Last week we published the first part of this article. We feel it is very important to dispel myths, correct wrongs and attempt to at least present the past with some integrity.
The one sided “Soviet Union was evil” narrative has corrupted far too many minds and has denied an equally greater number to ever actually know or even begin to understand the Russian people.
But how does one achieve this? How do you reverse decades of poisoning the mind? Well, we do not know but it surely must begin with presenting the truth.
We are grateful to Rufus for undertaking this excellent piece of work!
Observations on the Progressive Nature of the Soviet Union and its Inheritance by the Russian Federation (Continued)
The Soviet Union & the Cold War in Latin America
If we turn our attention to Washington’s oldest sphere of influence, the Americas, the results are equally stark. While the Monroe Doctrine might have been a progressive step when first articulated, peoples from Mexico in North America through El Salvador and Honduras in Central America to Chile in South America have all suffered in more recent times.
The origins of the doctrine lie in the post-Napoleonic period. Under the influence of the American and French revolutions, the Spanish colonies had fought and won their independence. Spain desired these possessions back. The British, anxious to extend their long-standing economic exploitation of these regions (they had held the asiento, the monopoly on providing slaves to Spanish colonies, for several decades in the early 1700’s), approached Washington with a suggestion to of a joint declaration guaranteeing these states their independence. At that time the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and its rebellious colony had not yet emerged. The Revolution and the War of 1812 had produced substantial dislike of the British, and so President Monroe in 1823 expanded the idea to a individual proclamation that Washington would tolerate no outside interference in the Western Hemisphere.
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American intervention to support corrupt regimes that enabled exploitation of the resources of the region became of staple of Latin America. U.S. Marines installed the Somoza regime in Nicaragua in the 1930’s, and the CIA (on behalf of United Fruit Company, now known as Chiquita Brands) promoted the coup against the Arbenz government in Guatemala in the 1950’s. Washington facilitated coups in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile during the Sixties and Seventies, all of which employed heavy secret police repression of dissidents though the liberal use of torture and the employment of extrajudicial, paramilitary “death squads.” I don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but the use of these private militias strikes me as reminiscent of the tactics the Ku Klux Klan used to terrorize African-Americans after the Civil War into Civil Rights Movement.[xi]
The aptly named “dirty war” in Argentina is, in my opinion, the most appalling. Pinochet’s coup toppled an elected, Marxist president, Salvador Allende, and ended a promising experiment in mass participatory democracy. The detentions after the coup in Chile were on such a scale to require the use of the Santiago soccer stadium to house them. This is truly deplorable, but the brutal cruelty of the Argentine junta surpasses this. The military dropped political prisoners alive from airplanes over the ocean after brutal interrogation at the Naval Mechanics School, used to house the unfortunate leftists detained by the military government. Perhaps most disgusting was the widespread practice of removing small children from the families of detainees and giving them to politically reliable families to prevent their “contamination” by the subversive doctrines of their parents. This went to the extreme of waiting until pregnant leftists had delivered their children before executing them. In the murderous scheme of the junta, the future Argentine left was to be almost literally smothered in its cradle.
Fortunately, the junta overreached. Faced with growing discontent it sought to create patriotic fervor by attempting to seize the Falkland Islands from the United Kingdom. It falsely believed that the British were too weak to respond, and that Washington would support it. They greatly underestimated the “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, who seized upon the incident to create her own patriotic fervor. Washington, after a little hesitation born of the fear that the Soviets might aid Argentina supported Britain. The Soviets and China abstained from the Security Council resolution condemning the invasion. Driven from power by defeat, many of the torturers and junta members have since been brought to justice.
It was not only in Argentina that Washington’s proxies used death squads and terror to assert themselves. In both Guatemala and El Salvador American-backed regimes made liberal use extra-judicial repression of movements and populations perceived as threats to the indigenous oligarchs who did Washington’s bidding. And in both states, politicians from death-squad-friendly conservative parties obtained election to power from the “cleansed” and frightful electorates. In neighboring Nicaragua, the inability of the incompetent Somoza regime to cope with the disastrous earthquake in the capital, Managua, gave the Sandinistas the popular support they needed to drive the dictatorship from power. Washington could not allow this example to proliferate, so the Reagan Administration violated American law by providing arms and logistical support to the contras (literally, the counter-revolutionaries). It obtained the funds that Congress denied it by secretly trading weapons with the mullahs in Tehran and facilitating the distribution of cocaine by the contras’ leadership in American cities, largely on the West Coast.
As the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba’s support became more tenuous, Washington made it clear that unless its preferred clients were voted into office, the murderous rampage of their contras would continue. The Nicaraguan electorate complied, though the denatured Sandinistas have since been allowed to resume power, having largely been broken to the whip of the so-called “Washington consensus” of neo-liberal economic exploitation and “reform.” But even they are show signs of independence; witness their partnership with China to construct an alternative to the Panama Canal.
The most notorious case, however, is that of Cuba. By the late 1950’s, Cuba was under the sway of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. His corrupted, Mafia-friendly regime had made Havana a playground for the American jet set and the source of cheap sugar cane. With widespread support from all classes, the insurgency of Fidel Castro drove him from power. When the revolutionary regime began to make good on its promise of reforms in Cuba’s national interest. Egged on by those of the Cuban who were now deprived of their privileged status and sought refuge in and succor from the United States, Washington began to ratchet up the pressure. While the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs is the best known attempt, Washington peppered the Cubans with never-ending serious of plots and provocations.
Faced with one of the world’s superpowers a mere ninety miles away, Castro became increasingly radicalized and turned to the other superpower for aid. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, and the apprehension of the fearful consequences of it induced the both sides to ratchet down tensions. Treaties limiting nuclear testing and demilitarizing space were soon signed, leading to later restrictions on missile defense systems and strategic arms, all of which remain in place today. America halted its open military interventions, opting for a brutal regime of sanctions. While retarding Cuban development, they failed to topple Castro. Ongoing Soviet economic and political support allowed Cuba to provide critical aid elsewhere in the Third World. Even today, it continues to train medical and educational personnel for many Third World states, allowing them to raise the health and well-being of the populations.
Cuba did not limit itself to civilian aid. Cuban military intervention in the Horn of Africa was critical in maintaining the independence of Angola and Mozambique and thereby liberating South Africa from the scourge of apartheid. Portugal, under a long-standing if mild dictatorship since, sought to keep its colonial empire for reasons of prestige. Army officers, radicalized by their failing colonial wars against national liberation movements in these colonies, amongst the last in Africa, toppled the regime and gave Angola, Mozambique and other Portuguese dependencies their independence. South Africa then gingered up “liberation movements” in both states, seeking to displace their leftist governments and deprive the ANC of bases for its military and political operatives. The Soviets provided asylum along with diplomatic and military support for the ANC while ensuring the Cubans of adequate supplies for the troops they deployed in both countries. South African defeats on these battlefields was of greater consequence in toppling apartheid then the sanctions that Western governments reluctantly applied under the pressure of public opinion.
Perestroika and Beyond
The phenomenon of perestroika requires as separate and fuller consideration, which I will endeavor to provide at a later time. That movement, designed to produce a Scandinavian social-welfare state that was the desire of Soviet citizens, obviously failed. This was due in large part, I would argue, to the helpful advice of Western experts and institutions. Their insistence on rapid, cash-only privatization of the economy meant that only insiders with connections, cash, and more importantly, ruthlessness, would make private the collective property of the Soviet people. Subsequent closings, currency devaluations and exchanges plundered Soviet citizens of their savings, and the grim focus on mere survival depoliticised and demoralised the population as living standards and life expectancy fell. Western patronage of Yeltsin meant that resistance was futile and Washington unopposed.
What Fukuyama with facile ease called “The End of History” has not produced the neo-liberal economic and neo-conservative political utopia that it promised. Instead, the collapse of communism has produced an ongoing and escalating series of political crises while impoverishing millions worldwide.
It began with the emergence of corrupt nationalist regimes in most of the states of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. These states have largely seen a collapse of living standards, some immediately and others, like the Baltic states, failing after the initial euphoric rush of liberalization of their economies. While the national passions unleashed did little immediate damage in most areas, they prompted the tragic break-up of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia. This sort of harmonious intermingling of Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim at the intersection of Eastern and Western Europe is the supposed desire of the European elite. Tito’s independently-minded Communist regime was a darling of the West (anybody remember the Yugo?). But his successors were repaid in the sort of currency that we later issued to Gaddafi, who had thought his compliance with Washington’s dictates would ensure the survival of himself, his family, and regime.
Yugoslavia might well have needed to loosen ties amongst its constituents. Instead of a slow, deliberative, consultative process, Washington permitted its German client, euphoric after its own reunification, to reassert herself in her traditional sphere of influence. German unilateral recognition of Croatia and Slovenia undercut the European Union’s stated policy of making a collective decision on what course of action to take and reintroduced open war on the European continent for the first time in a half-century.
In the Americas, the brutality and condescension from Washington, combined with deprivations dictated by neo-liberalism, moved electorates in Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile to bring leftist governments (some headed by survivors of the death-squads) to power. If this region of the world seems better off than most, it is not without blemishes. America looked the other way as a parliamentary coup and other violations of the law and constitution drove the populist Zelaya from power in Honduras in 2009. The resulting police state has made liberal use of death squads and the resulting lawlessness provided fertile ground narcotrafficantes. The ongoing “war on drugs” in Colombia has blended into the long-running fight of leftist insurgents seeking land reform against the oligarchs who control its land and politics.
It is in the Middle East that the most negative consequences of the Soviet Union’s collapse show themselves. With their Arab rivals deprived of Soviet backing, Israel began to act with increasing audacity. Washington had always given Israel its unquestioning support, even when Israeli actions clearly defied international law and Washington’s interest. It was recently the anniversary of the notorious Liberty incident.[xii] During the 1967 war, Israel did not wish Washington to know what was going on. So it knowingly and premeditatedly attacked the American surveillance ship Liberty in international waters. Had not a courageous crewmember signaled on a telecommunications system missed in the assault, American naval forces in the Mediterranean would have been ignorant of the attack and all instead of most of its crew would have been killed. The incident was largely ignored at the time and since, to avoid upsetting unquestioning American support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine The Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank was explicitly designed to create what they called “facts on the ground” that would prevent the construction of a viable, independent Palestinian state. When faced with resistance, the Israelis responded with the construction of walls isolating the increasingly fractured Palestinian population from each other and Israel. The creation of a South African style bantustan (the name given to the fictitiously independent states in which the Afrikaners confined the black populations) in Gaza and the West Bank failed to satisfy the Israelis. They denied construction permits to the Palestinians and began to destroy their trees and homes and deprive them of their water supplies. When resistance did not subside, they resorted to assaulting Lebanon and Gaza. Washington has never really criticized these policies, let alone depriving Israel of the money and munitions needed to carry out these cynical violations of international law and UN resolutions.
American policy has been even more destructive elsewhere in the region. Our disastrous destabilization of Libya was noted above. It is only through the efforts of Putin – combined with popular opposition in the West – that Washington, London, and Paris could not implement their “humanitarian intervention” following the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Initially blamed on Assad, evidence suggests that the Saudi-backed Islamic opposition did in fact have the necessary technical skills to launch the weapons. Their trajectories were shown to have originated from within rebel-controlled areas. This false-flag operation has proved to be a trial run for the killing of the so-called “Maidan Hundred” by Right Sector snipers in Kiev and the later downing of MH17 by Kiev and/or its Western backers.[xiii]
But of course, Iraq endured the greatest damage. Iraq had had the tacit military and political support of the West in its war with Iran. Apparently, after the collapse of the Soviets, Saddam Hussein believed that his reward for harassing America’s enemy in Tehran was to be its approval for the seizure of Kuwait. His infamous interview with Ambassador Glaspie seemed to confirm this; if it was merely diplomatic ambiguity and neutrality or a set-up to prove a lesson, I cannot say. Though supported by the United States and other Western powers, as an Arab state opposing Israeli occupation, Iraq was largely supplied and supported by the Soviet Union. Surely, Hussein would not have taken such an ill-considered step had the Soviets still been in a position to restrain him. Washington was not going to stand idly by while such a vital source of petroleum and recycled oil-profits, needed to prop up American finances, was snatched away.
The elder Mr. Bush wisely understood the risks of occupation. He limited American objectives to the liberation of Kuwait and restrained the war hawks in their desire to move on to Baghdad. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the neoconservatives lead by Cheney and Rumsfeld used the hysteria to manipulate world opinion into condoning an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq. Any rational analysis would have shown that the Baathist regime did not pose any “imminent threat” to American interests. Besieged and sanctioned by America and in as much danger from the Sunni extremists of Al-Qaeda as America, had neither weapons of mass destruction nor links to bin Laden and the attack. And any rational analysis would have placed the motivation for this unjustifiable taking of innocent lives on anger with American backing for the Israeli occupation and American support for repressive but compliant conservative regimes like the Saudis. Instead, we were told that they hated our “freedom.”
This freedom was promptly whittled down. We now have no-fly lists (compare to the former Soviet regime of internal passports). Police entrapment and criminalization of American Muslims are used to create fictitious plots that justify repression. Our ubiquitous surveillance forestalled none of the few actual terror threats since. Routine border controls detected one, observant vendors and passers-by in Times Square caught another. The Russians warned us about the ringleader of the recent Boston Marathon bombing. But we seemed to have discounted the source and ignored the plot.
Perhaps most disturbing feature of all about our Middle East policy is that our own earlier follies in the Fertile Crescent are now being used to justify another round of gratuitous and ill-advised bloodletting. Our political elite affects to believe that the problem with the rise of the Islamic State straddling Syria and Iraq stems from insufficient support for the “moderate” Islamic terrorists attempting to oust Assad, and not our persistent destabilization of the region. That we should have never invaded Iraq and enabled the jihad against Syria does not enter the minds of our pundits and politicians.
The sorts of torture and arbitrary detention that we once condemned the Japanese, the North Koreans, and other “Reds” for using became a common practice. Once limited by the United States to its proxies and committed on “the down-low,” politicians and television and movie producers alike now celebrate it. The assertion of state authority to detain American citizens without charge and kill them without judicial due process for “material support of terrorism” are both clearly unconstitutional. Our constitution mentions only one crime – treason, which requires two witnesses to the act so alleged. Persons are not to be imprisoned without the due process of a jury trial in open court. Killing and detaining citizens on the unreviewable say-so of faceless bureaucrats using secret “evidence” clearly fail to meet these standards. It is a sign of the corruption of our politics and courts that they have not smacked this down.
We seem to have forgotten the sagacity of Benjamin Franklin. A printer, author, scientist, philanthropist, politician, and diplomat, he like Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and a key political figure in the Revolution and early Republic. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Such are the fruits of America’s labors.
As dreadful as these police-state measures are, we in America and the rest of the West are at least reasonably sure of our security and safety. We do not have fanatical puritans seeking to impose their own vision of “God’s will” upon us. We do not have to fear these fundamentalists sweeping into our towns and killing those they deem heretics. Our infrastructure works reasonably well, no one is lobbing mortars at us or peppering us with grenades, mortars, artillery, or small-arms fire. Though wholly owned by Wall Street, our government is not the puppet or tool of foreign states, our economies and cities are not total ruins, pockmarked with literal or figurative craters or collateral damage. We can, to a certain degree, say and think what we please, though our leaders seem to put themselves under no obligation to heed these opinions, except when most forcefully expressed in the most dire of circumstances.
Such cannot be said of far too much of the worlds population. Where the open violence of war and communal bloodshed is quiet, the creeping violence of economic and environmental degradation bludgeons and batters those least able to endure it.
Back in the “good ol’ days” of the Cold War, there was real hope for humanity. RT’s Tim Kirby commented recently upon our troubles in Ferguson, where the legacy of the slavery, the Klan, and Jim Crow laws[xiv] lingers on. He noted, quite correctly, that the existence of the two rival superpowers and their conflicting ideologies served to keep them honest. The other side was sure to pounce on any failing in order to discredit its rival. Acceptance of civil rights and equality for African-Americans here in the Sixties was in no small part to deprive the Soviets of an issue that resonated with the black and brown majority of the planet. I would add that the provision of a decent living and safe working conditions in the developed world is due, in part, to the threat posed by Communism. Franklin D. Roosevelt crafted his “New Deal” reforms, which for a time curbed the excesses of capitalism, in response to the pressure of the left. The labor militants of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the Communist Party numbered their ranks in tens and hundreds of thousands before the Cold War hysteria of the “Red Scare” lead by Sen. McCarthy.
I do not know if human progress requires dueling ideologies as a permanent condition. I would argue, however, that any further progress by humanity requires us to exorcise the demons of Cold War stereotypes. The need for rational economic planning and genuine mass democracy, the central tenets of revolutionary socialism, has never been greater. As long as the Cold War “Red Scare” persists, this need will remain unmet.
To put things simply – both the Soviet Union and United States have acted with calculated brutality, in defiance of morality and decency. The Soviets stopped the worst of theirs with Stalin, and on the whole move humanity forward. The United States continues to defy both domestic and international law, and continues to act “sacrifice of individual life and dignity” in pursuit of its singular domination. The bourgeoisie understood that even the crude and imperfect first draft of socialism penned by the Bolsheviks posed a mortal threat to their hegemony. Indeed, they continue to fight the ghostly specter of revolution that “The Communist Manifesto” evoked.
The Russian Federation does not possess an all-encompassing ideology; it is a “normal” state, which seeks to preserve its own national interests. But it order to do so, it must act in concert with other states that seek to act in their own self-interests and not as agents of Wall Street and the City of London for the exploitation and despoliation of their own peoples and resources. The Russian Federation did not inherit the progressive ideology of the Soviet Union, but it has inherited, at least for the near future, its progressive role. That this role has in large part been forced upon it through insistent Western triumphalist and maximalist insistence underscores the irrational character of Western, and particularly American, elites. Had its interests and needs been given due consideration, it was clear that the post-Soviet Russian oligarchy was more than glad to cooperate with Washington. Instead, thanks to ill-considered intervention in the Ukraine, following the eastern expansion of NATO that Washington promised would not occur, tensions are at a point unseen since the early Sixties.
Early on during the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg argued that humanity’s choice was “socialism or barbarism.” The emergent alliance of the “BRICS’ can forestall Washington’s domination. We cannot depend, however, upon the self-interested leaders of any bloc to end the barbarism of war and human exploitation. It will be up to the peoples of the world. Our shrinking planet has endured far too much barbarism in the Twentieth Century; socialism is long overdue. Let us hope we have enough time and enlightenment to progress towards it.
Rufus Magister is a former doctoral student in Soviet History, a part-time instructor in history and an intellectual of the old school variety. He was active in the Central American Solidarity movement in the 1980’s and in socialist politics as well. His journey began when out of intellectual curiosity, he read “The Communist Manifesto” and was immediately convinced of the veracity of Marx’s & Engel’s analysis.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.
[xi] As my Editor-for-Life, my darling wife, noted in proofing this, “Difference – Klan not subsidised by US gov’t.”
[xii] See Ray McGovern’s piece on this at http://consortiumnews.com/2014/08/17/a-uss-libertys-heros-passing/
[xiii] I note my Editor-for-life’s comment here: “Speculative – jury still out.” To keep the peace, I would offer qualified agreement. We may not have met the US criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt,” but it seems to me that the civil law standard of “a preponderance of evidence” has been. This is due in part to the suppression of evidence – where are the air traffic logs from Kiev, American satellite and radar data, what’s on the “black box” from the plane? I’m sure regular readers of this and the Vineyard of the Saker blog are well-informed about the current “state of play” in the “blame game.”
[xiv] These were discriminatory laws that kept African-Americans in legal segregation. Enacted in the South and elsewhere, after the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement of the early Sixties ended them. Many consider measures like the “War on Drugs” and voter identification laws to be “the New Jim Crow.” Both of these measures, as well as joblessness, poverty, and other social problems, disproportionately affect minority communities.