Overview of a sectarian debate for non-sectarians (The Militant & Elian)
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at SPAMnetzero.net
Wed May 3 18:24:33 MDT 2000
[First, a word of explanation:
[Everyone I'm sending this too SHOULD have gotten the two posts I refer to
below already, and I'm not resending them here. What this is is something I
posted to the Cuba Sí List and sent to a couple of friends in Cuba, to whom
I jokingly commented that I HOPED this could not be with complete accuracy
titled "An overview of a sectarian debate for non sectarians."
[What this is is a summary of the SWP's position in the Elian González case
and my basic disagreement with it. After writing it, I thought it was a
pretty good summary/intro to my two other posts, so I decided to send it to
the people who got the other posts and to Louis Proyect's Marxism list, the
email discussion group where they originated.
[A couple of people receiving this now may not have gotten the previous
material. I somehow managed to blow up the list I had of people who might be
interested in this (mostly ex SWPers and FI folks) and have had to
"reconstruct" it. I also may have thus included you here today when you'd
already told me not to bother a few months ago. Just let me know again and
I'll prune this down.
[In addition to debates and ruminations on the SWP and its trajectory and
related issues, I've also been sending out to everyone on this list my
commentaries and articles on the Elián case and other Cuba issues. If you
don't want them, please let me know -- I've tried to remember as best I can
just who was getting what, but it isn't easy.
[And if you think there are any other folks who might like to receive this
material, let me know or give them my email address, jgperez at netzero.net ,
so they can drop me a note.
* * *
I am attaching here my two posts to the "Marxism" email list [not so, see
above] responding to the position taken by "The Militant" newspaper that the
raid that rescued Elián González was a "blow to the working class" in the
I'm including them as attachments rather than straight reposting as these
are quite long and detailed arguments, and they assume a certain familiarity
with the U.S. Left.
In the next few (I hope!) paragraphs, I'll outline some of the background,
and summarize as best as I understand it, the Militant's position and why I
think it is wrong. Then those who want to read further can look at the
First, what is The Militant. It is the newspaper that reflects the views of
the Socialist Workers Party, a group that traces its lineage back to the
late 1920s when its founders were expelled from the Communist Party for
supporting Trotsky's views. The SWP withdrew from the main world Trotskyist
organization in the 1980s and SWPers no longer calls themselves
"Trotskyists," preferring to present themselves as revolutionary socialists
or communists, but the group hasn't fundamentally changed the positions most
people on the left would view as Trotskyist positions.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the SWP played a central role in the antiwar
movement and became one of the largest and most influential groups on the
left. Although today it is very small, it still has influence, especially
over a significant number of its former members who have remained
In the interests of full disclosure I should add that between 1970 and 1985
I was a member of the SWP or its youth group; and that for a decade I was on
the staff of the Militant and its Spanish-language sister publication,
Perspectiva Mundial (PM); and that for several years I was a member of the
SWP's National Committee and Political Committee and editor of PM.
Over the decades, the SWP has actively defended Cuba against U.S. attacks,
and generally identified with the Cuban leadership around Fidel, viewing
them as fellow revolutionaries. Through Pathfinder Press, SWP members have
published and kept in print an extensive series of books of speeches and
writings by Che, Fidel and other Cuban leaders, an especially commendable
accomplishment given that the group today has only a few hundred members.
I believe that ALL comrades on the left deserve an objective and fair-minded
hearing, and moreso comrades like these who have made and continue to make
an important contribution to the defense of the Cuban revolution by making
its authentic views known to the people in the United States and around the
>From the beginning of the Elián González case, the SWP has denounced the
kidnapping and called for the boy's return to Cuba. However, as time went
on, The Militant's coverage began to focus more and more on how it believed
the U.S. rulers were using this case to advance other aims, and less and
less on the battle over Elián himself.
With the raid and this most recent issue, there has been a big change.
No longer is the Militant mainly calling for Elian's freedom while giving
what I would consider too much stress to points that are secondary or
irrelevant in this context. NOW the central thing for the SWP around the
Elián case is "campaigning" --their word-- to "denounce" Reno's raid.
As presented in this "raid" issue, the position of the Militant is that
the most important thing about the Elian Gonzalez case was how the Clinton
Administration was using it "to help the U.S. ruling class polish the
tarnished image of la migra [the Immigration and Naturalization Service] ...
and to strengthen the executive powers of the imperialist state." The
freeing of Elián was NOT the most important thing at stake.
The Militant argues this was a warrantless search carried out with
massive brutality that was accompanied by "chauvinism and anti-immigrant
prejudice" against the population "labeled 'Miami Cubans.' " (On this very
last question I do believe the Militant has a point: when leftists refer
sneeringly to "Miami Cubans" (and I, at least, try to avoid it), they mean
(I hope) the relatively narrow groups of counterrevolutionaries and their
die-hard supporters. But when cartoons in the bourgeois media present
characters that are chauvinist stereotypes and label them "Miami Cubans,"
what is going on is entirely different.)
The Militant recognizes that the raid DID free Elián, but argues it is a
mistake to view it as any kind of "victory" because "What's at stake is a
working class line of march in defense of the democratic rights and
political space won by working people in the United States."
Given this, it is hardly surprising that recently the Militant has given
very little coverage to Cuba's campaign to free Elián, and that in this
issue, which went to press five days after the boy's liberation, in the
8,000 words the Militant devotes to presenting its viewpoint on this matter,
there is not one word reporting Cuba's reaction or viewpoint on these
developments, nor on the whole series of maneuvers and initiatives that Cuba
and Juan Miguel González took with the aim of forcing the U.S. government to
I think the Militant is wrong in not viewing *Elian* as the central
issue in this battle, and in not placing this battle squarely in the
framework of Washington's 41-year-war against the Cuban revolution. I think
the Militant is led astray by its exaggerated estimate of the level of the
class struggle in the United States, which leads it instead to view the
Elián case in the framework of a desperate campaign by the U.S. rulers to
nip in the bud or prepare to crush a massive rising by the U.S. working
This wrong view of what the real political center of the battle has been
then leads the Militant to countless errors which I detail especially in my
second post, everything from echoing bourgeois propaganda about how the
agent in "the" photo pushed his rifle into Donato Darlymple's face to
basically denying that there was a real danger of violent, and even armed
resistance by right wing groups to any attempt to rescue Elián.
What the Militant's position does is to gut the idea that Elián should
be freed of any real content as a political demand on the U.S. government.
For the very essence of state power is the use of force, and behind even the
lowliest parking citation stands the armed might of the state. If we demand
that Reno free Elián, that necessarily means through the explicit or
implicit threat to use force. But the Militant argues that plays into the
hands of the bourgeoisie's campaign to undermine the rights of working
people. So the only thing that is left is the hope that Captain Kirk's
Enterprise will show up and that Scotty will beam the boy up out of the
That an energetic, commando-style rescue was necessary is an important
point for the broad solidarity movement. The entire U.S. "official"
political spectrum, everyone from Jesse Helms to Jesse Jackson, spent the
past five months singing Hosannas to the kidnapers, explaining what
wonderful, decent, law-abiding folks these right wing thugs were, how much
they had "suffered" at Fidel's hands and so on.
Meanwhile, Cuba's warnings about terrorist elements and weapons in the
house and around Camp Elián went unreported.
Thus when the raid came many people were surprised by the vigorous
display of force, having been led to believe by the bourgeois press and
politicians that what "Uncle Lázaro" and the gusano mafia were doing was, in
essence, a Gandhi or Martin-Luther-King style act of symbolic, passive civil
While I am in no position to give tactical advice on this kind of
operation, and inevitably, such a raid is going to reflect the methods and
character of the government carrying it out, I am glad that Reno, at least,
apparently listened to Fidel's warnings and did not plan the raid on the
basis of the poppycock she herself had been feeding the American people.
Obviously, I disagree with the Militant that what needs to be done now
is to denounce Reno's raid. I think what needs to be done now is to denounce
what is increasingly looking like a kidnapping of the whole Juan Miguel
Gonzalez family by the Clinton administration. We need to demand that Juan
Miguel and his family be allowed to go home; and as long as that isn't the
case, we must demand that the support team of a couple of dozen people Juan
Miguel has asked for be allowed to come here.
After all, fair is fair. Juan Miguel generously agreed to voluntarily
stay here to make it politically easier to Reno to put an end to the
kidnapping, something she should have done as a matter of course and basic
human decency five months before. And, frankly, I doubt very much that if he
wanted to he couldn't get in a van and not stop until he got to Canada. Yes,
he'd be in contempt of court. What of it. The American judicial system is
contemptible. And after all the suffering the Clintonites and the Miami
Mafia have put him through in the past few months, I don't think fair-minded
Americans would begrudge his actions one bit. On the contrary, I'd be
surprised if it did not enhance his image as a folk hero, and I'm sure there
is no lack of people in this country who would consider it an honor to help
him and his family escape.
Finally, in the interests of fairness I must add that there are a couple
of paragraphs towards the end of the editorial that do speak positively
about Cuba's campaign to free Elián, present the Militant's judgment that it
is only a matter of time before Juan Miguel and his family return to the
island, and assert that "The people of Cuba have won." It even speaks in
terms of "shar[ing] the sweet taste of victory with our cocombatants in
Frankly, the section contradicts everything else the Militant puts
forward in this issue and it sticks out like a sore thumb. A cynic might say
that it was put in there to mollify people in and around the party
uncomfortable with the stance that the party has taken; I prefer to hope
that what it reflects instead is the real gut instinct and feeling of the
comrades, despite their schemas, and thus that there is a real chance that
they will reverse this horrible position they've taken, or at least draw
back from some of its most extreme conclusions.
NetZero - Defenders of the Free World
Click here for FREE Internet Access and Email
More information about the Marxism