara’s Maoism. What is clear to us, however, is that Guevara fundamentally deviates from mainstream Maoism on this question, probably without really knowing it.

Guevara raises one point correctly. It is a well-known fact that the relative weight of strictly private agricultural production of peasants was dropping with respect to the overall output of the collective farms, as reported by the Soviets at that time. This was due to the natural evolution created by the growing disparity of labour productivity between mechanised and manual labour and the fact that capital investment in general favoured the former for obvious reasons. Guevara is right in pointing to the fact that, at some point in the development of the collective system of production, the contradiction between the people’s property and the kolkhoz is not determined by the fraction of the means of production made up of private property of individual peasants.

‘Private property is being eliminated within the kolkhoz and, moreover the relative weight of collective property becomes overwhelming, but even if it was 100% the main issue still remains, the contradiction between the people’s property and the collective property’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 185).

Here Guevara addresses the general problem of the contradiction between collective property and socialised property as a problem per se, which always remains as long as collective property has not merged into the property of the whole people. If put into historical perspective, Guevara’s attitude represents a great step forward with respect to the character of the agrarian reforms fostered by modern revisionism. Here Guevara is aware of a basic element in the Marxist-Leninist approach to the resolution of contradictions between the city and the countryside, contradictions that modern revisionism tried to obliterate and reduce to a question of the different level of development of the forces of production and productivity. Guevara correctly disagrees with such a postulate, thus reinforcing the overall progressive character of his economic thought. This is further strengthened by Guevara’s open rebuttal of one of the biggest attacks on socialism by the Soviet revisionists, namely, the selling of the machine tractor stations from the state to the collective farms in the late 1950s. After a section of the revisionist manual of political economy devoted to substantiating the selling of the machine tractor stations, Guevara writes:

‘This is a concrete example of the contradictions that become antagonistic between the social property and the individual collectivity. The MTS [Machine Tractor Stations – editor’s note] may have had bureaucratic deviations, but the superstructure imposed its solution: more autonomy, more wealth of their own’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 187).

Nevertheless, one must always be careful with Guevara’s formulations. In fact, even though Guevara’s attitude to the revisionist plans for agriculture is overall progressive, one can never be cautious enough when dealing with this writings. Below we find a paragraph that may indicate that Guevara probably made his criticism for the wrong reasons:

‘Before, the need for commodity forms was explained by the existence of different forms of property. In practice the kolkhoz property acts as antagonist to the directly social property and therefore, the double character of labour is similar to that in capitalism. The double character of labour would disappear if this antagonism ceased to exist’ (in ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’, p. 159).

The first sentence is not controversial. Guevara simple states that under Stalin the persistence of commodity categories in socialism was understood as a result of the presence of two forms of property under socialism: socialised or state property and collective property or the kolkhoz. Unfortunately, Guevara addresses the relationship between the collective property and socialised property as antagonistic. We cannot agree with this as a general statement. In the conditions of the restoration of capitalism the relationship between the state (no more socialised) and collective property is antagonistic and it definitely becomes similar to that in the countries of classical capitalism. However, as long as the state property is socialised, i.e., loosely speaking, the means of production is in the hands of the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat (regardless of the level of the development of the productive forces and the effective level of socialisation of the process of production), the relationship between the former and the kolkhoz system is not antagonistic. This type of statement is equivalent to saying that the relationship between the working class and the peasantry is a relationship of antagonism, which is definitely not true in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therefore, the double character of labour in the socialist system or in the transitional society is not driven by a relationship of antagonism.

Here one could argue that Guevara was implying that capitalist relations had been restored in the Soviet Union. He probably would have agreed to some extent with that statement. As a matter of fact, in the text of ‘10 questions on the teachings of a famous book’ he bluntly objects to the concept of the state of the whole people, a concept that was officially supported in the Soviet Union at the time, which clearly implies that he believed the dictatorship of the proletariat had been disbanded for good. Given the extent of Guevara’s criticism of the reforms in Eastern Europe and the fact that he openly talked about these as a regression with respect to earlier practices, one might be inclined to believe that perhaps Guevara was implying that capitalist relations had been restored to some extent in the countries of the former People’s Democracies and the Soviet Union. This might be the case, however, and very unfortunately, Guevara made the statement above in a general sense, as opposed to the case of the revisionist system alone. We are able to disentangle this by means of a short paragraph in the ‘Annexes’ written following a famous quote from Lenin’s On Cooperation that we insert here for the reader’s benefit:

‘By adopting NEP we made a concession to the peasant as a trader, to the principle of private trade; it is precisely for this reason (contrary to what some people think) that the co-operative movement is of such immense importance. All we actually need under NEP is to organise the population of Russia in co-operative societies on a sufficiently large scale, for we have now found that degree of combination of private interest, of private commercial interest, with state supervision and control of this interest, that degree of its subordination to the common interests which was formerly the stumbling-block for very many socialists. Indeed, the power of the state over all large-scale means of production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured proletarian leadership of the peasantry, etc. – is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society out of co-operatives, out of co-operatives alone, which we formerly ridiculed as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to treat as such now, under NEP? Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? It is still not the building of socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for it.” (V.I. Lenin, On Cooperation Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966, Vol. 33, pp. 467-468.)

To which Guevara, to our despair, bluntly objects:

‘I think this is a wrong conception. The fundamental mistake is to think that the collective character is above its private character, something that practice has ruled out. The cooperative is the result of an economic need; there is a class force behind it and its consolidation and to acknowledge it is to strengthen the class that Lenin so feared’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 241).

Unfortunately, this reasoning is far from Marxist and reflects once again Guevara’s shallow understanding of dialectical materialism, without which a consistently Marxist treatment of political economy is simply not possible. Guevara is basically telling us, consciously or unconsciously, that the political union between the working class and the peasantry is not viable, even under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, by asserting that the collective sector acts as a private producer with respect to the socialised system. And if one reads his words literally one would have to conclude that Guevara does not see the progressive character of cooperation, however complex or simple, in the process of construction of the socialist economy. We are not even sure if Guevara thought carefully enough about the implications of such a statement.

Guevara on Mao

The present document sheds some light on the question of Guevara’s attitude towards Mao in a very revealing but brief passage, which touches upon a very important question in dialectical materialism. In particular, and possibly unconsciously, Guevara deals with one of the most distinct characteristics of Mao’s understanding of the interrelation of opposites in dialectical materialism. A more detailed analysis of this question has revealed a lot about the true essence of Mao’s understanding of the role of contradiction and equilibrium. Due to the lack of material the conclusions drawn here with regard to Guevara’s attitude towards Mao in general, and with respect to this aspect in particular, need to be taken with a grain of salt.

The revisionist conception of the role of commodity-money relations is ultimately related to questions of dialectical materialism, such as the role of contradiction and equilibrium. It is no coincidence to see both aspects linked one way or the other in the analysis of the political economy of modern revisionism. Conversely, we would expect that Guevara would have a well-defined attitude toward the question of contradiction and equilibrium in dialectics for consistency sake, due to the progressive character of Guevara’s conception of the political economy of the transitional society. As a matter of fact the analysis of Guevara’s economic thought indicates a well-defined system of thought, not always correct, but at least self-consistent. One excellent example of self-consistency is Guevara’s negative attitude toward selling the machine tractor stations to the collective farms, as discussed in the previous section.

Before moving to the citation per se, it is relevant to emphasise our lack of understanding of Guevara’s attitude towards the Chinese CP at the time of the controversy with the Soviets. The present document confirms accounts by various biographers of Guevara’s positive attitude towards Mao. And rightly so, as already mentioned above:

‘…Then the source became weaker and only … some writings from Mao Tse Tung managed to stand out as a witness to the immense creative power of Marxism’ (in ‘The need for this book’, p. 30).

As pointed out in the section on Guevara’s stand toward collectivisation, he fundamentally departs from the mainstream stand on this question advocated by the Chinese at the time. It is clear that he opposed the selling of the main means of production to the communes and, if he had a chance, he would have probably rejected the policies of self-reliance that Chinese agrarian policies were based upon. We have no evidence at this point whether Guevara had a chance to analyse the Chinese policies in the countryside and whether he had the opportunity to develop a debate with Chinese officials on this matter. We do have accounts of intense discussion with Soviet and Eastern European economists, especially Czechoslovaks, but we do not seem to have accounts of similar contacts with the Chinese. We are also aware of Guevara’s criticism directed at the Polish leadership. We believe that Guevara would have favoured the Chinese in the Sino-Soviet controversy given his critical attitude toward the Soviets in general and the new economic reforms in particular, which he calls revisionist. But it is not clear to what extent Guevara would have supported the economic policies of the Chinese leadership during the post-Stalin period. We simply lack any evidence. In this respect, it is also relevant to bear in mind that the ideological confusion reigning in the international communist movement at the time (the true nature of modern revisionism was not yet fully understood) had a strong impact on Guevara’s reasoning. The analysis of Guevara’s economic thought shows that he was also a victim of this ideological confusion.

The citation under study in this section belongs to a comment of Guevara allegedly written next to a number of paragraphs of Mao’s On Contradiction. This complicated section of the document needs to be understood within a historical context and, of course, within the context of the pamphlet in its entirety, as Mao’s paragraph quoted by the editors is not even necessarily relevant to Guevara’s footnote. The implications of Guevara’s citation go far beyond the particular topic discussed in the paragraphs of On Contradiction that the editors of the book have chosen to publish, for understandable reasons, as will be discussed below. Guevara writes:

‘… For the Chinese the fundamental contradiction lies between imperialism and the oppressed world, because the latter are the basis for the existence of imperialism. Imperialism can exist without socialism but not without the exploitation of the peoples where the main struggle is for the people’s liberation. On the other hand, there can be no equilibrium between antagonistic opposites [our emphasis]; the socialist countries are antagonistic opposites of the imperialist countries; although they represent a solution of an earlier contradiction (exploited and exploiters) on a national scale, they do not solve the contradiction on an international scale’ (in ‘Annexes’, p. 243).

Guevara’s citation is open to all sorts of speculation. Needless to say, our analysis is for obvious reasons not necessarily unbiased. There are two relevant aspects that we deem necessary to comment on here. Firstly, Guevara points out the position of the Chinese with regard to what they believe are the main contradiction in the class struggle. Guevara voices one of the points that Mao insisted on in his work On Contradiction, that of the existence of a principal aspects of the contradiction, which determines the character of the contradiction and its most important manifestations:

‘Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be the principal and the other the secondary. The principal aspect is the one that plays the leading role on the contradiction. The quality of the thing is mainly determined by the principal aspect of the contradiction that has taken the dominant position’ (Mao Tse-Tung, On Contradiction, International Publishers, New York, 1953, p. 36).

While Mao’s analysis of the role of imperialism in China in On Contradiction is overall correct, the exaggeration of the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations, between rich and poor, eventually assisted the Chinese leadership in supporting and further developing the anti-Marxist theory of the three worlds (which by the way was not an invention of the Chinese leadership). To argue that the main contradiction is the antagonistic contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed nations, in the historical conditions of China at the time when the pamphlet was written, is correct. However, to exaggerate the dominant role of this contradiction by idealising and absolutising that relationship unavoidably leads revisionism to disregard the antagonistic class relations between the national bourgeoisie and the oppressed people, to disregard the internal contradictions, as secondary and therefore not relevant, following Mao’s stiff attitude toward secondary contradictions. This idealisation leads to the schematic representation of the division of the world into three types of countries, regardless of social formation, which is anti-Marxist in its core. By idealising the relationship between imperialism and the oppressed nations, between rich and poor nations, such relationships are ripped off their class character and turned into classless concepts, as classless as the mechanical division of the world of exploited and exploiters into the three worlds.

It is not clear to us what Guevara is actually implying by his remark. We do not even know if this conclusion is biased by discussions with Chinese comrades at the time or if it is just an overall comment on the pamphlet, written for his own benefit. Most likely Guevara agrees with the statement. Nevertheless and secondly, what is of particular relevant in our analysis is Guevara’s statement that ‘there can be no equilibrium between antagonistic oppositess, which we find truly remarkable, for the lack of a better word.

In order to appreciate the relevance of Guevara’s statement it is necessary to recall the specifics of Mao’s understanding of the role of contradiction and the dynamics that determine the interaction between the opposites in that contradiction. In contrast to the classical Marxist-Leninist understanding of the concept of qualitative and quantitative change, Mao introduces two forms of movement in On Contradiction:

‘The movement of all things assumes two forms: the form of relative rest and the form of conspicuous change. Both forms of movement are caused by the mutual struggle of the two contradictory factors contained in a thing itself. When the movement of a thing assumes the first form, it undergoes only a quantitative but not a qualitative change, and consequently appears in a state of seeming rest… Such unity, solidarity, amalgamation, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, stability, equilibrium, coagulation, attraction, as we see in daily life, are all the appearance of things in the state of quantitative change’ (On Contradiction, p. 48).

According to Mao, there exist two types of motions, through which qualitative and quantitative changes manifest themselves. Qualitative changes take place through more or less violent motions and quantitative changes take place through relatively slow motions. From the point of view of a purely mechanical approach with regard to, for example, the transition of matter from one state into another and vice-versa, this reasoning would not necessarily provoke strong objections. However, Mao’s reasoning does have serious implications generally speaking, and in particular turns the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the dynamics of the opposites of contradictions into a theory of mechanical equilibrium between them, which is broken when antagonistic contradictions are resolved through qualitative changes or upheavals. According to this reasoning, the accumulation of quantitative changes is viewed from the point of view of harmony among the opposites of the contradiction. Harmony is broken when qualitative changes occur; harmony, however, is the form through which the interrelation of the opposites of the contradiction manifests itself between periods of upheavals. This mechanical interpretation of the understanding of the interrelation between quantitative and qualitative changes is not an innovation of Mao. As a matter of fact, this type of thinking had been extensively developed and applied to the theory of class struggle and political economy by Bogdanov and Bukharin in the Soviet Union.

To understand Bogdanovism and how his theory of equilibrium was adapted by Bukharin to questions of the political economy of the transitional society is crucial to comprehend the theories of market socialism advocated by modern revisionism. Bogdanov was one of the objects of criticism by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and Stalin fought all this life against remnants of Bukharinism in political economy. In essence, the basic philosophical and theoretical tenets of modern revisionism are inspired by Bogdanov’s postulates formulated in his work Universal Science of Organisation – Tektology (1913-1922). Tektology has been highly praised by bourgeois scholars as a precursor of a whole trend of bourgeois ‘natural philosophy of organisation in complex systems’. As Bogdanov put it, ‘the aim of Tektology is the systematisation of organised complexes’ through the identification of universal organisational principles: ‘all things are organisational, all complexes could only be understood through their organisational character’. The starting point of Bogdanov’s Tektology was that nature has a general, organised character, with one set of laws of organisation for all objects. Two aspects of Bogdanov’s contributions were central in the development of the first theories of right-wing revisionist political economy in the 1920s: first, Bogdanov’s metaphysical concept of the law of organisation of a complex system (i.e. the economy of the transitional society) through the identification of universal organisational principles; secondly, the need for equilibrium of the complex system and the environment. Bogdanov believed he had developed a more complex conception of equilibrium, different from the purely mechanical conception, which considered that any complex system should correspond to its environment and adapt to it. But in practice Bogdanov’s postulates were implemented by a trend of Soviet economists in the 1920s, including Bukharin as the leading member of the future right-wing opposition to the plans for massive collectivisation and the gradual liquidation of commodity-money relations in the Soviet economy. In the 1920s the concept of ‘law of labour expenses’ circulated among wide circles of Soviet economists. This concept was exposed at the time as no more and no less than the law of value, dressed up in the form of the Bogdanovite law of organisation of a complex system. The law of labour expenses, according to Bukharin, would be a general law (applicable to all historical epochs and modes of production) that establishes the proportions of labour. In the modes of production based on commodity-money relations, the law of value would be the manifestation of this general law. Under socialism, according to Bukharin, the law of labour expenses would act ‘naked’ without using the form of the law of value. In the end, the regulator of labour exchange under socialism would be the principle of exchange of equal labour (values in the commodity economy). In essence, Bukharin propagated the use of the law of value as the regulator of the proportions of labour in the socialist economy, which is a mercantilist approach to the questions of political economy of the transitional society. The observation of the ‘law of labour expenses’ provides proportionality and, therefore, the necessary equilibrium of the complex system. Bukharin’s energetic opposition to the policies of collectivisation and massive industrialisation was based on the belief that the economic disproportions created by the systematic violation of the ‘law of labour expenses’ (i.e. the law of value) would disturb this abstract concept of economic equilibrium. The theories of market socialism that emerged after the Great Patriotic War and became the official theoretical foundation of the new regime after Stalin’s death is just a sophisticated version of Bogdanov/Bukharin’s ‘law of labour expenses’.

It is not within the scope of the present article to deal with this question in detail. This topic will be covered in more depth in the near future. Nevertheless what is relevant to the present discussion is to point out that Mao’s On Contradiction opens the way to conceiving the concept of harmony of opposites. These features of Mao’s philosophical thinking blossom further and adopt openly revisionist manifestations in a later work, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People in 1957, in which the harmony of the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie is considered feasible. It is very possible that Guevara was also acquainted with this later work of Mao, as it had become one of Mao’s most publicised works, especially at the time when Maoism was emerging as an ideological trend independent of mainstream revisionist ideology. The fact that Guevara explicitly denies the possibility of harmony of opposites strongly indicates that he was acquainted with this work.

By this we do not want to imply that Guevara had reached a point in his theoretical investigations at which he was in a position to systematically expose the tenets of what’s known today as the theory of Maoism. On the contrary, Guevara agrees with Mao on the role of ideology in the political economy of socialism. Their conceptions of the object of political economy in the transitional society do not differ significantly in their essence. It is in this aspect where Guevara’s economic theory stumbles into serious problems. This central shortcoming of Guevara’s economic thought prevents him from fully and consistently grasping the theory of political economy developed by Lenin and Stalin.

Within the context of the quotation under scrutiny, Guevara is obviously protesting against the theory of peaceful coexistence between what he refers to as socialist countries and imperialism. While internal antagonistic contradictions were in the main resolved by the socialist revolutions, the class contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie continue mainly under the form of the antagonistic relationship between socialism and imperialism. As a matter of fact, internal contradictions are intimately connected to the antagonistic relations with the imperialist world.

The citation presented above is followed by a hopelessly wrong and rather absurd sentence, to say the very least:

‘Finally, the law of uneven development is a law of nature, not of the dominant social system; therefore, the socialist countries also develop unevenly, which transforms itself through commerce into unequal exchange, or in other words, into the exploitation of some socialist countries by others.’

This sentence is not necessarily relevant to the above discussion. However, we bring this quotation up to make more evident the fact that our investigation on the heart of Guevara’s thought is far from understood and is plagued with pitfalls and inconsistencies. This statement is a blemish on the reputation of Guevara’s thought. To state that the uneven development of socialist countries is a necessary economic law is consistent with stating that the development of socialism spontaneously engenders exploitation of man by man, and therefore, the construction of communism is a hopeless illusion and lacks scientific substantiation both philosophically and from the point of view of political economy. Let us hope for the best, that Guevara was just being sarcastic. Unfortunately, whether this was the case or whether he was trying to make a point will probably remain a mystery to us.

Source

Helen Yaffe – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara: A Rebel against Soviet Political Economy

Che_SClara

Helen Yaffe is author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution 

In January 1962 Guevara told colleagues in Cuba’s Ministry of Industries (MININD): ‘In no way am I saying that financial autonomy of the enterprise with moral incentives, as it is established in the socialist countries, is a formula which will impede progress to socialism’.[1] He was referring to the economic management system applied in the Soviet bloc, known in Cuba as the Auto-Financing System (AFS). By 1966, in his critique of the Soviet Manual of Political Economy, he concluded that the USSR: ‘is returning to capitalism.'[2] This paper will demonstrate that Guevara’s analysis developed in the period between these two statements as a result of three lines of enquiry: the study of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist system, engagement in socialist political economy debates and recourse to the technological advances of capitalist corporations.[3] At the same time Guevara was engaged in the practical experience of developing the Budgetary Finance System (BFS); an alternative apparatus for economic management in MININD.

Guevara was head of the Department of Industrialisation and President of the National Bank in 1960 when all financial institutions and 84% of industry in Cuba were nationalised. His BFS emerged as a practical solution to problems thrown up by the transition from private to state ownership of industrial production. Cuba had an unbalanced, trade dependent economy dominated by foreign interests, principally from the United States. The production units which passed under the Department’s jurisdiction ranged from artisan workshops to sophisticated energy plants. Many faced bankruptcy while others were highly profitable. Guevara’s solution was twofold: first, to group entities of similar lines of production into centralised administrative bodies called Consolidated Enterprises. This allowed the Department to control the allocation of scarce administrative and technical personnel following the exodus of 65-75% of managers, technicians and engineers after 1959; and second, to centralise the finances of all production units into one bank account for the payment of salaries, to control investment and sustain production in essential industries which lacked financial resources. With the establishment of MININD in February 1961, the BFS evolved into a comprehensive apparatus which embedded these organisational structures in a Marxist theoretical framework, to foster Cuba’s industrialisation, increase productivity and institutionalise collective management.

Advanced technology

Guevara set up the BFS with compañeros who understood the internal accounting practices, administrative centralisation and productive concentration of US corporations and their subsidiaries in Cuba. Guevara examined the documentation from these companies as they fell into state hands. He was impressed with their management structures, the use of centralised bank accounts and budgets, determinate levels of responsibility and decision-making, and departments for organisation and inspection.[4] He told colleagues that the BFS had an accounting system similar to the pre-1959 monopolies operating in Cuba, with their efficient control systems: ‘it’s not important who invented the system. The accounting system that they apply in the Soviet Union was also invented under capitalism.'[5]  

Guevara first travelled to the USSR in 1960. His deputy Orlando Borrego recalled that they visited an electronics factory which did accounts by abacus. Having studied the US-owned Cuban Electricity Company, Shell, Texaco and other corporations which used the latest IBM accounting machines, Guevara was struck by the backwardness of Soviet techniques. He believed that advances achieved by humanity should be adopted without fear of ideological contamination.

With the imposition of the US blockade, Cuba was forced to buy factories from the socialist countries, especially the USSR. This assistance was essential, but the relative backwardness of the equipment clashed with Guevara’s desire for advanced technology transfers. He did not criticise the Soviets for this backwardness per se. Rather, he complained about the contradiction between the high level of research and development in military technology and low investment applied to civilian production. He objected to their ideological resistance to appropriating advances made in the capitalist world. This was a costly mistake in terms of development and international competitiveness.[6] For example: ‘For a long time cybernetics was considered a reactionary science or pseudo-science… [but] it is a branch of science that exists and should be used’.[7] He added that in the US the application of cybernetics in industry had resulted in automation – an important productive development.

Basing a management system for socialist transition on capitalist technology was consistent with Marx’s stages theory of history, which predicted that communism would emerge from the fully developed capitalist mode of production. Marx showed how the tendency to concentration of capital, that is, to monopoly, was inherent in the system. Therefore, the monopoly form of capitalism was more advanced than ‘perfect competition’. The Soviet system originated from predominantly underdeveloped, pre-monopoly capitalism. A socialist economic management system emerging from monopoly capitalism could be more advanced, efficient and productive. The origin of the BFS was the multinational corporations of pre-1959 Cuba and it was therefore more progressive than the AFS which was adapted from pre-monopoly Russian capitalism.

Marx’s analysis of the law of value

While Guevara argued for the adoption of advanced technology he opposed the use of capitalist mechanisms to determine production and consumption. He challenged the Soviet’s reliance on capitalist categories to organise the socialist economy, particularly the operation of the law of value. The dispute about the law of value in transition economies is central to the question about the feasibility of constructing socialism in a country without a fully developed capitalist mode of production. It is integral to problems of accumulation, production, distribution and social relations. Communism implies a highly productive society in which conditions exist for distribution of the social product based on need, not surplus-generating labour time. However, the countries which have experimented with socialism have been underdeveloped, lacking the productive base for the material abundance implied by communism. The Soviet solution was to rely on the operation of the law of value to hasten the development of the productive forces, applying the profit motive, interest, credit, individual material incentives and elements of competition to promote efficiency and innovations. Guevara argued that these were not the only levers for fostering development. The BFS was the expression of his search for an apparatus to increase productive capacity and labour productivity without relying on capitalist mechanisms which undermine the formation of new consciousness and social relations integral to communism.

Between 1963 and 1965 these questions were examined in Cuba during the Great Debate on socialist transition. To the extent that commodity production and exchange through a market mechanism continued to exist after the Revolution in Cuba, it was clear to all participants in the Great Debate that the law of value continued to operate. The social product continued to be distributed on the basis of work done. However, the disagreements were about the conditions explaining the law’s survival, its sphere of operation, the extent to which it regulated production, how it related to the ‘plan’ and whether the law of value should be utilised or undermined, and if so, how. This discussion was linked to practical questions such as how enterprises should be organised, how workers should be paid and whether goods should be exchanged between state enterprises as commodities.

Guevara agreed that the law of value remained under socialism but argued that measures taken by the Revolution to undermine the capitalist market meant that the law could not serve as the dynamic catalyst to productivity and efficiency in the same way as it did under capitalism.[8] Socialisation of the means of production and distribution had ‘blunted’ the tools of capitalism.[9] Marx described a commodity as a good which changes ownership, from the producer to the consumer. Consistent with this definition, Guevara insisted that products transferred between state-owned enterprises did not constitute commodities because when they were transferred from one state factory to another there was no change in ownership. The state itself should be considered as one big enterprise.[10] For Guevara commodity-exchange relations between factories threatened transition, via ‘market socialism’, to capitalism. He stressed central planning and state regulation as substitutes to such mechanisms.

The Soviet’s argued that commodity production, the law of value, and money would disappear only when communism was achieved, but that to reach that stage it was necessary to use and develop the law of value as well as monetary and mercantile relationships. Guevara disagreed:

‘Why develop? We understand that the capitalist categories are retained for a time and that the length of this period cannot be predetermined, but the characteristics of the period of transition are those of a society that is throwing off its old bonds in order to move quickly into the new stage. The tendency should be, in our opinion, to eliminate as fast as possible the old categories, including the market, money, and, therefore, material interest – or, better, to eliminate the conditions for their existence.'[11]

For Guevara the task was not to use the law of value nor even hold it in check, but to define its sphere of operation and make inroads to undermine it – to work towards its abolition, not limitation. He developed many policies within the BFS to attempt just that.[12] In February 1964, Guevara concluded: ‘We deny the possibility of consciously using the law of value, basing our argument on the absence of a free market that automatically expresses the contradiction between producers and consumers… The law of value and planning are two terms linked by a contradiction and its resolution.'[13] For Guevara, centralised planning was the fundamental characteristic of socialist society. He conceded only: ‘the possibility of using elements of this law [of value] for comparative purposes (cost, “profit” expressed in monetary terms)’.[14]

The protagonists in Cuba were well-informed about the broader debate on incentives and financial autonomy contemporaneously underway in the eastern European socialist countries – a response to the problems of economic stagnation, low productivity and efficiency, particularly in comparison with economic growth in the developed capitalist world.  In July 1964 Guevara told colleagues that he had been reading analyses from the socialist bloc, including the resolutions of the 14th Congress of the Polish Communist Party: ‘The solution that they are proposing for these problems in Poland is the complete freedom of the law of value; that is to say, a return to capitalism.'[15] Commenting on the push to ‘liberalise’ the socialist economies Guevara said: ‘The theory is failing because they have forgotten Marx’.[16] Instead of Capital, the Soviet Manual of Political Economy had been turned into a bible.

Marx characterised the psychological or philosophical manifestation of capitalist social-relations as alienation and antagonism; the result of the commodification of labour and the operation of the law of value. For Guevara, the challenge was to replace the individuals’ alienation from the productive process, and the antagonism generated by class relations, with integration and solidarity, developing a collective attitude to production and the concept of work as a social duty. Capitalist competition created the drive to increase productivity through technological innovations and increasing exploitation. Alienation and antagonism increase with productivity. Under socialism, the development of the productive forces could be less accelerated, but it should be accompanied by a growth of consciousness. For Guevara, efforts to change consciousness must be incorporated into socialist transition at the earliest stage.

Critique on the Soviet Manual of Political Economy

In April 1965, Guevara left Cuba to lead a Cuban military mission in the Congo. The guerrillas were defeated and Guevara stayed in Tanzania and the Czech Republic between 1965 and 1966 where he began work on a comprehensive analysis of the political economy of socialist transition. In preparation for this work, Guevara took notes on the Soviet Manual, applying his theoretical arguments expounded in the Great Debate to that text. The notes were not written for publication, nor brought together as text. They were comments responding to specific paragraphs of the Manual; notes to himself, including indications of areas for further study.[17]  

Guevara criticised the Manual’s mechanistic adaptation of classical Marxist conceptions of class relations between the bourgeoisie and the working class, without considering the effects of imperialism which created a privileged working class in the advanced capitalist countries as well as beneficiary sectors in the exploited nations. He denounced as opportunism the Manual’s attempts to air-brush the inherent violence of class struggle integral to the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Turning to the period of transition, Guevara argued that the USSR’s Kolkhoz collective farm system was not a characteristic of socialism and that cooperatives were not a socialist form of ownership – they generated a capitalistic superstructure which clashed with state ownership and socialist social relations imposing their own logic over society. Guevara systematically refuted the so-called laws of socialism cited by the Manual, particularly the law of constant rising worker productivity – which he called an outrage: ‘It is the tendency that has driven capitalism for centuries.'[18]  He condemned as ‘dangerous’ the Soviet’s policy of peaceful co-existence and economic emulation with the advanced capitalist countries and pointed to serious disagreements between the socialist countries, blaming them on unequal exchange and the imposition of capitalist categories in trade relations.[19]

While declaring his daring, respect, admiration and revolutionary motives, Guevara announced that Lenin was the ultimate culprit because the New Economic Policy (NEP) which he had been forced to introduce in 1921 imposed a capitalist superstructure on the USSR. The NEP was not installed against small commodity production, Guevara stated, but at the demand of it. Small commodity production holds the seeds of capitalist development. He was certain that Lenin would have reversed the NEP had he lived longer. However, Lenin’s followers: ‘did not see the danger and it remained as the great Trojan horse of socialism, direct material interest as an economic lever.'[20] This capitalist superstructure became entrenched, influencing the relations of production and creating a hybrid system of socialism with capitalist elements that inevitably provoked conflicts and contradictions which were increasingly resolved in favour of the superstructure – capitalism was returning to the Soviet bloc.[21]

Guevara’s notes offer a profound criticism of Soviet political economy. He himself warned that some would misinterpret his proposed work as rabid anti-communism disguised as theoretical argument, but asserted that the inability of bourgeois economics to criticise itself, pointed out by Marx at the beginning of Capital, was seen in contemporary Marxism. He dedicated his work to Cuban students who go through the painful process of learning ‘eternal truths’ in eastern European manuals. He concluded that: Humanity faces many shocks before final liberation, but we cannot arrive there without a radical change in the strategy of the first most important socialist powers.[22]

Conclusion

This paper has summarised the analysis which led Guevara to forewarn the collapse of socialism in the socialist bloc. He made an important contribution to both the theory and practice of constructing socialism. He hoped to persuade socialist countries to gradually replace capitalist mechanisms during transition and offered alternative policies to serve this function. His warnings were not heeded and, for the reasons which Guevara predicted, among others, capitalism returned to all those countries. In Cuba, his analysis was revisited in the mid-1980s in the period known as Rectification which pulled the island away from the Soviet model before it collapsed, arguably contributing to the survival of Cuban socialism.

Notes

[1] Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, ‘Reunion Bimestrales’, 20 January 1962, in El Che en la Revolución Cubana: Ministerio de Industrias, tomo VI. La Habana: Ministerio de Azúcar, 1966, 147.

[2] Guevara, Apuntes Críticos a la Economía Política. La Habana: Ciencias Sociales, 2006, 27 & cited by Orlando Borrego in El Camino del Fuego, la Habana: Imagen Contemporánea, 382.

[3] This paper assumes knowledge of the laws governing the operation of the capitalist system expounded by Marx in Capital.

[4] Miguel Figueras, interview, 27 January 2006, Enrique Oltuski, interview, 15 February 2006 & Alfredo Menéndez, interview, 17 February 2005.

[5] Guevara, Bimestrales, 21 December 1963, 420.

[6] Guevara, Bimestrales, 14 July 1962, 289.

[7] Guevara, Bimestrales, 28 September 1962, 318-9.

[8] Guevara, ‘On the Concept of Value’ in Bertram Silverman (ed) Man and Socialism in Cuba: The Great Debate, New York: Atheneum, 234.

[9] Guevara, ‘Socialism and Man in Cuba’ in Silverman (ed) Socialism, 342.  

[10] Guevara, ‘On the Budgetary Finance System’, in Socialism, 143.

[11] Guevara, Budgetary, 42. Guevara’s italics.

[12] My book, Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution, details these policies.

[13] Guevara, Budgetary, 143.

[14] Guevara, ‘The Meaning of Socialist Planning’ in Socialism, 109.

[15] Guevara, Bimestrales, 11 July 1964, 505.

[16] Guevara, Bimestrales, December 1964, 566-9.

[17] First published in Havana, February 2006 as Apuntes, cited above.

[18] Guevara, Apuntes, 52.

[19] Guevara, Apuntes, 91-2, 185-6, 192-3.

[20] Guevara, Apuntes, 112.

[21] Guevara, Apuntes, 27.

[22] Guevara, Apuntes, 25-28 & Borrego, Camino, 381-383.

Source

Che Guevara and the Political Economy of Socialism

Ernesto Che Guevara visiting the tractor factory in Brno, Czechoslovakia, October 27, 1960.

Rafael Martinez

Che Guevara is widely known to the world as the romantic-idealist revolutionary. The economic thought of Che Guevara has not really been widely publicised as the Argentinean born revolutionary is commonly known for his works on the guerrilla warfare, whose underlying idealist and voluntarist approaches to the struggle of the oppressed masses against capitalism and imperialism have been exposed and rejected altogether by the Marxist-Leninists. It is most appropriate, however, to pay special attention to Guevara’s economic works, as his contribution to the economic transformation of Cuba during the early stages of the revolutionary process was central and was highly criticised by the ideologists of modern revisionism, both within and outside the country.

Che participated in making up the agrarian reform law in 1959. In October 1959 he was appointed director of the Department of Industrialisation, which was created by INRA (Instituto Nacional de la Reforma Agraria or National Institute of the Agrarian Reform). At that time most of the industry was still in the hands of private owners. Guevara undertook the task of studying the economy of the island and establishing the guidelines of building up Cuban industry. According to Orlando Borrego, author of ‘Che el camino del fuego’ (Imagen Contemporanea, Havana 2001), the department started off without a single industry under its jurisdiction nor a ‘budget of its own to finance supplies, investments and other expenses’ to manage the few companies that passed to its jurisdiction later in the year. In November 1959 Guevara was appointed head of the National Bank, although he never stopped overseeing the work of the department of industrialisation to where he returned within the next year.

It is not till October 1960, when the Cuban Government decrees the immediate nationalisation of commercial and industrial enterprises including the sugar cane industry, that the Department of Industrialisation becomes a full-fledged body for the organisation of industrial production on a massive scale. His leadership in the Department of Industrialisation led Guevara to become the Cuban minister of industry in February 1961, which had the task to organise state industry following massive nationalisation.

At this point Guevara faces the challenging task to organise most of the country’s industrial production on the basis of an ill-defined (from the point of view of socialist construction) revolutionary process. Despite the success of the anti-imperialist struggle undertaken by the Cuban Revolution, its leadership lacked knowledge of the political economy of Marxism-Leninism. Che Guevara, without any doubt, is the member of the Cuban leadership who takes most seriously the study of political economy, which he did in parallel to all the administrative and organisational tasks that he was assigned by the Cuban Revolution. The study of Marxist political economy and the economic discussions that were triggered during the process of organisation of the Cuban industry become the central topic in Guevara’s life during the first half of the ‘60s. This period of exploration and creativity comes for the most part to an end when, in 1965 Che renounces his responsibilities as the Minister of Industry, following a heated economic debate, referred to by many as the ‘Great Debate’, which reached its climax in 1963-1964.

Strong divergences between the pro-Soviet economic line and Guevara’s plan of industrialisation brought to an end the participation of the Argentinean revolutionary in the internal affairs of the Cuban revolution. Guevara embarks on a ‘quixotic’ military campaign to aid and create revolutionary processes in Africa and Latin America, which concludes with his assassination in Bolivia, in 1967.

Castro remembers Che in a well-known speech given in 1987, in the midst of the so-called process of rectification, by denouncing a number of gross deformations in the economic life of the island and corruption of moral standards. Castro calls upon the population with an appeal of the highest moral standards embodied by the life of the great revolutionary, and admits to the negative consequences of departing from Che’s economic thought:

‘Che was radically opposed to using and developing capitalist economic laws and categories in building socialism. He advocated something that I have often insisted on: Building socialism and communism is not just a matter of producing and distributing wealth but is also a matter of education and consciousness’ (Fidel Castro in ‘Che Guevara, Economics and politics in the transition to socialism’, Pathfinder, New York, 2003, p. 39).

In the midst of open appeals to revive what many in Cuba call the ‘Che’s dream’ a lot of confusion is fostered about the interpretation and originality of Guevara’s economic thought. Twenty years after his assassination, Cuban scholars Fernando Martinez Heredia, and specially, Carlos Tablada, revived the discussions concerning Guevara’s contribution to the practice of socialist construction in Cuba and to the economic theory of the transitional epoch in general. Unfortunately, most scholars in Cuba consider Guevara’s economic thought in isolation from the theory of political economy of socialism developed before the revisionist political economy became widely accepted in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe in the 1960s.

Outside the country, efforts have been made to reconcile Guevara’s economic thought with Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyite tendencies. Neo-Trotskyite elements around the world, not without encouragement from within Cuba, try to portray Guevara’s economic thought as a reaction to the economic line imposed by the bureaucratic castes in the Soviet Union, by completely ignoring, more correctly suppressing, Guevara’s open support to Stalin in questions of the construction of socialism. It is silenced that Guevara quoted Stalin on multiple occasions in his economic works published in Cuba and the fact that the core of his economic theory, the budgetary finance system, bears strong similarities to the economic ‘model’ of development, which had become ‘standard’ in the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe during the post-war period up until Stalin’s death. Trotskyism, neo-Trotskyism and many in Cuba exacerbate Guevara’s idealist mistakes present in both his political and economic thoughts and turn Che into some sort of humanist socialist, who de facto suppressed the weight of the objective character of the economic laws of socialism in favour of a leading role of socialist education and consciousness (which, unfortunately, is true to a considerable degree).

Discussions about the controversial role of Che Guevara in the Cuban revolution during the early stages of the construction of the new economy have been revived in recent years. More and more unpublished documents are slowly coming to light. One of the most significant efforts developed in this direction is led by the Centro de Estudios Che Guevara, based in Havana and located in the house where Guevara and his family used to reside during the first half of the sixties. This association possesses direct access to Guevara’s personal library, which contains numerous volumes in which he used to make annotations. Ambitious plans have been revealed to publish nine volumes with materials covering numerous aspects of the political life of Che Guevara, which hopefully will throw important light on the evolution of Guevara’s thought as a Marxist.

One of the most enlightening documents published in recent years corresponds to a letter sent by Che, while based in Tanzania, to Armando Hart Dávalos on the need to publish in Cuba works on philosophy. The authenticity of this letter does not seem to be controversial as it was published in a Cuban journal and made available to the public. In this letter Guevara outlines a basic plan for the publication of texts in philosophy, subdivided into 8 groups:

In Cuba there is nothing published, if one excludes the Soviet bricks, which bring the inconvenience that they do not let you think; the party did it for you and you should digest it.

It would be necessary to publish the complete works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin [underlined by Che in the original] and other great Marxists.

Here would come to the great revisionists (if you want you can add here Khrushchev), well analyzed, more profoundly than any others and also your friend Trotsky, who existed and apparently wrote something (Che Guevara, Letter to Armando Hart Dávalos published in Contracorriente, Havana, September 1997, No. 9).

In the present article we will try to briefly cover the main elements of Guevara’s economic thought by means of establishing analogies with the Marxist-Leninist economic theory of the transitional society. Further, we will discuss the absurd allegations of Trotskyism that the Soviet revisionist leadership inflicted on Guevara. We will conclude with a brief exposition of what are, in our opinion the two major mistakes committed by Guevara in his economic works: idealism and mechanicism.

Budgetary System versus Financial Self-Management

At the centre of Guevara’s economic thought stands the budgetary system, which Che implemented in the enterprises organised by the ministry of industry between 1961 and 1964. The budgetary system is formulated by Guevara as a reaction against what had been established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe under the system of economic accounting (usually referred by us as market-like economic accounting, in order to distinguish it from the more generic concept of economic accounting), which the followers of post-Stalin Soviet revisionism posed as a model of development in Cuba. It is within the context of the revision of the Marxist-Leninist principles of the political economy of socialism by the Soviet revisionist leadership that the study of Guevara’s budgetary system needs to be analysed and appreciated.

Despite strong elements of mechanicism and schematism inherent to Guevara’s presentation for a case in favour of the centralisation of industrial production and the establishment of forms of management and interrelations between individual producing subjects and the state, the budgetary system embodies the means, however primitive, which served the purpose for the application and success of the centralised planned principle of the economic development in a backward country. This is the rationale behind Guevara’s formulations, which represents in the main the basic prerequisite for a more or less rapid industrialisation of the island, which he considered to be the highest priority within the process of socialist construction.

Many in Cuba portray Guevara’s budgetary system elaborated for the specific conditions of Cuba, which in a sense Che ‘invents’ a particular model that suits his more or less utopian view of the transition to the socialist society. Thus Guevara’s thinking is studied in isolation from the historical epoch, which corresponds to the epoch of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies. At most, Guevara’s economic thinking is viewed as an alternative to the ‘neo-Stalinist’ command-administrative system undertaken by the Soviet leadership. This view was revitalised in Cuba towards the end of the 1980s when the Soviet economy and the whole so-called ‘socialist’ system showed clear signs of decomposition. It is enlightening, however, to see that some leading economists in the island do admit that Guevara’s economic thought did not come out of the blue:

‘In retrospective, the budgetary system is a contribution of great value. We would not say – and you know it well – that Che invented the budgetary system. It already came from the socialist countries; in the Soviet Union for a period of time the budgetary system ruled many aspects of the economy’. (Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in ‘Che Guevara, Cuba and the Road to Socialism’, New York, 1991, pp. 39-30. Translated from Spanish.)

Needless to say Rodriguez refers to the socialist economic model developed under Stalin. Rodriguez, however, wrongly attributes to Guevara the view that in the transition to higher forms of socialism, or full socialism, the budgetary system could be applied to the entire economy; the entire economy could allegedly function as one big enterprise, with one social fund to meet the needs of production and distribution. Much to the contrary, Guevara formulates the budgetary system as a means to meet the immediate needs posed by the organisation of the State industry and, as will be seen in the next section, admits to the existence of commodity-money relations between the state and other production objects, hence he admits the existence of forms of production other than state owned.

The budgetary system is conceived by Che as an opposite of the model established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe after Stalin’s death. Guevara exposes the basic differences between the budgetary system and the market-type of economic accounting or so-called financial self-management, as early as in 1961, i.e. the very early stages of the socialisation of industry in the country. Guevara’s thinking in favour of the centralisation of the State industry predates the ‘Great Economic debate’, and it is clear to us that Che had conceived the budgetary system long before he sees himself engulfed in a heated discussion with the numerous supporters of financial self-management in the island. We have every reason to believe that he was in some more or less systematic way acquainted with the history of the Soviet economy and the general elements of the socialist economy during Stalin’s times.

Guevara rejects from the very beginning the concept of free enterprise within the socialist sector, which is embodied by the ability of the individual economic subject to act as a more or less independent producer, since

‘…in the socialist countries, the enterprise possesses a bank credit, acquires money, produces with the money that it receives, sells its production, and then grants to the State part of the profit and part of this profit is preserved for internal needs. The difference is that our company does not sell, but delivers products and workers are awarded through the State’ (Che Guevara, Conference ‘Economy and Plan’ of the People’s University, 1961. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system the enterprise does not sell, as the commodity-money becomes effective both in form and content only when the product is alienated by an independent producer or the individual consumer. Guevara understands the retribution of the worker in the socialist enterprise as an operation, in which in essence the socialist toiler establishes an employer-employee relationship with the socialist state, bypassing the enterprise. We believe he considers this relationship from the point of view of the essence of the labour relationship, as in reality this relationship has unavoidably to take the form of employment via the individual enterprise.

As opposed to the revisionist system of financial self-management, labour circulates among the individual enterprises of the state sector and between the enterprises and the State via the form of allocation or assignments according to contracts stipulated by the socialist plan:

‘To elaborate a budget through which the enterprise will be assigned necessary funds by the state to make effective contracts…; and also to transfer to public accounts the revenue from sales.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Collective Discussion: Unique Decision and Responsibility’, p. 3. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system the enterprise functions as an aggregate of a larger enterprise, which does not possess financial resources with which to make its own decisions in terms of production and reproduction. Since the socialist enterprise:

‘The company does not have resources of its own; therefore its income is transferred to the national budget’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 46. Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara is adamantly opposed to any form of exchange among socialist enterprises in the socialist sector other than allocation of resources. The circulation of labour within the socialised sector is viewed by Guevara as an aggregation of labour in a complex productive chain. In this system the enterprises are not able to establish labour exchange independently from the plan, since the entire productive activity of the enterprise is dictated by it. The state, in the form of the State Bank is the beginning and the end of labour flow concerning the productive activity of the socialist enterprise: it acquires the necessary financial means to acquire the means of production and it deposits the revenue in the Central Bank. These resources are then utilised by the socialist planning system to provide for extended reproduction of the individual productive unit, for capital investment or non-productive social needs. In this sense the enterprise does not extract profit per se; it transfers a positive balance between the production cost and the income and it is the socialist state which makes the final decision according to the plan as to the fate of this positive balance.

The concept of socialist planning in Guevara’s system is closely linked to the concept of profitability of the whole productive system. The effectiveness of the socialist economy is not the results of the mechanical summation of individual enterprises. A positive balance in the arithmetic sum of individual profits is possible in the capitalist system during times of expansion, although it becomes negative in times of recession. Regardless of the fact that the socialist productive system does not know recession or crises, the socialist productive system displays the greatest rates of growth not just because the arithmetic aggregation of individual profitability amounts to a positive balance. The advantage of the socialist mode of production over capitalism lies in the planned character of the economy, that the socialist state is in a position to decide at the scale of the whole productive system, not the coordination of individual producers but the regulation of labour flow among socialist enterprises. While it is of paramount importance that the productive unit be most profitable by means of maximum reduction of production costs, the efficiency of the economy needs to be assessed as a whole.

‘Since this system is based on the central control of the economy, the relative efficiency of an enterprise would become just an index; what really matters is the total profitability of the entire productive system’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 48. Translated from Spanish.)

This concept, which is a more complex concept with respect to the profitability of the individual enterprise, had been stated explicitly by Stalin in Economic Problems. In arguing against the right-wing deviationists, the only way to understand that certain sectors of the economy may function without profit or even producing losses over a certain period of time is to introduce a more complex concept of profitability of the whole socialist economy:

‘If profitableness is considered not from the standpoint of individual plants or industries, and not over a period of one year, but from the standpoint of the entire national economy and over a period of, say, ten or fifteen years,… then the temporary and unstable profitableness of some plants and industries is beneath all comparisons with that higher form of stable and permanent profitableness which we get from the operation of the law of balanced development of the national economy and from economic planning…’ (J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR,Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow 1952, pp. 28-29.)

Many have been led to believe that the establishment of socialised planning in certain areas of the State-owned sector during the transitional economy is a dangerous utopia. The transition to NEP is commonly used as a historical example, which allegedly illustrates that socialised forms of organisation do not correspond to the economic conditions given in a backward, agricultural country. Much to the contrary, not only the implementation of market-like economic accounting in the State industry is a relatively short-lived phenomenon in the economic history of the Soviet Union, it was soon realised that the NEP-style approach could lead to catastrophic consequences if the market-like economic accounting were to be imposed on all the areas of the State sector. Since the first stages of the transition from the economy of War Communism to the liberalisation of the Soviet economy, the Soviet leadership expressed worries that Lenin’s plans for the industrialisation of the country would be jeopardised if market relations were to be made effective in all the State-owned sectors. Already in 1923, the XII Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) expressed ample concerns:

‘On the other hand, heavy industry, which has barely entered in contact with the market and which depends completely on State contracts, needs for its reconstruction large and well-calculated financial resources from the State. This also applies to a great degree to railway and sea transport.’ (Decisions of the Soviet Government on Economic Questions, Moscow 1957, Volume 1, p. 380. Translated from Russian.)

Despite what right-wing revisionism led many to believe, the Soviet government since the early stages of the NEP established a line of demarcation within the sectors I and II of the economy. While light industry displayed significant growth during the early stages of the liberalisation of the economy, mostly due to the revival of market relations, heavy industry showed little or no signs of flourishing under the conditions of market-style economic accounting. If the market-type economic accounting were to be imposed on heavy industry, if the Soviet plan, regardless of the level of development of the forces of production and the correlation of forces within the various sectors of the economy and the weight of non-socialist forms of production, were to deny heavy industry large long-term financial assistance for a sustained process of re-production, this sector would be forced into recession. The plans for the speedy industrialisation of a vast and backward (both technically and culturally) country would be doomed and with it collectivisation and socialist construction.

‘The interrelations between light and heavy industries cannot be resolved by means of the market, as this would threaten to liquidate heavy industry in the next few years; heavy industry could recover, but this time as a result of the anarchic development of the market and on the basis of private property. (Ibid. p. 382. Translated from Russian.)

The socialist law of development, according to which the industry of means of production should develop faster than light industry and agriculture, necessarily leads a more or less significant fraction of the forces of production owned by the socialist state to operate according to laws of labour distribution and organisation different from those inherited from the capitalist form of production. While market relations to a considerable degree were temporarily allowed by the NEP to regulate production and labour distribution among more or less disseminated and independent economic units in the State industry, the Soviet State was forced since the beginning to define the concretisation of this law of socialist production, in a sense breaking with NEP itself. The establishment of socialist planning on the basis of the socialised mode of production in certain sectors of the economy holds absolute character. This principle holds regardless of the level of development of the forces of production in the economy of the country in transition to socialism as a whole. The level of socialisation of the State sector does strongly depend upon the concrete-historical conditions of the country in transition. However, the State is bound since the very beginning to establish a socialist planned principle to operate in a direct, socialised way (not by means of the market) on certain sectors of the economy, primarily on the sector I. This is the basic principle of the transitional economy that Guevara tried his best to uphold by advocating the budgetary system, as a system opposed to the system of market-type economic accounting proposed by the followers of Soviet revisionism in the island.

As will be touched upon in more detail, Guevara’s economic thought, the budgetary system that he advocated is completely opposed to Trotsky’s concealed right-wing economic theories. Trotsky opposed since the early stages of NEP, all the way till the end of his political career the establishment of a genuine planned principle in certain sectors of the State sector, by advocating the absolute and universal character of NEP:

But the New Economic Policy does not flow solely from the interrelations between the city and the village. This policy is a necessary stage in the growth of state-owned industry. Between capitalism, under which the means of production are owned by private individuals and all economic relations are regulated by the market –I say, between capitalism and complete socialism, with its socially planned economy, there are a number of transitional stages; and the NEP is essentially one of these stages.

Let us analyze this question, taking the railways as a case in point. It is precisely railway transportation that provides a field which is prepared in the maximum degree for socialist economy… The railway lines, not only those privately owned, but also the state-owned lines, settled their accounts with all the other economic enterprises through the medium of the market. Under the particular system this was economically unavoidable and necessary because the equipment and development of a particular line depends upon how far it justifies itself economically. Whether a particular railway is beneficial to the economy can be ascertained only through the medium of the market.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 233-4.)

Guevara’s budgetary system is the means for the industrialisation of Cuba. One of the fundamental principles of the socialist economy is based on the development of industrial production, mainly heavy industry, as the basis and engine of the development of the socialist economy. Imperialist domination is based upon the concentration of industry and technology in the hands of imperialist corporations. Exploited countries are deprived of the means and necessary knowledge to secure the development of labour productivity, a key element to sustained development of the forces of production.

In order to overcome economic backwardness and the relations of dependence on the imperialist countries, i.e. the ultimate goal of a genuine process of national-liberation, it is imperative to turn around the character of economic relations with the outside world. This implies a deep re-structuring of the economies, which for long years have been geared towards fitting the economic needs of the imperialist countries, and to turn these countries into self-sufficient and prosperous socialist industrial ones. Genuine independence, true anti-imperialism is no more than rhetorical statements without massive policies of socialist industrialisation, which is the material basis for long-term and sustained independence.

Over a hundred years of national liberation movements have taught us that the socialisation of the means of production, as opposed to half-measures disguised by pseudo-socialist phraseology, is the only way towards national independence. Here lies the essence of the internationalist policies of the Soviet State during the post-war period.

The economies of dependent countries, such as Cuba back in the 1950s, are based upon the extraction and the early stages of manufacturing of raw materials. The main source of revenue of Batista’s Cuba was the export of sugar, whose price in the international market was out of the control of the country and, as repeatedly pointed out by the leaders of the Cuban revolution, undershot the actual value.

The only possible way that economically and culturally backward countries can attain economic and sustained political independence, lies in the development of heavy industry, which is the only possible way to lay the foundations for sustained economic growth. This fundamental point of the socialist construction lies at the centre of attention of Guevara’s economic thought and to it he devoted most of his practical and theoretical efforts while remaining in office.

Commodity-Money Relations and the Law of Value

In this section we will briefly cover Guevara’s understanding of the role of commodity-money relations and the law of value in the socialist industry. At this point we lack written materials to throw light on his attitude towards the agrarian reform performed during the early stages of the Cuban revolution. His understanding of the collectivisation of the large mass of petty producers is also unknown to us, although we hope that in the near future archival materials may be made available to the public in Cuba.

As illustrated in the previous section, at the centre of Guevara’s economic thought stands the model of budgetary system. This system is intimately related to Guevara’s understanding of the role of plan, which, as discussed, fundamentally differs from that envisioned by right-wing revisionism in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. Much to the contrary, it bears close resemblance to the conception of economic planning, which prevailed in the Soviet Union before Stalin’s death and stands in line with the economic policies that had become ‘standard’ in the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe in the period of 1948-1953.

Guevara’s attitude to the role of market categories and relations are consistent with his understanding of plan and are very close to Stalin’s formulations in Economic Problems. Guevara explicitly denies the need for commodity exchange between socialist enterprises and categorically denies the commodity character of the means of production. He supports the correct view that commodity exchange involves change of ownership. Commodity exchange between state enterprises is viewed by the Argentinean as a contradiction per se, since in the budgetary system the socialist enterprise is an organic element of a bigger enterprise, the State. Within this system the labour among enterprises does not adopt the form of commodity exchange. Means of production, financial resources are not owned by the socialist enterprise, as the latter lacks its own account and revenue is automatically deposited in a socialised account. In this system, the means of production are allocated to a given production unit according to the needs and future perspective of economic development and dictated by a centralised plan.

Guevara does not deny the existence of commodity production and the coexistence of different modes of production. He supports Stalin’s views that commodity relations are not inherent to the socialist sector but that their existence is due to the presence of different forms of property within the Cuban economy. As opposed to the Soviet Economy in Stalin’s time, the Cuban countryside had not undergone the process of collectivisation of the petty producer. In the concrete-historical situation of Cuba, the incipient socialist industrial sector had to coexist with a large mass of independent producers. However, this concrete-historical circumstance does not prevent the socialist sector, however small and poorly organized, to operate under a different regulator of production than that operating in the countryside. Guevara writes:

‘We believe that the partial existence of the law of value is due to the remnants of the market economy, which also manifests itself in the type of exchange between the State and the private consumer’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘On the Budgetary System’, p. 95. Translated from Spanish).

This statement is very close to Stalin’s well-known statement given in Economic Problems:

‘But the collective farms are unwilling to alienate their products except in the form of commodities, in exchange for which they desire to receive the commodities they need… Because of this, commodity production and trade are as much a necessity with us today as they were thirty years ago…’(J.V. Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1952, p. 19-20.)

In addition, as pointed out by Guevara, there remains the need for commodity-money bonds between the State and the private producer, as the worker in socialism still receives a significant fraction of the social fund for the satisfaction of individual needs in money terms. The exchange between the state and the individual producer is performed under the form of a commodity exchange, as

‘…this transfer occurs when the product leaves the state sector and it becomes property of an individual consumer’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 46. Translated from Spanish.)

With the socialisation of all the means of production and the liquidation of individual and collective forms of production, there would be no need for commodity-money exchange in socialism. As a matter of fact, the realisation of the socialist principle of distribution does not necessarily imply the existence of commodity-money relations, as a category of production. These views were ‘exposed’ and refuted by Soviet economists, who after a series of discussions re-wrote chapters in the Manual of Political Economy regarding the political economy of socialism.

Naturally, these views were also not shared by many economists in Cuba, as manifested in a more or less full-fledged controversial discussion during 1963-1964. For instance, Alberto Mora (Minister of Foreign Trade during that time) in 1963 openly attacked Guevara’s views, by comparing them with Stalin’s, which were published in Economic Problems. He rejected Guevara’s theses on the grounds that the most serious ‘scientific’ discussions held in the Soviet Union during the second half of the 1950s and early sixties indicated that Stalin’s views were wrong, that the law of value operates in socialism as a regulator of production, as the products in the socialist economy remain and will remain commodities all the way till communism:

‘When some comrades deny that the law of value operates in the relations among enterprises within the State sector, they argue that the entire State sector is under single ownership, that the enterprises are the property of the society. This, of course, is true. But as an economic criterion it is inaccurate. State property is not yet fully developed social property that will be achieved only under communism.’ (A. Mora, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 227).

The well-known Trotskyite economist, Ernest Mandel, who was very active during what he called the ‘Great Debate’ in Cuba, enters into a long-standing controversy with Charles Bettelheim, a French right-wing revisionist scholar. The latter also became active during the economic debate, this time as a fervent supporter of the ‘socialist-market’ conception advocated by the pro-Soviet economists in the island. Despite Mandel’s views that means of production in the socialist economy do not circulate as commodities, he is very keen on exposing Stalin’s views advocated by Guevara with regard to the causes of the law of value in the socialist sector. In the section of the ‘Historical conditions leading to the extinction of mercantile categories’ of a well-publicised article in Cuba, he states:

‘Although we have criticized several of comrade Bettelheim’s positions, we agree with him completely in rejecting Stalin’s theory that the basic reason for the mercantile categories in the Soviet economy is the existence of two forms of socialist property: ownership by the people (that is, the State) and ownership by more limited social groups (essentially the Kolkhozy)’. (E. Mandel, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 70.)

Mandel has an opinion of his own and does not need to refer to the Soviet pseudo-science to ‘expose’ Guevara’s ‘primitivism’. The author advocates that only the abundance of consumer goods, which are closely linked to the development of forces of production, will create the objective conditions for the abolition of commodity-money relations in the sphere of private consumption. Moreover, he seems to be proud that

‘The new program of the CPSU, approved by the XXII congress, incorporated this idea as set forth in our Traite d’Economie Marxiste’ (E. Mandel, in ‘On the operation of the law of value in the Cuban Economy’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 71).

Guevara advocated the correct view that the law of value does not operate within the socialist sector as a regulator of production. He is able to grasp, unlike his detractors, a crucial element in the political economy of socialism:

‘We insist on the analysis of the cost, since part of our conception refers to the fact that it is not strictly necessary that cost of production and price coincide in the socialist sector’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 47. Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara understood that the price setting in the socialist sector, as a quantifier of the flow of labour circulating among different subjects of the state industry, does not necessarily have to coincide with the cost of production. If the labour exchange between different sectors of the socialist economy were to be governed by the exchange according to equal value, less profitable or even not profitable enterprises would not be able to survive and the process of extended reproduction of the socialist economy would be brought to its knees. If the law of value is forced to operate as a regulator of the proportions of labour exchanged between enterprises in the socialist sector it would not be possible to overcome the disproportions between sectors of the economy, which are inherited from capitalism, let alone colonialism and neo-colonialism. This consequently leads to a more complex concept of profitability of the socialist economy, which was touched upon in the previous section, which Stalin formulated in Economic Problems and which Guevara embraces wholeheartedly.

It is true that the abstract formulation that prices in the socialist sector do not necessarily correspond to the cost of production contains within itself a strong potential and it represents a serious step forward in the evolution of the understanding of political economy of socialism. This statement represents a tremendous step forward with respect to the theories of right-wing revisionism, which does not conceive labour exchange outside the boundaries of commodity-money relations. However, this statement does solve right away the most intricate problem of the political economy of socialism, which is to concretise what are the actual proportions of labour that correspond to the historical-concrete situation and the development of the forces of production and forms of management of a given country. This is a titanic task that needs to be resolved by the revolutionaries of a given country, which Guevara genuinely and with the best of his abilities tried to solve for the concrete conditions of Cuba.

Guevara is an advocate of the strictest economic accounting, for the same reasons that Stalin criticised many Soviet managers and plan making for neglecting the operation of the law of value as a strong instrument for economic accounting in socialism. Indeed, accounting in value terms proves a powerful tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the socialist enterprise, and this is most appreciated by Guevara:

‘The cost would yield an index of the management of the enterprise; it is irrelevant that these prices are higher or lower than the prices in the socialist sector, or even, in some isolated cases, than those prices used to sell the product to the people; what matters is the sustained analysis of the management of the enterprise…, which is determined by its success or failure to reduce costs’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 49. Translated from Spanish.)

At the end of the day, one of the fundamental goals of the enterprise in socialism as well as in communism

‘…reduces to a common denominator…: the increase of labour productivity as the fundamental basis for the construction of socialism and indispensable premise for communism.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, p. 51. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s budgetary finance system, money within the socialist enterprise is used primarily as means of calculation, as a strong algebraic tool for determining the effectiveness of the enterprise, the correctness of the use of the resources granted by the State to the enterprise, a means to determine if the enterprise is doing enough to reduce costs, etc… In his very important article, ‘About the Budgetary System’ he exposes one of the most prominent differences between his conception and the role given to money by the pro-Soviet economists in Cuba within the so called ‘Economic Accounting’ system:

‘Another difference is the way money is used; in our system money operates as arithmetic money, as a reflection, in prices, of the management of the enterprise, which the central organs will analyze in order to control the functioning of the latter.’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘About the Budgetary System’, p. 80 Translated from Spanish.)

Guevara’s views are consistent with the well-known exposure of Notkin’s ‘marketist’ views by Stalin:

Why, in that case, do we speak of the value of means of production, their cost of production, their price, etc.?

Firstly, this is needed for purposes of calculation and settlement, for determining that the enterprises are paying or running at a loss, for checking and controlling the enterprises. …’ (J.V. Stalin, op. cit, p. 58-59.)

As the economic discussion in Cuba progresses and the contradictions between Guevara’s line and the pro-Soviet economists (including Charles Bettelheim) on the one hand, and the Trotskyite elements in Cuba (Cuban nationals as well as foreigners) on the other, Che has unavoidably to clash with the economic conception advocated by the Soviet revisionists. Towards the end of this discussion, in 1964 Guevara expresses himself in a more and more explicit and eloquent way regarding the differences between his model and the ‘market-socialist’ type of development advocated by the revisionists. The exposition of the differences, which at first, in 1961 Guevara had put in rather mild, almost academic terms, turns controversial and bitter in 1964, leaving no doubt that the contradictions had become irreconcilable and that the Cuban leadership would have to take a stand sooner rather than later. Whether the Soviet revisionist leadership demanded Guevara’s removal from his posts in the economy of the island, as a pre-requisite to sustained economic aid, or whether his detractors in Cuba played a leading role in the events that followed the economic discussions, remains a matter of speculation. Regardless, it is clear to us that Guevara engages in an important theoretical debate till the very end and was never curbed by the overwhelming wave of criticism triggered by his writings, which he faced almost alone. In addition, we can only imagine how upsetting to pro-Soviet and Trotskyite elements in the island it would be to accept that the leading economist, a holder of a key command position in the Cuban economy, dares, not once, not twice, but at least three times that we are aware of, to cite and defend Stalin’s works as an authoritative reference against his opponents.

Che openly and in print criticises the revisionist manual of political economy published in the Soviet Union in the early sixties, with regards to the insistence of the Soviet revisionists on developing commodity-money relations in socialism, let alone the transition to socialism. After a series of gradual changes operated in the economic literature of the 1950s followed by crucial economic discussions held towards the end of that decade, the Soviet economists published a new manual of political economy under the editorship of a leading economist, Ostrovitianov. In this important document all the products in socialism are proclaimed to be commodities, including the means of production (with the utterly inconsistent exemption of labour force), and the law of value, which is used in a conscious way by the socialist plan, operates as the regulator of proportions of labour among enterprises, whether state owned or cooperatives.

As opposed to Stalin’s plans for the gradual shrinkage of the sphere of operation of the commodity-money relations and categories, the Soviet revisionists envisioned a plan to further enhance the role of these in the economy and to provide the enterprises with more independence. The operation of the law of value will disappear only when the highest stage of communism is accomplished in a more or less distant future. Guevara rebels against the new theses advocated by the Soviet revisionist economists by rejecting altogether the plans for developing commodity-money relations in socialism, which are treated by us as a departure from the political economy of socialism developed by Lenin and Stalin:

‘Why develop? We understand that the capitalist categories are retained for a time and that the length of this period cannot be predetermined, but the characteristics of the period of transition are those of a society that is throwing off its old bonds in order to move quickly into the new stage.

The tendency should be, in our opinion, to eliminate as fast as possible the old categories, including the market, and, therefore, material interest – or better, to eliminate the conditions of their existence’ (Che Guevara, in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 142).

It is unfortunate, however, that Che’s reasoning is plagued with idealist assertions, according to which commodity-money relations allegedly embody within themselves the ideological burden of the capitalist society. As will be touched upon the next section, Guevara equates to a great extent commodity-money relations and categories with the concept of material incentive, which he understands as a mechanism aimed at motivating and enhancing labour productivity by the same means as used in capitalism. Material incentive and consciousness appear in Guevara’s thought as two poles of one of the main (if not the most relevant) contradiction in the process of socialist construction.

Guevara should not be accused of a left-wing attitude with regard to the role of commodity-money relations in socialism. Nowhere in Che’s writings can one find appeals to implement the policies of war communism in the Cuban economy. Much to the contrary, he is aware of the need to retain commodity-money relations for an undetermined period, as a result of the presence of a large mass of individual producers. Despite glaring idealist elements in Guevara’s thought we need to give him credit for identifying correctly the sphere of application of commodity-money relations and the fundamental reasons leading to the inevitability of the latter in the socialist transition in general and in the Cuban revolutionary process, in particular. In summarising the increasing contradictions between the line of thought and the economic reforms accomplished under his office, and the push for market relations advocated by the ‘marketists’ in Cuba Guevara states:

‘We deny the possibility of consciously using the law of value, in the conditions that a free market does not exist, which expresses directly the contradiction between producers and consumers; we deny the existence of the commodity category in the relation among state enterprises and we regard them as part of one big enterprise, the State (although in practice it does not happen yet in our country).’ (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘On the Budgetary System’, p. 96. Translated from Spanish.)

When Guevara admits to the fact that the state sector in Cuba does not function as a ‘one big enterprise’ he is most likely referring to the coexistence of the Ministry of Industry, the INRA and the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the latter two lead by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Alberto Mora, respectively, both rabid ‘market-socialists’. The latter had expressed their disagreement with Guevara’s plans for industrialisation of the island based on the argumentation that Cuba was not prepared for forms of economic relations consistent with developed stages of socialisation of the labour process. Rodriguez states as late as in 1988:

‘The budgetary system is closer to the future society… this system requires conditions that we will not be able to achieve in a long time’ (Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in Che Guevara, Cuba y el camino al socialismo, New International, New York, 2000, p. 42. Translated from Spanish.)

By arguing that Cuba was never (not even after 30 years of revolution) ready for higher forms of exchange between state enterprises, Rodriguez openly polemicises in 1988, as he used to do 25 years before, with Che’s assertion that products exchanged between state enterprises do not adopt the form of commodities.

Guevara to the very end sticks to his conception that the commodity-money relations are not inherent to the socialist economy, and especially to the socialised sector, which he tried so hard to build up since the very early stages of the Cuban revolution. Market relations come about as a result of the presence of important remnants of private producers and they are bound to disappear with them (both in form and content). Even though, Guevara refrains (to the best of our rather sketchy and fragmental knowledge of the evolution of Guevara’s thinking) from referring openly to his opinion with regards to the plans of collectivising the private producer, we believe that he would have advocated for a ‘Soviet-style’ type of bond between the socialised sector and the collective farms. As an advocate of retaining the main means of production outside the operation of commodity-money relations (i.e. means of production are not treated as commodities in content, regardless of the need to use value categories to assess the amount of labour involved in them), it seems natural that Guevara would have envisioned a concept pretty much like the machine tractor stations, as a main factor for the increase of labour productivity. We believe this statement is substantiated since the rational core of Guevara’s economic thought, despite strong elements of idealism and mechanicism, remains very close to the economic forms adopted in the Soviet Union under Stalin, which had become standard and were successfully applied with whatever modifications in the countries of People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe between the end of the 1940s and Stalin’s death. We have every reason to believe that Guevara was to a certain extent acquainted with Stalin’s Economic Problems and the basic differences of principle between the so-called Stalin model and the model of ‘market-socialism’ advocated by Rodriguez, Mora et al. in Cuba.

In probably his last article ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’ a letter addressed to Carlos Quijano, editor-publisher of the Uruguayan weekly Marcha, written in early 1965, Guevara reiterates his position once more, leaving us no doubt that he stood for his principles till the very end.

‘Pursuing the chimera of achieving socialism with the aid of blunted weapons left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic cell, profitability, and individual material interests as levers, etc.) it is possible to come to a blind alley’ (Che Guevara, in Man and Socialism in Cuba,Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 342).

Unfortunately, Guevara does not give up certain elements of idealism that make his economic thought so distinct as well as vulnerable and inconsistent. This side of Guevara’s economic thought has been publicised the most both in Cuba by his detractors and outside Cuba by Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyism. The clear connection between a significant number of Guevara’s statements on political economy and the so-called ‘Stalinist’ model of socialist construction is very much silenced. Che’s writing are twisted by picturing his economic thought as a continuation of his idealist and voluntarist stand in questions regarding the interrelation between the masses, the party and the guerrilla warfare, for which he is most commonly known.

On Guevara’s Alleged Trotskyism

Guevara soon entered into conflict with the Soviet revisionist leadership. As we have seen above, Che acknowledges differences of principle, as early as 1961, between the economic model established in what he used to call socialist countries, and the plans for industrialisation he was advocating. Guevara’s economic reforms were bound to clash with the character of the agrarian reform and the plans suggested by the Soviet Union that Cuba was to remain primarily a sugar cane producer for longer than anticipated by Che. As the character of the Cuban revolution consolidated and the Cuban leadership accommodated to the economic relations between the island and the Soviet Union, it was necessary that Cuban economists align with the new political economy created by the revisionists.

Guevara’s plans soon met glaring resistance within Cuba. Due to the worsening of Guevara’s relations with the Soviet leadership, many in Cuba felt a great deal of embarrassment. According to several of Guevara’s biographers, the Soviets accused Che’s economic views of Trotskyism. It was just a matter of time before Che is to leave his post of Minister of Industry and that his plans for industrialisation of the island are to be revised in favour development based on the sugar cane industry.

Trotsky is usually portrayed as a ‘radical left-wing’, as an advocate of extreme measures with regard to resolution of contradictions both in politics and economics. Trotsky’s alleged push for the militarisation of the economy has led many to believe that Trotskyite economic theories are opposed to the politics of the New Economic Policy (NEP) with regard not only to the relations between the individual producer and the state sector but also with regard to the liberalisation of the state sector. In this section we will try to substantiate the fact, that Trotsky’s economic theory cannot be classified as left-wing; much to the contrary, it does not deviate significantly from the right-wing revisionism in questions of socialist construction and the role of commodity-money relations during that period.

The myth about Trotsky’s alleged leftist stand in resolving contradictions in the transitional period, conceals the true essence of Trotskyism in economic questions. Guevara’s economic thought has nothing to with Trotsky’s attitude to commodity-money relations and categories in the transitional period; their views are completely opposed to each other. Such allegations with regards to Guevara’s economic thought are unfounded and preposterous, to say the very least. As covered above, Guevara’s economic thought does suffer from serious elements of mechanicism, which does not make him a Trotskyite, as such mistakes were common to many economists in the Soviet Union during the Stalin period.

It is very interesting to observe how the Russian bourgeoisie is willing to appreciate in Trotsky the ‘virtues’ of a ‘market-socialist’, which many in the left movement do not seem to be able to grasp. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Trotsky’s birth, a leading economic journal, Voprosi ekonomiki (‘Questions of Economy’) published an article under the title ‘Economic views of L.D. Trotsky’. In this article the authors attribute Trotsky’s heavy-handedness during the revolution and the civil war to the historical circumstances of that time, that in fact Trotsky had become one of the first to push for the liquidation of the policies of war communism and the liberalisation of the economy by allowing several forms of property to coexist for an indefinite period of time. The authors draw the bourgeois reader’s attention to Trotsky’s true and poorly publicised merit as being one of the first to advocate a mixed economic model for the transition to socialism:

‘The transition to NEP significantly changed Trotsky’s economic views. In a number of his works during that time he agitates in favour of the development of market relations, material stimulation, the understanding of the plan, as rigorous management in the sense of foreseeing and synchronising various sectors of social production. During the period of NEP Trotsky formulated a number of very important, even original ideas, namely: about the incompatibility of the methods of war communism in the conditions of NEP, about the need for each enterprise to have its own accounting balance, about the objective limitations to transferring resources from the agrarian sector to industry…’ (M. Voeikov and S. Dzarasov, ‘Economic Views of L.D. Trotsky’ in Voprosi Ekonomiki No. 11, 2004, p. 152).

Trotskyite economic doctrine seriously overlaps with Bogdanovism/Bukharinism in the understanding of the essence of the plan. Trotsky, in his renowned work ‘The Soviet Economy in Danger’, written in late 1932, starts off by equating one of the economic laws of the socialist economy and the transition to socialism, the planning principle with preconceived harmony of economic proportions:

‘However, light-minded assertions to the effect that the USSR has already entered into socialism are criminal. The achievements are great. But there still remains a very long and arduous road to actual victory over economic anarchy, to the surmounting of disproportions, to the guarantee of the harmonious character of economic life.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, in ’Writings of Leon Trotsky 1932’, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1973, p. 260. Our emphasis.)

The famous and infamous principle of equilibrium and harmony of the proportions of labour in the socialist economy is advocated by Trotsky in a rather unambiguous way. Within the eclectic framework of Trotskyism, centralisation of the economic policy alters the abstract principle of harmony of the economic processes. Trotsky, in his attempt to oppose the transition of the Soviet economy towards higher forms of economic organisation, comes around as a full-fledged right-wing revisionist, adding no more substance to the right wing opposition led by Bukharin/Rykov.

‘It is impossible to create a priori a complete system of economic harmony. The planning hypothesis could not but include old disproportions and the inevitability of the development of new ones. Centralized management implies not only great advantages but also the danger of centralizing mistakes, that is, of elevating them to an excessively high degree. Only continuous regulation of the plan in the process of its fulfillment, its reconstruction in part and as a whole, can guarantee its economic effectiveness’ (loc. cit.).

Trotsky’s ‘continuous regulation’ is the back door to substantiating his rebuff of the party’s line to shrink the operation of the commodity-money relations in the economy, which leads to the liquidation of capitalist exploitation in the country and the consolidation of the socialist economic laws. Once opponents, Bukharin and Trotsky converged into Bogdanovism as the construction of socialism progressed in the Soviet Union.

When Trotsky appeals to the impossibility ‘to create a priori a complete system of economic harmony’ it is implied that the central economic organs, are not in a position to undertake the tasks of centralised economic management, regardless of the development of the forces of production and the socialisation of the means of production. Deformations of the socialist economy inevitably take place as centralised decision-making overpowers workers’ democracy and a caste of administrators takes over as a ‘communist bureaucracy’. Once more, the objective character of the economic laws in general and the economic laws of socialism in particular, is overruled and loses its raison d’etre in the economic thinking of right-wing revisionism. Instead, Trotsky, as a poorly concealed right-wing revisionist, appeals on and on to the need for establishing harmony between the different branches of the socialist economy, which lies at the basis of his political economy.

Trotsky’s Bogdanovism is not a phenomenon of the 1930s; much to the contrary, it is inherent to his economic thinking from the very early stages of economic reforms in Soviet Russia. In summarising the developments in Soviet Russia since the victory of the October revolution, Trotsky states that the period of war communism had to end in order to restore equilibrium in labour exchange between the peasantry and the working class and between branches of the state sector, as:

‘Every economy can exist and grow only provided certain proportionality exists between its various sectors. Different branches of industry enter into specific quantitative and qualitative relations with one another. There must be a certain proportion between those branches which produce consumer goods and those which produce the means of production. Proper proportions must likewise be preserved within each of these branches. In other words, the material means and living labor power of a nation and of all mankind must be apportioned in accordance with a certain correlation of agriculture and industry and of the various branches of industry so as to enable mankind to exist and progress.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 228.)

The postulate about proportionality of portions of labour among branches of the economy was conceived as a general, non-historic law that would apply to all economic systems. Marx’s considerations about the need for the establishment of certain proportions in which labour is exchanged in every economic system, and revised in a mechanical fashion by Bogdanov/Bukharin had a simple consequence in practice: the application of the law of value as a regulator of production was to be perpetuated in the socialist economy under the abstract consideration about the need for proportionality. This abstract concept is shared by Bukharin and Trotsky:

‘The problem of the proportionality of the elements of production and the branches of the economy constitutes the very heart of socialist economy’. (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 265.)

The ultimate goal of right-wing revisionism in questions concerning the transition to socialism is to provide every possible ideological means to perpetuate the economic relations of capitalism and to undermine the process of socialisation of the relations of production. In doing so, right-wing revisionism creates eclectic forms, Trojan horses in political economy. The postulate about the need of proportionality proved a euphemistic attack against the party line to curtail the operation of the law of value in the socialist sector and capitalist exploitation in the Soviet economy. By appealing to an abstract concept of proportionality without, leaving its concretisation as a loose end in the economic thinking, naturally leads to the perpetuation of relations of production existing hitherto. Abstract formulations in general, and in political economy in particular, without a concretisation within the concrete-historical framework inevitably render hollow abstractions, double-edged swords in the hands of revisionism.

Certainly, Trotsky casts out his disguise of a left-wing revisionist by bluntly stating:

‘The innumerable living participants in the economy, state and private, collective and individual, must serve notice of their needs and of their relative strength not only through the statistical determinations of plan commissions but by the direct pressure of supply and demand. The plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 275. Our emphasis.)

Here, Trotsky makes an open appeal to the implementation of market relations as the ‘judge’ of the correctness or effectiveness of the economic policies developed by the plan makers. In other words, in the transitional economy the market is the beginning and the end of the economic system, the medium in which the struggle between the planned and market principles evolves into higher forms of development. It is within the market and according to the rules of the market that the superiority of the socialisation of the means of production is supposed to be put to the test. At some point in time the capitalist and petty bourgeois forms of productions will collapse under the inevitable overwhelming economic pressure of the socialised sector, at the time when it is able to develop higher forms of labour productivity. Trotsky, as a vulgar right-wing economist, therefore stands against what had been usually referred to by them as extra-economic measures to suppress the market principle in the economy, advocating instead a gradualist approach to the resolution of the contradictions between the socialist and other economic forms.

Trotsky’s economic thought is plagued with metaphysics; the metaphysical division of the economic system of the transitional society into the planned system and the market system holds a prominent place in the economic works of Trotskyism. This anti-dialectical approach to the economic processes had been already exposed in the mid 1920s in the Soviet Union by the majority of the party, including Bukharin/Rykov. But despite these differences, the left-wing and right-wing opposition agreed on the main proposition: let the market be the regulator of the labour exchange not only between industry and the countryside, but within the economic subjects of the socialist sector.

The idealist, metaphysical and non-historic postulate of proportionality of the elements of production is at the basis of the right-wing theories of Trotsky/Bukharin and gives them a certain semblance of self-consistency. The market represents the realm where the law of value, which is the concretisation of the postulate of proportionality, regulates the flow of labour among economic subjects, whether socialised or not. Needless to say, Trotsky is not the first to concretise the postulate of proportionality, which he had recently embraced, nor he was the first to establish such a line of thought. The appeal to preserve the commodity-money relations in the form that existed during NEP clearly predates Trotsky’s assertions about the need for proportionality. While we have to give credit to Bogdanov/Bukharin for their pioneering work in the descending line of modern revisionism, Trotsky does not deserve such an honour, as his contribution does not go beyond popularising the vulgar political economy of right-wing revisionism.

Apart from the metaphysical as well as mechanical idiosyncrasy of Trotskyite thought, which does not deserve to be the main topic of the present discussion, it is useful to bring out quotations like the following:

‘In this connection three systems must be subjected to a brief analysis: (1) special state departments, that is, the hierarchical system of plan commissions, in the center and locally; (2) trade, as a system of market regulation; (3) Soviet democracy, as a system for the living regulation by the masses of the structure of the economy.(The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 273. Our emphasis.)

Far from sticking to left-wing orthodoxy, Trotsky sounds more like a Yugoslav Titoite, more like a pro-Western market liberal than anything else.

Trotsky takes a right-wing stand with regard to the role of NEP in the transition to socialism. Despite earlier attacks on the party to strengthen and develop further the economic and political link between the working class and the peasantry, Trotsky turns into a fervent advocate of the early forms of the transition to socialism adopted by the party. Moreover, he accuses the latter of liquidating the union between the working class and the peasantry. As a vulgar ‘market-socialist’, Trotsky considers the NEP as an inevitable step due to the significant weight of petty private production in the countryside, regardless of the concrete-historical conditions of revolutionary Russia:

‘The need to introduce the NEP, to restore market relationships, was determined first of all by the existence of 25 million independent peasant proprietors. This does not mean, however, that collectivization even in its first stage leads to the liquidation of the market.’ (The Soviet Economy in Danger, p. 275.)

The need for a transition to market relations between industry and the peasantry holds absolute character. According to Trotsky, due to the backwardness of the Russian peasantry and the level of mechanisation of labour in the countryside, the only possible form of peasant production with other producers is inevitably commodity-money relations. Trotsky’s mechanical and metaphysical thinking does not conceive of the socialist state and the individual peasant engaging in other forms of exchange, as well. Trotsky views the process of collectivisation as a forced administrative measure to unnaturally suppress the commodity-money bond between the city and the countryside. It is only through the evolution of the market, that certain conditions are created that the peasant feels it is more profitable to produce as a member of a larger production unit rather than remaining an individual producer. Hence it is believed that collectivisation should be performed by the forces of the market, that the market will suppress itself in a natural way.

Trotsky’s inevitability of market relations as the dominating bond between production agents during the transition to socialism does not reduce only to the interrelations between industry and the peasantry, much to the contrary:

‘This policy [NEP, our note] is a necessary stage in the growth of state-owned industry. Between capitalism, under which the means of production are owned by private individuals and all economic relations are regulated by the market – I say, between capitalism and complete socialism, with its socially planned economy, there are a number of transitional stages; and the NEP is essentially one of these stages’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 233).

NEP involved far more than the realisation of peasant production in a free market and the establishment of economic ties between the countryside and industry based on supply-demand. Never mind the cohabitation of the socialist sector with state capitalism and petty capitalist exploitation in both the countryside and the city; NEP introduced broad pro-market reforms within the socialist sector based on commercial accounting. It is true, however, that the expansion of commodity-money relations was seriously curtailed in the socialist sector in the second half of the twenties, which Trotsky viewed as a bureaucratic-administrative attack on the principles upon which Lenin allegedly conceived the path to socialist construction. It is here, where Guevara rebels against right-wing revisionism by advocating the right of the socialist state to determine the character of the relations of production and to regulate the proportions of labour exchange between branches of the state sector according to the global needs of the socialist state rather than the profitability of individual enterprises.

Much against Guevara’s views, Trotsky during the very early stages of NEP, during the transition from ‘war communism’ advocated the de-centralisation of the state sector:

‘The policy of a centralized bureaucratic management of industry excluded the possibility of a genuine centralized management, of fully utilizing technical equipment along with the available labor force.’ (L.D. Trotsky, ‘The First Five Years of the Communist International’, Volume 2, New Park Publications, London, 1953, pp. 230.)

As a result of the efforts to de-centralise state industry in 1921, especially light industry, as advocated by Trotsky, negative effects were felt soon, such as:

‘…violation of plan discipline, separatism; some state officials tried to replace the state plan organisation – VSNKh – by some ‘social organization of industry’’ (P.I. Lyashchenko, History of the People’s Economy of the USSR, Moscow 1956, Volume III, p. 153. Translated from Russian.)

Guevara supported the correct view that economic calculation does not necessarily imply market relations as factors determining production in the state sector, that economic accounting is not necessarily tied to commodity-money relations, as advocated by the supporters of the Soviet-style model in Cuba. Trotsky takes sides with Soviet revisionism:

After the administrative suppression of the NEP, the celebrated ‘six conditions of Stalin’ – economic accounting, piecework wages, etc. – became transformed into an empty collection of words. Economic accounting is unthinkable without market relations.” (The Soviet Economy in Danger,p. 276. Our emphasis.)

The history of the political economy of socialism has exposed the intimate link between the postulate of proportionality in the exchange of labour among different branches of the economy and the mechanical transportation of market relations to socialism. Metaphysics and mechanicism, common to the economic thought of right-wing revisionism, are closely interrelated with vulgar and superficial understanding of economic categories, which impels the ideologists of right-wing revisionism to equate exchange to commodity exchange and economic equilibrium to the operation of the law of value. The vulgar economic thought advocated by Trotsky and the right-wing opposition does not conceive another form of economic exchange other than commodity-money relations. It is not conceivable that the socialist state could establish a different content in the economic ties among objects of the socialist economy, which may violate the rigid principle of profitability of the individual enterprise. The ability of the planning bodies to establish labour exchange among socialist enterprises, which violates that principle, is viewed as a deformation, as a disproportion. Right-wing revisionism is unable to grasp and appreciate the great power in the hands of socialist planning to establish certain proportions of labour exchange that fit the needs and growth perspectives of the socialist economy, regardless of the overall level of socialisation of economy. In this sense, right-wing economists conceive the plan as a corollary of subjective (aprioristic, according to Trotsky) measures to organise, rationalise the labour exchange among profit-making individual enterprises. Guevara wholeheartedly rejects such a vulgar view of the plan, by advocating the right of the socialist planning to establish a different character of economic relations among the state enterprises, which does not necessarily follow the principle of profitability of the individual enterprise as the leading criterion for economic effectiveness.

Guevara openly exposed the view advocated by Trotsky and the ideologists of modern revisionism that economic accounting ‘is unthinkable’ without commodity money relations. Much to the contrary, Che advocated strict accounting, based on centralised responsibility and accountability of the management of the socialist enterprise, as a key element of the budgetary finance system, which lies at the centre of this economic thought. In his economic system economic accounting in the socialist sector is dissociated from the essence carried by commodity-money relations. Even though Guevara does not seem to grasp the dialectical evolution of market categories in socialism, his thought contains the basic elements to arrive at this understanding. Guevara’s accepts the correct view that the price, despite being a category inherited from the market economy, may be used within the socialist sector for calculation purposes. Hence, he does not reject the use of the form of market categories, which brings him closer to the Marxist-Leninist understanding developed by Lenin-Stalin. On the other hand, it is not clear to us that Guevara understood the evolution of the principle of economic accounting, which was introduced in 1921, through the NEP all the way to the massive collectivisation and the consolidation of the economic basis of socialism in the 1930s, all the way to the publication of Stalin’s Economic Problems. An analysis of the category of economic accounting shows that a deep change in the content had taken place which, despite the fact that the term was in use in the 1930-50s, reflected a different type of management to which Guevara’s budgetary system bears strong resemblance.

According to Tablada and Borrego, Che Guevara paid special attention to the analysis of the causes which led to the abolition of the war economy and the establishment of NEP. This issue is covered on multiple occasions in their books and has been the topic of a great deal of speculation, including allegations that Guevara accused Lenin of going too far in the development of market relations during the early stages of the NEP. Regardless of speculations, Che makes a strong case out of Lenin’s statements, in which NEP is considered as a retreat in the practice of the revolutionary process like the peace of Brest-Litovsk. It is evident, despite the wealth of confusion fostered by Guevara’s bourgeois, Trotskyite and neo-Trotskyite biographers, that Guevara does not consider NEP as an inevitable step in the transition to socialism, as a general and universal statement, but rather, a product of the historical-concrete conditions of revolutionary Russia. After quoting Marx, Lenin and Stalin (this article was written in 1964, when anti-Stalinism was already solidly established in the Soviet Union and the former People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe, with the exception of Albania), Guevara concludes:

‘As we see, the retreat that Lenin mentioned was due to the economic and political situation of the Soviet Union. These policies may be characterised as a practice, which is closely linked to the historical situation of the country, and, therefore, they do not hold universal character.’ (Che Guevara, ‘Che y la Economia’, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Habana, Cuba 1993, p. 74. Translated from Spanish.)

The argumentation in favour of NEP-type of economic reforms as an unavoidable step in the transition process between capitalism and socialism is a fundamental element of the economic theory of right-wing revisionism, including Trotskyism, which Guevara rejected altogether. A historical example, which refutes NEP as a compulsory stage for new revolutionary states, is served by the first steps adopted by the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe between 1948 and 1953. The governments of the People’s Democracies set an economic course based on the priority of heavy industry over other sectors of the economy. The policies of what bourgeois ideologists called the Stalinist economic model resulted in a spectacular growth of the socialist industry, a conditio sine qua non for a massive process of socialisation of means of production both in the city and the countryside. Even a vicious anti-communist publicist, such as F. Fejto, a Hungarian-born journalist based for a long time in France, admits:

‘Between 1949 and 1953, the industrial production of the six Comecon countries rose by 114 per cent, and in certain countries, like Hungary, where the ambitious planners knew no limits the results had been even more spectacular. Heavy industrial production increased fivefold; the engineering industry was seven times more productive in 1953 than in 1938. (F. Fejto, A History of the People’s Democracies, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 362.)

Further, Fejto elaborates on the very interesting case of the transition to socialism in Hungary, especially the events that followed the abrupt change of ‘gears’ imposed by the Soviet leadership weeks after the death of Stalin. In 1949 Hungary’s party, led by Matyas Rakosi, one of the most fervent supporters of Stalin’s policies, launched a campaign of collectivisation, which, although far from finalised, was well underway towards 1953. With Stalin’s death a swift change in the character of the Soviet leadership took place. The new Soviet leadership, at first initiated most likely by Beria, imposed on the leaders of the fraternal parties in Eastern Europe a line of forcible de-Stalinisation. The revisionist leadership ordered Eastern European leaders to slow down the tempo of industrialisation and to basically liquidate the process of ‘forcible’ collectivisation. In a number of countries, peasants were allowed to desert the collective farms (‘de-collectivisation’) if they wished to; private exploitation of land together with the restoration of the artisan class and private business. It was argued that the ‘Stalinist’ economic reforms had gone too far, that allegedly broad masses of the peasantry and the working class in those countries were frustrated at seeing that the unquestionable economic growth did not result in meaningful enhancement of the standards of living of the population, including that of the working class. There is no question that the ideological and organisational chaos induced by the policies of forcible ‘de-Stalinisation’ encouraged anti-communist elements within the middle classes, petty bourgeoisie and workers aristocracy to demonstrate compulsively, while entire party organisations proved hopeless, in disarray.

The Hungarian leader, Matyas Rakosi, did his best to stand up against Soviet revisionism and its supporters in the country; he succeeded in remaining in office till July 1956, when he was basically forced into exile by the Soviet leadership. Following orders from the Soviet revisionist leadership, in July 1953 Rakosi was forced to give up the post of Prime Minister, which passed to Imre Nagy, who even in the words of Fejto:

‘…revived Bukharinist ideas that had gone underground in Stalin’s lifetime’ (F. Fejto, A History of the People’s Democracies, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 363).

Certainly, Nagy was a fervent advocate of NEP-style treatment of the economic contradictions between the socialist sector, the peasantry and other petty producers. Soon after he gains office in July 1953, he launches a set of ‘liberalising’ measures, which became known as the ‘New Course’. In his last work, written in 1955, he states:

‘In a socialist society, when determining the tempo of economic development and the ratio between the various economic branches, the proportion between production and consumption and between consumption and stockpiling must be in harmony with the requirements of the basic economic law of socialism, guaranteeing a gradual advance of society’ (I. Nagy, ‘On Communism’, Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, New York, 1957, p. 98).

Nagy advocated ad nauseam the need for harmonic balance between the resources spent on sector A and sector B of the economy. The well-known concept of certain harmonic proportions invented by Bogdanov/Bukharin and plagiarised by Trotsky comes out again and again, as the back door to the development of commodity-money relations both in the socialist and non-socialist sectors, as a regulator of production. It is interesting, that unlike Bukharin/Trotsky, he uses Stalin’s citations of the mid twenties to substantiate the need to have NEP-style relations in the transitional economic system. In fact, by ‘basic economic law of socialism’ Nagy implies the well-known formulation given by Stalin in Economic Problems. This, however, does not prevent Nagy from remaining a vulgar right-wing economist, which Guevara’s economic thought has nothing to do with.

According to Nagy, the only bond that the socialist sector and the private producer can have in the early stages of the transition from capitalism to socialism is the market. It is only through the market that the process of socialisation of production can prove its advantages over capitalist forms of management and production. Nagy is explicit:

‘‘The NEP policy must be carried out unconditionally, as it means the establishment of increasingly closer relations in the exchange of goods between the city and the village, between the socialist industry and the system of small holdings producing for the market, facilitating the switch to a socialist system of agricultural farms on a large scale.’ (I. Nagy, op. cit., p. 82. Our emphasis.)

Nagy on and on bitterly complains about the staggering disproportions and ‘distortions’ inflicted on the Hungarian economy by Rakosi’s ‘clique’, referring to the fast development of heavy industry with respect to light industry, and especially the countryside. Nagy’s attack on Rakosi’s ‘clique’ becomes even more acute when touching upon the treatment of individual peasants and the collectivisation. He initially refers to Rakosi’s ‘clique’ as adventurous, later on as open left-wing ‘fanatics’ and deviationists. Finally, while quoting Lenin and Stalin’s works in the 1920s, taking their writings out of context, Nagy establishes a parallel between Rakosi’s struggle to uphold the principles of Marxism-Leninism, regardless of whatever mistakes in its implementation, and the Trotskyite left-wing opposition in the Soviet Union in the 1920s by appealing to:

‘The resolutions of the Bolshevik Party in the Fifteenth Congress, which were forged in the battle against the extreme ‘left-wing’ Trotskyist opposition…’ (I. Nagy, op. cit., p. 82.)

It is not the first time that right-wing opportunism portrays the struggle for the basic principle of centralisation of means of production in the construction of socialism as a left-wing, Trotskyite deviation. These allegations of Trotskyism that were thrown at Guevara are to be understood in the historical context, which corresponds to the time when right-wing revisionism, led by the revisionist leadership of in the Soviet Union, disbanded the ‘Stalinist’ plans for the socialisation of the means of production in industry and the countryside. Modern revisionism turned the state sector in the People’s Democracies into an aggregation of independently producing enterprises, which engage in labour exchange with other enterprises and the state via commodity-money relations; in the countryside the process of collectivisation was halted and reversed, and in some countries farm cooperatives were turned into independently producing enterprises, following the model imposed by the revisionists in the Soviet Union. It is in this context, that Guevara’s fight against followers of the Soviet economic model in Cuba, despite his mechanical and idealist mistakes, renders a substantiated critique against right-wing revisionist theories for the construction of socialism.

Guevara’s plans for the industrialisation of the Caribbean island need to be understood within the historical-concrete situation corresponding to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. Despite elements of idealism and mechanicism, Guevara’s model of budgetary finance system and his refusal to implement commodity-money relations and the law of value as the regulator of proportions among state enterprises bears strong resemblances with the economic system existent in the Soviet Union during the 1930-50s. Hence, it was natural that Guevara’s plans for industrialisation faced fierce resistance by Soviet revisionism and its followers in the island. It is evident to us, that allegations of Trotskyism or left-wing deviationism thrown by right-wing revisionists are utterly unfounded. Nevertheless, more investigation is needed to throw light on Guevara’s ideological evolution in the 1950s and early 1960s and on how he came to propose the budgetary finance system, as the fundamental pillar for the industrialisation in Cuba.

Idealism and Mechanicism in Che’s Economic Thought

Despite the progressive character of Guevara’s economic thought, and its invaluable positive impact on the economic discussion held in Cuba during the first half of the 1960s, which represents a courageous and more or less consistent and substantiated struggle against modern revisionism, Che’s thinking needs to be considered critically. Notwithstanding the substantiated struggle against the right-wing theories of socialist construction, which makes Guevara’s works most relevant materials for the study of questions related to socialist transformation, he is plagued with serious mistakes. Guevara’s eclecticism is inherent to his thought in general, and cannot be neglected when evaluating Guevara’s role in the Cuban revolution and the theory of socialist transformation.

Guevara’s mistakes in political economy can be classified into two groups: idealism and mechanicism. Idealist mistakes were committed by Guevara when evaluating the role of consciousness in political economy. When we refer to mechanicism in Guevara’s economic thought we mainly imply his failure to grasp the dialectical evolution of economic categories involved in commodity-money relations during the transitional epoch. Needless to say, Guevara’s mistakes have been extensively used by the bourgeoisie and the representatives of revisionist tendencies, such as Trotskyism and neo-Trotskyism to mystify the revolutionary and rip his contribution to the political science and political economy from its Marxist logical core and divorce it from a number of Marxist-Leninist principles, which Guevara tried to uphold in a more or less consistent manner.

Guevara’s mistakes in political economy have been used inside and outside the island to consider Guevara’s contribution to the economic transformations in the early stages of the Cuban revolution in isolation from the principles of socialist transformation adopted by the People’s Democracies during the post-war period, so demonised by modern revisionism. Guevara’s thought is portrayed by many as a specific phenomenon of the Cuban revolution, thus completely ignoring its strong links with the so called ‘Stalinist’ economic theories and modus operandi during the transitional period. Although we do not wish to portray Guevara’s economic thought as a faithful concretisation of the principles of Marxism-Leninism in the conditions of revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s, we feel it would be a serious mistake not to evaluate Guevara’s thought within the concrete-historical epoch corresponding to systematic violation of the principles of Marxism-Leninism, which led to the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the liquidation of socialist construction in Eastern Europe. While evaluating critically Guevara’s economic thought and identifying areas of inconsistency, we feel compelled to appreciate and value the positive and progressive that Che upheld under very difficult conditions of struggle against imperialism and revisionism.

Idealism is present throughout Guevara’s works all the way till his last published work, ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’. It leads Guevara to proclaim consciousness and education as primary with respect to the study of relations of production in the transitional economy, including the construction of communism. Impressed by the early philosophical works of young Marx, Guevara states:

‘The word conscious is emphasized because Marx considered it basic in stating the problem. He thought about man’s liberation and saw communism as the solution to the contradictions that brought alienation – but as a conscious act. That is to say, communism cannot be seen merely as the result of class contradictions in a highly developed society, contradiction that would be resolved during a transitional stage before reaching the crest. Man is a conscious actor in history. Without this consciousness, which embraces its awareness as a social being, there can be no communism.’ (Che Guevara, in ‘On the budgetary finance system’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 124. Our emphasis.)

The role of consciousness and education is ubiquitously stressed by Guevara in his economic works as the leading factor in the transition to higher forms of economic organisation. In Guevara’s system political economy ceases to be an independent discipline, the objective character of the economic laws of the transitional society is secondary to the cultural formation of the new man. The economic laws of socialism, like those of capitalism, exist and evolve with the development of the forces of production and the historical conditions at times independently from the level of consciousness of the masses. In fact, in certain historical situations, the masses as a whole remain unaware of the economic essence of both revolution and counter-revolution.

The role of consciousness and education undoubtedly play a fundamental role in the construction of the new society. However, political economy remains an independent discipline and the study of the objective laws that govern it remains a titanic effort. Only scientific analysis and synthesis of the relations of production can make possible the sustained economic development necessary for the construction of the socialist and communist societies. As opposed to capitalism, during the course of the transition to socialism, objective and subjective conditions are given for the masses to participate consciously in the construction and scientific analysis and synthesis of the socialist construction. It is clear that the more conscious and active participation of the working class in the socialist construction, the more solid are the foundations of the socialist formation. It is clear too, that the more conscious the working class is about the essence of the economic transformation, the more robust is the economic development and the less influential are the forces of counter-revolution.

Economic development under socialism and the development of consciousness and socialist culture – two phenomena which go hand in hand. Generalisation on the basis of the history of the Soviet Union indicates that consciousness and socialist culture require a material basis, without which further economic development and further development of consciousness. However, according to Guevara consciousness and socialist education are supposed to be the primary engines of economic development in socialism:

‘The hopes in our system [budgetary finance system – our note] point to the future, towards a more rapid development of consciousness, and through consciousness, to the development of the productive forces’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Socialist plan: its meaning’, p. 147. Translated from Spanish.)

In Guevara’s system, socialist economic development is not really the engine of consciousness, but the other way around, consciousness is the source of socialist economic development. Guevara’s idealism turns voluntarist. In this respect, Che’s idealism may be compared to Mao’s idealist views in political economy, despite the fact that Guevara displays a significantly more progressive stand with respect to commodity-money relations than the latter. Mao, in his critique of Stalin’s Economic Problems, bitterly complains about the fact that the latter does not include the study of the superstructure in the analysis of the socialist economy:

Stalin’s book from first to last says nothing about the superstructure. It is not concerned with people; it considers things not people…

They speak only of the production relations, not the superstructure nor politics, nor the role of the people. Communism cannot be reached unless there is a communist movement’. (Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1977, pp. 135-136.)

Guevara supports the wrong idealistic view that commodity-money relations per se and in general are a manifestation of the alienation of the human being in the process of production. Guevara interprets mechanistically and metaphysically the role and place of economic forms inherited from capitalism in the socialist economy:

‘The alienated human individual is bound to society as a whole by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value. It acts upon all facets of his life, shaping his road and his destiny. (Che Guevara in ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba’, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 340.)

One of the major and profound mistakes displayed by Guevara’s economic thought, a mistake common to many others who have genuinely claimed allegiance to Marxism-Leninism, is his failing to grasp Lenin’s and Stalin’s teachings with regards to the dying off of economic categories inherited from capitalism. These teachings may be succinctly expressed in Stalin’s well-known assertion in Economic Problems. In his answer to A. Notkin, Stalin stresses:

‘The fact of the matter is that in our socialist conditions economic development proceeds not by way of upheavals, but by way of gradual changes, the old not simply being abolished out of hand, but changing its nature in adaptation to the new, and retaining only its form; while the new does not simply destroy the old, but infiltrates into it, changes its nature and its functions, without smashing its form, but utilizing it for the development of the new. This, in our economic circulation, is true not only of commodities, but also of money, as well as of banks, which, while they lose their old functions and acquire new ones, preserve their old form, which is utilized by the socialist system.’ (J.V. Stalin ‘Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR’, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, p. 59.)

Guevara commits the colossal mistake, which has been more or less successfully exploited by neo-Trotskyism and other bourgeois ideologies, of mechanically and metaphysically extrapolating the character of the economic categories implemented during the NEP to later stages of the socialist construction in the Soviet Union. Guevara, de facto blames the adoption of such economic forms as economic accounting, profit, credit, etc. implemented in the 1920s for the right-wing deviationist economic theories that he was fighting in the 1960s, without appreciating the profound changes that operated in the content of those categories during the 1930-50s:

In the Soviet Union, the first country to build socialism, and those who followed its example, determined to develop a planning process that could measure broad economic results by financial means. Relations among enterprises were left in a state of more or less free play. This is the origin of what is now called economic calculus (a poor translation of the Russian term, that might better be expressed as auto-financing, or, more precisely, financial self-management).

Roughly speaking, then, financial self-management is based on establishing broad financial control over the enterprise activities, banks being the principal agencies of control. Suitably designed and regimented material incentives are used to promote independent initiative toward maximum utilization of productive capacity, which translates into greater benefits for the individual worker or the factory collective. Under this system, loans granted to socialist enterprises are repaid with interests in order to accelerate product turnover’. (Che Guevara, in ‘On Production Costs and the Budgetary System’, published in Man and Socialism in Cuba, Atheneum, New York, 1973, p. 114.)

It is clear that, the transition to socialism in the Soviet Union, which followed the implementation of market-type economic relations in most of the economy, had to carry within itself certain economic forms, which are inevitably inherited from capitalism. However, Guevara apparently fails to grasp the fact that the concept of economic accounting evolved dramatically over the years, as the character of the economic relations evolved. The concept of economic accounting never disappeared from the Soviet economic literature; however, its content evolved in time in order to accommodate the planned principle of the economy on the basis of socialised property and the liquidation of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forms of production. The economic accounting of the more or less disseminated production subjects confined to the Soviet artels in the 1920s bears little resemblance with the economic accounting of highly concentrated Soviet industry in the 1930-50s. The character of the labour exchange among the different production subjects during the 1930-50s bear close resemblance to that of the budgetary finance system advocated by Guevara in the 1960s.

It is not clear to us, to what extent Guevara is able to appreciate the qualitative changes that operated in the interpretation of the content of economic categories over the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Guevara sees the preservation in the Soviet Union of economic forms such us, economic accounting, profit, credit, banks, etc… as a sign of economic backwardness, or rather as a sign of the concrete historical conditions under which the transition to socialism took place in the Soviet Union. For instance, Guevara advocated the liquidation of the concept of credit in socialism, even though the form of credit was never liquidated in the Soviet Union:

‘In our system [the budgetary system – our note.] the Bank supplies a certain amount of resources to the enterprises according to the budget; here the interest rate is not present’. (Che Guevara, op. cit. in ‘Considerations on Expenses’, pp. 45-46. Translated from Spanish.)

The same applies to the economic category of profit, which was never liquidated in the Soviet Union but was categorically denied by Guevara within the context of the budgetary finance system in Cuba. Guevara seems to understand mechanically the economic relation of the State with socialised production subjects:

‘…because the State Enterprise in the conditions of Cuba, is just a centre for production. It has a budget, a budget for production; it should meet the goals of production and deliver its product to the Ministry of Domestic Commerce, or to other state industries. Thus, the enterprise does not have profit, does not have money; all the profit, all the difference between what was sold and the cost belongs to the Cuban state. The enterprise is reduced to production.’ (Che Guevara, Conference ‘Economy and Plan’ of the People’s University, 1961. Translated from Spanish.)

As a matter of fact, the history of the political economy of the Soviet Union has demonstrated that the principle of socialist planning on the basis of socialised forms of production does not contradict the implementation of such economic forms as profit, as long as the latter do not express the relationship between independent producers, but on the contrary is used as one of the indexes of economic effectiveness, etc… To state that profit is not the leading economic criterion in socialist industry is generally speaking correct. However to interpret the sole presence of the concept of profit, regardless of its relative weight in the definition of economic effectiveness, as a sign of economic backwardness is strictly speaking incorrect.

In his article ‘Bank, Credit and Socialism’ Guevara brilliantly exposes the vulgar and fetishist economic views of those in Cuba who did not understand the need to re-define the role of banks in a socialist economy and that the economic functions of the banks in capitalism cannot be mechanically transported to socialism. His conclusions are generally speaking correct, correct in the sense of abstract formulations. So are his conclusions with regard to commodity-money relations and the role of the law of value in the transitional economy. However, they are correct in the abstract and may turn dangerous if applied mechanically to concrete-historical conditions.

Unfortunately, the evaluation of Guevara’s economic thought is confusing and inconclusive since the budgetary finance system is conceived as a result of the struggle with right-wing economic theories, which absolutise the role of commodity-money relations. The budgetary finance system is without a doubt a reaction against right-wing economic theories and needs to be appreciated as such. Further investigations, possibly on the basis of archival materials, will hopefully throw valuable light on the role of mechanicism and metaphysics in Guevara’s economic thought.

Source

J.J. Lawrence: Che Guevara

CheLaCoubreMarch

I have been asked to write an article on Che, which I am pleased to do. Before I write this article, I must insist that if you have not read anything on Che (apart from this article) you must read a biography on him. Che was the first time I had read on something involving communism, which had a huge influence on me. There are a great deal of articles on Che. I do not want to just write another short summary of his life. I have tried in this article to show key points which had significant impact on him, and why he became the man he was.

‘Because of the circumstances in which I travelled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact with poverty, hunger, and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident… and I began to realize that there were things which were almost as important to me as becoming a famous scientist or making a significant contribution to medical science; I wanted to help those people.’ (Che Guevara, 1960, speaking on revolutionary medicine).

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was a communist revolutionary, a social philosopher, a medical doctor and became an international figurehead for the communist cause. His dream was to change Latin America into a socialist utopia and end US imperialism there as well as helping the rest of the developing world free themselves of oppression. When I first read about Che, I was blown away, his life, his ideals, a tear came to my eye when I read about his final hour and his murder in Bolivia. From the moment he agreed to join Castro’s revolution, he dedicated his life to the communist cause , his determination was unbelievable. In my opinion there was a number of key points on how Che became the man he was and why he is such an icon to so many today.

(1)

The first “key point” in my view was his asthma. I know some people would not see this as hugely significant but to me it was. From such a young age it affected him terribly, he did not start school until the age of seven because of it. But his mother gave him a good basic grounding in education. The asthma was something to him that would not hold him back, it gave him so much resolve. It was the fact that he had asthma that gave him this determination to succeed and throughout his battles in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia it affected him terribly. Surely it was physically demanding enough to be a guerrilla fighter and on top of that he had to cope with asthma, he became a severe and a ruthless disciplinarian to his troops who complained and showed physical weakness. He concluded that if he could manage with severe asthma that they should find it much less demanding than him. Overall it installed huge determination in him, his will to take part in physical activity, it would not stop him from being part of the team. One of his decisions to study medicine was his determination to find a cure for his side effects of his drugs he used for asthma. He eventually qualified as a doctor. He knew his asthma was a weakness, but it installed in him, a self determination that would last for the rest of his life.

(2)

His travels of Latin America, without doubt, had a profound impact on Che. He visited numerous countries throughout his travels, as the quote from Che says ‘Because of the circumstances in which I travelled, first as a student and later as a doctor’, he witnessed at first hand the social injustice, US imperialism, the devastating poverty of the downtrodden classes and the ethnic minorities. Just to think what may have become of Che, if he did not travel around Latin America? He visited nearly all of the Latin American countries. He saw what kind of life that some people had to endure, while people suffered in poverty, starving and treated like filth, somewhere down the road a US owned business rakes in the PROFITS while subjecting the workers to wage slavery. Che, in his travels, for example, came into contact with an old woman, who was asthmatic, with a heart condition. This woman couldn’t pay her way.

‘It is then, at the end, that we see the profound tragedy which circumscribes the life of the proletariat the world over. In these dying eyes there is a humble appeal for forgiveness and also, often, a desperate plea for solace which is lost in the void’

As each encounter with social injustice, poverty, US imperialism and disease, occurred, Che began to realize that the whole of Latin America was in desperate need of change. The whole system was corrupt. Che had throughout his travels, already read a great deal on Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin etc., then when he witnessed the devastating effect of capitalism and privately owned businesses (usually US) in Latin America, he knew his beliefs were right. To destroy the current system and once and for all bring social justice, an end to capitalism. To finish that quote with which Che showed his anger at the system:

‘How long this present order, based on absurd idea of caste, will last I can’t say, but it’s time governments spent less time publicizing their own virtues and more money – much more money – funding socially useful projects.’

He found himself in Guatemala, under a new government of Jacobo Arbenz, which nationalized land owned by United Fruit, plus various US multinationals who severely exploited the workers, while they accumulated the profits. Obviously the US were not going to allow their interest to be affected, just because Jacobo Arbenz wanted to give his people a better standard of living. It became clear that the CIA were planning to overthrow the new government, then install a puppet. Eventually the coup won, Che was outraged that the government failed to arm the people. He once again had witnessed US intervention. Che gained valuable experience from his Guatemalan experience, that there must be unity, and to arm the people, he also realized that Uncle Sam would have to be kept in the dark until the revolution was secure. He also met the woman that would become his wife, Hilda Gadea Acosta, she would introduce him to some members of the JULY 26 MOVEMENT. He arrived in Mexico knowing that he was prepared to join any type of revolution that was fighting to overthrow a dictator. This is where Che Guevara met a man who would change his life and the course of history.

(3)

In Mexico, he had heard a lot about the leader of the July 26 movement, now he would meet him. FIDEL CASTRO, this is without doubt, without question, Fidel Castro had the biggest impact on the life of Che Guevara. All of Che’s experiences, his childhood and his travels, he realized that social change was needed. Seeing the US imperialism around Latin America, the devastating poverty of the downtrodden classes, he realized that a revolution was the only way. He needed to find a cause? He needed to find a strong leader?

It had reached the climax for Che, he had found his leader for a revolution, in Che’s own words after meeting Fidel:

‘an extraordinary man. He confronted and solved the most impossible problems. He had an unshakeable faith that once he left exile in Mexico and arrived in Cuba he would fight, and would win that fighting. I shared his optimism. It was imperative to do something, to struggle, to achieve. It was imperative to stop crying and fight!’

For Che, to say something like that, so soon after meeting him, shows what impact Castro had on Che. He talked with Fidel in their first encounter on every conceivable subject, they were like long lost soul brothers.

In the various “key points” I have shown, I feel these were the fundamental factors in the making of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. These various incidents in Che’s life had a huge impact on him, from him suffering asthma, his travels of Latin America and meeting Fidel Castro. They all helped create a man whose life was dedicated to people who suffered at the hands of injustice.

THE REVOLUTION AND BEYOND.

Throughout Cuban revolution, Che was to become a severe and ruthless disciplinarian. He once shot a man for falling asleep on guard duty and ordered executions of deserters etc. Some people have argued that he was too harsh and too severe. But in my opinion he was justified, he became so dedicated to the revolution that nothing on earth could jeopardize it. During the Cuban revolution, Che showed his bravery, his tactical skill, his determination and all this was noted by Castro who eventually promoted Che to commander. He showed that anything he applied himself to he could do, Che Guevara was quite simply, a rare bird. He was without question the best guerrilla fighter in the Cuban revolution, he showed, at times, a complete disregard for his own personal safety. Even when Castro had told him not to take part in some of the battles. He was always determined to lead by example. During the revolution he would meet the woman who would become his second wife, Aleida March. What was an important factor to me about Che Guevara, was educating the new rebels, he set up an education program during the revolution. He was determined to introduce them to Marxism Leninism, Castro didn’t want the communist element to be heard, of course if the Americans got wind of it the revolution might have been doomed. Castro, I believe was always going down the communist road, he just needed to keep it quiet from uncle Sam.

When the rebels had won, and marched into the cities of Havana etc. Che set about leading by example, he was determined to show the people that everyone must make sacrifices in the ‘new Cuba’. Like in all revolutions, traitors and former henchmen of General Batista were still in the air. Some highly publicized trials were held. Over 500 men were convicted for crimes against the people, Che was in charge of the trials and had the last say on the fate of the men. Some people were outraged, friends who knew Che before he joined the revolution were shocked. In my view it was absolutely justified, some of the men executed were guilty of horrendous crimes. Others were a threat to the revolution and deserved to die. It shows an interesting aspect in Che’s character, a man who always wanted to help the people and to bring social justice to the world, but he showed no mercy to the enemies and handed out death sentences to them unemotionally. What is so profound of Che was his dedication, just as he was as a fighter in the revolution. He was determined to see the ‘new Cuba’ have economical stability and make sure it survived. Che was entrusted with the crucial job of forging relations to bankroll the revolution by visiting the rest of the socialist states, such as the Soviet Union, China and various other countries. When he returned to Cuba, he had the great news of securing financial and political support of the two communist super-powers China and the Soviet Union. He worked immensely hard for the revolution, be it going round the world forging alliances with various nations or going to do volunteer labour work on a construction site in Cuba. Seldom do you see a politician doing that at present in England or anywhere. At times he worked 36 hours straight meeting various people to help the revolution. To me these examples of self sacrifice had a huge impact on me, to see a man work so hard, so honestly and all he wanted in return was not a big pay packet but for the rest of Cuba to follow suit. During the Cuban missile crisis, when without consulting Castro the Soviet leader Khrushchev had already done a deal with President Kennedy. Castro was furious, but kept a smile for Khrushchev. Che was furious, he never trusted nor did he ever like the Soviet leader.

It was Che who first denounced the new Soviet imperialism for not giving unconditional support to third world liberation movements etc. It was a part of Che’s character, he would always voice his opinion, whether it be attacking his nemesis, or criticizing the Soviet Union for its faults. History has proven Che correct about the former Soviet Union, with revisionists such as Khrushchev and the eventual collapse of it. Che saw this happening.

CONCLUSION.

Che Guevara had served as a vital cog in the Cuban revolution he felt it was time to leave for another adventure. He decided it was to be the Congo, to assist the rebels there. I believe, and I may be wrong about this, but Che knew he would not grow old peacefully, his heart lay on the battlefield. He left a letter for his children, to be opened if he was killed:

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia and Ernesto,

If you read this letter one day, it will mean that I

am no longer alive. You will hardly remember me,

and the smallest among you will have entirely

forgotten me.

 

Your father was a man who acted as he thought

best and who has been absolutely faithful to his

convictions.

 

Grow up into good revolutionaries. Study hard to

master technique, which gives you mastery over

nature. Remember that it is the Revolution which

is important and that each of us, taken in

isolation, is worth nothing.

 

Above all be sensitive, in the deepest areas of

yourselves, to any injustice committed against

whoever it may be anywhere in the world.

 

Yours always, my children. I hope to see

you again.

 

A big strong kiss from

Daddy.

His Congo and Bolivian missions were both disastrous, Bolivia proving fatal. But Che Guevara is an important historical figure, he is a prime example of what can be achieved, by only having huge determination and a dream. He was a dedicated Marxist-Leninist, the amount of effort, blood, sweat and tears he put in to further the cause of his idols was profound. When we look at politicians today who consistently misrepresent the people, it is sickening. Che dedicated his life to help the people, to demonstrate why communism was the only way forward. He was the second most powerful man in Cuba, he was loved by the people, a hero of the revolution. He was married with five children and could have grown old peacefully in Cuba, he gave everything up in Cuba to further the communist cause. He had an epic dream to bring the whole of Latin America into a socialist utopia, through armed revolution. When you realize how dedicated a human being must be to give up everything in Cuba, to help bring socialism to the whole of Latin America is astonishing. I believe the importance of Che Guevara is huge for the communist cause, he shows how communists should dedicate themselves to their beliefs. The NCMLU (Communist Party Alliance) follows the political principles of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, which is correct. But we should take from Che the honesty, dedication and self sacrifice to help the working class. With so much anti-communist feeling around the world, who accuse us of being ‘evil’, we can show them what a communist is and what we stand for. Tell them to read on Che, who only ever wanted to help the downtrodden classes of the world. For me, Che will always hold a special place in my heart, reading about him was the first time I had come into contact with communism.

Reading on him sparked off something inside me to help the communist cause. Upon reading on Che, it has led me to Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. In my opinion we will never see another human being of his kind.

We must all strive to be like Che, to show self sacrifice, dedication to the cause, to fight against injustice, racism and imperialism, to help bring about social equality and change the world. To quote Marx, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it’.

I will finish with a part of a speech from Fidel Castro, speaking to the Cuban people after the death of his comrade.

 

‘a man of profound ideals, a man in

whose mind stirred the dream of

struggle…’

 

CHE GUEVARA

1928-1967

Source

Che on Imperialist “Freedom”

Che-Guevara-9322774-1-402

“Those who kill their own children and discriminate daily against them because of the color of their skin; those who let the murderers of blacks remain free, protecting them, and furthermore punishing the black population because they demand their legitimate rights as free men — how can those who do this consider themselves guardians of freedom?”

— Che Guevara

Left Anticommunism: the Unkindest Cut

noamChomsky

BY MICHAEL PARENTI

Despite a lifetime of “shaming” the system, NOAM CHOMSKY, America’s foremost “engagé” intellectual, remains an unrepentant left anticommunist.

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis. During the Cold War, the anticommunist ideological framework could transform any data about existing communist societies into hostile evidence. If the Soviets refused to negotiate a point, they were intransigent and belligerent; if they appeared willing to make concessions, this was but a skillful ploy to put us off our guard. By opposing arms limitations, they would have demonstrated their aggressive intent; but when in fact they supported most armament treaties, it was because they were mendacious and manipulative. If the churches in the USSR were empty, this demonstrated that religion was suppressed; but if the churches were full, this meant the people were rejecting the regime’s atheistic ideology. If the workers went on strike (as happened on infrequent occasions), this was evidence of their alienation from the collectivist system; if they didn’t go on strike, this was because they were intimidated and lacked freedom. A scarcity of consumer goods demonstrated the failure of the economic system; an improvement in consumer supplies meant only that the leaders were attempting to placate a restive population and so maintain a firmer hold over them. If communists in the United States played an important role struggling for the rights of workers, the poor, African-Americans, women, and others, this was only their guileful way of gathering support among disfranchised groups and gaining power for themselves. How one gained power by fighting for the rights of powerless groups was never explained. What we are dealing with is a nonfalsifiable orthodoxy, so assiduously marketed by the ruling interests that it affected people across the entire political spectrum.

Genuflection to Orthodoxy

Many on the U.S. Left have exhibited a Soviet bashing and Red baiting that matches anything on the Right in its enmity and crudity. Listen to Noam Chomsky holding forth about “left intellectuals” who try to “rise to power on the backs of mass popular movements” and “then beat the people into submission. . . . You start off as basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy. You see later that power doesn’t lie that way, and you very quickly become an ideologist of the right. . . . We’re seeing it right now in the [former] Soviet Union. The same guys who were communist thugs two years back, are now running banks and [are] enthusiastic free marketeers and praising Americans” (Z Magazine, 10/95).

Chomsky’s imagery is heavily indebted to the same U.S. corporate political culture he so frequently criticizes on other issues. In his mind, the revolution was betrayed by a coterie of “communist thugs” who merely hunger for power rather than wanting the power to end hunger. In fact, the communists did not “very quickly” switch to the Right but struggled in the face of a momentous onslaught to keep Soviet socialism alive for more than seventy years. To be sure, in the Soviet Union’s waning days some, like Boris Yeltsin, crossed over to capitalist ranks, but others continued to resist free-market incursions at great cost to themselves, many meeting their deaths during Yeltsin’s violent repression of the Russian parliament in 1993.

Some leftists and others fall back on the old stereotype of power-hungry Reds who pursue power for power’s sake without regard for actual social goals. If true, one wonders why, in country after country, these Reds side with the poor and powerless often at great risk and sacrifice to themselves, rather than reaping the rewards that come with serving the well-placed.

For decades, many left-leaning writers and speakers in the United States have felt obliged to establish their credibility by indulging in anticommunist and anti-Soviet genuflection, seemingly unable to give a talk or write an article or book review on whatever political subject without injecting some anti-Red sideswipe. The intent was, and still is, to distance themselves from the Marxist-Leninist Left.

Adam Hochschild: Keeping his distance from the “Stalinist Left” and recommending same posture to fellow progressives.

Adam Hochschild, a liberal writer and publisher, warned those on the Left who might be lackadaisical about condemning existing communist societies that they “weaken their credibility” (Guardian, 5/23/84). In other words, to be credible opponents of the cold war, we first had to join in the Cold-War condemnations of communist societies. Ronald Radosh urged that the peace movement purge itself of communists so that it not be accused of being communist (Guardian, 3/16/83). If I understand Radosh: To save ourselves from anticommunist witchhunts, we should ourselves become witchhunters. Purging the Left of communists became a longstanding practice, having injurious effects on various progressive causes. For instance, in 1949 some twelve unions were ousted from the CIO because they had Reds in their leadership. The purge reduced CIO membership by some 1.7 million and seriously weakened its recruitment drives and political clout. In the late 1940s, to avoid being “smeared” as Reds, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a supposedly progressive group, became one of the most vocally anticommunist organizations.

The strategy did not work. ADA and others on the Left were still attacked for being communist or soft on communism by those on the Right. Then and now, many on the Left have failed to realize that those who fight for social change on behalf of the less privileged elements of society will be Red-baited by conservative elites whether they are communists or not. For ruling interests, it makes little difference whether their wealth and power is challenged by “communist subversives” or “loyal American liberals.” All are lumped together as more or less equally abhorrent.

Even when attacking the Right, the left critics cannot pass up an opportunity to flash their anticommunist credentials. So Mark Green writes in a criticism of President Ronald Reagan that “when presented with a situation that challenges his conservative catechism, like an unyielding Marxist-Leninist, [Reagan] will change not his mind but the facts.” While professing a dedication to fighting dogmatism “both of the Right and Left,” individuals who perform such de rigueur genuflections reinforce the anticommunist dogma. Red-baiting leftists contributed their share to the climate of hostility that has given U.S. leaders such a free hand in waging hot and cold wars against communist countries and which even today makes a progressive or even liberal agenda difficult to promote.

A prototypic Red-basher who pretended to be on the Left was George Orwell. In the middle of World War II, as the Soviet Union was fighting for its life against the Nazi invaders at Stalingrad, Orwell announced that a “willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual’s point of view is really dangerous” (Monthly Review, 5/83). Safely ensconced within a virulently anticommunist society, Orwell (with Orwellian doublethink) characterized the condemnation of communism as a lonely courageous act of defiance. Today, his ideological progeny are still at it, offering themselves as intrepid left critics of the Left, waging a valiant struggle against imaginary Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist hordes.
•••••

•••••

Sorely lacking within the U.S. Left is any rational evaluation of the Soviet Union, a nation that endured a protracted civil war and a multinational foreign invasion in the very first years of its existence, and that two decades later threw back and destroyed the Nazi beast at enormous cost to itself. In the three decades after the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviets made industrial advances equal to what capitalism took a century to accomplish–while feeding and schooling their children rather than working them fourteen hours a day as capitalist industrialists did and still do in many parts of the world. And the Soviet Union, along with Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, and Cuba provided vital assistance to national liberation movements in countries around the world, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress in South Africa.

Left anticommunists remained studiously unimpressed by the dramatic gains won by masses of previously impoverished people under communism. Some were even scornful of such accomplishments. I recall how in Burlington Vermont, in 1971, the noted anticommunist anarchist, Murray Bookchin, derisively referred to my concern for “the poor little children who got fed under communism” (his words).

Slinging Labels

Those of us who refused to join in the Soviet bashing were branded by left anticommunists as “Soviet apologists” and “Stalinists,” even if we disliked Stalin and his autocratic system of rule and believed there were things seriously wrong with existing Soviet society. Our real sin was that unlike many on the Left we refused to uncritically swallow U.S. media propaganda about communist societies. Instead, we maintained that, aside from the well-publicized deficiencies and injustices, there were positive features about existing communist systems that were worth preserving, that improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people in meaningful and humanizing ways. This claim had a decidedly unsettling effect on left anticommunists who themselves could not utter a positive word about any communist society (except possibly Cuba) and could not lend a tolerant or even courteous ear to anyone who did.

Saturated by anticommunist orthodoxy, most U.S. leftists have practiced a left McCarthyism against people who did have something positive to say about existing communism, excluding them from participation in conferences, advisory boards, political endorsements, and left publications. Like conservatives, left anticommunists tolerated nothing less than a blanket condemnation of the Soviet Union as a Stalinist monstrosity and a Leninist moral aberration.

That many U.S. leftists have scant familiarity with Lenin’s writings and political work does not prevent them from slinging the “Leninist” label. Noam Chomsky, who is an inexhaustible fount of anticommunist caricatures, offers this comment about Leninism: “Western and also Third World intellectuals were attracted to the Bolshevik counterrevolution [sic] because Leninism is, after all, a doctrine that says that the radical intelligentsia have a right to take state power and to run their countries by force, and that is an idea which is rather appealing to intellectuals.” Here Chomsky fashions an image of power-hungry intellectuals to go along with his cartoon image of power-hungry Leninists, villains seeking not the revolutionary means to fight injustice but power for power’s sake. When it comes to Red-bashing, some of the best and brightest on the Left sound not much better than the worst on the Right.

At the time of the 1996 terror bombing in Oklahoma City, I heard a radio commentator announce: “Lenin said that the purpose of terror is to terrorize.” U.S. media commentators have repeatedly quoted Lenin in that misleading manner. In fact, his statement was disapproving of terrorism. He polemicized against isolated terrorist acts which do nothing but create terror among the populace, invite repression, and isolate the revolutionary movement from the masses. Far from being the totalitarian, tight-circled conspirator, Lenin urged the building of broad coalitions and mass organizations, encompassing people who were at different levels of political development. He advocated whatever diverse means were needed to advance the class struggle, including participation in parliamentary elections and existing trade unions. To be sure, the working class, like any mass group, needed organization and leadership to wage a successful revolutionary struggle, which was the role of a vanguard party, but that did not mean the proletarian revolution could be fought and won by putschists or terrorists.

Lenin constantly dealt with the problem of avoiding the two extremes of liberal bourgeois opportunism and ultra-left adventurism. Yet he himself is repeatedly identified as an ultra-left putschist by mainstream journalists and some on the Left. Whether Lenin’s approach to revolution is desirable or even relevant today is a question that warrants critical examination. But a useful evaluation is not likely to come from people who misrepresent his theory and practice.

Left anticommunists find any association with communist organizations to be morally unacceptable because of the “crimes of communism.” Yet many of them are themselves associated with the Democratic Party in this country, either as voters or members, seemingly unconcerned about the morally unacceptable political crimes committed by leaders of that organization. Under one or another Democratic administration, 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and livelihoods and thrown into detention camps; atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an enormous loss of innocent life; the FBI was given authority to infiltrate political groups; the Smith Act was used to imprison leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and later on leaders of the Communist Party for their political beliefs; detention camps were established to round up political dissidents in the event of a “national emergency”; during the late 1940s and 1950s, eight thousand federal workers were purged from government because of their political associations and views, with thousands more in all walks of life witchhunted out of their careers; the Neutrality Act was used to impose an embargo on the Spanish Republic that worked in favor of Franco’s fascist legions; homicidal counterinsurgency programs were initiated in various Third World countries; and the Vietnam War was pursued and escalated. And for the better part of a century, the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party protected racial segregation and stymied all anti-lynching and fair employment bills. Yet all these crimes, bringing ruination and death to many, have not moved the liberals, the social democrats, and the “democratic socialist” anticommunists to insist repeatedly that we issue blanket condemnations of either the Democratic Party or the political system that produced it, certainly not with the intolerant fervor that has been directed against existing communism.

Pure Socialism vs. Siege Socialism

The upheavals in Eastern Europe did not constitute a defeat for socialism because socialism never existed in those countries, according to some U.S. leftists. They say that the communist states offered nothing more than bureaucratic, one-party “state capitalism” or some such thing. Whether we call the former communist countries “socialist” is a matter of definition. Suffice it to say, they constituted something different from what existed in the profit-driven capitalist world–as the capitalists themselves were not slow to recognize.

First, in communist countries there was less economic inequality than under capitalism. The perks enjoyed by party and government elites were modest by corporate CEO standards in the West [even more so when compared with today’s grotesque compensation packages to the executive and financial elites.—Eds], as were their personal incomes and life styles. Soviet leaders like Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev lived not in lavishly appointed mansions like the White House, but in relatively large apartments in a housing project near the Kremlin set aside for government leaders. They had limousines at their disposal (like most other heads of state) and access to large dachas where they entertained visiting dignitaries. But they had none of the immense personal wealth that most U.S. leaders possess.

The “lavish life” enjoyed by East Germany’s party leaders, as widely publicized in the U.S. press, included a $725 yearly allowance in hard currency, and housing in an exclusive settlement on the outskirts of Berlin that sported a sauna, an indoor pool, and a fitness center shared by all the residents. They also could shop in stores that carried Western goods such as bananas, jeans, and Japanese electronics. The U.S. press never pointed out that ordinary East Germans had access to public pools and gyms and could buy jeans and electronics (though usually not of the imported variety). Nor was the “lavish” consumption enjoyed by East German leaders contrasted to the truly opulent life style enjoyed by the Western plutocracy.

Second, in communist countries, productive forces were not organized for capital gain and private enrichment; public ownership of the means of production supplanted private ownership. Individuals could not hire other people and accumulate great personal wealth from their labor. Again, compared to Western standards, differences in earnings and savings among the populace were generally modest. The income spread between highest and lowest earners in the Soviet Union was about five to one. In the United States, the spread in yearly income between the top multibillionaires and the working poor is more like 10,000 to 1.

Third, priority was placed on human services. Though life under communism left a lot to be desired and the services themselves were rarely the best, communist countries did guarantee their citizens some minimal standard of economic survival and security, including guaranteed education, employment, housing, and medical assistance.

Fourth, communist countries did not pursue the capital penetration of other countries. Lacking a profit motive as their motor force and therefore having no need to constantly find new investment opportunities, they did not expropriate the lands, labor, markets, and natural resources of weaker nations, that is, they did not practice economic imperialism. The Soviet Union conducted trade and aid relations on terms that generally were favorable to the Eastern European nations and Mongolia, Cuba, and India.

All of the above were organizing principles for every communist system to one degree or another. None of the above apply to free market countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, South Korea, Chile, Indonesia, Zaire, Germany, or the United States.

But a real socialism, it is argued, would be controlled by the workers themselves through direct participation instead of being run by Leninists, Stalinists, Castroites, or other ill-willed, power-hungry, bureaucratic, cabals of evil men who betray revolutions. Unfortunately, this “pure socialism” view is ahistorical and nonfalsifiable; it cannot be tested against the actualities of history. It compares an ideal against an imperfect reality, and the reality comes off a poor second. It imagines what socialism would be like in a world far better than this one, where no strong state structure or security force is required, where none of the value produced by workers needs to be expropriated to rebuild society and defend it from invasion and internal sabotage.

The pure socialists’ ideological anticipations remain untainted by existing practice. They do not explain how the manifold functions of a revolutionary society would be organized, how external attack and internal sabotage would be thwarted, how bureaucracy would be avoided, scarce resources allocated, policy differences settled, priorities set, and production and distribution conducted. Instead, they offer vague statements about how the workers themselves will directly own and control the means of production and will arrive at their own solutions through creative struggle. No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except the ones that succeed.

The pure socialists had a vision of a new society that would create and be created by new people, a society so transformed in its fundamentals as to leave little room for wrongful acts, corruption, and criminal abuses of state power. There would be no bureaucracy or self-interested coteries, no ruthless conflicts or hurtful decisions. When the reality proves different and more difficult, some on the Left proceed to condemn the real thing and announce that they “feel betrayed” by this or that revolution.

The pure socialists see socialism as an ideal that was tarnished by communist venality, duplicity, and power cravings. The pure socialists oppose the Soviet model but offer little evidence to demonstrate that other paths could have been taken, that other models of socialism–not created from one’s imagination but developed through actual historical experience–could have taken hold and worked better. Was an open, pluralistic, democratic socialism actually possible at this historic juncture? The historical evidence would suggest it was not. As the political philosopher Carl Shames argued:

How do [the left critics] know that the fundamental problem was the “nature” of the ruling [revolutionary] parties rather than, say, the global concentration of capital that is destroying all independent economies and putting an end to national sovereignty everywhere? And to the extent that it was, where did this “nature” come from? Was this “nature” disembodied, disconnected from the fabric of the society itself, from the social relations impacting on it? . . . Thousands of examples could be found in which the centralization of power was a necessary choice in securing and protecting socialist relations. In my observation [of existing communist societies], the positive of “socialism” and the negative of “bureaucracy, authoritarianism and tyranny” interpenetrated in virtually every sphere of life. (Carl Shames, correspondence to me, 1/15/92.)

The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country.

Tony Febbo questioned this blame-the-leadership syndrome of the pure socialists:

It occurs to me that when people as smart, different, dedicated and heroic as Lenin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Ho Chi Minh and Robert Mugabe–and the millions of heroic people who followed and fought with them–all end up more or less in the same place, then something bigger is at work than who made what decision at what meeting. Or even what size houses they went home to after the meeting. . . .

These leaders weren’t in a vacuum. They were in a whirlwind. And the suction, the force, the power that was twirling them around has spun and left this globe mangled for more than 900 years. And to blame this or that theory or this or that leader is a simple-minded substitute for the kind of analysis that Marxists [should make]. (Guardian, 11/13/91)

To be sure, the pure socialists are not entirely without specific agendas for building the revolution. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an ultra-left group in that country called for direct worker ownership of the factories. The armed workers would take control of production without benefit of managers, state planners, bureaucrats, or a formal military. While undeniably appealing, this worker syndicalism denies the necessities of state power. Under such an arrangement, the Nicaraguan revolution would not have lasted two months against the U.S.-sponsored counterrevolution that savaged the country. It would have been unable to mobilize enough resources to field an army, take security measures, or build and coordinate economic programs and human services on a national scale.

Decentralization vs. Survival

For a people’s revolution to survive, it must seize state power and use it to (a) break the stranglehold exercised by the owning class over the society’s institutions and resources, and (b) withstand the reactionary counterattack that is sure to come. The internal and external dangers a revolution faces necessitate a centralized state power that is not particularly to anyone’s liking, not in Soviet Russia in 1917, nor in Sandinista Nicaragua in 1980.

Engels offers an apposite account of an uprising in Spain in 1872-73 in which anarchists seized power in municipalities across the country. At first, the situation looked promising. The king had abdicated and the bourgeois government could muster but a few thousand ill-trained troops. Yet this ragtag force prevailed because it faced a thoroughly parochialized rebellion. “Each town proclaimed itself as a sovereign canton and set up a revolutionary committee (junta),” Engels writes. “[E]ach town acted on its own, declaring that the important thing was not cooperation with other towns but separation from them, thus precluding any possibility of a combined attack [against bourgeois forces].” It was “the fragmentation and isolation of the revolutionary forces which enabled the government troops to smash one revolt after the other.”

Decentralized parochial autonomy is the graveyard of insurgency–which may be one reason why there has never been a successful anarcho-syndicalist revolution. Ideally, it would be a fine thing to have only local, self-directed, worker participation, with minimal bureaucracy, police, and military. This probably would be the development of socialism, were socialism ever allowed to develop unhindered by counterrevolutionary subversion and attack. One might recall how, in 1918-20, fourteen capitalist nations, including the United States, invaded Soviet Russia in a bloody but unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the revolutionary Bolshevik government. The years of foreign invasion and civil war did much to intensify the Bolsheviks’ siege psychology with its commitment to lockstep party unity and a repressive security apparatus. Thus, in May 1921, the same Lenin who had encouraged the practice of internal party democracy and struggled against Trotsky in order to give the trade unions a greater measure of autonomy, now called for an end to the Workers’ Opposition and other factional groups within the party. “The time has come,” he told an enthusiastically concurring Tenth Party Congress, “to put an end to opposition, to put a lid on it: we have had enough opposition.” Open disputes and conflicting tendencies within and without the party, the communists concluded, created an appearance of division and weakness that invited attack by formidable foes.

Only a month earlier, in April 1921, Lenin had called for more worker representation on the party’s Central Committee. In short, he had become not anti-worker but anti-opposition. Here was a social revolution–like every other–that was not allowed to develop its political and material life in an unhindered way.

By the late 1920s, the Soviets faced the choice of (a) moving in a still more centralized direction with a command economy and forced agrarian collectivization and full-speed industrialization under a commandist, autocratic party leadership, the road taken by Stalin, or (b) moving in a liberalized direction, allowing more political diversity, more autonomy for labor unions and other organizations, more open debate and criticism, greater autonomy among the various Soviet republics, a sector of privately owned small businesses, independent agricultural development by the peasantry, greater emphasis on consumer goods, and less effort given to the kind of capital accumulation needed to build a strong military-industrial base.

The latter course, I believe, would have produced a more comfortable, more humane and serviceable society. Siege socialism would have given way to worker-consumer socialism. The only problem is that the country would have risked being incapable of withstanding the Nazi onslaught. Instead, the Soviet Union embarked upon a rigorous, forced industrialization. This policy has often been mentioned as one of the wrongs perpetrated by Stalin upon his people. It consisted mostly of building, within a decade, an entirely new, huge industrial base east of the Urals in the middle of the barren steppes, the biggest steel complex in Europe, in anticipation of an invasion from the West. “Money was spent like water, men froze, hungered and suffered but the construction went on with a disregard for individuals and a mass heroism seldom paralleled in history.”

Stalin’s prophecy that the Soviet Union had only ten years to do what the British had done in a century proved correct. When the Nazis invaded in 1941, that same industrial base, safely ensconced thousands of miles from the front, produced the weapons of war that eventually turned the tide. The cost of this survival included 22 million Soviets who perished in the war and immeasurable devastation and suffering, the effects of which would distort Soviet society for decades afterward.

All this is not to say that everything Stalin did was of historical necessity. The exigencies of revolutionary survival did not “make inevitable” the heartless execution of hundreds of Old Bolshevik leaders, the personality cult of a supreme leader who claimed every revolutionary gain as his own achievement, the suppression of party political life through terror, the eventual silencing of debate regarding the pace of industrialization and collectivization, the ideological regulation of all intellectual and cultural life, and the mass deportations of “suspect” nationalities.

The transforming effects of counterrevolutionary attack have been felt in other countries. A Sandinista military officer I met in Vienna in 1986 noted that Nicaraguans were “not a warrior people” but they had to learn to fight because they faced a destructive, U.S.-sponsored mercenary war. She bemoaned the fact that war and embargo forced her country to postpone much of its socio-economic agenda. As with Nicaragua, so with Mozambique, Angola and numerous other countries in which U.S.-financed mercenary forces destroyed farmlands, villages, health centers, and power stations, while killing or starving hundreds of thousands–the revolutionary baby was strangled in its crib or mercilessly bled beyond recognition. This reality ought to earn at least as much recognition as the suppression of dissidents in this or that revolutionary society.

The overthrow of Eastern European and Soviet communist governments was cheered by many left intellectuals. Now democracy would have its day. The people would be free from the yoke of communism and the U.S. Left would be free from the albatross of existing communism, or as left theorist Richard Lichtman put it, “liberated from the incubus of the Soviet Union and the succubus of Communist China.”

In fact, the capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe seriously weakened the numerous Third World liberation struggles that had received aid from the Soviet Union and brought a whole new crop of right-wing governments into existence, ones that now worked hand-in-glove with U.S. global counterrevolutionaries around the globe.

In addition, the overthrow of communism gave the green light to the unbridled exploitative impulses of Western corporate interests. No longer needing to convince workers that they live better than their counterparts in Russia, no longer restrained by a competing system, the corporate class is rolling back the many gains that working people have won over the years. Now that the free market, in its meanest form, is emerging triumphant in the East, so will it prevail in the West. “Capitalism with a human face” is being replaced by “capitalism in your face.” As Richard Levins put it, “So in the new exuberant aggressiveness of world capitalism we see what communists and their allies had held at bay” (Monthly Review, 9/96).

Having never understood the role that existing communist powers played in tempering the worst impulses of Western capitalism, and having perceived communism as nothing but an unmitigated evil, the left anticommunists did not anticipate the losses that were to come. Some of them still don’t get it.

Forever in Chains: The Tragic History of Congo

Nsala, of the district of Wala, looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter, Boali, who was killed and allegedly cannibalized by the members of Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia. Source: E. D Morel, King Leopold's rule in Africa, between pages 144 and 145

Nsala, of the district of Wala, looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year old daughter, Boali, who was killed and allegedly cannibalized by the members of Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia. Source: E. D Morel, King Leopold’s rule in Africa, between pages 144 and 145

FRIDAY 28 JULY 2006

The most blighted nation on earth goes to the polls this weekend – more in hope than expectation that stability and peace might result. In Congo, mass suffering has been a way of life ever since the Belgian King Leopold enslaved millions in the 19th century. Paul Vallely traces the story of a people for whom the horror never let up

One picture sums it up. It shows a man named Nsala sitting on the porch of a missionary’s house in the Congo. His face is a portrait of impenetrable sorrow.

Before him lie a small hand and foot. It is all that remains of his five-year-old daughter who has – together with his wife and son – been killed, dismembered, cooked and eaten by soldiers.

The photograph was taken during the biggest atrocity in recorded African history. And it was perpetrated not by Africans, but by Europeans.

No one knows how many people died, but it was at least three million men, women and children. Some historians say it was five million, or 10 million. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has said that as many as 30 million people may have perished.

It is but a single chapter in the long and bloody history of the Congo. This weekend, voters go to the polls in Democratic Republic of Congo for the first elections in 40 years, during which havoc has been wreaked by despotism and war. But will Sunday’s poll do anything to change lives there for the better?

The first that was written of the hot and humid river basin that straddles the Equator on the west of the great African continent came from Portuguese travellers in the 15th century. They had encountered a place called the Kingdom of Kongo and, with its capital city of Mbanza Kongo, it had a population close to half a million people. It was a highly developed state at the centre of an extensive trading network.

Merchants traded all manner of raw materials, the most precious of which was ivory, but which also included a wealth of manufactured goods such as copper and ironware, raffia cloth and pottery. It was also a centre for the buying and selling of individuals captured in war. Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the slave trade existed. The ruler was a king who rejoiced in the title of “Mother of the King of Kongo”.

Not much more was heard of the place in Europe until the great Victorian missionary explorer David Livingstone discovered that quinine was the key to unlocking the African interior. He became a hero and a household name in the second half of the 19th century, but then disappeared into the bush. The New York Herald sent another intrepid Briton to find him, and the young man, Henry Morton Stanley, walked into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations with his greeting: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”

Across the other side of the globe, King Leopold II of the Belgians read about it over breakfast in the The Times, which was thrown from the continental mail train into the grounds of his palace each morning. (His butler ironed it before the monarch read it.)

Leopold had been of the opinion for some time that “il faut à la Belgique une colonie”. He didn’t want to miss the chance of getting a good slice of what he called the “magnifique gâteau africain”. But he was having a hard time persuading the Belgian government to agree. So he decided to acquire a colony by himself. In doing so, he ignited what came to be called “the scramble of Africa”.

Stanley’s encounter with the Congo was being hailed as the most important geographical “discovery” ever made in Africa. The king summoned the Welshman and in 1878 commissioned him to go back – under the guise of an international scientific and philanthropic association, which he called the International African Society – to negotiate with the local chiefs.

Over the five years that followed, Stanley concluded some 400 “cloth and trinket” treaties with the Congo chiefs. The Africans thought they were signing friendship pacts, but they were in fact selling their land.

Leopold, who was devious as well as greedy, persuaded the world that he was acting from humanitarian motives. In 1884, the The Daily Telegraph, perspicacious as ever, opined: “Leopold II has knit adventurers, traders and missionaries of many races into one band of men under the most illustrious of modern travellers [Stanley] to carry to the interior of Africa new ideas of law, order, humanity and protection of the natives.”

That year, at the Berlin Conference called by Bismarck to carve up Africa – which no African attended, even as an observer – Leopold displayed some nifty footwork. He persuaded the Iron Chancellor that, in order to exclude Germany’s rivals, Britain and France, from the important new region, it would be best to declare it a free trade area and give it to him. Not to Belgium, not even to the Belgian crown, but to him personally.

Without ever setting foot there, Leopold II had become the owner of nearly a million square miles of unmapped jungle, 75 times the size of Belgium itself. Ivory was what the king had his eye on. And, though plenty of it was yielded, Leopold struggled to make a profit. In 1895, he tried to give the colony to the Belgian government because it was costing him too much.

But then a Scot called Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre for his bicycle, and the worldwide boom in rubber began. In the Congo, wild jungle vines that yielded the stuff grew everywhere. The natives would slash them and lather their bodies with the rubber. All that Leopold needed to do was to persuade the natives to scrape it off into huge baskets for him.

He did this by setting quotas of both rubber and ivory for each village, for which they were paid a pitifully low fixed price set by his officials on the ground. Each community was told to provide 10 per cent of their number as full-time forced labourers, and another 25 per cent part-time. It was a form of slavery.

Stanley, who supervised all this, became known in Kikongo as Bula Matari (the Breaker of Rocks), a tag the people later transferred to the Congolese state itself. The scheme was a huge success; by 1902, the price of rubber had risen 15 times in eight years, and it constituted 80 per cent of the exports of “The Congo Free State”, as Leopold had dubbed it.

Free is what the people were not. The symbol of Leopold’s rule was the schicotte – a whip of raw sun-dried hippopotamus hide cut into long sharp-edged strips which could quickly remove the skin from a man’s back. The king established a Force Publique to enforce the rubber quotas. Its soldiers were black – many of them cannibals from the fiercest tribes of upper Congo – but they were led by white officers who routinely supervised the burning of non-compliant villages and the torture and rape of those who were struggling to fill quotas.

One local man spelt out what this meant. “Wild beasts – leopards – killed some of us while we were working away in the forest, and others got lost or died from exposure or starvation and we begged the white men to leave us alone, saying we could get no more rubber, but the white men and the soldiers said, ‘Go. You are only beasts yourselves. You are only snyama [meat].’ Many were shot, some had their ears cut off.”

But the routine penalty for failing to bring in enough rubber was the severing of a hand. Soldiers collected them by the basketload, from the living and the dead. A Baptist missionary wrote a letter to The Times about it: “The hands – the hands of men, women and children – were placed in rows before the commissary who counted them to see that the soldiers had not wasted cartridges.” Officers were worried that the men might waste their ammunition on hunting animals for sport, so they required soldiers to submit one hand for every bullet spent. Hands became a grim currency, traded to make up for shortfalls in rubber quotas. “This rubber traffic is steeped in blood,” the letter-writer said.

Other testimony disclosed how Belgian officers ordered their men “to cut off the heads of the men and hang them on the village palisades, also their sexual members, and to hang the women and the children on the palisade in the form of a cross”. This blood-curdling business carried on for more than 12 years before word leaked out. One of the first to blow the whistle was the captain of one of the riverboats that transported the ivory and rubber downstream to port. His name was Joseph Conrad, and eight years later he wrote a book that has shaped the emotional language in which white people discuss Africa.

It was called Heart of Darkness. The atmosphere it conjures is of fetid fever-ridden ports in an Equatorial river basin surrounded by dense tropical rainforest. It is a climate of persistent high temperatures and humidity, as enervating to the soul as to the body. It is a world of madness, greed and violence, centred on a charismatic ivory trader called Kurtz who turns himself into a demigod to the local tribes and gathers vast quantities of ivory. Eventually, he dies – “The horror, the horror,” his last words.

When the book was published in magazine serial form in 1899, it did not just expose what Conrad was to call “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”. It also gave backing to the writings of a man whose campaigns on the Congo the public had been reluctant to believe.

ED Morel was a clerk in a Liverpool shipping office who began to wonder why the ships that brought vast loads of rubber from the Congo returned carrying no commercial goods, but only guns and ammunition. He began to investigate the Force Publique and concluded that Leopold’s well-publicised philanthropy was in fact “legalised robbery enforced by violence”. He wrote: “I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a king for a croniman.”

In 1903, the House of Commons debated the Congo atrocities. The British consul in Congo, Roger Casement, was sent to investigate. The year after, he returned with a vivid and detailed eyewitness report, which was made public. His 1904 report, which confirmed Morel’s accusations and suggested that at least three million people had died, had a considerable impact on public opinion.

Even then, Leopold countered with a wicked publicity campaign to discredit the reports. He even created a bogus Commission for the Protection of the Natives to root out the “few isolated instances” of abuse. But he reckoned without another recent invention – the camera. Before long, horrifying photographs such as the one of the man with his daughter’s little hand and foot, were in circulation.

International opinion was outraged. In America, Mark Twain penned a savage piece of sarcasm called King Leopold’s Soliloquy. In Britain, Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write the book The Crime of the Congo, which he completed in eight days. Before long, the American President and the British prime minister were pressing the Belgian government to act.

Leopold offered to reform his regime, but few took him seriously. After two years of agonised deliberation, a further report (which confirmed Casement’s) and a general election, the Parliament of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State and took over its administration. It paid Leopold £2m to compensate him for his sacrifices.

Renamed the Belgian Congo (to contrast with the much smaller French Congo, now the Republic of Congo, to the west), the region became a “model colony”. In the decades that followed the transfer of responsibility to the government of Belgium, large amounts of the wealth produced in the Congo were spent there by the alliance of church, commerce and state.

The missionaries built hospitals and clinics to which large numbers of Congolese had access. Doctors and medics achieved great victories against disease, managing to eradicate sleeping sickness. Many villages had medical posts, and bigger cities had well-equipped hospitals. The church ran schools to which 10 per cent of the people were admitted, comparing favourably with the 6 per cent of the population in school in India and the much lower percentages elsewhere in Africa. The colonial authorities built railways, ports and roads. The mining companies built houses for their staff, provided welfare and technical training.

By the Second World War, production and profits had risen to the point where the Congo was Africa’s richest colony. In the 1950s, life expectancy was 55 years (today, it is 51). By 1959, the year before independence, the Belgian Congo was producing 10 per cent of world’s copper, 50 per cent of its cobalt and 70 per cent of industrial diamonds.

What was missing was the development of a Congolese elite to take over the running of the place. The Congolese had no rights to own land, to vote or to travel freely. There were curfews in towns and forced labour in the countryside. There was no higher education, except for those who wanted to become priests. The Congolese were encouraged to become clerks, medical assistants and mechanics, but not doctors, lawyers or engineers.

At independence, out of a population of 60 million, there were just 16 university graduates. Educated Congolese were given the status of Sévolués, but this won them few privileges when what they wanted, wrote Patrice Lumumba, who was to become the first prime minister of what became Democratic Republic of Congo, “was to be Belgians and have the same freedoms and rights as whites”.

It would come eventually, their colonial masters thought, in perhaps another 100 years. When a Belgian academic suggested a 30-year transition plan was needed, he was greeted with derision. But when the change came, on the back of the sudden tide of African nationalism that swept the continent, accompanied by riots, it happened in just 18 months. The Congo was perhaps the least well-prepared of any colony for independence.

It didn’t help that on Independence Day in 1960, King Baudouin arrived to make a speech praising the “genius” of Leopold II, listing the sacrifices that Belgium had made for the Congo and doling out patronising advice. Prime Minister Lumumba responded with an off-the-cuff speech about the “terrible suffering and exploitation” that had been experienced by “we niggers” and promising: “We shall make of the Congo a shining example for the whole of Africa.” It was not to be.

Lumumba was charismatic, with extraordinary powers of oratory, but he was volatile. Within days of the independence ceremonies, rebellions and violence broke out. The province of Katanga declared independence. Belgium moved troops in. So did the United Nations. Feeling betrayed, Lumumba requested Soviet military aid.

The local CIA chief telegrammed back to Washington that the Congo was “a Cuba in the making” and that Lumumba was a “Castro or worse”. President Eisenhower allegedly authorised that Lumumba be assassinated and a CIA hit man came from Paris with poison to be, bizarrely, injected into the prime minister’s toothpaste. (The local CIA man refused to do it.)

The plot thickened with Dag Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary General, dying in a plane crash in uncertain circumstances while trying to negotiate a ceasefire in Katanga. Letters recently uncovered by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggested that South African agents planted a bomb in the aircraft’s wheel-bay. And, not long afterwards, the Marxist guerrilla leader Che Guevara appeared in the Congo with 100 men in a plot to bring about a Cuban-style revolution.

Amid all that, Patrice Lumumba had fallen out with the Congo’s first president, Joseph Kasavubu. As the pair engaged in a power struggle in September 1960, a military coup overthrew Lumumba in favour of the president. The putsch was staged by the 29-year-old army chief of staff, Colonel Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. Five years later, he staged another one, ousting Kasavubu and beginning his own bizarre 32-year rule.

Lumumba was shot in the bush at the command of a Belgian officer. His body was hacked to pieces and dissolved in sulphuric acid, his skull ground to dust and his bones and teeth scattered – some say by a witch doctor from an aircraft along the country’s borders, to make sure he could not come back from the dead.

Things did not get better. Mobutu sent the Russians packing, which greatly pleased the Americans. So did almost everything else he did, for he staunchly followed US foreign policy in all key matters. It was the height of the Cold War and Africa had become a proxy battlefield. Keeping the Soviets out was more important than anything else. As long as Mobutu did that, and supported anti-Communist rebels in neighbouring countries, Washington would turn a blind eye to anything else.

Mobutu made the most of that. He set up a one-party state that tolerated no dissent. In the early years, he consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals. One rebel leader had his eyes gouged out, his genitals ripped off and his limbs amputated one by one before he died.

Later, Mobutu switched to a new tactic – that of buying off political rivals rather than killing them. He did so by elevating theft to a form of government. A new word was coined to describe it – kleptocracy. At first, he had tried simply printing more money to pay the bills for his schemes. He issued new stamps, coins and currency notes with his portrait on.

There were posters and billboards everywhere. His personality cult reached its peak every night when the television news began with an image of him descending through clouds from the heavens. He put the story about that even his walking stick had magic powers.

In the early years, he launched an African Authenticity campaign. He renamed the country Zaire in 1971. He ordered everyone to drop their Christian names for African ones, rebranding himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”). He outlawed hair-straightening, skin bleaching, the wearing of ties and listening to foreign music. He nationalised foreign-owned firms and handed them to relatives and associates.

When the economy slumped, he printed more money. Hyperinflation followed, and even the central bank bought its hard currency on the black market. But he was a Cold War warrior, so the West bailed him out. The more they gave him, the more he stole. Of the $73m education budget one year, schools got only $8m; he pocketed the rest. So it went with every area of government.

Mobutu’s extravagance was legendary. He had villas, ranches, palaces and yachts throughout Europe. Concorde was constantly hired. He didn’t just have Swiss bank accounts; he bought a Swiss bank. He didn’t just get his wife a Mercedes; he bought a Mercedes assembly plant for her. He stashed away nearly $5bn – almost the equivalent of the country’s foreign debt at the time.

Still, the West smiled and paid up to the man Ronald Reagan called “a voice of good sense and good will”. The US gave him a total of $2bn over 30 years. The CIA trained and armed his bodyguards. When rebels attacked him, France airlifted in 1,500 elite Moroccan paratroopers. When that wasn’t enough, a year later Belgium and France deployed troops (with American logistical support).

All the while, the Congo became Africa’s haven for mercenaries, money launderers and diamond smugglers – while its public infrastructure rotted and child mortality rose. Mobutu became the longest-surviving despot of the Cold War era. It was either “Mobutu or chaos”, the US said. But the hapless people of the Congo got both.

Then it was over. The Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War ended. The IMF experts who had been brought in to reform his finances – and left after a year in despair – pulled the plug on his loans. The US would lend no more. Mobutu declared an end to one-party rule, but it was too late.

What finished him off was the decision to back the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. After the Hutu genocidaires were chased from Rwanda in 1994, Mobutu gave them shelter in Zaire. More than that; he issued an order forcing Tutsis to leave Zaire on penalty of death. They erupted in rebellion. Rwanda and Uganda joined in, invading eastern Congo in pursuit of the genocidaires. When they met no resistance – the Congolese army being more used to suppressing civilians than fighting – they marched on the capital Kinshasa.

Mobutu – the “all-powerful warrior”, the fifth-richest man in the world, who bled the Congo even more efficiently than King Leopold, and who looted the state into paralysis – escaped on a cargo plane with bullets ripping into the fuselage as it took off. After 20 years of Mobutist dictatorship, in the words of the African historian Basil Davidson: “Zaire remained a state without a nation, a geographical concept without a people.” And Kinshasa la belle had become Kinshasa la poubell – the dustbin.

The new man was Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He presented himself as the heir to the murdered Lumumba. Outsiders hailed him as one of the “new breed” of African leaders. Nelson Mandela paid tribute. The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, stood next to Kabila early on and said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or Democratic Republic of Congo as it was re-re-named) would now emerge as “an engine of regional growth”. Those who knew Kabila thought differently.

His critics sneered that all he had ever run was a brothel in Tanzania. Others recalled the judgement of Che Guevara who had concluded three decades earlier that Kabila was “not the man of the hour”. He was too interested in drinking, bedding women and showing up days late. The lack of co-operation between Kabila and Guevara was what had led to the Cuban-style revolution foundering in the Sixties.

He had not, it seemed, improved with age. Kabila turned out to be another petty tyrant. Secretive and paranoid, he had no political programme and just doled out jobs to family and friends. He made his cousin chief of the armed forces, gave his son a top army job and made his brother-in-law the police chief. Worse, he was as cruel as Mobutu, jailing and torturing opponents, but lacking his skill in playing the ethnic card. He promised elections but never held them.

And he did not learn from Mobutu’s mistakes. Put in power by the Rwandans and Ugandans, he decided to distance himself from them by again supporting the Hutus and allowing them to regroup on Congolese soil. Rwanda had learnt the lessons of the past; it immediately flew 2,000 troops to within striking distance of the capital. Uganda joined in. Kabila was only saved because Angola and Zimbabwe came to his rescue, the former fearing that a power vacuum in the DRC would allow Angolan rebels to flourish, the later trying to play the statesman and grab some mining contracts.

The fighting soon stalemated. But no one was bothered; all involved just used the bases they had established inside the DRC to plunder. The war became self-financing as all sides scrabbled for diamonds, gold and timber.

Suddenly, 70 per cent of the Congo’s coltan – an essential component in making mobile phones – was being exported through Rwanda. And Congo gold turned into a major Ugandan export. Rwanda and Uganda even began to fight each other at one point over control of Kisangani and its diamond fields.

What broke the stalemate was a coup in 2001. The plot failed, but Kabila was assassinated. His son, Joseph Kabila Kabange, became President. The Congo’s warlords were happy, assuming that junior would be a pushover.

But Kabila II had done his military training in China and turned out to be an operator. Within a year, he had successfully negotiated an international peace deal that saw Rwanda withdraw and all the remaining warring parties agree to end the fighting and establish a government of national unity.

Peace has returned to two-thirds of the country – there are factions fighting in the east – and Kabila has delivered the referendum he promised and now, on Sunday, the elections. He is, of course, standing and is, of course, the favourite of the 33 candidates.

The country is still in a dire state. Aid organisations say about 1,200 people die daily due to the effects of the conflict, hunger and disease. The DRC has Aids, low life expectancy and a high rate of child deaths. More than two million Congolese are internal refugees. National output and government revenue slumped – and external debt increased – during the five years of fighting, in which perhaps four million people died.

Even so, this weekend’s elections – the first multiparty elections in 40 years – are the biggest and most costly the UN has organised. Another eastern warlord yesterday agreed to lay down arms. Last month, the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, said it would open an office in Kinshasa once the election is over. Other big mining groups may follow.

The prospects look a little brighter. It may be too soon – in the two-steps-forward, one-step-back world of contemporary Africa – to be optimistic. But, in their terrible story, the people of the Congo hope that, at last, it may be that a corner is being turned.

The horror: from Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Paths, paths, everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land, through the long grass, through burnt grass, through thickets, down and up chilly ravines, up and down stony hills ablaze with heat; and a solitude, a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The population had cleared out a long time ago. Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were gone, too. Still I passed through several abandoned villages. There’s something pathetically childish in the ruins of grass walls. Day after day, with the stamp and shuffle of 60 pair of bare feet behind me, each pair under a 60lb load. Camp, cook, sleep, strike camp, march. Now and then a carrier dead in harness, at rest in the long grass near the path, with an empty water gourd and his long staff lying by his side. A great silence around and above. Perhaps on some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive and wild – and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country. Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris, very hospitable and festive – not to say drunk. Was looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, may be considered a permanent improvement.

Source

Che Guevara on Poverty

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“Because of the circumstances in which I traveled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize at that time that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming a famous or making a significant contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people.”

– Che Guevara, “On Revolutionary Medicine”

Che Guevara on United Fruit

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“The last Latin American revolutionary democracy – that of Jacobo Arbenz – failed as a result of the cold premeditated aggression carried out by the U.S.A. Its visible head was the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a man who, through a rare coincidence, was also a stockholder and attorney for the United Fruit Company.”

– Che Guevara, quoted in Douglas Kellner’s “Ernesto “Che” Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present),” Chelsea House Publishers. p. 32.

“Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.

– Che Guevara, Letter to his aunt Beatriz describing what he had seen while traveling through Guatemala (1953); as quoted in “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson.