Fidel on Pinocho
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at SPAMfreepcmail.com
Mon Dec 20 10:18:21 MST 1999
[Parental guidance: the following post concerns the ideological meanderings
and outlook of the Trotskyist movement and the US SWP, which Louis and I
happened to belong to at the time. Louis has repeated something along the
lines of what was our position then, that Allende's coalition was an
impermissible class-collaborationist popular front and that Fidel was wrong
in "supporting" it (or not radically differentiating himself from it, it
amounts to the same thing). I have not gone back and studied what Fidel did
and said in Chile in great detail; however, my opinion NOW is that Fidel was
undoubtedly right (or at least righter) than the SWP in how he approached
Chile then. If these matters bore you to tears, drive you postal and so on,
please be assured that I won't be offended by your skipping the post.]
This is an interesting topic that merits careful thought and attention,
because I do not believe the Chilean situation was all that unique in terms
of how Marxists should approach it.
For Trotskyists, of course, the words "popular front" exhaust the
matter. Popular Front=Stalinism=we hates it forever!
I believe the SWP in particular, and Trotskyism in general, suffered
from a certain kind of electoral cretinism; thus always and at all times,
places and circumstances, and no matter what the posts involved, for the SWP
and most Trotskyists the question involved in elections is which class
should rule. Of course, in a fundamental sense this is nonsense. There never
has been an election yet that decided such a question, and if there ever is
one I shall be greatly surprised. This is combined with the no-stages,
instant proletarian dictatorship version of the theory of permanent
revolution, and you get the unmitigated sectarianism of various Trotskyist
currents towards Peronism, Castroism, Arbenzism, Allendeism, Sandinism and
The incapacity of the SWP to tell the difference between the popular
movement that Chavez is identified with in Venezuela and Fujimori in Perú
shows that despite having verbally renounced Trotskyism and the Permanent
Revolution, the SWP hasn't broken politically with its past sectarianism.
But in fact, an overriding characteristic of the Chilean movement (and
of the other movements I mentioned) was that it was a national democratic
movement. I believe in the imperialist epoch the chances of such movements
achieving all their tasks in a sweeping, thorough-going way are null. The
class relations are such that only the workers and peasants will want to go
all the way; but for them going "all the way" means also attacking
capitalist relations and exploitation. It is notable that the only two
movements that did try to go all the way (Fidel's and the Sandinistas) both
were explicitly class-based revolutionary movements. But also in those
cases, bourgeois figures dominated the initial governments set up by the
Fidel was, I believe, undoubtedly correct in identifying with the
Alleged movement in Chile, just as he is correct in doing so with Chavez.
This does not mean at all that he has become an uncritical cheerleader. On
the contrary, Fidel spent weeks in Chile during Allende's presidency arguing
for the road forward, which was to deepen a revolutionary process that had
only begun. And he warned quite clearly of the coming attempts by
reactionary forces to drown the movement in blood, most famously in his
parting gift to Allende of a submachine gun.
Today in the Chávez case he's made clear to emphasize that he shares the
aspirations of the Venezuelan people, that these dreams are the same dreams
he had as a young revolutionary. He has said things like that Chavez's
election might well mark a turning point in Venezuelan history like July 26,
1953, marked a turning point in Cuban history and that he is convinced that
by following Bolívar's example, Chavez and the people of Venezuela will be
What's Fidel saying? That what has been accomplished so far marks the
starting point of the struggle for a genuine revolution (this is July 26,
not Jan 1!) AND that by sticking with Bolívar's road (revolution!) the
people of Venezuela can be victorious.
If you go back and check out what Fidel said in Chile, I think you'll
find what he said is pretty much along the same lines.
Now, why didn't Fidel do what the Trotskyists (and many ex-Trots) want
him to, why didn't he denounce Allende and Chavez as the Bolsheviks
denounced Kerensky. At bottom, aren't they really the same thing?
Bonapartist regimes headed by figures arising from or associated with the
working class and popular movements, which, by refusing to go further, set
the stage for a bloody reactionary coup?
The difference quite simply is this: Allende stood at the head of
country in the midst of a national democrartic revolutionary movement;
Kerensky represented the last bulwark of Russian imperialism against the
proletarian revolution. Kerensky, or what he claimed to represent, was
phony. Not so Allende and Chavez.
The same thing you'll see over and over from various brands of
Trotskyism. For example, the U.S. SWP did not characterize the government
that emerged from the July 19, 1979 victory as a workers and farmers
government. I know because I spent some time arguing with Jack Barnes in
mid-August 1979 that this was, in fact, the case.
It was only when figures like Violeta Chamorro, Robelo and others were
clearly displaced a couple of months later that the SWP adopted the
characterization. Similarly, the SWP didn't consider the government that
came to power in Cuba a workers and farmers government, saying that
government was established when Fidel became prime minister or when the last
bourgeois figures left the cabinet, somewhere between 2 and 6 months after
the revolutionary victory.
In part, this reflects limitations in the SWP's analytical framework but
also the knee-jerk sectarian reaction to anything that smacks of popular
frontism. The criteria has always been, if there's even a single bourgeois
figure in the coalition or the cabinet, then by definition it is a
procapitalist popular front, that person is there as a pledge to the
bourgeoisie, that's where the real class character of the thing resides. Of
course, in Cuba and Nicaragua it was the sole openly revolutionary figure
(Fidel and Daniel) in the top government body that, in fact, defined the
character of the government. In the initial Cuban government, the "only"
position held by a revolutionary was Fidel's post as head of the armed
forces, or the Junta in Nicaragua, in which only Daniel Ortega was clearly
and openly a revolutionary.
So stuck were the SWP's people in this framework that when it became
impossible to NOT say that Cuba and Nicaragua had revolutionary workers and
farmers government, the claim was that with the withdrawal of such figures
or the proclamation of such posts, the government THEN became a workers and
farmers government (instead of saying what would be closer to the truth
which is that with these changes it had become clear that the revolution
that came to power was a genuine worker-peasant revolution).
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com>
To: marxism at lists.panix.com <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Date: Monday, December 20, 1999 9:26 AM
Subject: Re: Fidel on Pinocho
>>Those who can read Spanish may want to take a look at these excerpts from
>>Fidel Castro's Oct. 20, 1998 news conference in Extremadura, Spain, where
>>was asked about the Pinochet case.
>Not everything that Fidel says about Chile is correct. After all, he pretty
>much endorsed the ill-fated enterprise--Allende's popular front
>government--that helped to create the intractable political impasse that
>led to Pinochet's victory.
>(The Marxism mailing list: http://www.panix.com/~lnp3/marxism.html)
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